It was always a dream for the two of us to make it to Sandakphu by trekking and we did it this time during the November. We have been planning to execute the Trek since we made our first trek to the Valley of Flowers, that if we can do the Hemkund trek then we can plan out something by the end of this year. We did as per plan and started our journey on the 16th of Nov 2019 and booked the Darjeeling mail.

This time we went with a group as now the charges of porters and guide are must and you ought to hire them. Hence we thought otherwise and joined in  a group with HIMALAYA TREKKERS. We never felt that we were out home , the trekking group was always in touch with us Specially our leader Avirup. We were pretty tensed as to what the situation would have been as we never ever went in group but things turned around well and we got wonderful companion of 8 people all from different parts of India. Our team Comprised of Anindu, Junaid, Avirup, Tanmay, Shradha, Suranjana, and the two of us, me and my wife. We all met at the NJP station and started our journey.

Day 0: Howrah – NJP (89 M): We boarded the train at the scheduled time of 2230 and after taking dinner we went off to sleep. The same was scheduled to reach NJP at 0825 hrs. But was late by 15 minutes and we reached around 0840hrs and met with our trek mates.

Day 1: NJP (89 M) – Chitrey (2542 M):

The train was on right time and the car for us up to Chitrey was also on time. The first day was a cab ride via Mirik – Pashupati Phatak – Manebhanjan – Chitrey. Our first stop was around 1.30 hrs after we started our journey from NJP and we had bread butter omlet and tea. We easily coped up and also came to know each other a little bit. Anindu came from Tripura and was professionally an Accountant and had done several courses of Mountaineering and was a champ. Junaid was from Mumbai and he too loves travelling and has done many day treks in Maharashtra and is professionally working for International SOS which is an offbeat Job and is the coolest persons ever met. Tanmay and Avirup are from Kolkata and are Doctors by Profession and they were the best persons to trek with and personally enjoyed each and every moment shared or spent with them. They are in their early 20’s and are literally care free birds just going by the winds and enjoying whatever are coming their way. Suranjana also in her early 2o’s is the most gutsy girl I have ever met and why that I will came into latter she is professionally a software Engineer and also in from Kolkata. Shardha was very quiet in nature but was never shy in sharing thoughts and also Gelled with us very well she was banked by profession and was also from Kolkata and the two of us I an Electrical Engineer and my wife with an interesting job of Content coordinator in the National geographic Channel from Kolkata.
We reached Chitrey around 1400 hrs and reached Hawk’s Nest and was welcomed by the owner my Phuntshuk who runs the business traditionally and has turned the same into family business. The afternoon was covered with intense fog and the visibility was merely a 100 meters. We dumped our luggage and organised ourselves, we got three rooms named after the Mountain Peaks (Mt. Everest, Mt. Makalu & Mt. Annapurna). The three ladies got into one room Junaid and Anindu into another and Avirup, Tanmoy and Myself into the other. We were pretty hungry and the welcome tea was not enough to fill even an inch of our stomach we ordered Egg noodles and literally jumped on to the foods and the hot wonderfully served noodles was finished with in a blink of an eye. We also had tea and decided to troll here and there just to explore the place a little bit.
The dense fog also was not able to stop us from exploring the place and we went to the Chitrey Gompha downside and after visiting we came back to our homestay taking a less explored path and we all felt good about this small thing. Snacks and tea were served to us and after our snacks was completed we all to a single room and started playing cards and gossiping around. At 1830 the hotel owner came and said that dinner will be served around 2000 hrs and that we should be present by that time in the dining hall . The temperature was quite low close to 9°C. In the mean time we asked for porters and managed to get two porters for the eight of us. We Avirup and Tanmay shared one Porter and Junaid and Shardha took one. We enjoyed our hot dinner and after that went to sleep with dreams that the trek starts well and the view gets better.

Day 2: Chitrey (2542 M) – Tumling (3048 M):

You may call it Bad or Good Habit but my body has been well toned with it and I can’t sleep after 0430 hrs while travelling to Hill Stations and here also I woke up and to my utter surprise the sky was painted with red orange and yellow colours. My eyes were in total surprise as that colour seen can’t be described in words. After attending to the nature’s call we went outside to enjoy the beauty of the nature. And after few hours the skies got totally cleared and we got a glimpse of the Mighty Mt. Kanchenjunga. After our breakfast we packed our luggage’s and got ready for our trek. Our Trek Guide Ram Bhai and two of our porters had already arrived but they were late by half an hour from our scheduled departure time. Today we were trekking till Tumling which is 9 km away from Chitrey and should take around 6 hrs. The road till Tumling is very picturesque and we were adjusting ourselves with the climate as well enjoying the beauty of the nature with sweet chirping of the birds. We were sometimes travelling via Nepal and sometimes through India there is no boundary and it’s amazing. We started trekking with full gear on and after few minutes of trek when we were at Lamaydhuru just few meters away from where we started we started to loosen a bit and also shredded a bit of our clothes. After 1 hour of trek we halted for some relaxation but our guide was against it as our body will become used to rest and will stop functioning. Our team was well mixed with each other and we were becoming an excellent group and were enjoying each other’s companion. We four (Me, My wife, Avirup & Tanmoy) were more close to nature and were trekking slow enjoying the Mother Nature and venturing the nature’s beauty. Anindu and shradha were professional and they were just walking by the roads and turns and were the first to reach any destination. Junaid was in the middle of the two extremes and was enjoying in his own way. And Suranjana was carrying her own backpack and supposedly was the last to come at any halt. By some time we reached at Sherpa’s Tea Stall and after having tea we went further till Meghma to a century old Canteen which was previously run by the British and now serves the ongoing trekkers with snacks and lunch. We were served with hot food including local lentils and mixed vegetables along with fried papad and also filled up our water bottles. As mentioned earlier there were two Docs in our group and while on our way to Meghma they helped a photographer who had come to take pictures of the Red Panda has dislocated his shoulder and our team Docs did a wonderful job by fixing it to its original positions and was applauded. They did a wonderful job. After having our lunch we started our journey to tumbling which is 1.30 hrs away and this time our trek was through the Nepal side and the feeling of entering another country without any border or boundary was amazing. The road towards Tumling was totally off road with boulders and pebbles paving the Trek Path and interestingly we found one stream passing by a small Buddhist Gumpha with the prayer wheel attached with a bell and the same ringing by the force of the flowing stream. We four again were the last to reach our homestay and around 1530 hrs we reached our destination at Tumling. The road though reaches tumbling via Tonglu another beautiful destination but the trek route is a bit different from the metaled road. We off loaded our luggage and freshened up and after a bit resting we went out to explore the place. We were staying at Siddhartha Lodge and the view of Kangchenjunga was just in front of our room. This time we got two rooms one for boys and one for girls. We were welcomed by welcomed Organic Tea and enjoyed the beauty of the nature though we were deprived of the view of the mighty Kanchenjungha as the weather again became cloudy but we got glimpses of the same for bout 5-7 mins but that did not feel up my Mind. There were many birds and we saw quite a few species. At around 1700 hrs we were informed to come down to the dining to enjoy hot soup. The warmth with which we were greeted was extremely nice. After our soup time we were asked to come down at 2000 hrs sharp for our dinner. At Dinner we had roti rice vegetables papad local dishes and everything was unlimited. We really enjoyed our dinner and after a bit of Strolling outside we went to sleep around 2130 hrs. The network here is very weak and only BSNL and Airtel works. Vodafone sometimes stays but is not steady. The temperature was quite low as low as 6°C. And we had to use two thick quilt to counter that.

Day 3 Tumling (3048 M) – Kalipokhri (3170 M):

As per my habit I woke up around 0430 hrs and freshened up and around 1700hrs I was geared up to have a view of the sun soaked Kangchenjunga. The Kangchenjunga Soaked in Soft Sunlight was looking like Gold Platted Chain of ornaments and the peak of the Kangchenjunga was glowing like diamond. The view was mesmerising and a treat for eyes. We all were jumping with Joy and the long hidden wish to see the Kangchenjunga in soft sunlight was fulfilled. At around 0630 hrs we were asked to be ready by our Guide Mr.Ram and we were scheduled to leave Tumling and head towards Kalipokhri which is around 12 Kms and will take around 6-7 hrs.
We started our trek keeping Mt. Kangchenjunga on the right. The road till Singhalila National Park was known to me and my wife as previously we had come but that was by Land Rover. The thrill to trek is something different where your body pains but you will not feel it while trekking because of the heart felt joy. After trekking for 40 mins we reached the entrance of the Singalila National Park and specially me and Avirup was extremely excited as we were in the living habitat of the Red Panda. The trekking speed was as usual and Anindu and Shradha were always in front of us as if they were to achieve something and we were all relaxing and enjoying the nature’s beauty. The Path from the entrance of the National Park to Gairibas is the best known path where you can spot the Red Panda and the path is almost 1.30hrs long , we tried or heart and soul out to catch the glimpse of the animal but it was hard to spot as they are very shy and are quite lazy. We even entered into the bamboo forest to spot them but were really scared as mean while I and Avirup was totally isolated from the group. Our guide was saying that you should not get isolated as there are several wild elephants which can be very dangerous. The Beauty of the trekking path was something that can’t be described in words. The trek was sometimes steep sometime quite sloppy and sometimes we got valley full of flowers and medicinal plants. Our search for the panda’s continued and mean while we reached Gairibas. The trek from Gairibas to Kalipokhri was very steep and extremely tiring. Our trek was for almost 1.30 – 2 hrs more and after that we were supposed to get lunch in a very small village which becomes totally isolated after the month of Nov due to extreme weather conditions. The location where we came is in Nepal and place is Jamuna close to “Habre Nest homestay“ which is one of the famous home stays and from this place the path divides into two that means if you want to go to Kalipokhri then you can opt for any one .
The path straight from Habre Nest is through Nepal and path to the right is through India. The road condition very bad and is full of stones and pebbles. It took another 2hrs for us to reach Kalipokhri. The Kalipohri Lake is related to history in its own way. The word, “Pokhri” means “lake” and “kala” means “dark” in Nepali, and the village is named after a local lake with dark waters or a lake whose water is dark in color. Kalipokhri is so named because of a pond or a water tank filled with black water. The word Kali means black and pokhri stands for water area. However the black color is not due to pollution, it’s muddy and the water never freezes. The small lake is considered sacred by the local villagers. Due to all-time water availability, a small village settlement has taken place in this area (about 100 yards ahead at a higher level). This is where all private trekker’s huts are also located. We reached here around 1630hrs and today’s trek was quite strenuous and we all felt it. Here the temperature was even lower than Tumling around 3°C and we were staying at Kanchenjungha Home Stay. This part of the homestay was also in Nepal and the warmth of the hosts was very appreciable considering the situation and climatic condition. There is nothing here and the habitats really struggle hard for living.
We got two rooms one for boys and one for girls we were provided with 7 cups of organic Tea and one cup of warm water for Shraddha as she did not consumed Tea or Coffee. We were also provided with snacks and considering the climatic condition we were in everything seemed wonderful. The rest of the evening was spent playing cards and gossiping about the trek path what to do tomorrow and also pulling each other’s leg. We were asked to gather for dinner 2000 hrs at max and we were served with hot Rice Dal Sqaush Vegetables papad. The food was not that good but again considering the conditions it seemed awesome. We did not even stroll as we were extremely tired and slept around 2100 hrs .There is no mobile network and only Nepal Sims were working. We bid goodnight to each other and went to sleep.

Day 4 Kalipokhri (3170 M) – Sandakphu (3636 M):

Today to our utter surprise when we woke up we saw the roof of the homestay the courtyard and the roof of the car as well as the tins and cans were all covered with snow. The temperature was as low as 2°C and our Homestay Owner came with a hot cup of organic tea a perfect timing. There was no attached toilet to it and there was two common toilets for the homestay outside. It was pretty chilling and it was quite a challenging task to accept the natures call. We were offered with pan cakes and egg for breakfast. We would be travelling to our ultimate destination SANDAKPHU today which is a trek of 4 hours with distance of 6 km. Today’s trek is the toughest and also the steepest.

We all started at around 0800 hrs and it was quite chilling as well as windy. The road towards Sandakphu we were trekking through was through Nepal. After 2 mins of trek we were to buy Passes from local authority for entry till Bikeybhanjan. The road till Bikeybhanjan was mixed with gradual slope and stiffness. It took 40 mins for us to reach Bikeybhanjan and we stopped for a few minutes to refresh ourselves. The tough and extreme stiff road starts from this region, there is a tower here from which you can get a mesmerising view of the Mighty Kangchenjunga as well as the villages of Nepal on the other side. Here there are two options one you can avail shortcut stairs from here or you can take the road which is full of pebbles and large stones. If you avail the road then you have to have patience as the road is somewhat km . more in consideration with the stairs. While when you take stairs you will be able to cut short few km. As well as have to take lesser turns and bends but you have to physically and mentally strong as the path is real scary with thin and narrow passage in some places but you will enjoy it. We enjoyed 10 mins rest every time we took the short cuts and it gave our lungs strength. After considerable amount of short cut it was time we got a valley and there we meet some Nepalese who were selling momo’s and thukpa’s of their own style with red chatni but some of them were drunk and were asking trekkers to take selfie with them. First time in the whole trek we found un-required Nuisance and we thought of not caring about them and moved through our path. Here in the same path if you are not travelling in a group then there are high chances that you will get lost as there are no signage’s and there are two paths one through Nepal and one through India. The locals guided us for a short cut which was worth taking but there were huge risks involved in it. Here we met many foreigners and they were all praising the beauty of India and were telling that it’s far better than what they have in their country and is totally fresh and vibrant. They were from Holland USA and Russia. Then there were another group from Australia and New Zealand. The path from here till 1 hr is through the forests and is totally steep with flowers blooming throughout the valley. From here we reached a point where taking shortcuts might prove risky and so we were informed to take the next 3-4 bends by the road. This stretch was totally exhausting and we were thinking when our destination will come. Finally we saw a milestone which stated Sandakphu 0 Km. We were totally delighted and were extremely happy. We were so excited that we thought we have conquered Everest and our joy was out of bound. We have now to take 2 more short cuts to reach Sandakphu and we did it. Our guide Ram Bhai was waiting and showed us the shortcut paths which we gladly took but after few meters again there was a deviation and we had to choose amongst the two luckily we choose the right one and here we were in Sandakphu.
As usual Anindu and Shraddha and Junaid were all up their Avirup and Tanmoy were a little behind as they got down to find some of their belongings which they dropped during our uphill trek. And Suranjana with her Back Pack was right behind us. We were guided by the ones who reached earlier about our stay in Homestay’s. We were assigned to stay in Hotel Sunrise one of the best hotel’s in Sandakphu with the best view of the Mt. Kanchenjungha and Mt.Everest. We reached around 1300 hrs. And we were extremely hungry and after offloading and taking rooms we were all ready for our lunch.
For lunch we had Mixed Chowmein, Veg fried rice, Soup and gravy. After eating voraciously we started strolling here and there and found out that there is a top from where we can have the best view of the Kanchenjungha as well as the Mt. Everest. But here we found out that Our SSB Jawans were asking us not to go further as that’s a disputed no man’s land and that there was a spat between Locals of Nepal & India. So the situation was a bit disturbed though under control. We also had a lot of discussion with the Jawans about the weather as the weather was clear but a bit foggy and we were not able to see the Sleeping Buddha. But they assured that same will be cleared once sun comes out as weather was fine for the last 15 20 days. And that today itself it has become partially bad. We started gossiping and after few hours we found out that Kanchenjungha and Partly Sleeping Buddha was becoming visible and the Sunset was a treat to watch. It was soothing for the eyes that we even forget that we were at such a height with such extreme climatic conditions. We were jumping with Joy. After half hour we went to our respective rooms Me, Avirup & Tanmoy were together. The girls were allotted with another room and Junaid & Anindu were allotted another room. At around 1700 hrs we were asked to come to the kitchen for snacks and tea and we all met a special person the Chef of the hotel who was also a Bengali and was extremely good in his profession. The environment was so nice and the dining was so cosy that we thought of going to our rooms only after dinner. The temperature outside was freezing and it was extremely windy. We saw the barometer and it stated 0°C. We were just awwwwww. At around 2000 hrs we were offered with dinner and we enjoyed the hot dinner with Rice Chapati dal Cauliflower sabji Papad salad and sweets. We were also offered with Special Nepalese Chicken and it was extremely tasty. There was slight snowfall outside but we could not feel it as it was more like a light drizzle. The weather had become again foggy and visibility was very low. We hoped against hope that weather could get cleared tomorrow and was assured by the Hotel Owner that it will definitely get cleared tomorrow and wished us Luck. We gossiped for another half an hour and slept around 2130 hrs. The alarm for tomorrow was set at 0330 hrs. One hour before the Schedule as we did not wanted to miss even a single frame of the sunlight falling on the Sleeping Buddha.

Day 5: Sandakphu (3636 M) – Timburey (2250 M):

We woke up around 0345 hrs and after freshening up we were up there in the terrace of our hotel which had the best view of the Sleeping Buddha as well as the Everest. It was literally freezing and the temperature was close to -2°C there were snow everywhere and it was heavier than that we saw in Kalipokhri and it was windy as well. The terrace top was full of snow so was the barbeque oven placed outside. We were not in a position to miss even a second so around 0430 hrs.
We were all up there and the sky was becoming reddish and we saw a wonderful sight of the Sleeping Buddha with each of the peaks distinctly clear and visible. The sight can’t be expressed it can only be felt and we were out of words. I am a big fan of the Mt. Kanchenjungha and have been attracted to her a lot and have seen her in lot of phases and transition but this beauty was something new to my eyes and I was just enjoying. The cold and the tremor was all gone by the excitement of what I was seeing and what more was to come. Everything from Kumabhakarna, Kabru north, Kabru South, Mt. Kangchenjunga Peak, Goecha Peak, Forked Peak, etc. were clearly visible. We were all thanking God for cleaning out the clouds. Everyone was clicking pictures of the Sleeping Buddha. Credit goes to my wife who irrespective of the chill was clicking with bare hands in order the picture becomes perfect. It was an amazing feeling and we were on the top of the world. Slowly as the time elapsed the Everest range was also becoming Visible and Chamlang, Chamlang East, Lhotse, Nuptse, Everest and Makalu was becoming visible. In naked eyes it seemed that Makalu is taller than Everest but that’s not the case.
The sky was so clear that even the Three Sister was clearly visible. And we could get a picturesque image of the Himalayan Range. We all were extremely happy and there was only one more wish that if we could please have a view of the red panda. Our guide Ram bhai was asking us to get down as we were getting late for today’s trek which was longest but was fully downside. We were not in mood to come down as we just wanted to have a view of the beautiful peaks and just sooth our eyes. Ram bhai extended our view by bringing the breakfast to the terrace and we were overjoyed. The tea became tastier with the view of the Kanchenjungha and also the bread omelette. We even had upma while coming down and we were totally full and so we had to as we had to trek 16 km more. Today we were to trek to Timburey via Gurdum village and it was trek of 16 km with approximate trek time of 8 hrs. We bid adieu to our favourite spot with heavy heart and were on our way to Timburey. We were asked to be in close perimeter of each other and not to be far apart as there might be few Wild animals and the trek was amidst the jungle with bamboo trees every now or then and we were very excited to spot the Red Panda. The route was beautiful and would suggest everyone to have a hike through the jungles to Timburey with birds chirping all around with melodious Sounds and we were totally lost.
But our search for The Red Panda continued and specially I and Avirup never gave up and was very hopeful to find one. We trekked for almost 1 hour and took rest for some time. Likewise we reached a point from where Gurdum village was only 4 km apart, same was communicated by Ram bhai and we were very excited that we were close to completing a trek which we longed for so long. But there was a twist these 4 km were the toughest as descend was extremely steep and the full toil and pressure was on the knees and the toes. The road condition was horrible full of sharp stones with no space on either side but it was a great feeling. It took us almost 3 hours to trek down to Gurdum village and the thighs hips and knees were paining and body was totally down. I could literally feel my body telling that enough is enough and that it could not take more. I and my wife were the second last to reach the village where we were supposed to have lunch and as usual Anindu da and Shraddha were first to reach next was Junaid and after that it was the turn of the doctors last reached Suranjana with her large Backpack. We all were extremely tired and same can be judged by seeing each other’s face. At one time I even felt my legs shaking any ways there were 2 more Kms to cover and we also had to have our lunch. The lunch was delicious and we ate as much as we could as we were extremely hungry. After a break of 1 hour we were again back on track and as guided by Ram bhai he asked us to wait for him whenever we reach a spot which had multi direction. We did as directed and after his direction we started it was nice route but our legs were paining but heart & mind were saying that we can easily make it. Ram bhai made way and guided us to a proper route and embarked the path with arrow signs referring our travel path.

The path or rather the trekking trail was awesome with path through the midst of dense forest and river flowing by the right hand side of the trek route. We crossed the Gurdum River Bridge and entered Timburey on the other side. The road was bit upside and we had to trek uphill for about 300 meters more but it took me almost 30 minutes as my body was not in good shape and each step was aching my thighs cuff muscles and the toe. After 300 meters we reached a descend down sides and that was more painful than the uphill trek as downhill your body needs to be in perfect shape as the whole load of your body is transferred to the front and you have to balance well. It was few hundred meters more and we could see our homestay in Timburey.

The location was just jaw dropping and home stay also had beautiful rooms with nicely decorated kitchen and dinner. We off loaded and after 10 -15 minutes while enjoying the fresh cold breeze we were offered with welcome drinks which included masala organic tea and it freshened ourselves. We were allotted Three rooms one for the ladies next was bit bigger one in which I, Avirup & Tanmoy got adjusted and in to the next one Anindu da and Zunaid got settled. Everyone freshened up and we enjoyed the snacks. We decided that as it was last night together we would spend lesser times onto the cell phones and would rather give each other more time. As now we could communicate with the outer world the weather was also nice and the temperature also has risen a bit and it was around 11°C. We Played cards and relished the time spent together. Our dinners were ready by 2000 hrs and were provided with the second best dinner of our trip and we really enjoyed it.
Second best as Tumling was having critical climatic and remote geographic condition. We also asked our homestay owner to provide us car for our next day drop to NJP and she said that we should not worry about it and same will be available on the other side of Srikhola Bridge. Today we gossiped till 2300hrs and we were scheduled to leave for tomorrow by 0900hrs as tomorrow we had to travel 110kms and it would take minimum of 6hours to reach NJP. We were tried as well as sleepy and our body was specially the lower part of the body was paining. The temperature dipped a bit and it was close to 8°C.

Day 6: Timburey (2250 M) – NJP (89 M):

Today was the last day of our togetherness and everyone was a bit down that our wonderful Trek will end today and only memories will remain. We woke up late today around 0630 hrs and after freshening up we did a light walking towards the Sri River which was flowing besides our Home Stay. We were offered with hot tea along with biscuits. Today we would be trekking for 40-50 minutes with all our baggage’s / Back Packs as we have released our porters. My body rather legs muscle was paining and had become extremely stiff and movement was very hard or rather painful. We after a bit of morning walk by the banks of Sri River packed our back packs and were ready for the last phase of the trek. The breakfast was also lovely with local handmade sweet bread along with Sabji and boiled eggs. We took photographs with the owner of the homestay who were very good at heart and extremely soft spoken.
Our trek started and we were trekking en-route the forests and accompanied by river. We walked through the roads and after 20 minutes of trek we finally got the view of Srikhola Bridge from where our 6 hrs journey by car will start. We walked by village where we saw beautiful home stays we also passed by a part of Rimbik and also came across a trekkers hut which the locals referred to as being built by the Britishers and is still in good shape and well maintained.
Our search for the Red Panda was brought in curtains as we crossed the bridge and we were a bit down as that was the only thing we missed and hopefully that will be the major attraction which will again bring us here. We got into the car and Shraddha and Suranjana became the DJ’s on wheel and were playing lyrical music from the driver’s self-made playlist. We were still in hallucination of the beautiful view of the Mighty Kanchenjunga and we were literally Day Dreaming.
Today we were to cover the same equal distance that we have trekked for 4 days which sounded pretty interesting and we were laughing at each other. We halted at Rimbick to haave a “Chaye Break” and were mesmerised by the beauty of Rimbick. Then enroute we passed Maneybhanjan (where we dropped and bid good Bye Junaid), Sukhiapokhri, Pashupati Fatak, Simana, Mirik to NJP. Around 1430hrs when we were somewhat 1.30 hrs away from NJP we thought of filling our belly and again started our journey around 1510hrs. We reached NJP at 1730 hrs and our lovely journey with Wonderful Trek mates came to an end. We gathered for last Bye Bye Selfie and headed towards the retiring room form where we were to catch our respective trains. We bid good bye to each other with memories to be lasted for life time. Extremely Grateful to Such wonderful persons whom we met and really enjoyed their companion. We hoped to meet each other soon and relished our Stay Together.

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Kaliheni Pass – Epitome of Zest Zeal & Attitude:

Note: This was a trek during post monsoon during September 2019.

Mountains are calling and I must go” – the evergreen quote by John Muir haunts us every year and this year was no different. The endless horizon, bounty of greens, quest for the unknown create such a magnetism that it is impossible to ignore. And we are approaching once again towards re-living such moments. We are just a few hours away from starting one more such journey to mingle with the mountains – a journey we wait with all our heart and soul throughout the year; a journey where pain becomes pleasure, togetherness becomes closeness, experience becomes wisdom and overall we empty our egos once again to learn some more, enjoy on our small victories, stare at our inability and helplessness in front of the wrath of mother nature and finally return with a new “myself”.

Mountain for us is the best teacher that teaches us to be humble, to accept the very truth of how tiny we are when compared to its vastness. It’s never human who defeat the mountain as some say; but it’s the mountain that allow us to summit so that we spread the stories of its majestic beauty,  life of people on the valleys, beauty of snowfall seen from the small opening of our tents, snow clad peaks ornamented with first golden rays of the sun, uncanny beauty of the night with stars witnessing the creation of God, sound of silence being carried by winds and whispering in the ears the tales of the woods, the cacophony of birds returning home after a busy day, and let others know, feel and cherish these beauties since mountains also feel lonely in absence of its visitors, admirers and spokespersons.

This year we decided to explore a different terrain away from Uttaranchal we went last few times and thus Himachal came into picture. Our friend Anirban Chakladar as usual took the lead and finalised Kalihani Pass trek  with HIMALAYA TREKKERS. The word Kaliheni derives from two words – Kali means Black and Heni means Snow/glacier and as rightly named, one can observe ancient glaciers with old ice formations starting from the advanced base camp. The Pass is at an altitude of 4800 mts and one of the least travelled destination by the trekkers community. Joining Kulu valley with Banghal Valley, this trek starting from Manali gradually takes one through the treasures of Himachal Pradesh.

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Kalihani Pass trek: One of the finest trek in Himachal Pradesh (Photo: Author)

The entire journey till Kaliheni Base Camp was more or less through deep forests in spite of high altitude which is something different from what we have experienced earlier in Uttaranchal where tree line starts soon after 10-11 K ft. From the very starting of our trek, rapid altitude gain started. On day 1, we gained an altitude of 1000 mtrs (From Hadimba temple to Lamadugh, 12 km, 7/8 hrs), Day 2 we gained 1000 mtrs and then came down by 500 mtrs (Lamadugh to Riyali Thatch, 14 km, 7/8 hrs), Day 3 we gained 600 mtrs (Riyali Thatch to Kaliheni Base Camp, 10 km, 6/7 hrs), Day 4 we gained 800 meters from Base Camp to Kaliheni Pass and then came back to Kaliheni Base (14 km, 8 hrs). This quick altitude gain with little time to acclimatise and long walks (75 km in 6 days) with long trek of over 6-7 is what made this trek little tiresome and hence I mentioned in the beginning that this trek cannot be taken lightly.

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Beginning of Riyali Thatch (PC – Author)
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High altitude terrain around at Kalihani base base camp (PC – Author)

There are some other challenges that make this trek above moderate on the summit day. The first challenge is crossing the glacier immediately after starting from the base camp. The glacier that was looking so attractive and calling us with open arms becomes an endless journey. Only a kilometre or so becomes a challenge to finish and immediately after that comes the seventy degree inclination. Being already at 14000 ft altitude where exhaustion is natural and that too after crossing the glacier, scaling this block stands as a challenge and then comes the second and then the third, each posing itself with newer challenges like boulders, rocks, loose pebbles and all of us had to keep a safe distance so as to avoid any loose rock falling and hitting the person behind. However with hope in our eyes to experience what we saw in pictures and guided by Inder and Ameet, the two trek leaders, we the team of thirteen (Anirban Chakladar, Rajashiri, Bhakti, Subhayu, Abhirupa, Saikat, Aranya, Rajat, Naren, Jasojeet, Imran, Praveen and myself) moved. Finally we were almost near the pass when the last challenge came – a straight seventy degree wall with large boulders. Honestly I lost all energy by that time and a call was coming from inside to let it go. And immediately another call was coming “you are so near”. Fighting the battle within, started scaling the wall and after 15-20 minutes, we all were on the top with Kaliheni Pass presenting itself with its majestic beauty in front of us. While ten of us went further up to see the view from the top of the pass, we three (Anirban, myself and Rajat) stayed back and enjoyed the glory all around. Gradually cloud started engulfing the peaks and we feared to see a similar situation as in Lamadugh where 4-5 hrs of rain on day one itself almost made us rethink fearing landslide etc. Just due to assurance from guides and Sapta of Himalaya Trekkers, we regained our courage to continue and thus seeing this day finally.

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Glaciated region before reaching Kalihani Pass (Photo – Author)
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Glacier negotiating to Kalihani Pass (PC -Author)

Descent is always a tougher job and that too now its already 2 pm. We took more time that estimated to reach the summit and also spent some more time here. However there was no worry in the face of our guides which gave us confidence. Also in spite of Bhakti, Naren, Subhayu and Aranya decided to go to the top at a later stage, both Inder and Ameet encouraged which was so nice. These people like Ameet, Inder, and many others we met on other treks like Geelani, Sandeep, Dinesh, Gulab Singh are always so cheerful, so energetic that we just can’t ignore their charisma. They belong to the mountains, enjoy being there and make others enjoy the nature through their stories, actions, sensitive approach towards keeping the nature clean and overall a sense of belonging which is so contagious that we always remember them, talk about them and look forward trekking with them once again.

The night at Kaliheni Base Camp called for celebration with sky glittering with thousand stars, milkyway gradually becoming prominent and clicking sound of cameras/mobiles capturing the drama portrayed by mother nature. Kaliheni Base Camp is an excellent camp location with one side having the glacier I mentioned through which we went to the Pass and on the other side the entire Pir Panjal range with three peaks prominently visible – Indrakilla, Indrasan and Deo Tibba. Gradually the tiredness of the day took a toll on our eyes and we got into the tents. Next day we came down to Riyali Thatch camp and enjoyed with Cricket with a tree branch, Camp Fire, competition of spending three minutes in ice cold water, songs, recitation etc. Next day, we nine started early at 9 am from Riyali Thatch as our destination was straight to Manali bypassing Miyali camp while four stayed back (Bhakti, Rajashiri, Imran, Jasojeet) who will later start for Miyali. At around 1 pm we reached Miyali and then to Sangchur at 5 pm through a real difficult trail with bushes, jungles, rain, rocky terrain and finally hit the soft spring mattress in Hotel Snow View at around 6 pm.

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Team posing for a group photo
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You must have wondered about what is so special about Goecha La trek? Well, every trek is beautiful to say the least, but Goecha La will literally spellbound you. After monsoon, October onward mornings are encouraging for fantastic view of the high mountains. But that is one side only. Fog and mist in this valley will follow you even in autumn, typically in the afternoon.  It remains rich green, truly a Sikkim speciality. To summarise and keep it short, this is a photo journal of:

  • Goecha La trek during mid of November 2018.
  • During day walk it was foggy, which is a bit unusual for this time. Even though the two high points, Dzongri top and Goecha La first view point were fairly clear and presented surreal views of Kanchendzongha.
  • Weather remained chilly throughout the day and plunging well below freezing at Dzongri and above.
  • It snowed at Dzongri, around 2/3 inches during the trek.

Here it was how our trekker Soumya Deep captured the mood of the trek. All photos are shared by Soumya Deep.

Initial hike for couple of days of is rather easy, inside forest most of the time. At times it may seem uninteresting if you can’t wait to see the high mountains. Wait, you will get your turn later 😎 Essentially you will get to acclimatise inside treeline till you reach Tsokha.

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How green is the valley
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From Bakhim
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Camping ground and Trekkers Hut at Tsokha
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Valley view from Tsokha

Then comes the difficult climb to Dzongri. A really long and tiring day, covering some 12 Km and significant altitude gain of almost ~ 1000 m/3300 ft. Though you will enjoy the walk amidst one of the best forest stretch on Himalayas, yes, Tsokha to the midway Phedang. On a clear day views from here is fascinating. The second stretch, i.e. from Phedang to Dzongri is challenging, almost no respite from upward winding trail till we reach Deorali. From here it is actually a descent to Dzongri and the camping ground.

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Amazing forest walk
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Misty forest: A Sikkim speciality
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Rhododendrons bloom is spring

Finally you will reach Dzongri, end of an exhausting day. The altitude of this place is conducive for snowfall, particularly in autumn-fall or spring. And it did…

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Next morning, gratifying view from Dzongri top. Deposited snow turned the landscape rather unusual  and surreal.

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Dzongri top, mount Pandim forming backdrop
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Sunrise time panorama
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And here she is the third highest mountain standing tall above 28000 ft, Kanchenjunga

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From Dzongri the initial walk is through the meadows followed by a steep descent to Kokchurang. Weather turned misty on the meadows and onward, which is somewhat uncommon in November. This place is beside Prek Chu river and one of the most photogenic places on this trek. Your walk will continue from here to Thansing and finally ending for the day at Lamuney.

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Jopuno peak from Dzongri meadows
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Prek Chu river @ Kokchurang
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Walk continues to Thansing

Then comes the “D-Day”. Early morning push to Goecha La View Point 1/Sunrise Point, and returning all the way to Kokchurang via Lamuney and Thansing.

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D moment from sunrise point
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At Goecha La View Point 1
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Samity lake: The essential photo spot during descent
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Lunch time at Lamuney
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What is a better place to demonstrate some skills?
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Fog engulfing Kokchurang Trekkers Hut

Cloud cover disappeared next morning. It was a bright sunny day. The place seemed a different one producing clear view of mount Pandim. Today’s walk is inside dense forest to Phedang a different route bypassing the climb to Dzongri and then tracing the same trail back to Tsokha.

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Inside Kokchurang Trekkers Hut
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Mt. Pandim
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More than happy to get network after a week at Tsokha 🙂

Last day of the trek back to Yuksom. Happy team and happy faces. All well that ends well!

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Moist broad leaved forest and ferns
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Foliage too
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The Team @ Yuksom
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Adieu

P.S.: All photos captured during HT Goecha La trek from 10th to 19th November 2018. © Soumya Deep.

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One Question May Remain Unanswered, Why We Climb Mountains …

Historically it says that Panpatia Col is the connection between Badrinath and Kedarnath . This route is one of the highest passes of Himalayas where one has to walk over the mysterious Panpatia Glacier. Legendary mountaineers Shipton and Tilman first crossed this in 1934, albeit with hardship. Later in 1998 famous mountaineer Martin Moran and team successfully walked on this glacier, almost following the same route of Shipton and Tilman. Those were the legendary mountaineers and many attempts after that by the new age mountaineers. The shorter route that was first attempted was under the leadership of Tapan Pandit from West Bengal in the year 2007.
In our attempt to Panpatia we planned to follow Tapan Da’s (elder brother in Bengali) footsteps. We took logistical support and expedition guide from HIMALAYA TREKKERS. Finally a motley group of five people decided to attempt the Panpatia Col in the beginning of post monsoon, early September 2017. The next few days of our life were like an absolute dream intertwined with scare, which I attempt to chronicle in this blog along with some tips, and tricks that may help the reader be better prepared for this marvellous expedition. Check Panpatia trek details page for more information.

Best Time & challenges and Difficulty level for Panpatia trek:

We attempted this expedition post monsoon and learnt from the locals that this is the best time to experience the serene mountains in solitude. The trek may get easier and little comfortable in summer. However irrespective of summer or monsoon it is indeed a difficult and treacherous trek to attempt.
Heavy snowfall may happen anytime and that has resulted in human casualties in the past. At the time of writing this blog, I received some grave news about the team that started couple of weeks after us, were trapped under heavy snowfall. This resulted in a causality of one of the team member whose body was discovered days later.

  • Shoe is very important, as 80% of the terrain is with boulders (in post monsoon especially). Needless to say three to four months of preparation will surely help
  • Extra ration for additional days is must. So even if we are stuck, we aren’t empty stomach.
    We carried trekking gears like couple of ice-axes, spikes for everyone, 100 meters rope , 5 kilogram filled oxygen cylinder.
  • Generally, a porter in High Altitude will carry 20 kg and we took help of seven person apart from Cook and Guide.
  • Ration planning was nicely done by our support team. It was 9 days camp for 14 people with three triple sharing tents and one kitchen tent. We carried 25 kg rice, 20 kg wheat flour(aata) , 8 kg lentils, 60 pieces eggs, 30 kg fresh vegetables (including 15 Kg of Potato and Onion), 4 L of cooking oil, other ingredients like spices, salt, sugar , ready to eat noodles, tea/coffee/soup etc. Most importantly 40 L kerosene (we had two kerosene stove for cooking purpose). Additionally my incorrigible non veg friends bought a sheep (yes!) from the Shepherd’s (camp) and which served three full meals to the team, leaving me. Haha

Day 0 (6th September’ 2017) – Overnight train from Delhi to Haridwar

We all met at Delhi Airport. Saptarshi Roy, Arunava Patra, Soumitro Das, Rajarshi Sarkar all from Kolkata and myself Anomit Roy joined them from Hyderabad. Old friends’ new venture everyone was excited. Well we were anxious in addition. For sure, it is going to be a hard one and we were not sure if the preparation was enough for us. We boarded the train from New Delhi Railway Station around 23:50 .( 12205 nandadevi exp ). Destination was Haridwar. Before I forget to mention, food is very important to any of our expeditions and as you would see, we will never ignore it. So Five full stomach with ample dose of Hyderabadi Biryani was an apt start to the Panpatia Col Expedition 🙂

Day 1 ( 7th Sep’ 2017 ) – Drive from Haridwar to Joshimath – 270 Km

Reached Haridwar early morning at around 6 AM, thankfully the train was late by only one hour. Our first destination from here was Josimath which is one of the famous hill station in Uttarakhand,India. The distance between Haridwar and Joshimath is aroun 280 km which takes almost 12 hours (including breaks like breakfast, lunch etc ) . We had a pre booked car, which costs around five thousands rupees for us.

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We reached Haridwar before sunrise

Enroute We stopped at Devprayag which is one of the Panch(five) Prayag of Alaknanda River where Alaknanda and Bhagirathi rivers meet and take the name Ganga or Ganges River. Rishikesh to Josimath is very picturesque road overlooking the Alaknanda River on the sides and the great Himalayas on the horizon. We took our lunch break at NandaPrayag. People like seafood can enjoy fresh river fish here.

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Devprayag: Confluence of Alaknanda (R) and Bhagirathi (L) forming Ganga

Finally reached Joshimath , just before the sun wished us good night in this beautiful hill station. Friends who aren’t interested in strenuous treks should try Joshimath & Auli as their next holiday destination, Its serene surroundings and virgin beauty can put any other hill stations like Manali or Mussoorie to a tough competition.We directly went to Joshimath GMVN hotel and got a budget friendly dormitory for us. It costs us around 1500 rupees per night for 5 of us.

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A views from Joshimath GMVN

Day 2 (8th Sep’ 2017 ) – Acclimatisation walk to Auli and back – 5 hours

Irrespective of you being an experienced trekker or not, thumb rule of any high altitude expedition is proper acclimatisation. We choose this day for a gentle hike from Joshimath to Auli followed by our rationing and logistic preparation in the evening.

Auli , is a place that I would like to revisit again and again . Picture won’t do justice to the spectacular view of mountain ranges stacked one after other that you find here.

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At Auli

The evening was kept for our rationing at  Joshimath. It is quite a big town for you to get all the necessary groceries and vegetables that would last the trip.  Now we met our Guide Mr Balwant Singh Panwar, and Assistant Guide Mr Dilip Singh , along with six other support stuff. Mr Pushkar was our designated cook for the trip and we were elated to know that he is equally proficient in churning out vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes.

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Provisioning in the evening, Joshimath

Day 3 (9th Sep’ 2017 ) – Drive to Benkuli 30 Km towards Badrinath – Trek to Khirao – 3/4 hours

Good Food assured, Great Team as company and Awesome Mountain ahead, we already had a great start. Our first destination would be Belenkuli on the way to Badrinath from Josimath (around 22km from Joshimath). On our way we bid good-bye to the comfort of motor vehicle at Benekuli and from there on rely on the most primitive mode of Human transportation-Legs for the rest of the journey. First leg of our journey was to reach Khirao Village, which would also be our first campsite of the trek.

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Road head at Benkuli, 30 Km from Joshimath towards Badrinath
Our 5 member “trekking team” nicknamed The Pandavas 😀

Benkuli is around 2300 mtr and is the starting point of this expedition. Initially Terrain was rocky with loose boulders scattered everywhere. This was combined with steep ascent that lasted a good 40-45 mins, which elevated our heart rates to the required level. The steep ascent was followed by a quick descent and later one more ascent. As per the prior information, this was supposed to be an easy 2 hours walk but it was certainly not or maybe we are getting a bit old. Anyways, a walk however difficult when surrounded by the green meadows and the inviting mountains up front gets so much less tiring as we proceed. Tiredness replaces an elation a certain high that can be only achieved in the arms of the great Himalayas.

Climb to Khirao village
Climb to Khirao village

Khirao is a very small village with some handful families living in seemingly harsh conditions. It gets its name from the river Khirao-Ganga that’s flowing right beside it. In fact we  will trackback  this river throughout our journey right  up to it’s source glacier in Panpatia. The first day of camp was set up at the upper part of this village, near to Khirao Temple. Campsite at an altitude of approximately 2755mtr. Team took almost 3 hours to reach here.

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First view of Khirao village

Day 4 (10th Sep’ 2017 ) – Trek to Shepherd camp – 5/6 hours

Woke up early to receive the first bad news of the trek – It has been raining from 4 o clock in the morning. With nothing better to do, we continued to enjoy the rain sipping hot tea prepared by Pushkar. Rain started slowing down at around 6:40 AM but this would certainly delay our previous planned start of 7:30 AM. Our next campsite from Khirao is Snout, which is a good 7 to 8 hours of walk. Nobody seemed to be bothered by this delay as Himalayas is the only place where once you are in the zone the time or distance does not matter and you live in the moment while the vastness sinks in.

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Morning view at Khirao campsite

At 8:30 am we started our walk after a sumptuous breakfast with Aloo Parantha. Pushkar started living up to his reputation of being the master chef on the mountains. As lifelong foodie, we highly recommend him for your any trek in this region.

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Almost an hour and half continuous ascent just after leaving Khirao Camp
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Beautiful Bugyal on our way
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These flowers resembling Sunflower are my inspiration towards destination

Around 2 pm our expedition guide Balwant Ji stopped us at Shepherd Camp as he sensed heavy rains going forward. He decided to camp here as It would be risky to drench our groceries and supplied at such early days of the trek. Shepherd camp is at 3400 m approximately. The local name of this place is Gaddi Gadira.

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Shepherd camp
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A local Gaddi (shepherd) trimming and collecting wool

3 pm – Rain started with cold wind around. We came inside tent. Around 4:10 pm – Still inside the tent. Rain has stopped now. The Tent’s was setup to open to this wide thoroughfare of mountain ranges. The wallpaper of Lush Green Mountains, Cloud cover peaks and one small stream flowing in front is as scenic as it can get. . The team bought almost 12 Kg of lamb meat from local shepherds here and looks like it would be our dinner for the next three nights, at least for the non-vegetarians amongst us.

Day 5 (11th Sep’ 2017 ) – Trek to Moraine camp – 7/8 hours

8 am – Leaving camp late . 8:45 am – It was first time ever I saw the Mystic Mt. Neelkanth . Emotions were expressionless except the jaws felt down !!

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Mt. Neelkanth from Dan Kharak
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Some teams camp here at the snout of the glacier moraine
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Beginning of moraine

Reached Moraine Campsite around 4 pm. The altitude is approx. 4000 m here. Everyone was pretty exhausted after walking on rocky terrain for long. A proper trekking shoe is a must if you are to survive this terrain. The path to Moraine seemed like a never ending one. Which personally I have never experienced. Continuing to the 3rd day tradition this day did not go well for me. After lunch at 1 pm, I decided to move with porters to reach to the camp as early as possible and did not want to finish the day under fading sunlight and dropping mercury. Well in retrospect, it was not the wisest of decision. After an hour of a gruelling walk through very harsh terrain I found that, porters took the harder but faster path while the rest took a comparatively easier route. “Always follow your Guide” – Mountain’s Rule number One 🙂

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Moraine camp

I travelled with the porters for another 30 mins to finally re-unite with the guide and the rest of my team. By now my body was super exhausted and I had almost finished my water as well. Each minute of the next couple of hours walk was punishing that I pushed through with a zombie like stroll. I was totally dehydrated by the time we reached campsite. This route also had very few water sources so my suggestion would be to carry additional water reserves.  Had plenty of water mixed with salt and lemon, sat still for almost 30 mins with chocolate in my mouth, puked a few times followed by a bowel movement. All these aided to a quicker-than-expected recovery, Sapta Da mentioned that running noses are the signs of better acclimatisation at high altitudes and found some solace in his words.

7:30 PM: Finished today’s diner and back inside sleeping bag. Very cold outside, shivering a lot inside the tent too. Around 8 pm I crashed for a well-deserved sleep.

Day 6 (12th Sep’ 2017 ) – Trek to Parvati rock (below Parvati gully) – 6/7 hours

6:10 pm – “Point of No Return” from here. Another day traversing through the boulders. we were discussing amongst us that it may have been easier before monsoons as walking on ice is much easier than these loose rocks. Of course that would mean we had to setup our camps on snow and icy ground, which may not be a good thing for these many days. The day started with walking on moraine, followed by crossing a glacier and a prompt steep ascent. We reached the campsite at around 2:45 pm and were greeted by steady snowfall. We camped at an altitude of approx 4510 m.

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Moraine walk begins
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Glacier has opened
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First ice field crossing to reach Parvati rock campsite
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A tough ascent on the boulders alongside the waterfall awaits for us
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Finally on the ridge, a relief!

8:30 pm – Its getting colder, all five us were sitting in a single tent. Outside of tent looks like a white screen with almost zero visibility. Every day the weather goes bad after 12 noon or so . We were contemplating to have an early start from now on. If we start the day earlier, we may be able to avoid such spurts of bad weather enroute to our campsites.

Day 7 (13th Sep’ 2017 ) – Trek to lower Panpatia ice field – 3 hours

8:45 pm – It was more or less a rest day for us. We just walked for 3 hours to reach to the base of Panpatia glacier and ice field. This place is just below our final ascent to reach the Panpatia Ice Field. We reached the campsite by 11:30 am. This was a tricky and risky terrain while crossing the rocky Parvati gully. Several times our guide helped us to cross possible traps we were unaware of. Altitude now is approximately 4800 m with the atmospheric oxygen dropping to around 57% that of sea level. Climbing 300 m took us three hours and I advice every caution while crossing this treacherous terrain. I may not be the most eloquent while describing the beauty of Himalayas hence I leave you with this picture worth of thousand words and hope it does some justice to its unspeakable beauty.

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High altitude Life form 🙂
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Sunset time

Tomorrow is the day , we all eagerly waiting for  …… The camp on upper Panpatia ice field.

Day 8 (14th Sep’ 2017 ) – Trek to upper Panpatia ice field – 6/7 hours

5:30 pm – We are sitting inside tent on the snowfield. Only two tents today. We five will sleep in a single tent and Kitchen tent will be for rest of the support team. A mixed day . We reached middle of the Panpatia ice filed by morning 9 am. Weather gods had smiled on us with a pleasant sunny day. We spent almost an hour or more on photo sessions in the great Himalayan studio. Around 10:30 am we started towards Panpatia Col. Initially we had the plan to cross the Col on the same day but the mystery land had something else for us !! The route was surrounded by deep crevasses, we had to use rope to cross one of the crevasse. By 12:30pm weather changed all of a sudden and we were engulfed within clouds with reduced visibility. Team moved forward slowly decided to set campsite around very near to Panpatia Col at around 2:30 PM. Guide did not advise us to move forward. This deviated us from our earlier plan to cross the Col by today and now had to settle down here, 300/400 mtrs away from Col.  Pushkar hit his peak form and, we received hot tea , popcorn , hot soup , hot Bournvita energy drinks all in quick succession.

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Climbing from Panpatia lower ice field
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Mt. Chaukhamba – all four towers
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Happy time on the middle of the ice field
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More joy, this time a somersault 🙂
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Crevasse filled Panpatia ice filed
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Weather turned bad on upper Panpatia ice field

The day was eventful  we had one of the porters down with AMS (acute mountain sickness) attack around afternoon.  We were equipped for such events and team made good use of the oxygen cylinder and feet massage to keep him oxygenated and warm. Another porter had not used any sunglasses throughout the day and got severe eyes pain due to the reflected sunlight.(A note to future climbers to double check that the porters that travel with you are equipped with such bare essentials for such treks.)  On top of all this our guide Balwant himself was not doing great and had vomited multiple times on the way up here.

7:15 pm – Have to be active, it is freezing even inside the sleeping bag. Did not dare to go out of the tent, so thought of scribbling a few lines while am awake. Today morning while walking on the ice field, Guide had shown us snow leopard’s tracks on the ice. It was quite fresh and as per him the elusive animal had crossed, the field today early morning (may be 4/5 hours before we reached there). We were discussing that at this point we won’t mind inviting leopard inside the tent to get some warmth out of it’s cosy fur. We hoped it has finished its diner, so it should not mind the warm shelter aided with the cumulative fat of five of us. I always prefer company of people who crack jokes and laugh aloud. You would be surprised how quickly a good laugh can warm your body. Sapta Da asked other porters (who are in the kitchen tent), not to let the AMS sick person completely sleep but to check regularly how he is doing. We were going to live every moment of this night … long night! Good Night.

Day 9 (15th Sep’ 2017 ) – Crossing Panpatia Col  – descent – Sujal Sarovar and further down – 12/13 hours

11 pm – The Magic Day!! Morning 8:30 am we moved forward.  Then comes the famous descent from the Col. We walked almost 20 mins on the snow and then suddenly saw the steep descending path that awaits us. For a while I was taken aback and thought I might not be able to make it. Took a little pause summoned up courage and started my struggle.

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Upper Panpatia ice field camp
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Very steep descent flattens after 200 m or so

Today we had to release two porters to carry the ill porter in rotation. So in reality, we were 3 porters down. We decided to share the extra loads of the two porters making it a tougher day for all of us. Thankfully, the person with eye pain is doing better now. After reaching the campsite, we asked him to apply sliced cucumber on eyes,  the household trick worked magic for him. The morning, descent was risky and tough, almost 70 degrees of inclination that led you back the dreaded boulder filled terrain. We took a lunch break and Pushkar quickly cooked some noodles for us at around 12:30 pm. We also filled up our bottles and continued our journey to the next destination, Sujal Sarovar. Enroute Crossed a small but very beautiful glacier which was followed by the boulder filled path for . the rest of the days. By now We all were quite irritated with boulders. So far 75%  of the journey was on boulder filled path

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Hot lunch enroute
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One last time on glacier and ice field
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Sujal sarovar

It took us almost three hours to reach Suja Sarovar from the place where we had lunch. Sujal Sarovar had a supreme view , with Mount Chaukhamba’s reflection falling right on the lake. Unfortunately we weren’t able to setup camp here on boulders. May be during pre-monsoon this place remains covered with snow making it possible to camp. We continued to move and had to walk another 3 hours to reach campsite that didn’t really have any names. Camp is approximately at 3900 m. We came down a lot in 9/10 hours of walk today. Just like life going down is always faster than climbing up.

Day 10 (16th Sep’ 2017 ) – trek to Kachni Khal and descent to Madmaheshwar – 8/9 hours

We let our muscles relax a bit and had a late start at around 11 am. Reached Kachni Khal around 2 pm . Nice Bugyal views with Bramha Kamal bloom all around.

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Towards Kachni Khal
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Brahma Kamal

From Kachni Khal we are supposed to reach Madhyamaheshwar today. We were already late for our destination. This was a proper wide trail except a very few places that still had some of the dreaded boulders. This is very beautiful trail and the icy taverns of past few days being replaced with the dense green vegetation is always a heavenly feeling. We had grossly underestimated the distance and reached Madmaheshwar only by around 8 pm in the evening. It would be at least 8 to 9 Km  away from Kachni Khal as opposed to 5 Km marked on stones.

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Walking down to Madhyamaheshwar
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Buda Madmaheshwar on the ridge, still quite a bit to walk

Day 11 (17th Sep’ 2017 ) – trek to Ransi – 8/9 hours

Last Day of our trek. Madhyamaheshwar to Ransi  is almost 20 to 22 Km distance though we were in no mood to start early . Last night we reached here by 8 pm and got a room with cosy beds and blankets beside the temple! Guide was busy pushing us with continuous “Chalo bhai ,  chalo chalo” (lets go brother). Ransi to Madhyamaheswar is a beautiful trek too. We reached Ransi just before sunset.

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Madmaheshwar temple
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Lovely walk to Ransi

Day 12 (18th Sep’ 2017 ) – drive to Haridwar – 9/10 hours

Today we drive back to Haridwar via Ukhimath and Rudraprayag. All well that ends well!

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Chaukhamba one last time

P.S. All photos are shared by Author.

Last but not the least:

Don’t take this account for granted. Though we were casual with respect to early morning start but remember that 5 of us knew each other for at least a decade or more. We have done multiple treks together and we knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Our guide has lead these type of treks for more than 15 years. Mental attitude and understanding matters a lot. Mentally prepare for unfavourable conditions which are beyond your control, simply expect the unexpected. Also we got relatively good weather when required. Carefully select your logistics and support team, in case you are planning independently. Hope you have enjoyed reading and it will help in planning key areas. Your comments are more than welcome 🙂

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There were 16 of us. We eagerly wanted to go on a high altitude trek. Except a few of us who had only done 3-4 hour long treks before, most of us had hardly any trekking experience. So we had to pick a trek with an easy-moderate level of difficulty. We did our googling and finalised on Sandakphu trek. The next step was to hire a trekking agency. We compared the prices and finally booked a slot in the last week of March 2018 with HT. If you wish to read more about our trek, check here.

The trek starts from Chitrey at an altitude of 7500 ft. The trail ascending up to 11930 ft at Sandakphu. covering 33 km. approximately. The descent covers a distance of 15 km up to an altitude of 7000 ft. at Timburey, where the trek ends. All supporting photos are clicked by Author.

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Chitrey monastery at our base camp
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Afternoon at Chitrey
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Chitrey – our trek base for Sandakphu
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Trek starts 🙂
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At Lameydhura
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Reaching Meghma
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Tea break
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Daphne flower blooms in spring

And finally we reached Tumling, end of our first days trek. Fairly easy walk to us some 6 hours or so, with a steep climb of 2 Km in between. Soon after as we got ourselves accommodated in our dens for the night, Tumbling greeted us with a hailstorm.

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At Tumling

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Our lodge at Tumling

After our breakfast at Tumling, we started for our next stop at Kalapokhari. The trek to Kalapokhari from Tumbling took us across the Singalila National Park through dense forests and meadows. The trail was quite scenic, with clouds moving in and out of the landscape every now and then.

Foggy and mystic forest
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Kala-pokhri meaning Black-lake

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We were really excited for the day’s trek. We started off at around 9 am. The trek was a steep climb of 4 km from Bikheybhanjang. We could feel the gain in altitude with each step. The cold winds had also intensified. The trail was mostly covered in clouds. We finally reached our homestay in Sandakphu at 1:30 pm.

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Mist and fog covered the forest
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Rest after a steep climb from Bhikeybhanjang

Towards the night, there was another hailstorm. The temperature dropped to -4 degrees. We confined ourselves to our rooms after dinner and the gossips made us forget the intense cold of the night. And then it snowed, next morning. Intensely, for an hour. None of us had ever witnessed a snowfall before. We jumped and played in the snow, throwing snowballs at each other. Everything was covered in white. Heavenly it was !!

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An hour later, we packed our bags and began our descent from Sandakphu. We had to cover a lot of ground today, 15 Km to be exact, up to Timburey.

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Timburey, our last night halt

The last day was a day for the goodbyes. After breakfast, we packed our bags and bid adieu to our hosts for the night. We trekked for another 1.5 hours up to the main road at Srikhola. The vehicles dropped us off at Siliguri which took around 6 hours.

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Srikhola Trekkers Hut – desolated
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Waterfall at Srikhola, refreshing one at the end of our trek

Thanks to…

Gajen and Amar, for being our guide for these 5 days. We really enjoyed trekking along with them. They really took great care of us in these days.

HIMALAYA TREKKERS, for arranging the trek so professionally. Being our first high altitude trek, they did really guide us well in preparing for the trek. Thumbs Up!!

The homestays and the hosts, for arranging shelter and food for us in such tough conditions. Thank you so much.

All supporting photos are clicked by Author.

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The prelude

A long standing wish to visit the holy grail of trekker’s paradise, Sandakphu. Well, I have been thinking, planning, speculating, urging friends to make this trip happen which was taking place for the past 2-3 years, but was just not taking shape until this year. I finally decided to set on a solo journey to fulfil one of my bucket list wish to trek to the highest point in West Bengal, Sandakphu especially during spring time, as it was a perfect time to witness the lovely Rhododendron blooms in the whole Signalila Range.

As this was my first long duration solo trek, so I decided to enroll with a trek group just to be on a safer side. So, in the month of March, I checked out the available train tickets which were a bigger hitch while freezing my dates. But since I didn’t want to delay until May, as the chances of rain would have been much higher then. So tried for 14th April, and I luckily I got confirmed tickets which was perfectly matching with a scheduled fixed departure on 15th April’ 2017.

Now, next thing was to prepare myself to be able to sustain the trek. Although this was an easy to moderate level trek but it is always advisable to be reasonably fit for the same. So, knowing that I had a back problem in the past, I started my fitness regime. Ya, it may sound a bit too much but I had to, knowing my past health condition which were a result of sedentary lifestyle. And considering the fact that it was a requirement either to carry our own backpacks which would have been at least 10-12 Kg throughout the trek or else to pay a daily price to the porter which was meaningless and no fun…In order to carry weight while you are trekking upwards, it is very necessary to have a strong back muscles and also leg muscles, or else we might end up hurting ourselves.

I had exactly 20 days to gear up self and other things.. yohooo!! I was all set and excited as the days were approaching near and my excitement was rising upwards. I was all set with my new trek gears, shoes and my spirit.. As luck would have it, just three days before, I felt a strange ear pain which was unnerving. A shooting pain started to cripple me and dampening my enthu. Initially went to a local office doctor, who prescribed with a normal painkiller and antibiotic, since I was travelling in two days. But to my horror, next day I woke up with a shooting pain in both my ear, which almost crippled me numb. The pain was unbearable, and I had no other choice but to rush to ENT almost pleading for help. The doctor inspected my ear and came up with series of complications that I had developed in my ear and nose. I was feeling disheartened, that my trek plans will just not be possible to take shape now. Still, with a little courage, I dared to ask my doctor, if I still stand a chance to make it up there. Surprisingly, he said yes and prescribed with heavy dose of medicines to keep me going. So, after a lot of consideration and opposition from my well wishers, I thought of giving a chance as I didn’t want to miss a chance again.

Journey begins

Day 1: Hence, on 14th April, I boarded the train to NJP (dep 11.55 pm) which had a scheduled arrival of 10 am next morning. But, as usual train got delayed by 2 hours and instead I reached NJP by 12 pm. From NJP, I got into a pre booked cab which was arranged by our trek group and was shared by four other people from my trek group. It was very encouraging to meet a 62 year old retired man, who was also joining us for the trek. It actually gave me a good boost to start my trek on a positive note.

From NJP, we started at 12.30 pm and picked up another fellow passenger and travelled straight to Chitrey, from where we were to commence our trek next day. Chitrey was at an elevation of 7000 ft (approx) a picturesque hamlet falling into Nepal side which is located just 3 Km uphill from Maneybhajan. We reached Chitrey at around 4 pm. My fellow trek mates, who were travelling from Bagdogra, had already reached an hour before us. The tower signal was almost negligible and if one tries a lot, can manage to get a Nepal network on their phone. Haha!! After reaching Chitrey which took us almost 4 hour from NJP, the temp suddenly dropped to almost 8-9 degrees, also because it was drizzling slightly. In fact, people who reached earlier witnessed heavy rain while coming there. That day, we stayed at the trekkers hut which was pre booked for us. Since, it was our first day at the camp, so all were charged up and excited, we decided to set up a mini bonfire under partial windy condition just to enjoy the starry lit sky and to utilise this opportunity to get acquainted with each other. It was a perfect day to end with conversation, introductions and greeting each other over a hearty dinner and not to forget a pitcher of Hot Tongba (local fermented hard drink made out of millet),which is a must try when trekking in this part of India bordering Nepal. Although, I was on medication, so restricted myself from binging but didn’t fail to try the taste which was bit weird and funny.

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The road to basecamp Chitrey

Day 2: Got up at 6.30 am, and almost the last one to wake up from the lot. What a shame!! It was a clear sunny weather outside, perfect day to begin our journey. As we had to trek for 9 Km to Tumling (the next halt). We started our trek at 8.30 am post a hearty breakfast and bid goodbye to Chitrey. It was like one of those moments of “all my bags are packed, I am ready to go….upwards”!! As I reached a little ahead, I almost jumped with joy to witness my first sight of the Sleeping Buddha and the mighty Kanchenjunga quite clearly. It was a mesmerizing sight of snow-capped peaks with clouds playing peek-a-boo. As I approached further, I was also rejoiced to find the glimpse of lovely Rhododendron flowers in pink, white and mostly red in colour. It was a beautiful sight with the lush green trees, and the pink & red blooms, as if they were complimenting each other in perfect harmony.

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Om Mani Padme Hum: Chitrey monastery
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On the way to Meghma
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Meghma Monastery in Nepal
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At Tumling our halt for the day

Day 3: Our guide Yogen (a young little enthusiastic Nepali chap, who is also known as Penba (his Buddhist name)) came to wake us up by 5 am for us to rush to the view point, where the sunrise at the Kanchenjunga was to be seen. We rushed with our camera to the view point which was a steep uphill walk for 5 mins from our lodge. I quickly rushed to climb the small cliff like structure where already a small pool of tourist were standing to catch a glimpse of first golden rays on the peak. As the clock struck 5.30 am, we could see the first rays of sun reflected on the mountain peaks. And within few minutes the entire sleeping Buddha was glowing with ray of golden light. It was a mesmerizing feeling ever!! Along with Kanchenjunga, we could see the other peaks clearly like the peaks of Bhutan. Few tourist also ran a bit further up as locals said that even the Tibet range of mountains like Mt. Makalu, Mt. Lhotshe and even Mt. Everest was also visible. However, I remained content with the existing view so much, that I decided to head back to the hotel after some time to get ready for my onward trek. After the breakfast, we started trekking at 8 am as today we had to cover a distance of 13 kms to Kalipokhri (another small hamlet enroute Sandakphu) which also means “dark or black lake”. Weather was bright and sunny and the view was just spectacularly clear. Although the route was longer than the previous day, but I was charged up to hit our next destination. For about 5 kms we went downhill. This day we also entered the Signalila forest range, which was full of pine, oak, bamboo and Rhododendrons trees. The flowers were blooming everywhere in pink, red and white colour. It appeared as if the entire mountain range was covered in brown patches but instead they were all in full blooms. We reached Gairibas at about 11 am for a tea break, and utilised that little time interacting with few German trekkers who had come all the way to trek here. After Gairibas, we headed another 2kms uphill (this time) for our lunch; the place was called as Kaiyakatta. Here, our guide quickly bypassed us and took shortcuts to reach before us, so as to order the lunch for us. Well, after having not so nice but filling lunch, we had to cover the last 4 kKm to Kalipokhri. I took couple of shortcuts which were steep and rough alley of stairs and occasional mud path carved out by locals meandering through the mountains. I reached Kalipokhri at around 4.15 pm. Few others who were lucky to reach earlier braced themselves with hot tea and hot pakoras whereas unfortunate like me had to settle for cold tea and cold pakoras ..Just after we settled in our dorm while having evening tea, I decided to take a short stroll around the hut although my knees and the feet were aching terribly post the trek. I pass through a herd of mountain goats which locals were steering back to their home. I suddenly saw, the sun was setting amidst the cloud. And the best part was the clouds were settling below me. It felt almost as if I was standing above the clouds, and the sun was looking like a golden ball settling just behind a mountain. This was by far the best view I could witness, and I was awestruck with this beauty and started rejoicing silently.  My stay was in a bamboo hut dorm style as all nine of us had to fit into one roof and with only one make shift toilet which was totally outside the hut and secluded. So the idea of going to the toilet In the middle of the night was nothing less than a nightmare with the topic of discussion was spooky too. We had a quiet and simple early dinner at 8 pm. The night sky was crystal clear and the same was adorned with stars and infinite galaxy. I tried to star gaze for about 10 mins but it was impossible to stand and bear the chilly winds which was gushing through the clear night sky giving us shiver to the bone. So, I quickly went inside to call it a day.

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Clear weather on the way from Tumling to Kalapokhri
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Kalapokhri
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Beautiful sunset

Day 4: We started for our final destination comfortably at 8.30 am, Sandakphu (3636 mt) highest point in West Bengal.  We had to cover only 6 Km uphill which was relatively easy. So, I took it easy and started at my own pace. But this day was very cloudy and foggy and the visibility was very poor on the way. The entire trail, we took was full foggy and misty. The last 3 Km was steep hike up to Sandakphu point. So I finally made it to the top at 12.30 pm feeling accomplished. And checked in to our hotel (Sunrise hotel).Although it was disappointing to find it still very misty and foggy up there, as I could not see any view that way I was bit disappointed. In the evening, I remained confined to my room and took rest hoping to get a clear view the next day.

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Look I am growing mommy 🙂
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In bloom
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Sleeping Buddha in full glory
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Sunset at Sandakphu

Day 5: I peeped out from my little window at 5 am in anticipation, if the weather was clear or not. Sigh!! there was heavy cloud all over the sky. Yet my roomie and I decided to wake up from our sombre and give it a last shot as after all we had come all the way to Sandakphu to witness the mighty Kanchenjunga. But in-spite of rushing to the highest peak, we could not see a clear sky and came back a bit disappointed.  I was still positive and happy in my heart that all throughout our trek; I could at least witness the peaks crystal clear right before Sandakphu. So those memories were far heavier than having to sulk or brood on the fact to miss the chance to catch a glimpse of the entire mountain range from Sandakphu. I was content by the fact that, it was the journey that mattered more than the destination. I was still rejoicing silently in my mind that I could make it finally to Sandakphu after so many deliberate attempts. So after a hearty breakfast, we bid goodbye to our lovely cottage which was otherwise at a fantastic location and started our descent towards Srikhola which was abt 15 kms downhill from here. Descending is always tougher activity than ascending as one has to keep the balance and focus at all times. And this descent was surely very steep and tough on already wobbling and tired knees as I had to scale down from 3636 mts to 1900 mts (almost 6000ft downhill) in 15 Km today. I started my descend very slowly. Our guide always cautioned us to be extra careful and slow while taking each steps down. Initial 5 Km, which involved steep terrains, muddy shortcuts through the pine forest was ok. But suddenly I felt a slight discomfort in my left knee. There was a shooting pain whenever, I was putting pressure while steering myself down. My pace which was otherwise almost leading in the group almost slowed down as I was unable to walk properly. I limped almost throughout the path. Well, I was already extra cautious to keep my knee caps and trekking poles handy while trekking as advised by our trek leader. And that actually was like a saviour for me. I passed through the Rhododendrons and bamboo forest. Most of the times, I trekked alone as all others went ahead than me as I was limping and walking very slowly to avoid any further pain. There was a steep descent just 2 Km before Gurdum which was to be our lunch stop. I almost felt like giving up, as I felt there was no way I would have able to go down with one leg. There was another guide who was following me watched me standing helpless decided to give me company just to help me out. As there was no other way to escape the route. He came along with me motivating and helping out assisting in the paths which was quite steep and harsh on my sorry knees. At times he supported and helped me almost jumping down along with my heavy bag which I was lugging. I made it to Gurdum at about 12.50 pm where all others along with some lip smacking Aloo parathas were waiting for me. It surely did not only comfort my gastronomical delight after such long, but also help me out to forget about the pain for some time. I decided to gobble some pain killers and applied heavy mask of pain relief gel on my knees before marching ahead another 5 kms downhill.

On the way to Gurdum
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Daphne

Descent to Srikhola was comparatively better than before. I crossed lovely pine forest and Srikhola rive was giving me a company flowing all the way along the trail now. I finally reached Srikhola trekkers hut almost limping at 4.30 pm. Well, all others in the group had already reached much before but had a sigh of relief when I finally checked in. Our trek was completed on a successful and rejoicing note.

May be I was very fortunate enough, that just after half an hour later than I reached Srikhola, hailstorm started and it started to pour incessantly. I was thanking my protective functions which just made me feel so lucky inside that I didn’t get stuck in hail storm. It kept pouring all through the night giving it a perfect end to my trek trails!!!

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Srikhola bridge
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Srikhola

Day 6: I departed for Darjeeling bidding all other goodbye as they left for Bagdogra/ NJP/ Home onward.

It’s been a journey which was all about learning, realization and testing my potential. I came out of my comfort zone and lived my days out of my backpack, made friends, talked to locals, to understand the hardship, to appreciate each smaller little things which may seems very little but has a wider meaning. I felt extremely content to have been able to tick off one more wish out of my bucket list.  I now look at it; I realized that journeys are actually way more important than the destination. What I said not because I could not witness any stunning view at the top. But it is because; I trekked for 5 days covering about 45 Km chasing something which I could not get the view of. Still I feel that I could achieve the inner joy of finding my new love for mountains. I think I m just hooked on to this and I will definitely gonna take up many more treks.

P.S: Photos are shared by the author. To read more of here journeys check:

https://confessionsofatravelholicweb.wordpress.com/

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It’s been close to 6 months since my last trek to Singalila Pass with Phoktey Dara in Dec 2014, the trek bug in me started to find new route to explore for the summer time. Now being settled in Delhi, I realised zeroing down to one trek is extremely difficult as there are a plenty of trek opportunities I can go to. However I wanted to go somewhere which is lesser known as well as which will be done in a short span of time. Thanks to Google, I found information on Bhrigu lake, which got me intrigued to it. From what I gathered information from Himalaya Trekkers who has been able to retain my loyalties so far for all my trek endeavors, it seemed to be relevantly an easy trek covering vast stretches of green meadows and alpine forested areas. But what nature had in store for us was quite stark in contrast to what I had in mind. Spare if you may, some time to read my version of The Bhrigu lake trek which turned out to be a baby expedition for us.

06th June 15 (Day 0):
This time my husband Rohan joined me for the first time. We left for Manali by an evening HTDC bus and arrived next day around 0900. As we stepped out from the bus we took an auto to Vashisht Village where we were supposed to meet Sapta Da the Organiser. He introduced us to two more elderly trekkers somewhere in their 50’s who would be accompanying us during the trek. We felt good that it will be a small group of people going as then the trip becomes compact and peaceful. He arranged a guest house for stay there for the night. We freshened up quickly to go out and explore the village on our own for a while. As suggested by him, we went hiking up to the nearby Jogini falls through a forested trail. The falls are quite enormous and loud gushing sound of the water falling on the huge boulders and rocky mountain at the backdrop of great Himalayan range was quite a picture to marvel at . We lazed around the falls area for an hour or so when we noticed the sky getting overcast by dark clouds. Realising possibility of rain, we headed back to our guest house. By the time we reached our guest house, it had started to rain heavily. We were warned about what lay in store for us for the next few days by our trek organizer. He forecasted heavy rain for next few days and gave us a heads up that we might encounter huge patches of snow on the route to the lake as its snowing heavily up in the mountains. The thought of snow always excites me but it made Rohan a bit skeptical as he was not only a first timer in trekking but a guy who prefers a comfortable life. He does not like the idea of inviting pain in life when it can be avoided. But here he is with me on a trek. Life and marriage indeed makes wonders 🙂
07th June (Day1)
We hit the road at around 9 am after a delayed breakfast with our accompanying party consisting of 1 guide (Sharma Ji),3 porters/camp helpers and 1 cook. We drove to Gulaba which was the road head from where we were to start the trek from. It was a gradual steep climb through alpine forests and pastoral lands with horses grazing around. The trail was amazingly lush green against the backdrop of snow clad mountains. We trudged along the steep meadows with the mighty Dhauladhar range playing peek a boo from all sides. The Last 2 Km was thrilling as we started to walk on snow patches.It gave us some practice sessions on how to walk on snow. I did not expect to receive snow at this time of the year and was thrilled by the sight of it, the others weren’t as sporty. One of the elderly trekker had high BP problem which accentuated enroute. He recovered after some rest and moved on. After approx 5 hours of rigorous hiking we reached our campsite at Raolikholi at around 0430 in the evening.

Camping site on first day; 

All my earlier treks has been in Sikkim and Darjeeling region where i had enjoyed jungle camping, thick rhododendron forests and night bonfire. But this time the experience of camping was different. Our campsite was surrounding with steep snow bound mountains on all sides with 180 degree views of Hanuman Tibba lurking from behind .We were beyond all tree lines. The camp site looked like an amphitheatre with a continuous sound of the flowing stream water. I wanted to sit out and absorb the beauty all around till sun goes down but nature had other plans. Soon it started to rain and we all run to our tents. The rain added to the cold tremendously as we sat shivering inside our tent. Our guide was hospitable enough to serve us hot soupy noodles inside our tents. We spent the whole evening inside the tent listening to the sound of the incessant rain falling on our tents. We wondered on the possibility of the campsite getting flooded but soon discarded the thought as its a slopy land and the water will trickle down the stream. Rohan soon started to show signs of high altitude sickness as he complained of headache and nausea. I advised him to lie down and drink lots of ORS water. Out of tiredness he soon fell asleep and i sat listening to the pitter pater raindrops till i decide to warm myself up in the kitchen tent. The cook was preparing our dinner and the stove emitted enough heat for all of us. We sat there discussing our day and what lay ahead. It is then the trekker with BP problem declared that he wants to back out as he doesn’t feel fit enough to Continue the trek.No amount of convincing budge him from his decision. So the guide suggested him to take rest next day in the camp as we go explore the Kothi peak which is 6 Km away from our camp site. We had dinner and retired for the day early.

8th June  (Day2) Kothi peak hike
We were woken up by our guide at 5 am for morning tea .To our surprise, last night’s rain made way to clear sky and we were greeted by pleasant view of Hanuman Tibba looming large at us. Our guide pushed us to get ready fast so that we can hike up to Kothi peak as fast as we could before weather starts to act smart. So we embarked on our journey to climb Kothi peak around 8 am. Kothi peak is considered to be the third highest peak in Himachal Pradesh at about 15090 feet. Since the slopes were laden with thick patches of snow, we had to start hiking up by the side of the slopes which was boulder strewn all through.We wanted to climb the peak for the 360 degree views that it offers of the surrounding valleys and the peaks like Hanuman Tibba, Deotibba , friendship peak, Indrasan, Sheti Dhar and others. The trail however got difficult as we started to gain heights, at times the slopes were more than 45 degrees, testing our limits and endurances. In front of us ran a valley sprayed with snow with glaciers melting and water trickling by in small streams. As luck would have it, suddenly it started to pour heavily and we were stuck in the freezing cold as it was risky to tread further as rain made the slopes slippery .we waited for the rains to subside as it was hitting us 25 – 30 degrees angle. In about 2 hours time we reached the base of the peak. It is then our guide told us to turn back as there is no point going up the peak as we will not be able to get the view which we could have enjoyed on a clear day. Our energy was ebbing away due to extreme chill caused by the rain. So we all turned around and decided to add some element of fun to forget the unaccomplished mission of the day. Since most of the route back to the campsite was snow crusted, we decided to skid down the slope. One by one we crouched down with both our hands for stability and one foot for skiing and the other foot used as brake. It was a lot fun skiing down the slopes. We returned to the campsite in 1.5 hours sharp whereas the same route we trudged hiking up took more than 4 hours.

Campsite on 2nd day :

The evening was not so dramatic as soon it started to rain and this time it just did not plan to stop. We got to worry as we did not want the nature to act rough with us on the day we climb up to Bhrigu Lake. One of the trekker who was resting all day and did not go with us to Kothi peak was all the more convinced of returning back as he was not confident that his legs would sustain him in such snow conditions. We had to climb some steep snowy slopes next day which thrilled me and I couldn’t wait for the day to end.
09th June (Day 03) On to Bhrigu Lake and descent to Pandoropa.

We were up around 4 am but none of us managed to crawl out of our tent as the temperature dropped pathetically. So we waited for dear Sun to show himself and spread some warmth. At around 6am we hopped out of our tent and saw clear sky with mesmerising views of Hanuman tibba dazzling at us. Apprehending unpredictable weather conditions, we decided to get ready as early as we can and leave for the Bhrigu Lake. As we were getting ready to leave for the day’s mission, the elderly trekker who all along kept backing out announced that he will brave it out. Thus, with much delight and elated, we all ventured out together towards Mission Bhrigu Lake 🙂

Today’s climb was the toughest and also rewarding as it involved climbing 3 steep glaciers and a pleasant surprise. As far as our eyes could go, we could only see snow sprayed ridges. We took heavy breathes at each steps as our body was already tired of 2 days of walking on steep snow fields. Focusing every step on snow drains more energy and after an hours walk we were completely exhausted and drained off energy. On a couple of glaciers, we were walking along a very narrow edge with the mountain slopes on one side and the valley on the other.
It was almost 12 in the noon; we reached a spot where we could see some boulders .So we instantly decided to rest for a while. It was then as if to supplement us with renewed energy, our guide suddenly pointed toward the distant glaciers showing us a Himalayan brown bear. We did not believe him till we all actually spotted him. It was a lofty brown bear skiing down the snowy slope may be for the purpose of hunting a prey for lunch. Unfortunately none of us had a binocular but our cameras with high zoom lens worked as bino. We spent some half an hour marveling at the bear trying to get a better picture till the bear went out of sight. Indeed fortune favors the traveler and thus with renewed interest and vigour we started to hike faster.

The Frozen lake:

Last half a kilometer stretch was a killer as we were not only completely drained out of energy but also getting impatient .The lake is hidden between two valleys and appeared almost magically while we were marching higher on the snowy mountains. The lake was completely frozen barring only a small portion of the oval shaped lake. It was quite a site! The lake was like an amphitheatre, surrounded by 360 degree views of the Pir Panjal range, Dhauladhar range. We all spent some time there absorbing the radiating beauty of the place, filling up our bottles with the holy water from the lake. By then the weather started to act spoilt sport. Although we wanted to spend some more time there, but it was freezing cold and was getting very foggy. So our Guide suggested us to start marching ahead as we are still not done with our tryst with the snow. We had to descent down the snow slopes to the greener pastureland of Panduropa. We again started to skid down the snow slopes till we reached green meadows. The sight of greenery with horses grazing, yellow and purple flowers blooming all around were a pleasant respite from the blinding white landscape. We reached our campsite around 0530 pm where hot black tea was already waiting us.

Campsite on Day 3

Evening was as usual uneventful. As soon as the sun went down, it started to pour heavily. We were left with no choice but to stay put inside our tents listening to the incessant rain drops funneling through the mountain slopes down the valley. We were served dinner around 7 pm and soon we retired for the day. Much rest was needed as the next day we climb down the slopes and climbing down the slopes is more painstaking than trudging up the slopes.

10th June (Day 04) Descent to Vashisht Village – Journey back home.

We spend the morning leisurely having breakfast and clicking photos of the Kullu valley while the porters got on busy packing up our tents and all other equipments. At around 10 am we started to march down the slopes. Today’s journey started off quite pleasantly treading through green meadows and forested trails. The trail was covered with yellow pollins and marsh marigold and small rivulets. I was thoroughly enjoying the descent till my legs started to give away. The fag end of the route was beautiful traversing amidst apple orchards, apricot trees, passing by local villages. We reached Vashisht village around 3pm. We had a bus to catch at 6pm. We decided to utilize the intervening time taking a hot bath at the famous sulphur spring located in the premise of the Vashisht temple to ease out all the exhaustion and fatigue. Later we hired a taxi who dropped us to the Manali bus stop where our HPDTC bus was already waiting for us.

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Note: Due to heavy residual snow the team was unable to reach Sahastra Tal in first half of June, 2014. They had to return around 5 Km before Sahastra Tal. Final camp was set at Kyarki and  snow patch started beginning from this area. The team took a different longer route from Kush Kalyan to Belak and Budha Kedar while returning to spend the day saved. For standard itinerary follow Sahastra Tal trek details page, which is the normal route. Also the altitudes on trail we rerecorded by author with his Garmin watch which may have calibration issue. Consult the trek details page for more accurate altitudes and distances.

Attempt to Sahastra Tal:

Photos are taken and shared by author.

When HIMALAYA TREKKERS proposed Sahastra Tal trek to me, I felt that I should not miss the opportunity. It is a less frequented route and had a lot to offer. Especially I hoped to walk over ice fields for the first time. So fully prepared to face the challenges I reached Hardwar where I joined my fellow trekkers. After a long dusty road journey we reached the village Malla (1500m) leaving behind the destructions that were caused by the devastating flood of 2013.

On the first day of trek we passed by the beautiful Sila village (2000 m) and reached first camp site called Gairi (2400m) after a long walk. There was still some sunlight left. The place was surrounded by woods with a clearing in the middle. There were also some small huts used by the cattle grazers. As the darkness started to fall and the moon coming out, the place felt cold suddenly. The next day woke up early in the morning and got to see the snow covered peaks for the first time. I was also lucky to spot several birds including a Himalayan Wood pecker that I had never seen before.

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At Silla village
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Shepherd huts at Gairi

We packed up after breakfast and started our trek. The route started through the forest. As we gained altitude we came across small meadows and beautiful yellow flowers covering it. Also the huge snow clad peaks were on our left. Overall it was nature at its best. We crossed over Chuli La pass (3500 m) and after a long walk we finally reached our campsite known as Kush Kalyan (3400 m). At this altitude tree line was almost gone. This campsite was also nice having a small stream flowing by our tents.

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Walking inside Oak forest
Wildflowers
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Campsite area in Kush Kalyan

The next day of trek was till Kyarki campsite (4035 m) and it was going to be a tough walk. We started early. Initially we walked along the ridge and then crossed a large meadow. From far  across we could see white dots along the green mountains. They were hundreds of sheep and goat mostly white in colour. Walk was easy till until now. Then the ascend started with the green grass disappearing fast giving way to the dry dead grass and rocks. Trying to negotiate the boulders we came across first glimpse of hard ice and snow on the way. The path was broken with loose soil and solid ice everywhere. We had to cross it very carefully. But after this tough part came a nice surprise. Just as we took a turn the huge snow covered mountains were visible. We were informed that we can expect a lot of snow on the way to the tal. My wish of walking over snow was a reality now. Ahead of us appeared the first snow field. With the snow melting, it created a muddy slippery path. Few slipped, few worked around to find a safer way, but ultimately we reached our campsite with some bit of sun light still left. Tents were pitched just by a stream. Our guide and Sapta da climbed over the ridge to check for the possibility of going further from here. With the sun going down behind the ridge the wind started and we felt pretty cold. There was a bad news to follow. The way ahead was totally covered by deep snow. The team didn’t have much experience of snow and it seemed that all of us can’t make it till Sahastra Tal. After a long discussion with the guide Ramesh Ji, finally only three of us decided to go up to Lamb Tal and return back on the same day. Chance of reaching Sahastra Tal was bleak…

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Cattle in front look like white dots
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Horse grazing in summer
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Lots of snow awaiting us!

It was a nice clear day.  Equipped with the proper gears to walk over the snow we began to climb. First was a steep slope with some snow and rocks. Once I reached to the top it was an amazing view. There was a frozen river to cross and looming ahead were large ice fields. We reached Lamb Tal (4268 m) around noon. There was snow everywhere and the lake was hardly distinguishable from the surrounding. Sahastra peak was visible at some distance. Our guide performed puja there.  We took rest and had our lunch. By this time weather was starting to degrade.   So we decided to descend as quickly as possible. But there was something more that nature had in store for us. We could spot a Himalayan fox in the opposite mountain slope. By the time we were about 3 km. from our camps, cloud had already gathered and thunder roared nearby. Soon it started to drizzle and snow along with cold wind. We somehow managed to reach our tents. Snow continued for an hour or so but amazingly by the evening sky was clear and we had moonlit sky. But the best news came from the kitchen tent that dinner with mountain goat meat was ready.

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Climb begins from Kyarki camp
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Finally walking on snow!
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Snow land
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Lamb Tal
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A small ceremony at Lamb Tal
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Returning to camp

We started to descend the next day and reached Kush Kalyan very easily. The following day we descended further down crossing across very large meadows until we reached Belak village (2972 m). Here as soon as we pitched our tents there was a heavy downpour with hailstorm. But it resided soon after giving way to a clear moonlit sky.

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Meadows towards Belak Khal
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Beautiful forest on the way
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Belak village

The next day morning was sunny and we posed and clicked group photos at our last campsite. We descended further through the forests and after long walk we finally reached Jhala where our car was waiting.

Happy memories

Surprisingly throughout our trek we did not come across any other trekkers, exactly the type I wised.   The route was full of surprises and challenges. We came across forests, huge meadows, large snow fields, frozen rivers, frozen lake, white peaks and not to forget rare opportunity of getting glimpse of the Himalayan wild life. The arrangements were outstanding, guide and support stuffs were top class, making it one of my most memorable trek till date.

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Day 1: Vashisht in Manali, (7000 ft), 27th September 2013

The journey was scheduled to begin from Manali, where the larger part of the team had already arrived the previous day. Four of us, Sourav, Abhishek, Arunava and me, boarded the HPTDC Volvo from Mandi House, New Delhi on 26th September 2013 at 6:30 pm, and reached Manali the following morning around 8 am to a rousing welcome on World Tourism Day being celebrated by the Himachal Pradesh government. We spent the day lazing around in Manali and Vashisht, enjoying the beauty of the Beas and the surrounding mountain valley.

Manali valley from Vashisht
Vashisht Temple

Day 2: Manali to Lamadug, (9850 ft); 6 Hrs, 28th Sept’13

The team comprising Krishnendu, Arunava, Sourav, Abhishek, Rajat, Partha, Saptarshi and me, began our journey through the dense Deodar, Chestnut, Walnut and Maple trees of the Manali Sanctuary. The initial journey was not without hiccups as we spent nearly one and a half hour traversing the wrong trail. We finally began our journey to Lamadug at 1:00 p.m. Despite the beauty of the Himalayan slopes covered in the dense foliage, the way to Lamadug tested our patience and tenacity. The steep slopes were covered with slush formed due to the rains over the last few days and every few step forward was accompanied by a backward slide, resulting in the journey being very long and tedious. On this day the Manali valley is visible through out and the bird’s eye view of the broad valley with its surrounding tree covered mountains more than compensated for the hardships on the way. We finally reached our campsite at Lamadug after night fall, at around 7:00 p.m. Once in the camp, we discovered the magic of the support team. Our cook, Jeevan was a sheer magician, and we realized his contribution to the trek as the days proceeded. The efficiency of the other staffs are also worthy of mention.

Inside Manali Sanctuary
Lamadug camp site

Day 3: Lamadugh – Khanperi Pass – Riyali Thatch (11300 ft); 8 hrs, 29th Sept’13

We woke up to a bright sunlit morning in Lamadugh and were struck by the sheer beauty of the surrounding area. A large number of mastiffs joined us this morning. Jeevan provided us a lavish breakfast. This day we had to cross Khanperi Pass, at a height of 13000ft. The initial climb was gradual through the receding tree-line. After a couple of hours the trees became sparse, giving way to a steep stony climb of around 2 hours to Khanperi Pass. On the way we had glimpses of the Indrasan, Indra Tilak and Deo Tibba while the Manalsu Nallah lay towards our right. We reached the pass at around 1:00 p.m. and, after some well-deserved refreshment, started our journey downhill towards Riyali Thatch. Sauntering across rolling golden meadows towards the river flowing far below, with the afternoon sun on our shoulders and the wind in our face, we reached our campsite, perched behind a thick patch of foliage and gradually opening into wide meadows.

Khanperi Pass
Riyali camp site

Day 4: Riyali Thatch to Kaliheni Base Camp (13000 ft); 6 hrs, 30th Sept’13

Post another sumptuous breakfast, we started the day through gently rolling slopes marked by herds of sheep and their herdsmen. On both side of the narrow meandering path were the colors of fall – bright and resplendent. The path gradually gave way to a river. Post a few minor hiccups in crossing the river we continued on our journey. The beauty of the path behind us did not allow us to even remotely guess what lay ahead. Rising from the river bed, we had to climb four ridges with the hope that at the end of it all is the base camp. Contrary to expectations, at the end of the series of ridges was another mountain wall, which needed to be ascended. Traversing the criss-cross path and crossing over to the other side of the mountain, we set eyes on our camp for the night. All around were mountain walls covered in moraine and snow and appearing as if some devastation has taken place in the recent past. The temperature at the base camp dropped to 3 degrees at 7:00 p.m. Shivering in the evening wind, sipping on piping hot soup and coffee, we watched the changing night sky, lighting up with a million stars and the milky-way traversing the open expanse. While Krishnendu and Sourav took the opportunity to entertain us with some music, Rajat took the opportunity to click some mind blowing pics of the moving night sky. The best of course was the HT logo created with torch light.

Sheep grazing in Bugiyal
Kaliheni basecamp

Day 5: Base Camp to Kaliheni Pass to Base Camp (15500 ft); 9 hrs, 1st Oct’13

This was the D-day and it was the hardest of the lot. No one expected the pass to be at a distance that it finally turned out to be at. The journey began over thick moraine towards the top of the around 2000 ft wall in front of us. It was a long, tedious and tiring journey. The surprise came at the top of the wall, when we realized that there are 3 more similar, but smaller in size walls, and a snow field to be crossed before reaching the pass. Here we found patches of snow here and there. At this point I must mention that had it not been for the support received form Sourav, Krishnendu and Rajat, I would have turned back towards the base camp. With much persuasion the team moved towards the pass, crossing the mountain walls and finally the snow field. Large part of the team had already reached, when we four joined them at around 1:15 p.m. The pass had opened up to give us a glimpse of its massive expanse. It was like nothing I had seen before. Kaliheni is an extremely broad pass with broad rolling snow covered slopes. On the other side towards Bara Bhangal were visible numerous lakes and many lesser known peaks. Around 2:00 p.m. the weather turned bad and we had to begin our retreat. The team hurried towards the snow field even as the snow fell on our heads in a steady sleet. The sound of thunder cracking around the pass was deafening and the team hurried down the snow covered slopes, with visibility less than 20 ft. Finally we emerged out of the snow and could view our camp drenched in the last rays of the sun. Back at the camp, we had a campfire roaring at night and we chatted happily about the day around a celebratory dinner and hot drinks. The temperature on this day dropped to 0 degree at around 7:00 p.m.

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Towards the pass
Snowfield Kaliheni pass
Snowfield before Pass
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@ Kaliheni Pass
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Team @ Basecamp

Day 6: Kaliheni Base Camp to Dor Nallah camp (11700 ft); 7 hrs, 2nd Oct’13

The day began on a leisurely pace with not a hurry in the world to bother us. We re-traced are path over the 4 ridges and went back all the way to Riyali Thatch. Apart from the rain that played spoil sport from time to time this was a beautiful day, across golden meadows. From Riyali Thatch we by-passed the Khanperi pass and took a separate route to the Dor Nallah Camp. Though a beautiful route, the way was very long. Our tents were atop a green meadow, perfectly round in shape and dotted with large boulders here and there. Apart from the beauty of the broad valley before us, what is worth mentioning is the presence of 100s of spiders on the grass covered slopes.

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Descending to a stream towards Dor Nallah camp
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Dor Nallah camp at a distance

Day 7: Dor Nallah Camp to Sangchur (Road Head, 7500 ft); 6 hrs, then by car to Manali 3rd Oct’13, 2hrs

Up till the Dor Nallah Camp we had not lost much height. The entire downhill climb was for this last day, wherein we were to descend to the Kullu valley. This day began on a relaxed pace and we rested on the golden grass more than once, enjoying the expanse of the broad valleys around. We were accompanied by a great many golden eagles through the better part of the day. The second half of the day brought with it a steep descent for over 3 hours into the Kullu valley. The path traversed straight across the mountain and was covered in thick foliage. The foliage also allowed us a glimpse some rare birds. Exhausted from the steep downhill climb we finally trudged into Sanchur village where vehicles were awaiting to take us back to Vashisht, from where we were scheduled to go back to Delhi the next day.

This memoir will be incomplete if I do not put in a word of appreciation for Sapta and his support team from Himalaya Trekkers. Kaliheni is a less trodden route, full of surprises, difficult but breathtaking and the support extended by Sharma, our guide, Jeevan (cook), Dipendra and Kiran made it all the more pleasurable. The team left nothing to imagination in terms of the service delivered. Tents were always ready and hot refreshment prepared well before we reached campsite every day and whatever I say about the variety and quality of food served at all meals, will not be enough. Each meal was a surprise and the menu different every day. Breakfast comprised muesli, bread & jam/ butter, pan cakes, parantha, chirer pulao etc; while the packed lunch on the way comprised a different fruit each day, dry fruits, chocolates, fruit drink and sandwich or fried rice or rolls. Evenings in the dinner tent began with a hot drink and pakora or chowmein followed by a four course meal – soup, rice / chapatti, dal, subji, chicken / lamb / egg and a sweet dish – gajar ka halwa, gulam jamun, suji ka halwa etc. Even if my legs are not able to carry me some day, and my lungs not able to pump me through the up-hill trudge, I would like to come back on this route again, if for nothing else but for the food :-)

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Descend towards Kullu valley
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Bird's-eye view of Kullu valley

Supporting photos are taken by Rajat, Krishnendu, Sourav and Saptarshi.

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After having completed two relatively simple to moderate treks in Sandakphu-Phalut and Kuari pass, as a natural progression I wanted to try something serious. Saptarshi (Sapta) of Himalaya Trekkers suggested that Goecha La is suitable for me and a trek which commands some of the stunning views of Kanchendzongha and its neighbouring peaks. As per plan I started from Kolkata by overnight train and reached NJP on morning of 25th April’ 2013 .

Day 1: NJP to Yuksom (5,500 feet) by Car – 8 hrs

At NJP our car was already waiting for us. All the team members of Himalaya Trekkers gathered just outside the railway station and soon we were on our way to Yuksom around 10 in the morning. The first 30 km of this drive was through the plains of Bengal up to Himalayan foot hills. The views soon after the foot hills are lovely as one sees the curvy views of Teesta River flowing between the hills. The drive took us through the towns of Joerethang and Legship. The journey of 6 hours takes one through typical Himalayan roads with beautiful Rangit River accompanying you. We stopped for lunch at a place called Malli. Finally we reached Yuksom at around 6 in the evening.

Yuksom at 5500 ft is an ancient town in the in Geyzing subdivision of West Sikkim. It is the starting point for the trek to Goecha la and is an ideal place for one who wants to avoid the bustle of Gangtok and Darjeeling. It was the first capital of Sikkim established in 1642 AD by Phuntsog Namgyal who was the first Chogyal (temporal and religious king) of Sikkim. The coronation site of the first monarch of Sikkim is known as the “Throne of Norbugang”. At yuksom we were greeted by Sher Bahadur who had already made all arrangements for the ration of the trek and also had arranged for porters and Yaks. We checked into hotel Dzongrila. The evening passed while chitchatting with other team members and sharing our experiences. We ordered Chicken meals for dinner at Gupta Restaurant around 8 pm. After returning to the lodge all of us did some last minute packing and finally went inside the comfort of bed and blankets around 10 pm.

Day 2: Yuksum (5,900 feet) to Sachen (7,400 feet) – 4 hours – Easy

In the morning from the window of the hotel we had a fantastic view of the snow covered peaks of Kabru – North and South. This lifted our spirits and soon I and Anutosh were on our way to the coronation site which I planned last evening. It was a 15 minute walk from the market place where we had put up for the night. It is an ancient archaeological site and a monument of national importance.There is also a beautiful monastery and the calm and serene atmosphere is sure to ignite the spiritual senses in anyone who makes a visit there.

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Kabru North and South from the window of our hotel

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Coronation Site – Yuksum

Refreshed we returned to our lodge and were handed over the permit forms. At Yuksum there are two important things to complete before you start for the trek – One, making an entry at the police station. For this you need a photo identity proof with three photo copies. Two, you need to pay the permit fees at the forest check post. We had our breakfast with porridge, fruits, roti, vegetables and finished it with a round of coffee. The porters were ready with our guide Sher Bahadur would accompany us for the entire trek. We handed over the rucksacks identified for the porters and soon I was on to my third trek in the Himalayas.

Most trekkers would trek from Yuksum to Tsokha in a day. At the very first day of the trek it is tiresome as your body is yet to be acclimatized and also it involves in an abrupt gain in altitude. So it is advisable to break the trail at Sachen. Lucky for us Himalaya Trekkers already had it in mind. The trail from Yuksum passes through the check post and the village huts and soon starts to climb gently. There were many groups and also an equal number of Dzo (a cross between Yak and Cow) carrying loads of logistics. After around 40 minutes the trail gradually enters the forest and after a small climb and gradual descend one arrives at the first bridge over Pha Khola (Khola is the Nepalese word for a River). The trail then enters Kanchendzonga National Park with a wide gate welcoming trekkers and after a further trek of an hour one arrives at the second bridge over Tshushay Khola. The trail continues through thick forest and after another hour’s trek one arrives at the third bridge over Mentogang Khola. From this bridge the trail goes uphill for 25 minutes and then gradually flattens out. Look for a clearing to your right in the forest. You have arrived at Sachen the campsite for the day. Sachen is an ideal camping ground for those who love to spend the night amidst thick forest. It is a small clearing in the forest having space enough to pitch 6-8 tents. When we arrived the porters and sapta were busy pitching tents. I took off my rucksack to assist them. There is a small shelter with two rooms to cook. One such room was to be used as our kitchen. Soon lunch was ready with hot Yai Yai. After the days exhaustion the noodles was a delight. Prek Chu River flows below Sachen and you can hear its faint sound from the campsite. The campsite provides a good opportunity for spotting birds. If you are a birding enthusiast the trail is not going to disappoint you.

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1st Bridge over Pha Khola

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Campsite of Sachen in the Oak forest

Day 3: Sachen (7,200 feet) – Tshoka (9,650 feet) – 6 hours – Moderate

We woke up to a bright sunny morning and soon started to get ready for the day’s trek to Tsokha. After having a mixed breakfast with porridge, bread, jam and peanut butter we started for the second day’s trek to Tsokha. Tsokha is a Tibetan settlement about 10 kms from Sachen. The trail passes through the oak forest with occasional ups and downs and after about 45 minutes we reached a shelter meant for rest. Just ahead of each of the bridges you will find shelters like this. From here the trail goes steeply down to the bed of Prek Chu and after taking the final turn the beautiful hanging bridge over the river comes into full view. This is the longest of the four bridges. The bridge is adorned with colorful prayer flags signaling success to the expedition. It sways on both sides when you walk over it. The roaring Prek Chu flows underneath with all its might. It is a treat to walk over the bridge. You do not meet the river until three days later at Kokchurong. From here begins the first real climb of the Goecha La trail – subsequent climbs that will stay with you until you reach Goecha La. Take the trail that goes to the left and up the ridge in a series of switchbacks and after an hour and half a few huts and a resting place signals the arrival of Bakhim. Bakhim has resting place and a tea shop where one can get tasty momos too. But they do not prepare in advance so, you need to wait after you order. After the steep hike from the fourth bridge a cup of coffee is worth savoring at Bakhim. From here Tsokha is a 40 minute steep uphill hike. Bakhim has a few huts and a forest rest house where you can spend the night. It has splendid views of the Yuksum valley. On our onward journey we were not as lucky since the entire valley was covered under a thick blanket of fog. But on our return to Yuksum at end of the trek the valley opened up, thanks to a better weather. Follow the trail that goes along the tea shop and besides the forest rest house. The earthquake of 2011 had cut deep cracks in the walls of the forest rest house and other huts nearby. The trail gradually rises up and soon rhododendron trees come to view. If you are making this trek in the blooming season (mid  April to mid May) then you will be greeted with the first views of Himalayan rhododendrons. There are many short cuts bypassing the main trail which will cut the distance but will be a test of your quadriceps. Me and Sapta decided to try a shortcut to Tsokha while others stayed on the main trail with the guide. There were numerous rhododendron trees with flowers varying from red to yellow and white. As the shortcut is seldom used by trekkers this stretch of the trail had a special beauty due to its virginity. Meanwhile the weather was turning bad and visibility started to diminish. A light drizzle forced us to increase our pace on the steep slope. We were lucky as it did not turn out to be a full downpour. After 30 minutes steep hike the railings of the Tsokha trekkers hut came into view. We were the first in our group to reach Tsokha and took shelter in the trekker’s hut. The cook  and his team had already arrived and were busy preparing lunch. The rest of the folks in our party with Sher Bahdur reached in 30 minutes exhausted. On arriving at the trekkers hut we were handed over a refreshing cup of tea. If you want to camp at Tsokha then look for the flat clearing beside the trekkers hut. This trek is a paradise for birding enthusiasts and Sapta brought to my notice a pair of Yellow Billed Blue Magpie from the camping ground of Tsokha. Tsokha is chilly compared to Sachen and if you are at Tsokha you may want to taste Chhang, a local beer made from fermented millet seeds available on the way to the monastery. The fermented seeds are served in a hollow bamboo shell called Tomba, and hot water is added very gradually keeping the seeds undisturbed (which requires a practiced hand) to make the drink. It is a local delicacy and very popular among the trekkers including foreigners. The Tsokha monastery was not far and I decided to pay a visit to the monastery in the remoteness of Himalayas. It was late afternoon and very misty. The monastery remains closed but you can ask for the keys in the shops down below. We had dinner by 8 PM and soon crashed into the comfort of sleeping bags.

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Steep climb to Bakhim, 4th bridge dwarfed by distance

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Enjoying coffee at Bakhim

Day 4: Tshoka (9,650 feet) – Dzongri (12,900 feet) via Phedang (12,050 feet) – 7 hours – Moderate to Strenuous

Today is going to be a long day for us. Every day during dinner Sher Bahadur used to brief us on the next day’s plan. Accordingly we were served breakfast by 7:30 consisting of pancakes, jam, peanut butter and porridge. Soon we were handed over packed lunch of bread, hard boiled eggs, boiled potato and choco pie. It is advisable to carry enough water for this day as there are no reliable water sources on the trail to Dzongri. From the camping ground we had splendid views of Mt Pandim, Tenzing Khang and Juponu. The trail to Dzongri passes the monastery and begins to climb the ridge above the village. From here Tsokha village looks like a landscape painted on a canvas. After about 30 minutes the trail enters the forests of Oak and rhododendron and is paved over wooden logs. This is one of the most rewarding days of the trek as it will take you through some of the densest rhododendron forests of India. If you are in the blooming season the entire slope is colored in red, yellow, pink and white. The trail can be muddy at places and after a spell of rain you need to watch your footsteps. It is a ridge climb and so the trail switches between the opposite sides of the ridge. There were a group of people returning from their BMC training at Chowrikhang, the base camp of Himalayan Mountaineering Institute. Many trekkers would go only up to Dzongri and not to Goecha La. So this stretch of the trail remains busy especially during peak season. After a continuous uphill hike of 3 hours the trail levels to an open ground on top of the ridge. You are now in Phedang at 12000 feet. At Phedang there is a small log cabin that serves as a kitchen where trekkers normally make a halt for lunch. Soon we unpacked our rucksacks and sat down for lunch and some much needed rest. Phedang being on top of a ridge is very windy. On a clear day you can get spectacular views of Kanchendzonga and its associated peaks from Phedang. From here one trail leads to Dzongri via Deorali top and another leads to Kokchurong. Many also prefer to camp at Phedang but since there are no trekkers huts available you need to be prepared with all camping necessisities. Water is available on the trail that leads to Kokchurong. From Phedang Deorali top is again an uphill hike of 1200 feet. I did not want to halt for long here as the weather turned from bad to worse and fearing a downpour we put on our raincoats. Dzongri was still 3 hours away. After a break of 20 minutes we took the trail that leads towards Deorali top. There were numerous rhododendron trees on both sides of the trail. Today indeed the  walk was in God’s own garden! Deorali is a continuous uphill trek and trekkers now begin to feel the effects of altitude. After a continuous ridge climb of an hour and half a small chorten and prayer flags signal the arrival of Deorali top. From here on a clear day the views of Kanchendzonga and Pandim are simply out of this world. The rhododendron trees now change to rhododendron bushes. Occasionally you can spot patches of snow on the trail. It is very windy especially on Deorali top. From here the trail follows a series of gentle ups and downs and after an hour Dzongri trekkers hut comes into view as a tiny spec on the vast mountain slope. From here it is another half an hour to the trekker’s hut of Dzongri. We arrived at Dzongri by 4:00 and stayed at Dzongri trekker’s hut. The trekkers hut is large enough to accommodate 5-6 teams. On our arrival and after a cup of tea we were served with Yai Yai and pakoras by the caring team of Sher Bahadur. A clear stream runs in front of the trekker’s hut. If you want to camp at Dzongri look for the open space on the other side of the stream. There is enough space to pitch 6-8 tents.  At night we had Garlic soup followed by spicy Indian style dinner. Soon went inside the comfort of sleeping bags.

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Beautiful Tsokha and the monastery from above the trail to Phedang

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Dzongri campsite. The trekkers hut is on the right side of the tents

Early morning Dzongri (12900ft) to Dzongri top (13800ft) – 2 hours – Moderate

Dzongri top is a ridge above the campsite of Dzongri and which offers a panoramic view of the Kanchendzonga range. We did not want to miss on the sunrise and by 4:00 in the early morning we started off for Dzongri top. Follow the trail that goes from the front of the trekkers hut. It is cold and windy so you need to be in heavy woolens though once on the steep trail your body will begin to sweat. Also a torch (preferably head torch) is very handy. It is a steep climb to the top of the ridge and takes not less than 45 minutes. The ridge top is marked by a small chorten and prayer flags. We did a small puja here. Soon the peaks began to unfurl in front of us. It was not a clear day and the sky was foggy. But we had a good view of Kanchendzonga, Kabru and Pandim peaks. Looking in front and slightly to the right is Pandim and Kabru is to the left with Black Kabur blocking some parts of Kabru form your view. Right in front stands Kanchendzonga with its south east ridge dominating the skyline. You can spot Thansing in the distance below Pandim as a green patch which is going to be the destination for the day. From the top the meadows of Dzongri comes into view crossed by serpentine trails. The slopes are lined with bushes of juniper extending for miles which turned orange with the rays of sun and with the peaks in the background it was an experience to remember. After spending about 30 minutes we headed for the trail back to the trekkers hut.

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Foggy condition on Dzongri top

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Prayer flags and Chorten on top

Day 5: Dzongri (12980ft) to Thansing (12894ft) via Kokchurong (12096ft) – 5/6 hours – Moderate

Thansing valley at the base of Mt Pandim is about the same height as Dzongri but trekkers need to descend almost 1000 feet to the bed of Prek Chu at Kokchurong. The trail to Kokchurong goes through the right of the trekkers hut (not to be confused with the trail to Dzongri top) and soon begins to climb above the ridge. After a steep hike of 30 minutes one reaches the top of the ridge from where the trail turns left on flat ground. On a clear day you can see the peaks of Kanchendzonga and Pandim towering over the horizon. Yaks grazing on the meadows is also a common sight. The trail through the meadows continues for almost two hours. The slopes are only lined with dwarf rhododendrons and bushes of juniper. There are no trees to be seen on the trail. There otherwise gentle trail has a few up hill and downhill curves. Also you can get the company of other trekkers and guides and enjoy the views. After sometime notice the trail going downhill. This is a descend to the bed of Prek Chu which continues till you reach Kokchurong. However Sikkim was again back with its usual foggy and mystic weather. Every day after 10:00 the clouds begin to flow in any by noon everything goes under a cloud cover. But now drops of rain also started and I hurriedly packed my cameras inside rucksack and put on raincoat. The descend to Kokchurong is gentile in the beginning but becomes steep on muddy trail. You need to skirt around the muddy patch. After a while the trail is over rocks. You can hear the sound of the flowing river which increases as you descend further down towards the river. After an hour look for the trekkers hut to your left. You have reached Kokchurong. Spot the trail which comes from right hand side and joins. It is the trail to Phedang which we would take on our return path. The river flows with a roar below the trekkers hut. The trail crosses the small wooden bridge to cross a side stream and goes to the true left of Prek Chu. Experience the cool breeze blowing over the bridge. It could be misty and with the gust of water flowing below and is a fairy tale experience. The water of the river is worth savoring. We cross another wooden bridge, this time crossing the main river and begin to climb gradually keeping the river to the left. Soon the path moves up and Prek looks like a small stream hundreds of feet below and finally goes off from sighting. The path is lined with trees and there are rocks on the trail. It is 2 Km to the meadow of Thansing but actually feels a lot longer.We crossed another stream over a narrow wooden plank. The climb ends at the top of the ridge and flattens out. The trees now reduce to bushes of rhododendron and juniper. The flat ridge top ends at the vast meadow of Thansing. Spot the lone trekkers hut at the start of the valley. There is also a small shelter besides the trekkers hut used as a kitchen. The hut has 4 rooms and a dining area too. Thansing is a vast valley at the base of Mt Pandim and Tenzing Khang. There is abundant space to pitch any number of tents here. Prek Chu flows gently through the extreme left of the valley. There are a few narrow streams that flow across the valley to meet the Prek. On a clear day you will have great views of Mt Pandim right in front shinning like a pearl. To the right of the trekkers hut where the valley ends stands Tenzing Khang, Jopunu and Narsing which are right to Pandim by a continuous ridge. In the horizon the south east face of Kanchendzonga can be seen as a formidable wall of ice shinning brilliantly.

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Walking on the Dzongri meadows

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Thansing Trekker’s Hut

Day 6: Thansing (12894ft) to Lamuney (13,600ft) – 2 hours – Easy

Lamuney campsite is at the other end of the Thansing valley and the lovely walk from Thansing is indeed a walk in paradise for, with each step you get closer to Mt Pandim and Kanchendzonga opens up towering above the horizon. This is the easiest day of the entire trek and even a delayed start is enough to reach Lamuney by noon. We had breakfast in the bright morning sun sitting on the rocks in front of the trekkers hut and enjoying the views of the snow covered peaks. The trail from Thansing gradually rises which most trekkers will not feel after the stiff climbs of previous trek days. Occasionally there are a few streams that you need to cross over rocks. In the horizon the glacial moraine walls become visible and above which Kanchendzonga can be seen looming over. Lamuney is pretty windy. Earlier trekkers used to camp at Samiti lake above Lamuney but now camping at Samity is no longer allowed. It is a sacred lake at the foot of sacred Mt Pandim. Also there is an increased threat to the lake from pollution. In Lamuney  there is a shelter used by the cook and porters as a kitchen. Prek Chu flows gently behind the kitchen of Lamuney. For trekkers camping is a must here. After lunch we went for a short acclimatizing walk. The vast valley was only lined with dwarf bushes of juniper. We saw a group coming down after a successful ascent of Mt Tenzing Khang. Lamuney serves as a base camp for those aspiring to climbing this peak.  Today dinner was served at 7:00 in the evening as the next day we will have to start by 2:30 in the morning for Goecha La. So a good sleep was an absolute must. Sher Bahadur briefed us on the next day’s schedule. We were to be split into two groups and each group will be assisted by porters. It was planned that all porters will accompany us in case anyone plans to turn back or slows down in pace. We were to be served tea at 1:30 am morning!

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A cakewalk on Thansing valley

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Lamuney campsite

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 7: Lamuney (13,600ft) to Goecha la (16,000 ft) and back to Kokchurong – 14 hours – Strenuous

I was up by 1:30 am and started making some last minute arrangements. I could hear trekkers speaking in tents nearby. Sher Bahadur served tea and a packet of biscuit in our tent by 1:40. I woke up Anutosh and Udayandu and asked them to get ready. The remaining members in the other tent were also getting ready. We assembled by 2:10 and in another 10 minutes we were off to our destination for the day under the lights of head torches. It was pitch dark all around and Sher Bahadur was leading the way. The porters were also along with us. Only the illuminated portion of the trail was visible but I felt it was ok and safe enough. The trail initially passes over almost flat ground through the bushes of juniper. After about 20 minutes the almost flat trail began to rise gradually. At night on the trail the experience of a guide comes handy as you can get diverted to a different direction since nothing can be seen. I turned back after sometime to see 3 illuminated dots approaching us. They were some members from our party. The trail after a gradual ascent begins to climb steeply. At this point we waited for the entire team to assemble together. You need to carefully watch your steps on the rocks. There is no mud on the trail as it is mostly rocky. After a steep hike of 30 minutes you can hear the sounds of water flowing by. It is the stream flowing out of Samity Lake and going down to merge with Prek. Now the trail levels on flat ground and you notice a sandy bed with usual cracks and sound of water. Here on to your left is actually Samity Lake and the trail goes in an arc around the lake and to the other side and begins to climb steeply over the ridge. The lake remains invisible at the cover of the night. It was a long and continuous ridge climb and now at over 14500 feet trekkers begin to feel the effects of altitude. We took occasional breaks on the steep slope only to gain a breath. In spite of the sub zero conditions trekkers begin to sweat on this steep slope. On to your right is the wall of Pandim. It took us nearly an hour to reach to the top of the ridge from where the trail takes a turn to the right and begins to move up. Now we could see lights in the sky signaling the approach of dawn. The trail becomes narrow and moves further up to the 1st view point of Goecha La. View point 1 is almost at a height of 15000 feet. The weather was cloudy and we were disappointed.  There is a small chorten where we did offered puja and waiting for the blessings of the weather God. On the left side of view point 1 the junction of the two Kabru glaciers is distinctly visible along with the moraine ridges. The sandy bed of Zemathang is also visible as a small patch ahead. We had choco pie and biscuits to refresh ourselves and began to move towards Zemathang. The trail to Zemathang is initially over rocks and boulders and further ahead you need to climb down the moraine ridge over a narrow zig zag path. It is a near 40 degree descends and could be tricky as the path is lined with scree and very slippery. The trail from here moves over the boulders and in another 30 minutes one reaches the sand bed.  Mount Pandim stands tall on the right. There is a magnificent ice fall running down the top of Pandim and ending a little higher of Zemathang. With the sky now showing signs of improvement we started to climb the moraine ridge above Zemathang to have a better view of the peaks. This was a very steep climb with a gradient around 40 degrees. On the other side the ridge dropped vertically down to the bed of the glacier. We were advised not to step on the top as the narrow ridgeline can break and chance of a fall. Gradually the cloud cover lifted off and we could see the whole range of peaks from base to summit shining in the morning sun like glittering silver. We descended to the floor of Zeemathang and moved further. The sandy bed is about a kilometer in length. At the end the trail takes a turn to the right and begins to climb up the moraine ridge steeply in an arc at end of which lies View Point 2 and Goecha Lake.With our hearts contained in this magnificent surrounding we decided not to go any further but return. We had our breakfast with bread, jam, boiled potato, with eggs and headed back.

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Kanchendzongha range

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Zemathang

While returning through view point 1, this time with the clear sky we had a very close up view of Mt Pandim, Kabru range, Rathong and others. We followed the same trail back and after crossing the last ridge Samity lake came into view. Samity is a beautiful emerald green lake above Lamuney and on a clear day one can see the reflection of Mt Pandim in its water. We returned back to Lamuney and took a break of an hour for lunch. Now we were on our return path to Kokchurong via Thansing. Finally we took shelter in the trekker’s hut of Kokchurong by 4:00 in the evening. There are options for camping in Kokchurong and if you want to camp look for the clearing besides the river below the trekkers hut.  With the sound of the river flowing by camping at Kokchurong can be a memorable experience.

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1st View Point

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Samity lake as seen while descending

Day 8: Kokchurong to Tshoka via Phedang – 7 hours – Moderate

The trail from Kokchurong to Phedang traverses through the side of a ridge and through dense forest of rhododendron. It is a narrow trail and takes 3 hours to reach Phedang which is almost at the same height as Kokchurong. Pandim was looking beautiful above the trekker’s hut of Kokchurong. The trail is almost flat over level ground. You do not find any Dzo on this stretch as they cannot negotiate the narrow trail through the forest. The trail can have occasional patches of snow and you need to be careful when stepping on them or better still skirt around them.

About a kilometer and a half before Phedang the trail is paved over wooden logs. The trail ends on top of the ridge at Phedang. Note the trail to Dzongri that was taken up few days back. We took shelter in the Kitchen area where our porters were busy preparing lunch. Soon others in our team arrived. After having lunch of puri and subzi and having some rest we took the trail that goes down to Tsokha. This is the well known trail that was taken by us on our way up. We reached Tsokha by 3:00 in the afternoon. Around 4 it started to pour heavily and stayed around half an hour with hails. In the evening we sat in the dining room and rejuvenated our fresh memories while we all were happy to get the mobile network and spoke with the near and dear ones. Dinner served around 9 pm.

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Kokchurang

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Rhododendrons in abundance

Day 9: Tshoka to Yuksum via Bakhim and Sachen – 6 hours – Moderate

This day was the last day of our trek. After spending over a week in the Himalayas and having the company and warmth of simple mountain people we would be ending our trek at Yuksum. In the morning before I went to the camping ground of Tsokha trekker’s hut to have a last minute view of Mt Pandim and it was looking awesome. The sky was absolutely clear and shining Pandim was in front of us. The descending trail is much easier than the ascending. We reached Bakhim in 30 minutes and had some tea at the stall. We then went downhill and crossed the bridge over Prek Chu and made a halt at Sachen for lunch with hot puri and sabzi. After lunch it was all the way to Yuksum. We reached at Yuksum by 5:00 in the evening.

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Bright and sunny morning at Tsokha

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Our hotel at Yuksum

Day 10: Yuksum to NJP by car – 7 hours

The next day we bid farewell to the Himalayas and drove back to NJP with a promise to return. I know that soon I will get into the coding and decoding of software but the memories I will cherish forever.

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