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Goecha La – A trek to remember

7 Jun
    After covering the Himalayas of Kashmir, Uttarkhand and Himachal, our natural progression was to cover the Himalayas from the North-Eastern part of India. Tintin dug-in and found the Goecha-La trek suitable for our schedule. An 8-day trek across one of the most naturally gifted and beautiful places on earth – The mighty Himalayas. What better way to use 8 of the 12 allotted leaves per year?? 🙂
    Monks the usual culprit in being the first guy to sign-up and drop out of the trek. The last time, it was for Leh and this time he wanted to compensate for that and go-to Leh instead of joining us for this trek. One can’t blame him though, but, he would be missing a trek with 10 of his friends. Tintin, Manja, Blank, MoMS, sk (formerly kaddi), ppr(me), Sen, Adarsh, Nagi and Boyz were among the final list of trekkers in a group of 24 who signed up for the May 19-May 28 batch of Indiahikes. Since 6 of us were working in the same organization, leaves required a bit of haggling and finally, we booked our flights, trains, arranged for local transports and on May 17th we were ready to leave but without my camera, which I forgot to pack at the last minute after charging the batteries overnight. It just proves that being too careful can be hazardous too.. 😛
17 May 2012
Day 1:  Its time to roll.. 🙂
Bangalore to Kolkotta

    We took the 5:40pm Indigo flight to Kolkotta (my god!! what a humid city) and then a 45-minute taxi ride costing Rs.180 to NJP station. It is advisable to have your food at a hotel en-route to the station. There are no good restaurants close to the station and even after 1 hour of frantic searching, we had to be content with just the station-provided food. We then caught the 10:55pm Padatik express to New Jalpaiguri(NJP) close to Siliguri in West Bengal. Adarsh was the only guy who had to be content with a RAC seat instead of a berth in the train. That’s the punishment for booking late.. 😀
18 May 2012
Day 2: A day wasted.
NJP to Gangtok Singtam – 120km drive – 6 hours

    We arrived at NJP around 9am the following day. Our plan was to reach Gangtok, a 6 hour drive from NJP, spend the night visiting the famous boulevard and the early next morning visiting the palace, ride in the rope-way and visit the Rumtek monastery. About 4 hours into the journey, we arrived at Ranipool, 15km out of Gangtok, where got stuck in a traffic jam for 2 hours, caused due to a road-block setup by the Sikkim-Manipal University students. Based on the suggestions from localites who said that in the previous instance the road-block eventually cleared only at 10pm late in the night, we turned back to a Singtam, a small town about 30kms from Gangtok. We found a good hotel at Rs.1200 per room (a bit costly… but people were tired and were in no mood to negotiate) and had a sumptuous meal with MoMS throwing a tantrum about spilling food on the ground.. 😛 One suggestion is the Lychee fruit found on these parts, is a must have. Also, one should try to buy jersey’s of various football teams costing mere Rs.250 (including the shorts).

Onboard the Padatik express heading to NJP

@NJP station

View of Singtam town

19 May 2012

Day 3: Journey to the base camp
Singtam to Yuksom – 110km drive – 5 hour
    Our destination for the day was Yuksom, the base-camp for the trek. Our first stop was at Rabong, where we had some of best paranthas and momos. The town also hosted the first sight-seeing spot in two days – a small monastery. Our next stop, was at the famous town of Tashiding which hosts one of the most beautiful and sacred monasteries one can find – Tashiding Monastery. Mt.Kanchenjunga in the backdrop, greenery all around, serene atmosphere. Just the right ingredients to let ones spiritual desires run free. Among all things, the Buddhists have a superb skill at finding the SPOT for constructing a monastery. 🙂 We arrived at the former capital of Sikkim -Yuksom around 5pm. Lying around 5600ft, Yuksom is a small town with tourism and trekking being the major source of income for the local populace. By 11pm, we had packed for the trek and  raring to start the next day.

Teesta river
Tashding monastery
Our stay at Yuksom

20 May 2012

Day 4: Start of the trek-  A day to cross the bridges and the attack of mini-mosquitoes
Yuksom to Sachen – 3 hours
Altitude gain: 7,151 ft – 5,600 ft = 1551 ft
    We began the day by taking permission for the trek from the police station which requires us to submit an ID proof with photocopies and doing a final bit of shopping and re-packing. By 10am, we were all set to leave. Amit Pandey and Preetham were the representatives from Indiahikes. Pemtuk, a 36-year old localite who looks like a 20 year old was our trek guide and Kamal the actual 20-year old was the co-guide.

    The initial part of the trek is through the village and half an hour into the trek, with a small climb and gradual descent we arrive at first bridge over Pha Khola. On crossing the bridge, the trail is through thick forest and an hours journey takes us to the second bridge over Tshushay Khola. The view of the river and the bridge is a beauty in itself. Again the journey continues through the forest, with a small cement bridge – Mentogang Khola signalling the arrival of the first camp. The camp-site is about 15 minutes from here-on and present in a small clearing to the right of the trail, with the kitchen hut to the left, which has easy access to water. The area surrounding the kitchen left a lots to be desired. Hope Indiahikes takes care of cleaning up the area. Also, one thing is easily noticable, the mini-mosquitoes. My god are they in millions!! They are hard to be noticed on the skin until they bite and they outnumber us aleast 1 to 10000.. 😛 So the only way to protect oneself is to wear long-sleeve T-shirt, apply mustard oil (suggested by Pemtuk) or use mosquito repellant. As the temperature dips the insects are no where to be found. So, just bear the brunt during the 3 hours of sunlight. 🙂

First view of the terrain at the start of the trek

Bridge over Pha Khola

Our camp at Sachen

21 May 2012

Day 5: MoMS’ tryst with his twisted ankle
Sachen to Bhakim to Tshokha – 4 hours
Altitude gain:  9,689 ft  – 7,151 ft = 2538 ft

    The day has a steep climb to Bhakim. So, there were some streching excersies early in the morning. MoMS, the ever-hungry-man, wanted to enquire about breakfast and while walking towards the kitchen in a hawai-chappal, twisted his ankle. 😀 wah! He hobbled around for a few minutes complaining about pain and then was ready for the trek in a flash. Ever-hungry, incomplete statements during talk and quick healing – now we were begining to doubt if he was human. 😛 By 8:30am, we were good to go. The start of the trek is literally a walk in the park. No steep climbs or descents. About 30 minutes into the journey we come to face with a very steep descent which lasts about 15 minutes heading straight to the huge bridge over Prek adorned with prayer flags. This marked the begining of the huge climb we were facing for the day. This part of the trek is again through the forest but though the climb is tiring, the cool air doesn’t let one buckle down to tiredness. An hour into the climb we arrived at Bhakim lying at 8636 ft (an ascent of 1500ft in 1 hour), which has a teashop with one of the most amazing views of the valley below. It is noteworthy that mobile coverage is available at Bhakim. We settled here close to an hour, while MoMS restarted his complain about the ankle. By now it started to swell and he was unable to even walk on plain ground. A painkiller, few quick-relief spray shots and an ankle-brace was all it took for him to get back to his feet and continue the walk towards Tshoka. This won him a few hearts but only a few know the truth that all that was drama to grab the sympathy and attention!!

    A small climb of 45minutes takes us to Tshoka, which has one of the better campsites we have been to in all the treks. The camp is at the hill top with the view of the valley on one side and the view of snow covered Mt Pandim on the other. 🙂 By the end of the day, everybody had a doubt that MoMS was faking his ankle sprain because for the second time in the trek he ended up in the group finishing first. Though the girls in the trek saw MoMS as a hero. The attention seeker got the attention he craves. 😛 We visited the local monastery close to a pond and ended the day with a Karaoke session singing songs from various languages including Kannada, Marathi, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and English.

Bridge over Prek

MoMS with the twisted ankle

Tshokha monastery

22 May 2012
Day 6: Super-serene climb amidst Rhododendrons
Tshokha to Phedang to Dzongri = 5 hours
Altitude gain:  12,981 ft – 9,689 ft = 3292 ft

    The D-day of climbing. According to the guide, completion of this day’s trek in good shape implies that the GoechaLa trek is majorly done. We began the day in similar fashion with streching excercises. By 9am, we were ready to confront the climb. The trek begins with a gradual ascent, with wooden logs added as steps enroute, to protect the trekkers from the slush in-case it rains, as the entire path is pretty muddy. One begins to notice a lot of Rhododendron blossoms in different hues of red, yellow, white, purple and pink enroute. A trek of an hour and half takes us to Phedang which stands at 12,068 ft. The camp was looking like a set from a movie with beautiful Rhododendron flowers on almost all the trees and the mist covering the entire camp. We had a break of about 30 minutes where we also took a 5 minute path taking us away from Dzongri and towards Kockchurang, to fill up our water with ice-cold water.

    We restarted the second major climb of the day with the path covered entire with Rhododendron trees on either sides. It is the most beautiful part of trek and looked truly a like a “stairway to heaven” or rather “pathway to heaven”. Then the path evens out before a steep climb along the ridge where we can see a lot of prayer flags put up. We didnt spot any shrine near-by in the mist. From here on, the path descends gradually towards Dzongri with Pandim, Khabru and Kanchenjunga range visible as one comes closer to the camp site which lies amidst the grasslands. This was the trek day which I enjoyed the most. Alone with nature for a major part of the journey – nobody in sight ahead or behind during the trek. Not a care in the world, the colorful birds chirping away, the beautiful Rhododendron flowers, the mist and the trek path. Wow! Just reliving this part is refreshing. It was a good day to trek… 🙂

Trail heading towards Phedang

@Phedang

Walk through the Rhododendrons to Dzongri

Last stretch of the trek to Dzongri

23 May 2012

Day 7: First sunrise view of Kanchenjunga range
Part 1: Dzongri to Dzongri top and back to Dzongri  =  1 and 1/2 hour
Altitude gain:   13,676 ft  – 12,981 ft = 695 ft

Part 2: Dzongri to Kokchurang  to Thansing = 4 hours
Altitude gain:  12,894 ft – 12,981 ft = -87 ft

    This day was divided into two parts. The first one targetting the sunrise at Kanchenjunga veiw from Dzongri top. And the second part ofcourse the travel to next camp at Thansing. Pemtuk awoke us at 4:30 am so that the 30minute steep climb is covered before the sunrise. Trekking without bags, a majority of the 24 people decided to go and a tiring 45 minutes later we were at the top insight of one of the superb sunrises ever. Dzongri top holds a 360 degree view of the valley, along with the view of Pandim, Khabru and Kanchenjunga range. The snow plume that emerged out of the snow clad peak when the first sun rays hit the mountain will always stay in our memory. The rays of the sun were distinct as if photoshopped for us right in front of our eyes. Wish one of us had a DSLR or a good camera to capture the moment. But we did have good photographers if not cameras in tintin, manja and blank who clicked away happily at the amazing sunrise. After an hours stay at the peak, we descended and found that mist and clouds began to cover up the whole view and a small almost circular rainbow was visible ahead of us with the sun exact behind us. This caused our shadows to be cast at the center of the rainbow. Looked surreal to say the least. But these two views just “made our day” irrespective of what the trek had instore for us.

    Early in the morning, before the start of the trek, we were made aware that one of our co-trekkers, Sandeep had some breathing trouble even after regular use of diamox since the start of the trek. So, the Indiahikes representatives – Preetham and Amit, decided to wait for a day at Dzongri, to confirm if he gets better and in the worst scenario, travel back with him to Yuksom to get medical help. So, the rest 23 of us were left with just 2 guides along with a few helpers, mule-men and yak-men. But the days journey was supposedly very easy and the major part of the trek was gradual ascent and descent of small hillocks holding meadows. Two hours into the trek, with the gang moving slow as the mist might misdirect trekkers at the end, as the path is not clearly defined, we arrived at a steep descent point. 20 minutes into the descent we arrived at Kokchurang (12,096 ft) lying adjacent to the river Rathong Chu which joins Rangeet river, which in-turn finally joins River Teesta. The view at the camp is one more highlight at the trek. On crossing a few wooden bridges across the river, the final climb begins with the walk along small boulders on the hill which takes about an hour and half leading straight into the grasslands at Thansing, lying amidst the mighty hills in all directions.

Sunrise view from Dzongri point

Our shadow forming at the center of the rainbow due to sun lying directly behind us

Trek path to Kokchurang

wild yak

Rathong Chu river @Kokchurang

24 May 2012

Day 8: Penultimate day of the climb and visit to Samiti – the mesmerizing lake.
Part 1: Thansing to Lamuney =  2 hours
Altitude gain: 13,600 ft – 12,894 ft = 706 ft

Part 2: Lamuney to Samiti Lake and back to Lamuney = 1 and 1/2 hour
Altitude gain: 14,100 ft – 13,600 ft = 500 ft

    This day’s trek is as much about preparing for the next day, as much for acclimatization to handle the higher altitudes. So our next camp at Lamuney lay just across the valley so much so that the campsite visible to the trained naked eye from the hill nearby. A slow start to the day and a lazy couple of hours trek through the valley following a river, took us to the military camp close lamuney. Our camp lay about 10 mins from the military camp – the only one we saw during the entire trek. The walk is on flat ground most of the way with a very slight ascent. Most of us were preoccupied with the challenge facing us the of the next day. We dumped our luggage and left to Samiti lake allowing for the porters to arrive with our tents and setup the camp and prepare our lunch.Our gear changed from here-on, ready to adjust to the harsher and colder climate by wearing two layers of clothes and started using our gloves even at 1pm. An hours climb along the steep and barren hill took us to blue-colored Samiti lake lying in the midst of hills. Our visit to Pangong-Tso was the highlight of the trip to Leh and similarly this lake with its serene and mesmerizing beauty though on a smaller scale was a sight to behold. This just proved a saying “Less is More”. 🙂 We spent close to an hour at this spiritual lake for the Buddhists, making a pradakshina (a full-circle) of the lake before making the return journey to Lamuney, for the much needed rest as the BIG day of the trek was finally upon us.


Trek following the river path to Lamuney

Military camp @ Lamuney
Blue watered Samiti lake




25 May 2012
Day 9: The D-day of the trek. Time for some fist pumping.. 🙂
Part 1: Lamuney to Goecha La and back to Lamuneyvia Samiti Lake   = 10 hours
Altitude gain:  16,000 ft – 13,600 ft = 2400 ft

Part 2: Lamuney to Thansing = 1 and 1/2 hour

    The D-day had arrived. We were woken up at 1:30am when the first batch of trekkers started moving towards View point 1. Wearing multiple layers of clothing and only carrying things that was necessary, we prepared ourselves in the dark. A small delay cost us precious time and we were only ready to leave by 2:45am, a good 30 minutes late. Walking in the dark with our torches was very slow and some of us were very worried that we would miss the much expected sunrise. But by 3:30am, the brightness increased and so did our pace. The climb is steep at most places and it is advisable to take small breaks inorder to acclimatise oneself to such high altitude. We arrived at View point 1 just as the sunrise happened. It was a big relief for entire gang of 22 except1 person who didnot make the days journey. We had finally completed the major part of the trek and were insight of the Kanchenjunga range at sunrise. The beauty of the Himalayas in full glory was in our sight. 🙂

    People returning to Lamuney decided to rest and then move back with Kamal while, Pemtuk led us towards View point  2. The journey is a very steep descent of 300 meters taking us straight into Zemathang which has a desert/barren landscape. One can enjoy this part of the 30 minute trek. Then begins the 700 meter ascent towards View point 2. 14 of us headed towards the summit. One can enjoy superb views of the range even during the the entire trek. After two hours of the journey since View point 1, I was out of energy. One should praise Sen and blank for continuing even with literally zero energy while I stopped 20 minutes short of the summit due to the cold causing a nose block making breathing tough. A 20 minute push might have taken the count of people to a record 13 in one batch. But sadly that could not be. Though, in hindsight, that was a wise decision as Pemtuk had adviced me not to trek the last part with a cold. As usual sk, MoMS, tintin, boyz and nagi were in the batch completing first which showed their good fitness.. 🙂 We returned back to Lamuney as 12 heroes conquering Viewpoint 2 with me and Shantala, one of the other trekker just falling short of the final hurdle. No matter, it was worth a try, as major views of Kanchenjunga were seen en-route. Resting a couple of hours after lunch, we made the return journey to camp Thansing. It was another good day of trekking, which tested the physical as-well-as mental fitness of each and every one of us. 

View of Sunrise upon Kanchenjunga range from View point 1

@view point 1

Cold desert at Zemathang

Goecha Lake

View of Samiti lake enroute to Lamuney from Goecha La

Samiti Lake

26 May 2012

Day 10: Return journey – Its blackout time.
Thansing to Phedang to Tshokha = 6 hours
    Since the trek was as good as done, most of the people were already thinking about a good nights sleep on their own bed at home or home-cooked meal or even a chicken biryani from a specific restaurant in one case… 😛 During the descent to Tshokha, we took the same path along the boulders and rough terrain heading down straight into Kokchurang and enjoying the view. But from here on the path is different, as we head towards Phedang instead of Dzongri via an alternate route. The terrain is simple but not usable by mules and yaks, which took the route through Dzongri to reach Phedang. About 30 minutes after Kokchurang , my health got the better of me and I blacked out. With the help of Raghu(doctor), Ram, Gandhiji (the veteran 60-year old trekker) and several of the gang (manja, bl, MoMS, sen, boyz and nagi) through constant ORS and glucose water helped me out. Pemtuk with the help of Komal and 3 of their helpers literally carried me to Tshokha. This just shows that one should not ignore minor signs and indications our body provides after having very less water and food since the previous day. I was lucky enough that there were people to help in the time of need. A small suggestion is to keep oneself fit for such a huge trek and make sure one has lots of water each day.

@Thansing campsite

Rhododendron in full bloom

View of Tshoka town

27 May 2012

Day 11: Back to civilization –  A Blitz to the end of the trek
Tshokha to Sachen to Bhakim to Yuksom = 3 and 1/2 hours
    With my health showing minor improvement but still having weakness, the same trend continued. Pemtuk and co just ran a marathon helping me out, with MoMS, sk, Boyz and tintin making a beeline to help if there is trouble. We met Amit and Preetham at the bridge soon after crossing Sachen. With minor breaks, the total journey was cut short to a mere 3 and 1/2 hours, which usually takes about 6 hours. I will forever be indebted for the help these people made. On completion of the trek, me and MoMS went to the Yuksom Government hospital for a checkup, only to find dehydration and weakness as the root cause for me and MoMS leg was just a sprain. All in all, a good report to take back. After our lunch at 5pm, we held a small ceremony to thank the guides for their help, all along the 8 days of the trek, before heading out to Yuksom town to gobble up some local food/drink. It was a trek which tested the physical and mental boundaries of every one of us. Few of us like boyz and sk excelled at it while a few like MoMS got the attention they deserved :P, while in common many of us got what we came for – 8 days in the cradle of mother nature with not a worry in the world… 🙂

Pemtuk and co entertaining us with a song and dance at the appreciation ceremony

The 24 trekkers upon completion

28 May 2012

Day 12: The long return journey and a trip to Kirateshwar Mahadev Mandir
Yuksom to NJP = 8 hours
    Adarsh was the first guy to leave, as he booked a flight from Bagodara to Bangalore. So, the gang reduced to 9 members and after a few goodbyes to other trekkers, we left towards NJP with some time to kill inbetween. The Shiva temple at Legship also known as Kirateshwar Mahadev Mandir is renowned and we spent close to an hour in the temple premises, built on the banks of the river Rangeet, which has to be crossed via a metal-bridge. Our next stop was at Jorethang where ATM’s are available. We were running short of cash and this was the town where we had planned to have our lunch and do a bit of shopping. But as luck would turn out, all the 3 ATM’s in the town were dysfunctional and the nearest ATM was at Siliguri a good 3 hour drive away. So, we dropped all our plans and moved to Siliguri to withdraw money, pay the driver Rs.4000 for the day before he dropped us at the Railway station, a good 3 hours before the departure of our train – Padatik express at 9pm. A few went ahead and visited the market buying the famous Darjeeling Tea, arriving just in time to have some edible but tasteless food at the station before departing to Kolkotta.

Ymmuy momos for breakfast

Kirateshwar Mahadev Mandir @Legship

29 May 2012
Day 13: Sweat and hurry in the “City of Joy”
Kolkotta to Bangalore


    The last day of the trip had finally arrived. At Rs.500 per taxi for two of them, we were taken to Howrah bridge, Vidyasagar bridge and then dropped us off at Victoria memorial. After the trek, these concrete structures are not much to look at. A 10km journey costing 1000 bucks in 2 taxis. And a road side shop selling nimbu-sherbet gobble Rs.25 per small matka. Talk about “shavara” (getting cheated) in the morning.  (that’s my personal opinion). I suggest people to move such visits before the trek. Even at 9am, it felt very humid. Since the memorial/museum only opened at 10am, we had a good hour to kill in the park in-front of the memorial. By the time everybody gave a fast tour of the museum, we were running late to catch the 2:10pm flight. To add to the delay, KKR -the newly crowned champions of IPL decided to take out the victory parade on the same route and we had to scramble among thousands of cheering fans to catch the metro train from Rabindra Sadan to Dum Dum station. A few last minute sweet eatery purchases was done before taxi’s costing Rs.150 took us the airport just 5 minutes in-advance to the 45 minute criteria for domestic flights. The flight departed at 2:10pm to Bangalore from Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport. A frantic end to a memorable trek/trip – A trek to remember for many reasons. 🙂

Victoria Memorial

Pics link:
https://picasaweb.google.com/112114250378515450499/GoechalaTrekSikkim#
https://picasaweb.google.com/104803450757964777769/SikkimGoechaLa#
https://picasaweb.google.com/102062402845384099827/GoechelaTrek?locked=true&feat=email

THE GANG OF TEN:
From L to R:

  1. MoMS – Got what he deserved. I mean the “attention”.
  2. ppr(me) – no comments 😛
  3. Adarsh – once in a lifetime trek for him.
  4. Sk – finished first everyday of the trek. Though he might claim otherwise.
  5. Tintin – best all-rounder. Always in the first batch and a good photographer. Only he can do that.
  6. Sen – My trek partner, matching my pace during majority of the trek days.  🙂
  7. Blank – Modern Shri Krishna for obvious reasons.
  8. Nagi – Fell in love with the trek on the 6th day. Thankfully! I was afraid he might complain that this was a poor trek.. 😛
  9. Boyz – The best trekker. He could compete with the guides and match their pace!
  10. Manja – Our best photographer.
the gang of 10 @ Yuksom before the start of the trek
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