[Trip Report] Goecha La Trek: April-May 2018

#1 Aug 7th, 2018, 14:27
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Goecha La Trek: April-May 2018

by
Joydeep Roy

It was an overcast afternoon in the calm jungle of Sachen when I suddenly had to stop walking hearing an unusual sound above my head. As soon as I looked up, I saw a large dead branch of the tree coming down right towards my head! I took a hasty step back and it fell just a couple of feet away from me. Relieved for a moment, I looked up again to find out the cause of it and discovered a big family of monkeys jumping from one tree to another. Getting scared to encounter another such danger, I almost ran the stretch with my feeble knees to get away from the reach of the monkeys. It was a narrow escape!

Unlike the above incident, the beginning of the journey was not so eventful. It all started when I planned to return to the trail of Goecha La as my previous visit six year ago was an incomplete venture. This time I decided to target end of April 2018; just before the monsoon season in Sikkim. Goecha La is a very popular moderate-to-tough trek located in west Sikkim from where a majestic view of Kanchenjunga range is visible. After a lot of planning, I finally joined a 7-member team of Hikers Adventure & Beyond, a group of trek enthusiasts based in Kolkata. The itinerary was as follows:

29 April : NJP to Yuksom by car.
30 April : Trek from Yuksom to Sanchen.
1 May : Sanchen to Tsokha.
2 May : Tsokha to Dzongri.
3 May : Dzongri top visit. Acclimatization Day (flexible).
4 May : Dzongri to Thanshing/Lamuney.
5 May: Thansing/Lamuney to Goechala via Samiti Lake and back to thansing/kokchurang.
6 May: Thansing/Kokchurang to Tsokha.
7 May: Tsokha to Yuksom. Trek ends.
8 May: Yuksom to NJP.

Day 1: Sealdah-New Jalpaiguri Darjeeling Mail pulled into its destination half an hour behind schedule, and overcast sky welcomed us in north Bengal. We went to the car parking area where our pre-booked car was waiting to take us to Yuksom, a small hamlet of West Sikkim which was the starting point of the trek. Our trek guide Sun Hang Limboo was also present there to meet and greet us. After exchanging the pleasantries, we rolled out from the station for a day-long journey to Yuksom. After having a lunch break at Melli (West Bengal-Sikkim border) and another unscheduled stop due to tyre puncture, we reached Yuksom around 5 pm amidst drizzle. To my much surprise, I found out that we were going to stay in the same hotel where I stayed six years ago!

The rain continued as we had our dinner and went to the bed leaving us a bit worried about next few days’ weather.

Day 2: As we finished the breakfast in the morning, a lot of activities started happening. We completed packing our rucksacks, porters arrived to take stock of rations and luggage and guide came up to brief us about the trek. Then we discovered that we would be joining another group of 7 trekkers whose itinerary was also as same as ours, and they also contacted our guide for this trek. So now we became a 15 member group trekking together.

After getting a brief from our guide on the routes, altitudes and other important things, we started our trek from Yuksom. The trail was wet, a bit slippery in places and involved lots of ups and downs. Today our first campsite would be at Sachen, 8 km away from Yuksom at an altitude of 7200 feet. We all walked at our own pace enjoying beauty of surroundings. At the same time we kept an eye on the leeches which were in abundance in the jungle. We crossed three hanging bridges en route. Finally we reached there around 2 pm. After taking a brief rest inside the tent, we had our lunch in the dining tent and spent the rest of the day in leisure.

Day 3: We woke up early morning and were delighted to see that the rain had stopped. Our next campsite for today was Tsoka which was 8 km ahead. We set out after having heavy breakfast. The trail was quite muddy and slippery thanks to last night’s rain. There were several small ascends and descends before we reached 4th bridge over Prek Chu river. We took a brief break at that beautiful place and took some nice pictures. From this point, the trail would go up continuously right upto Deorali top, a hilltop just before Dzongri. After a couple of hours from there we reached Bakhim, a small pit stop en route.

While we were taking a rest there, it started raining heavily. Some of us put on raincoats and continued towards Tsoka, and rest including me waited there for the rain to stop. The weather improved in around 30 minutes and we resumed our trek. We were now very excited because soon we would enter the rhododendron forest. This was the season of rhododendron blooming and our guide had said there were 38 varieties of rhododendron found in this area. Soon after, we spotted a blooming rhododendron tree. The tree was full of beautiful red flower. From now on, the more we gained altitude, the more were rhododendrons around us…of various colors and shapes. Finally after another two hours we reached Tsoka nested at an altitude of 10000-plus feet. Mt. Pandim could be seen from here, but due to cloud cover, we could not get the view. We had lunch, took some nice rest before having a photo session around in the afternoon. In the night before we went to sleep, we spotted the lights of Pelling town far away.

Sevoke Road


Melli along with river Teesta; border of West Bengal and Sikkim


Trek starts from Yuksom


Enroute Sachen


Sachen campsite


Prek Chu and Rothong Chu on the way to Tsoka


4th bridge over Prek Chu river


Rhododendron just after Bakhim


Tsoka campsite
past trips:
Kedar-Badri 2005 | Andhra Pradesh 2009 | Sandakfu 2011 | Dzongri 2012 | North Bengal-Sikkim 2013
Kashmir 2014 | Delhi-Agra 2014 | Rupin Pass 2015 | Rambha-Puri 2015 | Puri 2017 | Goecha La 2018
Tripura 2018

"Life begins at the end of your comfort zone"
#2 Aug 7th, 2018, 15:09
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  • Joydeep316 is offline
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Day 4: An excitement filled noise from the outside woke me up early in the morning; and immediately I saw the empty sleeping bag of my tent partner! I put on jacket and hurriedly got out of tent just to find an awesome cloudless morning sky. Almost everybody from all groups were standing around and busy setting up all kinds of tripods, go-pro, DSLRs etc. to capture the beautiful sunrise on Mt. Pandim. Mt. Pandim along with Tenzing peak and other snow-capped mountains were clearly visible from the campsite. Soon, the sun rose from the opposite side of Pandim and the whole nature suddenly turned into a heaven! All of us took lots of pictures of the beautiful sunlit mountains and then went to have breakfast.

After breakfast we started our trek to Dzongri. The trail soon disappeared into thick jungle, but walking through all kinds of rhododendrons was a delight. The higher we went, the denser became the trees and flowers. As time passed, the clouds started to rise from below; and soon the sun was covered with it. After a lot huffing and puffing we got to Phedang; a tiny campsite with only a kitchen hut. There we took a break and had packed lunch because it was already afternoon and it would take some more time to reach Dzongri.

We wasted little time after lunch and resumed journey as the cloud over us did not look good. The trail got even steeper, so walking speed was further reduced with frequent stoppages. I along with one teammate got to Deorali Top amidst blinding cloud all around. On a clear day a very beautiful 360 degree view of mountains along with Kanchenjunga could be visible from here, but it was not the case for us. This was my second visit here, and my luck was as same as my last visit! Anyway, we found that our guide was waiting there and he told us that he would return towards Phedang as one of us had a little problem. We continued our trek towards Dzongri which was around 1 km from there and the trail was downwards…for the first time in three days! But barely half a kilometer ahead, rain started and very soon it got converted into heavy snowfall. I almost ran towards the campsite to get shelter and when I got there, I saw only our dining tent had been set up. I threw myself inside of the tent with all wet clothes and backpack and waited there for others. After a while all of them reached safely and at the same time the snowfall also had reduced to some extent. Out tents were erected and we got hot tea and soup to warm ourselves up.

Dzongri is situated at an altitude of 13500 feet with two trekker’s huts and a couple of large campsites. Many trekkers take a whole day rest here to acclimatize themselves with the high altitude. After a long and tiring walk, we also took a long rest inside the tent to rejuvenate ourselves for tomorrow. We drank a lot of water to keep our bodies hydrated, which would in turn help acclimatize quickly. A few other teams were also there, so there were a lot of tents around! After the snowfall stopped, everybody got out and enjoyed themselves in the midst of snow and mountains till the evening.

Day 5: The wake-up call from our guide forced us to leave our cozy sleeping bags and tents at 3 am in the morning! Outside it were pitch dark and blistering cold. We looked up and saw a partially cloudy sky. Initially confused a bit on whether it would be worth going to Dzongri top, we decided to have a go. So we turned on our headlamps and marched on. Dzongri top was situated on a hill adjacent to Dzongri campsite a roughly kilometer away, but at a higher altitude. The trail was pretty steep, and somewhat slippery due to yesterday’s snow. It took me around one and half an hour to reach view point. My team members were already there well before me. The tiny place was full of trekkers from all the groups stayed at Dzongri last night. Everyone started taking photos, videos and of course selfies while sun rose from the east. Soon after, the cloud cover started to disappear and we eagerly waited for full 360 degree view. After a while, our wish came true. The cloud disappeared completely, and Kanchenjunga and the whole series of mountains simply turned magical as they were bathing in golden sunshine. We kept standing there and witnessing the mesmerizing beauty of the nature. The guide was also very happy to see this view and told us we were very lucky to get this kind of rare completely cloudless morning. The sunshine also boosted up our spirit. We cheered together, took plenty of photos in different poses and spend more than one hour there. After that we had to descend to our campsite because we still had a long day ahead of us.

After having a brief rest and breakfast we again grabbed our walking poles for onward journey. We would go to Thansing via Kokchurang and the trail would include lots of descends and ascends. Soon we started walking on the soft snow. The weather got bad and just like yesterday, thick fog-like cloud engulfed us from all sides. The surroundings were barely visible. We followed tiny trail mark and footmarks of mules and yaks to proceed and tried not to get lost. After a while, we reached a hill top from where the trail plunged downwards all the way to Kokchurang. It was a knee-breaking steep descend for me. I walked as slow as I could to avert any mishap. Finally I could hear the roaring sound of river Prek-chu and after sometime I got to the Kokchurang trekker’s hut for a much needed lunch break.

Kokchurang was a tiny place surrounded by mountains, jungle and accompanied by gushing Prek-chu river. The romantic scenery was worth spending a night there. By the time we finished our lunch, it was raining again. But as we didn’t have much time to wait, we carried on walking towards Thansing, only two kilometers from there. We had to encounter another brief climb through the jungle keeping the river on our left. As we were going up, the jungle began to faint, giving us signs of approaching Thansing valley. Suddenly after a turn, the trees disappeared and the valley opened up in front of us. We had seen plenty of sunny pictures of the valley, but the low-hanging dark cloud all over it gave a complete different look. By the time we got to the trekker’s hut, rain got converted into light snow. And as soon as we took shelter into our tents pitched next to the hut, the snowfall intensified. It was so heavy that we had to keep shaking our tents from inside to prevent it from collapsing under the weight of snow! After a good couple of hours, it stopped. We got back outside again and found the entire valley and surrounding mountains had been covered with fresh snow. It was another delightful scene that we were fortunate enough to witness.

Day 6: This was the most relaxed day we had in the entire trek; and there was little to elaborate. We woke up in the morning sunshine. The snow had melted overnight exposing the muddy field underneath. We started for Lamuney campsite in leisure which was 5 km away. We just had to cross the entire valley as Lamuney was at the other end of it. There was no difficulty walking on an almost flat terrain. But halfway across, the rain and snow returned along with sharp wind. There was nowhere to take shelter apart from the tiny kitchen hut at Lamuney campsite. Fully drenched, we waited there for a long time to allow our tents to be pitched at upper Lamuney campsite, a few hundred meters away. And by the time we got there, rain had stopped, but the chilly wind blowing freely across the open valley continued. At above 13500 feet, there was no vegetation but grass and small bushes around. We got inside the tents to let our bodies relax in the low oxygen region. One of us who had faced minor illness got fit after rest and medication.

Lamuney campsite was very beautifully located at the base of Mt. Pandim. Prek Chu river was flowing down on the left side of the valley. At 7:30pm when we got call for early dinner we went outside and saw almost clear moonlit sky with thousands of stars. The entire valley and surrounding mountains were clearly visible in moonlight. All of us finished dinner, took some pictures in night mode and quickly went to sleep with anticipation of a good weather for tomorrow.

Mt. Pandim in the morning seen from Tsoka


Tsoka Monestary


Trail towards Dzongri


Dzongri campsite after snowfall


Dzongri top from the distance


Sunshine on Kanchenjunga seen from Dzongri top in the morning


Beautiful view from Dzongri top. Mt. Pandim on the right


Bird's eye view of Dzongri campsite


Way to Thansing from Dzongri


Thansing campsite


Misty weather on the way to Lamuney
Last edited by Joydeep316; Aug 8th, 2018 at 14:42..
#3 Aug 7th, 2018, 15:42
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Day 7: 2:00 am. Pitch dark, deadly silence and bone rattling cold. It was when we got wakeup call from our guide. It was THE DAY. We already were mentally prepared for it. We put on all warm clothes we had been carrying along and had some hot coffee before getting detailed brief on what was lying ahead of us. We would be going to the view point 1 of Goecha La and try to reach there before the daybreak to witness the sunrise on mt. Kanchenjunga. Our guide Sun Hung was leading us and we turned on our headlamps to follow him. The trail was narrow, steep; and lack of air made the ordeal tougher. We completely focused on the trail; because any small mistake could have led to something serious. After walking 2 kms we reached Samiti Lake; we barely saw it in the moonlight. But there was no stopping then, we had to keep pushing ourselves. As the height kept increasing, my speed kept getting slower, and forcing me to stop frequently for a breather. Fit team members were already far ahead, so I decided not to chase them and walk on my own pace. After a while, I understood that I would not make it to the top before the sunshine, but still did not take risk to push myself beyond my limit; as it could stop me from reaching the destination altogether.

It was almost 5 o’clock when I saw the first soft red sunlight on the peak of Kanchenjunga while I was yet to reach VP1. I did not forget to capture the moment with the camera, and kept walking. Soon after, I could see the top crowded with trekkers and guides of different groups. It somehow boosted me and I literally dragged myself to that point spending the last bit of energy left in my body. I sat there for few minutes, took some water and dry fruits as I felt very hungry and only after then I could feel how heavenly the place was. It was finally my dream-come-true moment for which I had been waiting for past six years. The feeling of accomplishment delayed me to take out my camera and capture the moments. There was absolutely no cloud in the sky and snow covered mountains all around us along with Mt. Kanchenjunga simply looked glorious with the bright sunshine. As this view point was on the top of a hill, we could see the parts of Goecha and Rothong glaciers and moraines below. Now Mt. Pandim was behind us as we crossed it from its left side. The whole scene was beyond describing. We kept taking photos and recorded videos as much as we could. The better thing was all fifteen members of our joint group had made it all the way; so it was a 100% successful trek for us! It was still so cold that water in someone’s bottle partly turned into ice, but that could not keep us from celebrating the success.

After spending more than an hour, our guide showed us the notice board put up by the Sikkim Govt. not allowing anybody to venture beyond view point 1. Before 2016, trekkers could go upto view point 3 (the highest point of the pass) via Goecha Lake. But as we were not that lucky, we took the return path. We were the last group to depart, and all of us were tired and hungry. Our next pit stop was Samity Lake. This lake was the source of Prek Chu River. The reflection of surrounding mountains on the emerald colored water was another highlight of Goecha La trek. We took a long break there while having packed refreshments before we headed back to our camps at Lamuney.

Having accomplished our goal, now it was the time to return. With heavy heart, we repacked our rucksacks. The nature also presented us the real beauty of the valley with clear sky and bright sunshine…a perfect setting to spend time in the mountains. But we were only halfway done. We needed to descend all the way to Kokchurang, our next campsite. After finishing lunch, we made our return journey leaving behind the beautiful valley. Nothing much happened till we reached the campsite of Kokchurang just before evening; except some occasional showers. But after reaching there we came to know that the condition of the member who was earlier not well had somewhat deteriorated; and she was being brought down with assistance of guides. After some anxious moments, they all reached. The doctors in our group took a good care of her and applied medicines and also told her to take complete rest. The cause of the illness was probably due to prolonged exposure to cold and high altitude. But we all were hopeful to hear better news on the next day. The longest day of the trek ended when we threw our exhausted bodies inside the warmth of sleeping bags and fell asleep almost immediately.

Day 8: The first thing we did in the morning was to esquire about our trek mate’s condition. She was not fully ok, but improved a lot and would be able to continue descending down to Tsoka; our destination for today. The guide decided to accompany her and showed us the trail to be walked on. Just as I thought that it would be a dull walk, I was proved wrong as soon as I began. It was narrow, separated from the main trail we took earlier, going through dense jungle and of course very scenic with blooming rhododendron all around. This trail directly joined the main route at Phedang bypassing Dzongri. Mules and Yaks can’t ply in this route, so they all reach Phedang via Dzongri. As a result, the bypass was quite clean too. Anyway, we all reached Phedang in the afternoon and took a long rest at the kitchen hut to have much needed lunch. Then we resumed walking towards Tsoka. The climb had now become steep descend which was pretty hard to my knees. But the beauty of the trail (which we already witnessed a few days ago) kept us going. The sun, cloud and rain played hide and seek as we reached Tsoka campsite in the late afternoon to call it a day. But we had no idea that another surprise was waiting at the dinner table. The support team had made a beautiful cake to celebrate the success! We all gathered and shared the happiness with the guide and support team.

Day 9: This was the day when we had to leave the adobe of the nature and get back to the civilization. Yuksom was 16 kms from Tsoka, and we had to reach there before the evening. So we set off pretty early, after having breakfast at the trekker’s hut one last time. Pretty soon everyone started to walk on his/her own pace and detached from each other. But nobody was worried as the trail was known. Eventually we crossed Bakhim, left the garden of rhododendrons and kept descending all the way upto the bridges. Our guide gave us the packed lunch at Tsoka itself so that all could have that at the convenient time. I took the lunch break at Sachen campsite and continued. On the way down we kept exchanging wishes with the teams going up towards Sachen. Nothing much happened en route except the incident mentioned at the beginning! Finally at 4 pm in the afternoon, with extremely tired body and weak knees, I returned to the hotel at Yuksom. Two of us already reached there, and rest came afterwards. We congratulated each other with lots of smiles and jokes for successfully and safely achieving the goal as a group. Just a few days ago we all were strangers to each other, but the hardship and challenge of the trek bonded us as a team where we helped and encouraged each other to chase our dream and make it a reality.

Contact Info: Hikers Adventure & Beyond (Trek organiser), Kolkata - https://www.facebook.com/hikersab/, https://www.hikersab.com/ - +91 9804733890

Sun Hang Chong (guide), Yuksom - +91 9733182128

First sun on Kanchenjunga just before reaching view point 1


Goecha La view point 1


View from VP1


Frozen ground below VP1 seen from the top


Samity lake on the way back to Lamuney


Samity lake


Lamuney valley


Lamuney campsite after returning from Goecha La


Kokchurang Campsite


Trail to Phedang through the jungle


Rhododendrons all around


Tricky area of the trail


Crossing the last bridge on the trek before reaching Yuksom
#4 Aug 7th, 2018, 17:48
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Enjoyed the photos along with the journey.. Thanks.
Sar Pass Trek , Rohtang, Munnar, Badrinath Kedarnath, Vaishnodevi, Goa, VOF, Kedarkantha, Kuari Pass, Brahmatal Trek
#5 Aug 7th, 2018, 18:26
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Lovely report and great pictures...
#6 Aug 9th, 2018, 00:25
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  • abir choudhury is offline
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That was nostalgic, brought back a flood of great memories from my first trek. Great report, made me want to go back for a 2nd round of Goechela.
#7 Aug 9th, 2018, 10:43
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Quote:
Originally Posted by abir choudhury View Post That was nostalgic, brought back a flood of great memories from my first trek. Great report, made me want to go back for a 2nd round of Goechela.
Thank you so much. This was indeed my 2nd time there. The failure at the 1st time made me return to the same trail
#8 Aug 11th, 2018, 21:18
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Great writing I am also planning for Goecha La trek in November. I have heard that some guide can take upto VP3 Goecha Lake. If we can reach there early can we make it?
#9 Aug 13th, 2018, 10:59
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Quote:
Originally Posted by itsgp View Post Great writing I am also planning for Goecha La trek in November. I have heard that some guide can take upto VP3 Goecha Lake. If we can reach there early can we make it?
Permission for going beyond VP1 is no longer issued. As I wrote, there's a board by Govt. at VP1 forbidding anyone to go beyond that point, and guides strictly adhere to that because if the news anyway goes to the officials, their permit would be cancelled.

So it is recommended that anyone should not put pressure on guide for taking beyond the permissible limit at it might endanger their livelihoods.

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