This trek is revered by adventure buffs and it is regarded as one of the six toughest treks in the Indian Himalayas. The trek begins from the small and beautiful village of Yuksom in West Sikkim and takes one right up to the feet of Mount Kanchenjunga.
Although I knew this was going to be a tougher one than our previous trek to Singalila, my husband and I decided to complete the 5-6 day trek in four days. We’d completed the Singalila trek in three days, cutting short two night halts. We, therefore, thought we could do the same with the Goecha La trail too.
We reached Yuksom late at night, checked into a hotel. Following a quick shower and dinner, we retired for the night. The next morning, we awoke to a brilliant view of Mt Kabru from our balcony; the whitest of white, amid deep green mountains in the foreground.
Soon we met our crew — two guides, two porters and three yaks. We also met our two trek mates, Malte Lautzas from Germany and Kelly Alves from Brazil. We got into a jeep and were driven a kilometre from Yuksom, to the trek’s start point.
Yuksom was the final urban area
The yaks and porters moved ahead with the kitchen and other equipment while we trailed behind slowly. About six kilometres from Yuksom, we halted at a place called Sachen to have our packed lunch. A little chat with our trek mates revealed that Kelly had undergone knee surgery, following which she’d undertaken the Annapurna circuit in Nepal! To top it all, a week prior to the current trek in Dzongri, she’d completed the Singalila trek. What an indomitable spirit!
From Sachen, the trail was a real test of endurance; very steep and rough. One had to be wary of stepping over loose stones to avoid slipping and also be wary of falling boulders from above. There was a possibility of being waylaid by bears and leopards, although we were told that predators rarely made an appearance! Most of all, one had to be careful of leeches and insects that could latch on when you stopped walking.
A steeper climb at every bend
As we continued to ascend from Sachen, it became progressively steeper and the climb seemed endless. We had to cover 15 kilometres on the first day itself. Mind you, in terms of endurance, a kilometre in the hills is perhaps akin to three in the plains!
We were essentially walking amid the Kanchenjunga National Park. Trudging on, my attention was drawn to a stream gushing over the rocks below. That was when I missed a step and my left knee hit a boulder. It wasn’t severe I thought, and doggedly kept climbing through picture perfect hills with emerald green waterfalls. I was mesmerised by the rich alpine vegetation and the numerous toad stools on moss covered rocks and tree trunks, ferns and wild berries. Soon, the pine trees made way for the myriad hues of rhododendrons and primula. The sound of a flowing stream and the intermittent chirping of different birds acted like a soothing balm for us weary travellers.
As we walked on, oncoming ponies, flocks of sheep and yaks required us to stop and make way. We took short water breaks for another six kilometres or so, till we reached Bakhim. This location offered an exquisite view of the valley below.
A much-deserved tea break—with my comfort food of Wai Wai noodles—worked wonders to recharge me. I knew the next two kilometres to Tsokha, located at 10,000 feet, was going to be far tougher and found a canine friend who decided to accompany me all the way. The little pooch halted whenever I did, as if to provide me solace with its company.
We kept meeting porters and animal keepers who would exchange cheerful greetings and say, “bistari bistari jaunuhos la” — Nepali for keep going slowly and steadily. Whether young boys capable of covering 20 kilometres downhill in less than two hours or old men and women climbing up with heavy loads on their backs, people from the hills never cease to inspire.
A strange yet beautifully empowering experience
Somewhere along the trail, there came a point when I felt my body was released of all its aches and pains. It seemed it was being guided solely by my mind. A deep consciousness drew me towards my inner self, as if imploring me to introspect.
We finally reached Tsokha around 4:30 pm. Just shy of our hut, we witnessed an awe-inspiring sight. The majestic peaks of Mount Pandim and Mount Tensinkhang stood tall, in our direct line of sight! It seemed magical to watch passing clouds unveil the snow-clad peaks for us. I slumped down on the wooden stairs of the hut, stunned by this jaw dropping spectacle. My fatigue all but disappeared when I saw the crystal white mountains overlooking Tsokha’s green meadows.
We sat around a kitchen fire in the neighbouring hut while the crew cooked a hot meal for us in a makeshift kitchen. We were served a basic vegetarian meal, with some piping hot soup to accompany. Over our meal, we exchanged an animated conversation with our trek mates. Even in this setting in the wilderness, our wooden table was bedecked with a checked table cloth; what more luxury could one possibly ask for? Since there was no provision for electricity, our headlamps helped us find our way around. The rooms were plain wooden cabins with bare beds on which we laid out our sleeping bags.
We retired to a still night but one of sound sleep.
This is the first part of a two part series.