Shortly after I got back from my first trek, to Roopkund, I was already planning my second trek. After giving it some thought, I decided that the next destination for me should be Sikkim. I had been there once as a kid but didn’t remember much of it. Plus, I remembered that the trek leader for the previous trek did mention that they will start treks in Sikkim soon. After taking a quick look through the treks available, I found what I was looking for. I was going to go for the Goechala Trek in Sikkim.
The Goechala trek is conducted in Kanchenchunga National Park and takes about 9 days to complete; that is the duration at a leisurely pace. The distance covered is roughly 90 km, 45 km out and back, and goes to a height of about 16,000 ft (4,800 m). The main attraction is a grand view of Mt Kanchenchunga as the sun rises but that’s not all that this trek offers. It has some truly spectacular scenery to offer up too. The best time to go for this trek is from March to May because that is the time that the hills are covered in rhododendrons in bloom and are said to be a sight to behold.
So without further ado, let’s skip to November of 2014, when I went on the best trek I’ve been on yet.
It was a simple, 11-day itinerary and read like this:
- Day 1: New Jalpaiguri (NJP) to Yuksom
- Day 2: Yuksom to Sachen
- Day 3: Sachen to Tshokha
- Day 4: Tsokha to Dzongri via Phedang
- Day 5: Rest day in Dzongari
- Day 6: Dzongari to Thansing via Kokcharang
- Day 7: Thansing to Lamuney
- Day 8: Lamuney to Goechala via Samiti Lake back to Kokcharang
- Day 9: Kokcharang to Tsokha via Phedang
- Day 10: Tsokha to Yuksom
- Day 11: Yuksom to NJP
The Goechala Trek
Day 1: New Jalpaiguri (NJP) to Yuksom
Getting to the start point was simple enough. All the trekkers were supposed to meet up at the New Jalpaiguru Railway Station. From there we would be driven about 150 km north to the city of Yuksom in Sikkim. We did as requested, with minor alterations to pick up points but when we were all together, we were able to complete the meet and greet and introduce ourselves to one another. The group had a group of 5 friends from Mumbai and 3 individuals, including me; all in all, it was just 8 trekkers. This was shaping up to be good already (I like trekking in small groups as opposed to some trekking companies that take upwards of 20 people at a time).
We all piled into our transport, which was a Mahindra Bolero (I think) and started out. The first bits of the drive, heading out of the city, was typical of the plains. Long straight roads with vegetation on either side but the closer we got to the border between Sikkim and West Bengal, the more winding the road got. Once we were through the border, it just turned into a usual drive in the mountains. There were twisty roads which were undergoing repairs in some places and was being widened in some others. We even had long segments where we would have the river Rangeet either to our left or to our right.
It was just a drive of 150 km but it took us quite some time to cover it and it was just after dark that we reached Yuksom and our hotel. It had been booked by the organisers of the trek and it was a nice little place with about 7 or 8 rooms. We quickly split up into groups of 3 and settled into our rooms. Later that evening we were briefed about the trek and formally introduced each other. After dinner we repacked for the trek, decided what we won’t be needing and left it behind in a bag, to be collected at the end of the trek.
Day 2: Yuksom to Sachen
This was the day we started walking but we didn’t start too early because the destination, Sachen, was not too far away. After a quick warm-up we headed out of the village and into Kanchenchunga National Park where we were told that if we wanted, we could use any of the streams to fill our bottles since everything was clean and fresh. After a quick break to eat our packed lunch, we reached the campsite of Sachen (7,200 ft or 2195 m) where we were given out tent assignment. Through some error in counting and a lot of luck, I wound up with 1 tent all to myself.
The rest of the day was spent just relaxing. It had been an easy day but I still didn’t feel like we had arrived since the campsite was just by the side of the trail and not on an open plateau or anything like that. That night we were told the plan for the next day, fed our soup and dinner and then told to get some sleep.
Day 3: Sachen to Tshokha
The next day’s climb was to the next campsite at Tshokha at an altitude of 9,700 ft (2956 m). on the way to that campsite we happened to run into a most interesting gentleman. He, and his wife, there with another trekking group. When we got talking to him, he told us that the last time he had been on the Goechala Trek was 20 YEARS AGO!!
He also told us that he had been on multiple treks in the Himalayas. He was like a walking talking encyclopedia of all the treks you could go on in the Himalayas. In fact, if you were to name the trek, he could tell you when you would see the grand views and where you should stand to get the best angles.
After talking to him for a bit we were asked to continue towards Tshokha, so we said our goodbyes and carried on and about 90 steep minutes later we reached the campsite. The fact that it was a bit crowded did not, in the least, detract from how perfect this campsite was. Even though the groups from other trekking companies got there first, we managed to find a nice little spot for ourselves. Just as we set up camp, we were treated to a nice lunch of macaroni.
A short while after lunch we were taken on a short hike some 100 ft above the campsite to fulfil the rule of “climb high sleep low”. On the way down I indulged in some photography then went off to loiter around. In the evening we visited a small shop at the campsite. It sold things like gloves, batteries, Maggie… all the stuff you usually need on such treks. That night, after dinner, we fell asleep rather quickly because everyone was just so tired. Little did I know about the mountain I would have to climb the next day (literally and figuratively)
Day 4: Tshokha to Dzongri
The next morning I woke up before the sun rose; it was not by design, its just how I am when I am in the hills. Since there were still a few hours to breakfast and that days climb, I decided to do some more photography. It was a good thing too because it gave me this masterpiece!
After breakfast, we packed up and headed out. The day was to be a series of climbs and walks across plateaus and let me tell you IT WASN’T EASY. Not because there was something tough about the climb itself but just because I was a bit unprepared for it. This is where the fitness thing comes into play. For Roopkund I was fit, in the middle of a running season, but this time I had been lazy and was not in such great shape.
The trek was absolutely lovely but in no time I was huffing and puffing under the weight of my backpack and the rapidly thinning air. The problem with not being fit is that it may put you in a situation where the suffering distracts you from all the beautiful sights around you. We had been told that there would be 3 climbs to deal with that day so I was very happy when the third climb was over for two very particular reasons.
First, because the climbing was done for the day and I could look forward to a leisurely walk to the campsite. Second because when I did reach the top of the last climb, I was greeted by this sight.
After that inspiring sight, it took me just about an hour to get to the campsite at Dzongari. I was also happy to see the campsite because it meant that the break had finally arrived! The next day was a rest day to let us acclimatize to 13,000 ft (4,000 m) and I planned to sleep in and enjoy some well-earned rest.
Day 5: Rest day in Dzongari
Unfortunately, our trek leader had other ideas and my hopes for sleeping in on the rest day were dashed when we were told that we will be waking up early to go see the sunrise from the top of the hill behind us. Even though I was a bit grumpy about the whole thing in the morning, when we reached the top, I had no regrets about waking up early.
After 30 very windy and chilly minutes at the top, I headed back down to the campsite. The rest of the day was spent taking a nap in the warm sun, going for short walks here and there and just chilling with my fellow trekkers. That night, we turned in early because we were supposed to be off the next day to the campsite of Thansing.
Day 6: Dzongari to Thansing via Kokcharang
On the morning of the 6th day, I was up before the crack of dawn, as usual (it’s usually the best time to go answer the call of nature 😛 ), and ready to move out in a short while. After a breakfast, we left Dzongari for Thansing. On the way, we stopped at two places. Once was at about 13,000ft (4,000 m) when we were told that there was a very pretty lake about 100 m to our left.
We spent about an hour at the lake and then headed down the mountain. The plan was to cross the valley below us at the campsite of Kokcharang then climb again for about an hour or so to reach the destination, Thansing. Kokcharang was a yet another pretty campsite. It’s by the bank of a river but a little further back from it. There was a trekking hut (run by the forest department) there and just about 30ft from it was a small stream that flowed into the river. The whole scene was very nice and I was feeling a bit sad that we were not staying there.
After a quick snack, we started out for the other side of the river when some clouds rolled in. Me and two others with me decided to soldier on and when the fog cleared, found ourselves walking across some VERY round and slippery rocks. The rest of the group had gone ahead and we couldn’t see them so we decided to take it really easy least we hurt ourselves. Some tense moments passed before we reached the other side of the river and began climbing to Thansing.
The campsite of Thansing was located in a massive valley and had a lot of open space around it. There was a trekkers hut here as well and I was happy to know that everyone had decided to forgo the tents and sleep in the hut instead. It turned out to be a good idea because I was really beginning to miss the ability to stand up straight while changing.
The hut had multiple rooms of different sizes and already had some other trekkers in them so we chose a room that was empty and 6 of us piled in. It was a bare room with just a wooden platform to put our sleeping bags on and no electricity, a problem sorted by hanging a torch from the beams. After we settled in, it was just a matter of whiling the time away till dinner with a bit of exploring.
Tip: On the way down to Kokcharang, I noticed swelling in my left hand so when we reached the bottom of the decent, I consulted the trek leader who told me to keep my gloves on and not take them off. Something to do with altitude and the cold I guess.
Day 7: Thansing to Lamuney
The next day we left Thansing and headed for Lamuney, our final campsite before the summit of the trek and the return journey. There was no rush in reaching the site because it was just about 1 hour from Thansing. This site had nothing but a hut for the kitchen to be set up in so it was back to the tents. We went for a short walk and explored the area while we waited for lunch. After lunch, we did a bit more of the same and then were told the plan for the next morning.
The plan was to get up at around 1 am and head for the foot of Mt Pandim. That was the climax of this trek and the plan was to get to the viewpoint before sunrise. The grand moment being an up-close look at Mt Kanchenchunga. With the plan set in place, we were instructed to go to sleep early and get plenty of rest.
Day 8: Lamuney to Goechala via Samiti Lake and back to Kokcharang
This day began at 1 am when we were woken up with some nice hot tea and told to prepare to move out. Once everyone was up and ready we switched on our torches and headed out. It was pitch black and as we headed away from the flat ground and into the mountainous terrain, we were told that the best thing to do was to ensure that we kept the shoes of the person ahead of us in the light of our head torches.
Since it was pitch black, there was nothing really to see around us so we just kept climbing. It was very cold, and I was giving myself a pat on the back for deciding to wear the waterproof pants over my trekking pants because the waterproof pants managed to keep the cold wind off my legs. We were climbing for about 2 to 3 hours or so before we reached our destination.
I need not write about the awesomeness of this place so I’ll leave it to these pictures to explain the rest.
Once we were done with sights from the top, we headed back down and took a short break, and a nap at Samiti Lake. While there we did manage to have some fun with skipping stones on a frozen lake. After chilling there for some time, we came back to Lamuney. After lunch, we started the trek back. The next stop, as I was happy to find out, was Kokcharang.
A few hours of walking and we were back at Kokcharang, and it was then that I realised that the route I had taken up the mountain, over the boulders while heading up to Thansing had been completely unnecessary. Why? Because there was a bridge right at the point we took a wrong turn. It was right there, hidden by the fog. That night, we stayed in the trekker’s hut since ours was just one of the two groups camped there negating the need for tents.
Day 9: Kokcharang to Tsokha via Phedang
The next morning we headed back to Tsokha, except this time, we were taking a different route from the one we took to come in. This one was narrow, very narrow, and could only be traversed by people. We walked across two small landslides and through red panda territory (no, we didn’t see any Red Pandas). This was one of the longer days of the trek but it was a great walk. After a long days walk, we ended up back in Tshokha where we decided to stay in the trekker’s hut instead of the tents. This was to be our last day in the mountains because the next day we would be back in Yuksom and preparing to head back to NJP.
I thought I’ll pitch my tent and spend the last night in the tent but eventually decided to join everyone and it turned out to be a really good decision because it had begun to rain and it was nice and dry inside.
Day 10: Tsokha to Yuksom
The last day of the trek, we got up and packed one last time before we headed back. By evening we would be back in Yuksom and back to a warm bed and a hot shower. The return was largely uneventful and in a few short hours, we were back at the gate of Kanchenchunga National Park. 30 minutes later we were back at the guest house we started from.
That night we celebrated our return with a nice dinner and some local drink after which we retired to our rooms one last time before heading out to NJP the next day.
Goechala vs Roopkund trek
The main difference between this trek and the Roopkund trek was that the terrain was wildly different. Here, as opposed to the Garhwal Hills, the hills in Sikkim are much steeper and the forests denser. Some of the other differences between these two treks are that Goechala is a longer and tougher trek. The duration of this trek is also longer in this trek. The altitude gain is also a bit slower here than in Roopkund.
Overall both the treks are very different and are very pretty. Goechala may be a bit more ardours so if you plan to do this trek, you better come prepared.
After having done 2 more treks after this one, I still maintain that if there was a trek that I would love to go back to, it would be this one. One reason for this decision is that because this is a truly spectacular trek, but my biggest reason is my regret. It was on the last day, as we were nearing the gates of the national park that had this horrible feeling that I had somehow missed most of the trek.
I didn’t seem to remember bits of it in as much detail as I did the moments of the Roopkund Trek. It was then that I realised that I probably knew why I felt that way. The answer was in my hands and it occurred to me that for a sizeable amount of the time, I was so busy documenting the trek through the camera that I had not taken the time to appreciate where I was. So here’s my 2 cents worth for you, I still go for treks, and I still take lots and lots of photographs but don’t forget to enjoy where I am. Sometimes, it’s better to not document everything.