Monday, October 20, 2014

Sikkim - Goechala Trek, India 26 Sept - 5 Oct 2014

"India Sikkim locator map". Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Sikkim is located at the North Eastern corner of India at the foot hill of Himalayan, bordered with Nepal to the west, Bhutan to the East and China to the north. On 16 May 1975, Sikkim became the 22nd state of the India, and the monarchy was abolished. 

There are no airports or railway stations in Sikkim. The only way to enter Sikkim from rest of India is by road using bus or jeep from West Bengal. The nearest airport is Bagdogra, from here it is 124 km drive from Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim. We were headed to Yuksom, about 170km north west but the road and traffic to Yuksom was so bad that we took 8 hours to arrive. Yuksom is a small village, said to be the first capital of Sikkim. A base camp for our trek to Goechala.

Restricted Area Permit (also known as Inner Line Permit) is required for all foreigners travelling in Sikkim. We managed to obtain the permit when crossing the Sikkim state border by road at Meili. We needed to prepare photocopy of our passport, India visa and a photo. Our agency help us fill up the forms and the process of getting the permit took about 15 minutes. It was difficult to get it at the local Indian Embassy in Singapore & Malaysia but the Dutch gals managed to get it from Holland with some difficulties.

The 4 of us met at Bagdogra airport, pick-up by Rupak our agency contact and Phurba our guide. It was almost 2pm when we left to Yuksom. Our jeep was loaded with camping equipment and food that we need for the next 10 days. The journey was pretty interesting passing by mountain, valley, villages, rivers and waterfalls. We had time to catch up after 2.5 years. It was around 11pm when we reach Yuksom, totally exhausted.

Yuksom is situated at the altitude of 1780m, temperature was cool. We didn't have time to visit the village. Just a quick stroll to the shops to get some power bars and snacks. We re-packed our bags, only necessary stuff were packed for the trek, the rest were left in the hotel. We met the crew, a horse man who managed the 4 horses, 2 young kids and 3 men who are helper, chef, assistant chef and our guide. The horses carry our luggage, camping equipment, and food. The helpers carry some fragile food, some necessary cooking equipment, table and chairs in a basket supported by their forehead. We carry a light backpack which store our water, cameras, snacks, raincoat, windbreaker, hat, medicine, etc. We are all set to go!

Rathong River

27th Sep 2014
Trek start : Yuksom (1780m)
Trek end : Sachen (2100m)
Duration : 4 hrs
Difficulties : Easy

After registration at the Park office, we started our hike. Shortly after we left the civilization, moving into the dense forest, gorges on our left and Rathong river occasionally emerged deep down in the gorge. I had the feeling of walking in a giant park as the path was wide and clear. We took our time today as we only have a short distance to cover. Our guide Phurba gave us some info about Do's and Don'ts in the park. We were not to litter any rubbish in the park, he carried a bag with him where he picked up rubbish along the way. We were not allowed to plug or removed any plant or animal from the park. We can drink from the fresh cold water off the stream. We were to give way to the horses and yaks when they pass, we were supposed to move aside to the wall and not the gorge side in case the animal bump into us. That will be disaster to fall in the gorge!

We had a little warm up with our camera, shooting conservatively as we need to conserve the battery for 9 days. :-) My brother "Ah Seng" a well known figure now in Sikkim (as his name means "uncle" in local language) and I found some mushrooms along the way, we were both macro enthusiastic, so we trek slower to spot things that were tiny. We enjoy it!

Not long after, the 2 boys met us on the trek and brought us warm pineapple juice, that was a surprise! How did they know we were nearby? There must be some sort of communication between the guide and them... We reached Sachen hut around 3pm, lunch was served within minutes. We had veggie soup, potato, and bread. It was delicious! We were told strictly not to nap, so we hang around the hut chatting with another group of local students trekkers and enjoy a cup of tea. At 5pm the sun has set, temperature dropped. Our tent were set 10m away from the hut on the upper site of the path, they have placed our bags, sleeping bags and mats in the tent. Service was excellent! At night after dinner, they surprised me with a birthday cake, it was brilliant and priceless!

We call it a day really early as there is no electricity and slightly cold. The first night in the forest in a tent was creepy, we heard a lot of noises. Something was moving outside our tent at night, but we found out that it was the horse when he could not hold his neigh anymore.

28th Sep 2014
Trek start : Sachen (2100m)
Trek end : Tshoka (3050m)
Duration : 4 hrs
Difficulties : Moderate

Waking up with the sound of birds, horses and bells was unusual, we will have to get used to it. :-) The 2 young boys brought us tea at our campsite, it was nice to have a warm cup of tea in the chill morning. We packed up our stuff, have a nice breakfast, watched the Yaks and horses loaded up and off we go. Today it's a bit more difficult we were told, as we will have to ascent 950m. After a gradual flat path to the hanging bridge, it was all the way upward. The path has lots of loose rocks and fresh and old dunk as the horses and yaks used the same path as well. We had a stop over half way at Bakhim, a tea break at the caretaker house and enjoy the view of valley towards Yuksom. The forest is so dense that we were not getting any sun light. That's also why we find a lot of mushrooms and fungus here as the ground is always moist. After Bakhim, we push upwards for another hour to arrive at Tshoka.

Tshoka used to be small settlement but since Kanchengzonga National Park established, the residents has been moved to Yuksom, only the caretaker of the lodges stay back. We got a hut this night. The room is basic with wood raised floor, that's it. We laid our camping mat on it and sleep in our sleeping bag. The toilet condition is acceptable. We even have a Bathroom but it is just a small room with nothing inside. Not long after we arrived, the rain started pouring and continue through the night. We thank god that we are in the hut instead of tent.

Tshoka Hut
From Tshoka, we have our first view of the Kanchengzonga range in the morning. The view was breathtaking. 

29th Sep 2014
Trek start : Tshoka (3050m)
Trek end : Dzongri (4030m)
Duration : 6 hrs
Difficulties : Moderate

We started with a steep climb up to Phedang, some path is paved with wooden logs and some full of stones and pebbles, very hard for the knees. The heavy downpour yesterday has made the path very muddy and slippery. We stop over at Phedang for lunch, it was misty, we can't see any view from here. There was more ascent after lunch to Deorali, from there it was almost flat towards Dzongri. We worked hard to reach Deorali which was supposed to have good view of the range but it was all covered with mist. We almost can't see 10m ahead. It started to drizzle and got really cold. We continue to walk so to keep ourselves warm, finally the sky was clearing. We got a bit of sun shining in and out from the cloud. We saw the trekker hut from far as the forest open up to much lower scrub plants. A stop over at the first hut for a cup of tea under the warm sun, then we push another 500m upwards to our campsite at Doering. 

Dzongri is where we will stay for 2 nights to acclimatised. We were already developing some headache when we arrived here. We took some paracetamol to subside the headache. At Doering where we camp, there is a stone hut where the crew setup their kitchen, we have our tents and a dining tent setup with table and chairs inside. There is no toilet this time so we will have to do it in the open nature. :-) Again we were told not to take any nap, we were tired from unable to sleep at night and the long trek today. It was much colder here at 4000m, we can't even sit outside and relax as it was cloudy and windy. I retreat into the tent and got in my sleeping bag, trying to read and stay awake. I was cold even after changing into my 1 layer of thermal underwear and a layer of fleece. I wasn't well prepared for this temperature. :-( Even my sleeping bag was only for up to 6c. I knew I was in trouble now!

Mt. Kangchengzonga @ 8586m
30th Sep 2014
Trek start : Dzongri (4030m) to Dzongri Top (4300m)
Trek end : Dzongri (4030m)
Duration : 50mins up 30mins down
Difficulties : Moderate

Woke up at 4am, well we didn't really sleep the whole night. Nightmare and coldness kept us awake. The boys brought us hot tea in the tent, it was a big effort to get out from the warm sleeping bag. Brrrr... Don't even talk about getting change into another set of cloths....

Kanchengzonga and Singalila range
Campsite at Dzongri

We stepped out from the tent under a clear sky with million of stars and shining half moon, then we saw the glowing Kanchengzonga and Singalila range. Wooow!! We forgot about the coldness and tiredness! We quickly hike towards the view point, it was strenuous! not from the steep hike but from lack of oxygen.  Every 5 steps we took we need to stop to breath, our heart were pumping like a hammer jack! But once we get up there for the magnificent view, it was all worth it! We were so lucky to have clear and beautiful sunrise.

The way down was a bleeze, the frozen grass and flowers slowly awaken with the heat of sun. We stayed out to take in all the heat we could and to admire the magnificent view of the range. The rest of the day was just spend eating and resting.

1st Oct 2014
Trek start : Dzongri (4030m)
Trek end : Thangsing (3930m)
Duration : 4.5 hrs
Difficulties : Moderate

We woke up with cloudy sky, not like yesterday. The mountains are hidden behind a curtain of cloud.

We took the same path towards Dzongri Top, but took a left towards the mountain. From here we have a gentle downhill along the Rhododendron forest and streams. Flowers carpeted the ground, red, yellow, white etc making the place so colorful. As we reach the end of the mountain, it was a steep downhill to the Prek Chu River. The rocky and uneven path strain our knees.

Prek Chu River
At the end of the steep down slope we arrived at Khokchurang hut but we were not going to camp here. After a break, we continue to cross Prek Chu River towards the right and follow the path upwards. At this altitude, pine trees surround the mountain. 

By noon we arrived at Thangsing, located in the middle of the valley, surrounded by mountain which is invisible to us as the cloud covers them.

We all agreed to sleep in the hut tonight, as it will be warmer and more room to stretch. We finally got our feet out from our socks and changed into our slipper when the sun was out. What a relieve!

Thangsing campsite
The sky was clear at night, we could see Mt. Pandim and Tien Chen Khang glow at night. 

Mt Pandim & Tien Chen Khang at night
2nd Oct 2014
Trek start : Thangsing (3930m) to Simiti Lake (4450m)
Trek end : Lamune (4130m)
Duration : 2 hrs
Difficulties : Easy

Another sleepless night, we could tell who was talking in their sleep, who went to pee and how many times, who snore, who has problem with zipper, who fart.... That's what we do the whole night. Life is so simple after 5 days in the wilderness, our daily conversation has evolved into what's for breakfast, lunch and dinner, have you been to no. 2, where did you do it, how's your knee, mushrooms, flowers, blue sheep, tea, what do you wear and plenty of laughter :-) Why make life complicated?

Mt. Kancgengzonga & Pandim
After getting thru another cold night, which I am quite use to it now. Every night I will asked for my bottle to be fill up by hot water, the bottle will served as a heat pack for me in my sleeping bag. It works pretty well. Every morning the boys will bring us hot tea to wake us up, it made the transition into cold morning easier. 

The sky is clear this morning, we had blue sky, sunshine and clear view to the mountain peaks. The trek today is the shortest and the most beautiful. We walked in the valley towards Mt. Kanchengzonga, some part still frozen and slippery. As we move closer, we could see Mt. Kanchengzonga into full view. There is no more treeline, only bushes and shrubs. The view took our breath away.

Simiti Lake
When we reach Lamune, there is only a kitchen hut and nothing else. Cloud started to move in, we continue to Simiti Lake to try catch a good view. The climb up to Simiti Lake was strenuous due to the altitude and lack of oxygen. Ah Seng was having some difficulty breathing, we took our time to stop every 5 steps to catch our breath. We got there eventually but the cloud has already arrived before us. The peaks are now covered. :-( We hung around the lake, enjoy the beauty of the surrounding until we got a bit cold.

Blue Sheep or Bharal
The way back was very cold as the wind blows against us, we were almost running back to our tent. That afternoon, it was snowing, temperature plumbed tremendously. We have to hide in the kitchen hut to get some heat. We spotted Blue Sheep by Prek Chu River just next to our tent. They were so close, just a river apart. They camouflage very well to blend into the rock face. We were so lucky to see them so close!

Now here is where everyone will wake up early in the morning to trek to Goechala viewpoint. Inge decided that she will go and the rest of us decided to give it a miss. Due to the extreme coldness and lack of warm cloths, I have decided not to make it to Goechala viewpoint. I could not bear thinking of stepping out from the sleeping bag 4am in the morning in the freezing cold temperature. 

Kockchurang Hut
3rd Oct 2014
Trek start : Lamune (4130m)
Trek end : Kockchurang (3686m)
Duration : 2.5 hrs
Difficulties : Easy

For Inge who went up to Goechala Viewpoint, she saw Mt. Kanchengzonga up close and the clear morning view of Simiti lake was stunning. She wanted to push forward to Viewpoint 2 but the assistant guide was given instruction not to. Well, safety comes first! )

She was back to the campsite around 8am to join us for breakfast. We were glad she made it there and brought us some beautiful photos. Today we were happy to head down hill but reluctant to leave this beautiful place. We back trek to Thangsing and follow Prek Chu River back to Kockchurang. Our guide managed to get a room in the hut for us. Kockchurang is a really nice campsite, surrounded by forest and Prek Chu River gushing pass 50m away.

Prek Chu River
4th Oct 2014
Trek start : Kockchurang (3686m)
Trek end : Tshoka (3050m)
Duration : 4 hrs
Difficulties : Easy

It was a long day to cover 10km trek, we took another path to bypass going up to Dzongri. The trek is almost flat until we reach Phedang. We can still have a peep of Mt. Pandim when we look back thru the forest. At Phedang we missed the last chance of seeing the Kanchengzonga range as it was cloudy again. The way down to Tshoka is all the way down hill, my knees started to complain :( The temperature at Tshoka felt warm now, we could not hold back anymore for not washing our hair, all of us took a hair wash with the fresh chill water! It was such a relieve after that. :D

This is our last night of the trek, the crew prepared a special candle light dinner for us. Well, actually every night we have candle light dinner as there was no electricity.

5th Oct 2014
Trek start : Tshoka (3050m)
Trek end : Yuksom (1780m)
Duration : 5 hrs
Difficulties : Easy

The longest day for us to end the trip, we covered this 13km in 2 days with a stop at Sachen when we started but because it is down hill, it will be less strenuous. For my knees and toes they didn't agreed to it. Ah Seng definitely has no problem going down as he was running down the mountain with the helpers.

Well that ends our amazing 9 days Goechala trek, the trek was not strenuous generally but the cold and altitude was a big challenge. Lucky for me I could be accompanied by my brother "Ah Seng", Inge and Marga whom I met and traveled together in Chile and Argentina and the best guide and crew in Sikkim. That all made this trip incredible and hard to forget.

Hotel Heritage (near Kolkata Airport)– S$47 per room/night with attached toilet, hot shower, TV. Breakfast, WIFI.

Air Asia - SG-KL-Kolkata return S$430.59 pp
Taxi to Hotel Heritage- 500rps per taxi
Taxi to Kolkata Airport- 300rps per taxi
Jet Airways - Kolkata - Bagdoga S$97.50 pp
Air India - Bagdoga-Kolkata 3793rps pp
Darjeering to Makaibari - US$22 per car

9D8N Goechala trek - US$600 pp incl, transfer from Bagdoga-Yuksom-Darjeering, 2 nights hotel stay in Yuksom, trek permit, park fees, food, potter, cook, horses and guide during the whole trek. The agency we used Venture Himalaya Team EXCELLENT service!
Sleeping bag and mat rental - US$60 pp
1N Makaibari Tea Estate homestay - US$60 (for 2) incl transfer from Makaibari to Kolkata Airport


  1. Hi Alice,
    Is the trek tough for people who seldom trek? Also for the agency which u mentioned in the post, I tried to click the link but encountered error loading the page. Able to share email contact instead? Thanks!

    1. Hi Mei,
      The trek is not tough but the altitude is for everyone, but you definitely need to have some level of fitness to start with, like you do regular sports I meant. I will ask the guide for his email address for you. :-)

    2. Hi Mei,
      Please email to Phurba, my guide for the trip. His email contact is