Gosh, it’s been too much of trekking talk here lately! But, well, how much is too much? During the pandemic, planning for my treks has kept me motivated to stay consistent with my fitness regime, all the while catering to my need for the occasional (but frequent?) adrenaline rush. I’ll be honest about my trekking experiences, including the physical and emotional challenges I was faced with.
I don’t think anyone would deny how liberating travelling is. Oftentimes, when you find your yourself caught up in the unfortunate tangles of daily life, the best thing to do is to pack your bags and hit the road. When the world seems bleak, it’s time to go see the world.
Perhaps, this is what drove me to take the plunge and go the most difficult trek in this year itself. The year started with the Moderate Trek of Sandakphu, followed by the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek in the monsoons, and finally the high endurance trek of Goechala summit in the winter. In all honesty, this year-long experience is indescribable, and I am afraid to dilute the sanctity of it by using common English adjectives. But if I must, it was an overwhelming and rewarding experience.
Amongst Trekker fraternity, Goechala is a very popular trail that dates back nearly 30-40 years. It takes you as close as presently possible to the Kanchenjunga Base Camp and 14 other peaks in the Nepal range.
But here’s a necessary heads up before we start: The Goechala trek is a physically daunting one. You must plan for it right from the basics if you’re planning for it at all. To give you some perspective, I had been preparing for 4-6 months with 5k run, completing it within 35-40 minutes.
Well then, get ready with your imaginary trekking gear because we’re about to dive into the adventure!
- Getting there
To reach the base camp of Goechala you’d have to reach Bagdogra Airport or NJP Station. Once you’re there, you can rent a Gypsy to Yuksom, which lies in Northwest Sikkim. It’s approximately a 7-hour journey from Siliguri.
You must set aside at least 10 days for the entire trip trip. It is likely that at times you might need to spend 2 straight days at one campsite to acclimatize to the high altitude. It is one of the rare treks in which in just a matter of few days you gain an altitude of nearly 15000 feet from 5000 feet.
- Day 0 – Yuksom Base Camp at 5000 ft.
Somehow managing to reach the pickup point at Siliguri was in itself quite an ordeal for me. My waitlist tickets for the train failed to get confirmed, and early morning flights were packed and pricey. In the end, I had to settle for a sleeper bus that managed to reach Siliguri with a 2 hours delay.
On our way to Yuksom in an SUV, my fellow trekker’s got to witness the common sight of me trying to hold on to my sanity through a 2-hour long soul-sucking VC. One of the main reasons for my serious inclination towards high altitude treks is that it takes me to the much needed no-network zones. I was really looking forward to 10 days of respite from tiresome phone calls.
As we were gaining altitude, the weather kept getting more and more pleasant, and we celebrated the inauguration of this adventure with warm momos and organically cooked chicken rice. We devoured our meal wholeheartedly knowing that in the subsequent 10 days we will be having mostly vegetarian meals.
By the time we reached Yuksom Base Camp, it was almost dark. After a briefing session followed by dinner and health checkup protocols, we delighted our tired bodies with a good night’s sleep.
Day 1 – Sachen Base Camp
Finally, the most awaited day for the trek had arrived. Admittedly, there was the slightest anxiety underlying the growing excitement. We started our ascend right from day one. If you’re heading to Goechala you’ll end up spending nearly 4-5 days of your hike in the Kanchenjunga National Park. So, be prepared for leeches until Bakhim campsite. There’s no need to get freaked out and it is very common in tropical climate; it doesn’t sting at all.
The temperature was dropping and we were adding layers on top of layers. We helped each other pitch our tents for the night halt, after which one of our fellow trekkers entertained us with his fiction story “Dream Summit” The story draws inspiration from the true story of a mountaineer Chhanda Gayen who lost her life while climbing the Kanchenjunga summit. I must admit, he had the whole crowd captivated.
Day 2 – Tshoka CampSite
We were told that on this day we would be gradually ascending up to an altitude of 3000 ft. The air was ominous with the possibility of rain. This year the monsoon stayed a while longer; luckily, the muddy trails had dried up. The entire group’s pace was well acknowledged by our Trek leader Tirth, who, despite his quality and quantity of experience in high altitude trek and adventurous sports, was surprisingly one of the youngest chaps in the team.
We reached Bakhim around mid-noon. It was a relaxing pitstop; we warmed ourselves with piping hot Maggi and black coffee!
We reached our campsite Tshoka after a brief trek. By now, most of us were volunteering to pitch the tents and get ourselves snuggled for the night in our sleeping bags. We were told the following day is when the endurance of the trek starts to get to you.
Day 3 – Dzongri Campsite – Test of Endurance Kicks off
We were told that during April-May, the valley is adorned with rhododendrons flowers in glorious bloom. We could only imagine the breathtaking sight! As we were further ascending the trail, we could see Mount Pandim gradually playing hide-and-seek across the valley. Mount Pandim and Mount Kanchenjunga hold religious meaning and are considered very sacred in Buddhism.
Day 4 – Dzongri Campsite – Morning hike to Dzongri viewpoint
We had a rest day at Dzongri campsite to get acclimatized. However, we did wake up at 3 a.m. for a sunrise hike to the Dzongri viewpoint. From here we saw the major 8000m peaks across the India- Nepal Himalayan ranges.
After we got back to the campsite around 7 a.m., we had the entire day to ourselves to relax and be by ourselves. To my utmost delight, we were served hot Rajma Chawal.
Day 5 – Thansing Nestled amidst the view of Mount Pandim
It was quite a long day of trekking, with boulders, ascents and steep descents. We could feel the extremities of the unending trials till Thansing campsite. Some of the trekkers do push themselves further and pitch their camps at Lamuney, which is mostly a windy campsite, but we decided against it.
In the evening, we were briefed about the most audacious summit that we were supposed to hike to around midnight. Everyone had all sorts questions about all possible scenarios! Tirth patiently answered them all and then taught us the steps to the hypothermia dance in case we need it to keep ourselves warm at the summit.
Some of the trekkers skipped their dinner but I hungrily enjoyed mine, followed by a couple of hot gulab jamuns. I have immense appreciation for the cooks; cooking at high altitude is an onerous task. The privilege of being offered dessert after every dinner was overwhelming.
Day 6 – Goechala Summit – that night will be remembered
We woke up at midnight and donned sufficient warm layers. Tirth made a pact to have everyone walk in a sequence and help the fellow trekkers. The temperature was subzero and my headgear lamp was also flickering at this point! We carefully treaded, crossed streams and boulders and gradually conquered an ascent of 3000 ft. in a couple of hours!
The altitude really got to us during the last leg of the ascent and had our hearts racing! It was almost 5 hours of walking in the dark. It was mesmerizing to see the first golden rays of the sun softly falling on the snow-clad peaks of the mighty Kanchenjunga. Words and pictures would fail to justify the enthralling beauty of the view!
We couldn’t feel our fingers but we were at peace. I bowed down in front of the Kanchenjunga and recited Gayatri Mantra in my mind. Finally reaching the summit after an arduous trek always strengthens me spiritually and I was glad to make it here on Dusshera night.
We patted each other on the back for this generous victory! Every one of us relished this accomplishment. After months of efforts, all in the name of the Goechela summit, we could feel it was all worth it.
We started our descent to Samiti Lake for an early breakfast which we had packed the night before. The warmth of the sun never felt this good! On our way back to the campsite, I enjoyed the trail so much that unusual I put on my AirPods and listened to this. It was a bewitching experience.
We reached the campsite by mid-noon, devoured our lunch and went straight for the much-needed siesta. Despite conquering the summit, we were aware that going back to the basecamp wasn’t going to be an easy walk. Unlike other treks, in Goechala you have to use the same trail to return to the basecamp. Besides, we’ll have to make this descent to the basecamp in much shorter duration because during the ascent we had time for acclimatization, including a rest day in Dzongri campsite.
Day 7 – Thansing to Tshoka- Descending altitude
The following two days led us to the base camp. I was anxious to reach the basecamp before the weather takes a dramatic turn. As per the weather forecast by the locals, the possibility of rainfall was fairly high. On our way back, Indiahikes delighted us with a sweet gesture of treating us to a cake made with Suji. We cut the cake in celebration of the trek! Being blessed with a clear sky and no injury makes a trek all the more enjoyable. After all, all’s well that ends well. The group had a gaga session at the Tshoka dinner tent before heading to Yuksom the following day!
Day 8 – Back to Base Camp alongside Unlimited Food at MaMa’s Kitchen
All of us unpitched our tents for the last time in this trek, now filled with the excitement of enjoying a hot shower and a (winner winner) chicken dinner after all these days. It started raining soon after we reached the basecamp. We got ourselves Indiahikes T-shirt as memorabilia and headed to MaMa’s Kitchen in Yuksom. I dearly insist that you come here and bless yourself with their Pancakes. In my entire lifetimes, never have I ever eaten pancakes so delicious and fluffy. Of course, we weren’t satiated with just pancakes and ordered about another 10 dishes.
The following day we bid adieu to the Mountains with a heart heavy with unforgettable memories. Goechala is etched deep in all of our hearts and I’m sure we are all proud of accomplishing this trek.