One fine evening whilst playing TT, Vikas suggested that a plan was in the making to go trekking to Goecha-la, Sikkim. Off we went, our merry little band, but before that there were preparations to be made and procedures to be followed. It started with a lot of lazing around and postponing the booking of tickets but eventually, tickets from Bangalore to Kolkata were booked. From there we were to embark on a train journey to New Jalpaiguri and then a 6 hour taxi ride to Yuksom, followed by a whole lot of walking, climbing and falling to Goecha-La.
Stuff had to be bought and lists had to be made, which as Mr. Murphy would have it were useless, so I will try to highlight certain things that I fondly missed on my trek. We made several trips to this awesome Mecca of everything sports related called Decathlon, which is inconveniently located on the farthest edge of Bangalore. It had everything that you could ever want and we ‘managed’ to get a membership discount, which is huge.
First of all, Sleeping Bag. Vikas promptly ( read 2 trips and several weeks of pining ) bought a cool sleeping bag, with an equally cool name S10, while yours truly had won a similar sleeping bag in a hacking competition and decided “eh, why spend money on critical stuff, let’s just go with whatever crap has been sitting on the desk for 2 years without ever trying it on”. Turns out the bag was not sufficient warm and didn’t fit at the shoulders, many a nights were spent shivering and coming up with innovative solutions to that stupidity.
Next we bought this tent and it turns out that this was actually very good. IV lent me his awesome hiking shoes so I didn’t have to buy those, but if you are thinking about them, may I suggest these. The properties of good hiking shoes are that they should have solid toe protection from when you stub them, it should have an inflexible sole so that your feet don’t tire from walking on stones and rocks, have ankle protection to prevent twisting them, a good grip and if possible they should be water proof. You should break into the shoes before you take them hiking, new shoes are painful. These were the main things, now let’s get on with the trip.
Day -1 ( Bangalore to Kolkata ) : The dumb day happened to be the one after the ‘verdict’ and stupid airport buses were running late and taxi-walas were hovering around like mosquitoes. Anyhoo, Vikas and I got a taxi and reached the airport well in time to have a subway sandwitch (yum!) and chillax to some music while waiting for the flight. After an uneventful flight, we reached Kolkata and got another taxi to ‘New Town’ where Vikas’s college-mate, Saurav resides. I must say, I quite liked that part of Kolkata, it was nice, with cheap autos, fountains, nice building and decent food. So we killed sometime sitting around the fountain and then we left for the railway station, Sealdah. Boy, it was infested with people, we were standing on a platform and a whole wavefront of humans swept us when a local arrived, they just kept coming and coming and coming. Soon, we boarded our train, Darjeeling Mail and we were off to New Jalpaiguri (NJP). The train was very fast indeed and I slept well.
Day 0 ( NJP to Yuksom ) : We reached NJP early in the morning and had breakfast at some random disgusting dhabha. Then we took a rickety auto to SNT ( Sikkim Nationalized Transport, I found out later ) where we were supposed to take a cab to Yuksom. Here is where we found a couple (Aditi and Sandeepan) who were looking to share a cab to Yuksom and ended up tagging along for the whole trip and cutting our expense to half of the projected budget, so thanks! The cab ride was wonderful as the roads wound up the hills and crisscrossing Teesta River. We had lunch at a rotund old lady’s home at Jorethang and continued on to Yuksom. We reached Yuksom at 4 and finished with the Police formalities and went into our rooms in a hotel with an odd name and no hot water. This was followed by a weird mid-night at 5:30 PM and pitch darkness by 6:00 PM. We fumbled around to find our flashlights.
So people, flashlights. In towns/villages/areas with < 10 people, it is highly likely that there won’t be a stable power supply, if at all and in the hills it tends to get dark very early. You should buy a nice flashlight, preferably one with LEDs and a couple of batteries. You should remove the batteries each night and keep them in your pocket. This should be done for two reasons, firstly, batteries loose power in the cold, secondly, prevent accidentally leaving the flashlight on through the night.
After having a quick dinner and a minor scuffle with the guide that we had engaged over the phone, who was trying to rip us off by charging us twice as much as the normal rate and switching to a new guide, we went to bed ( see how I carefully navigated past the ugliness ). Anyways, whoever you talk to, be it guide I will suggest or others you might come to know off, talk to multiple people and confirm. There is a lot of fear mongering and mud-sledging that you can avoid.
Day 1 ( Yuksom to Tshoka via Sachen, Bakhim ) : We got some shiny bamboo walking sticks and we were off. This is the longest stretch of the trek, approx. 18 KM. We started early in the morning at 7 A.M. and barely reached at 5:15 PM. On the way we had tea at Sachen, which is a fancy name for a small concrete hut. And lunch at Bakim, which used to be the first tent ground before trekker huts were built at Tshoka. Bakhim had a small tea and odds-n-ends shop, where you can buy soupy maggie for 20 bucks.Onwards we marched, for we had mountains to cross and it was here, after stepping to some mulch, while looking at some awesome waterfalls ( you get tired of those ) that I slipped and hurt my knee 😦
So here is the thing people, you should buy copious amounts of ‘Volini‘ and a scrape bandage or two, if not a knee guard like this one. This is what kept me walking for the next few days.
The road to Tshoka is beautiful and mostly level. You will see valleys, landslides, waterfalls, rivulets, streams and a lot of trees and mountains. There would be 4 bridges on Ratong Chu River, and a steep climb to reach Bakim. The terrain is less steep from then onwards but there is still more climbing to be done. We had a sumptuous dinner at Tshoka and there were beds (sorta) which we wouldn’t see for the next 8 or so days. It was cold, I slept well.
Day 2 ( Tshoka to Dzongri via Phedang ) : We woke up early, had a heavy breakfast and went off to Dzongri. The road till Phedang was made easy by the wooden planks that had been put so that Yaks don’t slip in the slush. They made the climbing easy and the walking fun. We made good time until lunch. Phedang again is just a grazing ground for yaks and mules, and you can sit and eat. After this the trek was tougher and we climbed on and on to Dzongri. There is no water available via streams after Phedang till Dzongri, so I suggest carrying some along.
Dzongri is again a wooden shack next to a stream of freezing cold water. Since there was a group that had gotten delayed ( some guy got sick ) and stayed an extra day, we didn’t get a room in the trekker’s hut. The couple quickly made arrangements to bunk with fellow bongs, while the three of us had to sleep in the Dinning Hall. We huddled up in a corner, on top of some tents and I had to get inventive. I layered my stupid sleeping bag on the inside with a shawl on the bottom and a thick sheet on top. Under it I put my waterproof Jacket ( as advertised in the adjacent picture ), but I still kept shivering. It was cause my feet were cold. So I got out a giant garbage bag that we had taken along and wore it over the sleeping bag.
So, Garbage Bags. They can act as layers when it is cold, rain-coats if it starts to rain, bags to stuff stinky clothes in, water proof covering for your baggage and of-course garbage bags.
The subsequent morning was allotted for a trip to ‘Dzongri Top’. From here you can see Mt. Kabru, Mt. Kanchenjunga, Mt. Pandim, Mt. Narsing and some others. The view, I am told is majestic. But since I had hurt my knee and didn’t really want to climb in the dark ( you had to leave at 3:30 AM to reach before sunrise ), I skipped this leg of the trip. Instead I slept and recovered my strength.
Day 3 ( Dzongri to Thangsing via Kokchrung ) : After the tired folk returned from Dzongri Top, I was ready to roll after a massive dump and idiotically washing my face in water that was so cold it gave me a headache ( Never did that again ). It got easy from here. The road was wonderfully level and I was awestruck with natural beauty every ten steps. Alas! I didn’t have a camera and snotty photographers with me wouldn’t take any pictures (except for those of mules). Anyways, here is a hi-res image of the valley. This valley ended with a very very steep descent, the path was mostly gravel and loose rock and at time it just wouldn’t seem to end. Here I slipped again, after stepping on some Yak poo and then stepping on a stone with moss (dammint!). I staggered on until I reached Kokchrung, were we had lunch and moved on into the forest onwards to Thangsing. This forest was very pretty, filled with streams and trees with red leaves but I didn’t give a shit cause my legs hurt, my shoulders hurt and it was getting cold. Finally, at Thangsing we found out that there was only one trekker’s hut and all ten ( 5 in our group and 5 from the previously described group ) had to share. We thought, “eh, nothing would be worse than a tent, let’s just get this over with”, we were wrong! Dinner was had, cold water was drunk, boisterous bong chatter ignored and I fell asleep. The hut was sorta warm, but I discovered that my garbage bag was wet, while others were woken up to gentle drops of dews falling on their faces ( freezing cold dew ), apparently a cloud had decided to come on in and say hi to all of us ( Thank god for garbage bags ).
Day 4 ( Thangsing to Lamunay ) : This was by far the easiest leg of the trek, the terrain was flat and we just had to go approx 5-6 KM. We hopped and skipped to Lamunay. I had an edge here, my shoes were waterproof so I just went splashing in the water, while other had to carefully maneuver >:) At Lamunay, lunch was had, it snowed for a couple of minutes and we decided that we ought to goto Sungmoteng Lake ( aka, Samiti Lake ) the same day. After a lot of fear-mongering by arbitrary people and quick thinking on Saurav’s part we decided to go anyways. My reasoning was different from his but the idea was the same. I didn’t feel like doing the early morning trek to Goecha-La in the dark the next day and he is just full of energy. Thankfully vikas was just as lazy as I was and more interested in rivers than mountains so a consensus was reached. Contrary to the nay-sayers we reached Samiti Lake in a surprising 40 mins. It was steep, but short. Samiti Lake was wonderful, the water was crystal clear and cold. We came back after spending an hour and an unsuccessful attempt to go around the lake. We reached back and we were greeted with warm tea. After that, we retired to our awesome!! tent. It was warm and cosy and had a special hook to hang the flashlight in the night.
I slept well.
Day 5 ( Lamunay to Goecha-La and back to Kokchrung) : People woke up early in the morning at 2:30 or 3:00 AM, while I slept in, and went off to Goecha-La. It is mountain pass beyond Samiti Lake and you can get a real good look at all the Mountain ranges from there. There are lot of pictures of that place in Saurav’s and Vikas’s photo-stream (links below). The tired people came back by 7 am and we had a lazy breakfast and left only by 10:30 AM. This wasn’t such a good idea, since our road was long and there was surprise waiting for us. We reached Thangsing by 1 PM and all of sudden it mist all around us. The guide thought it might start raining and that is not a good thing. Luckily it only drizzled and we reached Kokchrung by 5 PM. Kokchrung is also just a hut next to a river, and this also had just one long hall which was shared by everyone. Surprisingly, my knee hurt less and all my tricks for keeping me warm helped me get a good sleep.
Day 6 ( Kokchrung to Bakim ) : The guide came up with the brilliant idea of getting us a place in the nice guesthouse at Bakim for Himalayan Mountaineering Institute. The way is long but the steep decent from Dzongri to Kokchrung that I had described earlier is completely avoided. Off we went. It had rained heavily the night before, the path was full of mulch and slush and I had an advantage again ( awesome shoes! ). It was hot and humid as we forced our way through thick woods and often finding the path was difficult. Our cook had packed us a bunch of boiled eggs and pototoes along with thick half-baked bread for lunch, which we ate at Phedang and kept on moving. But as fate would have it, a company of ITBP ( Indo-Tibetan Border Police ) girls had come for training and they just zoomed on past us to the HMI rest house. We made camp at Bakhim. Since it was effectively the last day in the mountains, the guide and cook had planned a feast for us. It consisted to a helping of soup, followed by a course of Chinese chopsuey, followed by jeera rice, followed by Cake. Yes, they actually managed to bake a cake where boiling water on the stove is monumental task. After our stomachs were full, we sang and the guides and cooks sangs and the yakmen sang and the porters sang and we had jolly good time. We retired late to our beds ( by mountain standards, IMHO it was a pesky 8:30 or 9 PM ). I didn’t sleep well at all. The tent sucked ass. And I was woken up by a Yak-tick biting my foot, not pleasant.
Day 7 ( Bakim to Pelling via Yuksom etc. ): We started early and the journey was mostly down-hill. Fueled by my will to get-this-over-with with a side of i-wanna-go-home-now, I walked quickly. The journey was unremarkable, other than a leach that bit men on my ankle. We reached Yuksom, had lunch and took a bunch of pictures. Post that we decided we should leave for Pelling, which is much bigger town with nice hotels, warm water and swords. Saurav suggested that we should visit Khecheopalri Lake and Kanchenjunga falls on our way back. We hired a cab and since the guide was super happy with warm gratitude and our generous tips, he got us a discount on the taxi fare.
Khecheopalri Lake is an amazing place, it is so serene and calm, it almost unnerving. The lake is a good 2-3KM from the village and we walked the whole distance wondering why there wasn’t any sound. The lake has red fish which is also awesome. Kanchenjunga falls is the highest waterfalls in sikkim, they are really high (heh). We drove right under the waterfall, but since it was too dark, there are no pictures. We reached Pelling at night, booked a hotel, bathed with hot water, stuffed our faces with food and promptly fell asleep. Oddly enough, Vikas was up at an ungodly hour.
Day 8 ( Pelling to Kolkata via NJP ) : We roamed around the beautiful city and had an amazing breakfast and devised devious plans of splitting the entire ‘kharcha’. Post that, we got cabs and left for NJP. Stopped at Jorethang again for some lunch, but didn’t feel like it and reached NJP by evening. We said our goodbyes and crashed at the same disgusting dhabba for a good 2 hours. After that we killed another hour and then took the Darjeeling Mail back to Kolkata. There was a very interesting family that were traveling along and I struck up conversation with the father who happened to be a professor of English at Siliguri. We talked about a variety of things to while away the time. I slept and we reached Kolkata a little later than expected.
Day 9 ( Kolkata to Ranchi ) : We took a cab to Saurav’s place, and placed ourselves comfortably all over his mattress while he got dressed to go to office. We had gotten some chips and fruits cause the thought of going to get lunch seemed like the most hellish thing ever. We munched on that, checked mail, saw some cricket and soon it was time for the train to Ranchi. I said goodbye to the new friend I had made and off we went to Howrah Station. On the way, I saw the famous Victoria Memorial Hall ( from far away ) and Howrah Bridge. We walked all across the railway station, barely keeping ourselves awake as the weariness of the trip settled in.
Thus ended the trip. I had a lot of fun at Ranchi as well, but it was mostly lying around, eating and sleeping.
There are a lot of things that I have left out that were common which I will mention now.
- These trips are not for hypochondriacs, you have to sit next to Yak poo and have lunch and drink water from streams and ‘go’ in the open or where ever you can find cover.
- Take along medicines, esp. for burns, punctures, splinters, and blisters, allergic reactions, Anti-Dysentery Pills, Band aids, Gauze roll & antiseptic lotion
- If you sweat a lot like me, it makes sense to keep a set of clothes to be worn at night, dry yourself with a towel and leave your clothes to dry.
- Don’t go under-prepared, we thought that it would not be cold but it would rain. So all our prep. was wrong.
- Duct-Tape. We taped windows shut, taped my walking stick when it split etc.
- Toilet Paper. Don’t skimp on it. I used to cushion the soles of my shoes and pad blisters
- Neosporin powder. Since you are not going to be bathing, this is useful.
I was impressed by the tenacity of the good, hardworking folk of Yuksom, who bore all these hardships for a meager sum of money. It was a good experience and one that I cherish to have had.
All pictures are courtesy of Vikas and Saurav. http://www.flickr.com/photos/vikask/sets/72157625023641319/ and http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=293249&id=632771534
I will update this when I get the details of the guide etc. here is a picture of all of them.