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About Dzongri and Goecha La: There are very few trekking trails in India which are popular to both Indians as well as people all over the world. Dzongri & Goecha La is one of them. The trail is inside Kanchendzongha National Park in West Sikkim. The route climbs steadily to cross a ridge at Dzongri, then proceeds north to the Oglathang Valley to reach the high altitude pass , Goecha La at its head. The trek splits in two parts. First half till the high point of Dzongri. Dzongri top offers amazing panorama of high peaks in Sikkim and Nepal. Few to mention are Kanchedzongha Range, Kabru North, South and Dome, Pandim, Rathong, Kokthang and Siniolchu. In the later half trail enters into the scenic wide open valleys and finally ends up in moraine ridge at Goecha La. The route has very thick vegetation, along with hundreds of bird species, butterflies and wildflowers, especially different varieties of Rhododendrons.
Day 1: Pickup from New Jalpaiguri Railway Station (NJP) in the morning and reach the trek base Yuksom (~ 1780m, 5850ft) which was the first capital of Sikkim. The distance is around 160 Km and may take 7/8 hour including a lunch break. The road goes via Teesta, Malli, Jorethang and Tashiding. Yuksom is a typical small and laid-back Sikkimese town with one strip of Bazaar area in the centre. The village is spread out with the Himalaya and the monastery in the backdrop. The first king of Sikkim, His Holiness Funchook Namgyal was crowned here by His Holiness Gyalwa Latchen Chembo, the same man who brought Buddhism to SIkkim in 1641. There are several hotels and lodges ranging from premium to budget type. Also there are few restaurants offering veg and non veg food in the Bazaar area. All the major mobile networks wok here and has a small internet cafe. Night stay in tourist lodge.
Day 2: We start our 8 days of strenuous but astonishingly beautiful trek from today. To start with an easy day, while spending time and gaining some height on the mountain for Sachen (~ 2200m, 7200ft). We straightway take the left trail from the main road in Bazaar area and after crossing Forest Huts and Check post, see a sign stating “Satellite phones are not allowed in this route”. From here we leave the village and get into the trek trail. After leaving few last houses and a nursery we finally depart from Yuksom. The trail is typically a narrow river valley while the river is running in the gorge. We slowly ascent going through the thick vegetation of sub alpine evergreen forest of Sikkim. It runs through moss-laden forests of Oak, Spruce, Chestnut, Fir, Pines, giant Magnolias and wide variety of orchids. Shades of Green change seasonally. Our trail now enters into Kanchedzongha National Park. This Biosphere reserve is a Botanist’s paradise and rich with exotic birds, butterflies and mammals. We have to cross 3 bridges on the river today, referred as 1st, 2nd and 3rd bridge. We continue our gradual ascent to a clearing we reach, which is our campsite of Sachen for the day. There is a Kitchen Hut built by the Forest Department on the left of the trail and the camping ground is above the trail on the right. The site is full of different bird species including Thrushes and Laughing Thrushes. It may take around 4 hours and we cover a distance of 8 Km. Camp for the night.
Day 3: We start gradually for first half an hour and then descend to the 4th bridge on the river Prek Chu (Chu means River in Nepali), the last of the four but most significant. After crossing the bridge, the trail turns to left and spirals up. This is the first half of climb for today and continuous one with steady height gain. We climb through the often misty forest and slowly the valley widens up on our left. Slowly climbing for an hour and half we reach at the top of this ridge and suddenly turning to right we see the Forest Bungalow of Bakhim at our left and house with a coffee shop on the right. The Bungalow with concrete exterior and wooden interior suffered during the earthquake in 2011 but still serves the night halt for the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute students. A cup of tea or coffee looking at the valley down under should not be missed. On a clear day one can see Yuksom and the hill station of Pelling from this viewpoint. We start our second phase of climb for the day after our break. The trail continues to zigzag and the first noticeable Rhododendron trees appear. During spring we can see the red and the white flowers particularly in abundance. There is a short cut on the right of the main trail but it is better to stay on the well defined track. We turn right and reach a clearing in the forest. From here we continue our climb and until we reach our destination Tsokha (~ 2900m, 9500ft) a table top on top of the hill. The camping ground of Tsokha is on the right of the trail and is a delight. The wooden Trekkers Hut is adjacent to the camping ground and well equipped with rooms and a big dinning hall. We get the first view of the snow capped mountains behind the Trekkers Hut. Magnificent Mount Pandim is standing straight along with Jopunu and Tenzingkhang. Tsokha used to be a settlement for the Tibetan refugees but recently the people are rehabilitated at Yuksom. There are few private guest houses and a shop still operating. Also there is a monastery few turns up on the left of the trail with a shallow pond in front of it. In the afternoon it is worth to visit the monastery and the lone shop which serves tea, coffee and sells woolen clothes, gloves and shawl. Tsokha has mobile networks working and you can talk with your near and dear ones for the last time on this trail. Total distance we cover is 7 Km and may take upto 4 hours. Night stay in Trekkers hut or tent.
Day 4: . If the weather is clear we can see the sunrise on the backdrop of Mt. Pandim, standing from the camping ground. Being on the mountain for 3 days, our body is supposed to get acclimatised by this time. Today we gain significant height while most of the climb is moderately steep. The walk can be divided into 3 parts, climb till Phedang (~ 3650m, 12000 ft), then further ascent to Deorali Top (~ 4100m, 13500ft) and finally a gradual descent to our destination for the day Dzongri (~ 3950m, 13000ft). We leave Tsokha after crossing the monastery and turn right as the trail to start the steep climb for about half an hour. Then the trail is eases with paved wooden logs as rain turns it pretty muddy by the movements of Yaks and Horses. This trail is surrounded by dense Rhododendrons trees bloomed in different colour ( flowering season is mid April to mid May) and conifers. This is perhaps one of the best jungle trails on the Himalaya and takes away the tiredness of body. Often cloudy, the misty scent of the trail is unforgettable. After climbing another hour we reach to a small clearing where we take a rest and enjoy the silence of the jungle. From this point climbing for little more than an hour we reach the top of this hill, a wide open area of Phedang. There is a Kitchen hut and small sitting arrangement for the tired trekkers. The area remains cloudy mostly after midday and can be damp and cold. The trail splits from this place as the straight one goes to Dzongri and the trail on the right leads to Kokchurang. After a much needed replenishment we start for the 2nd half of our climb. The trail climbs steadily again zigzagging while we climb slowly as can can feel the altitude resulting into headache. Here the Rhododendron trees have turned it bushes aligning more horizontally. Climbing for two hours we reach the top of Deorali, a sacred place having a Chorten and prayer flags. There are spectacular views of the Sikkim mountains and its peaks from here. We start descending from this point and after crossing a clearing on a meadow we climb a small hump. From this hump we gently descend and traverse to the meadows of Dzongri. Walking around an hour we reach the Trekkers Hut and the camping side. The wooden hut consists of four rooms, a dinning hall and a separate setup for kitchen. The camping ground is on the left side of the hut along the narrow stream which flows in front of the hut. We camp or stay in the hut. Total distance is 12 Km and may take 6/7 hours. Night stay either in hut or tent.
Day 5: We wake up very early in the morning around 4 am and prepare to go to the top of Dzongri which is the sunrise point and offers majestic views. It is essential to reach this point as the hill straight in front of the hut restricts the view. It is a 45 minutes to an hour climb gaining a height around 700ft/210m, to take us to the top. The panorama from Dzongri Top is simply breathtaking during sunrise when peaks are tinted in the softest of hues. It is almost an 150 degree panorama, from right Jopunu, Mt. Pandim to our left the Kabru group of peaks. Straight ahead is Kanchendzongha, the third highest peak in the world standing with massive glory. Local people offer prayers and incense of cryptomaria Japonica shrubs to the Chorten at the top. After clicking photographs we descend to the base and prepare to start our trek for the day. We take the trail on the right from the trekkers hut and it gently climbs on the top of the ridge. Take a left from the top and walk on the level ground of Dzongri meadow. We encircle and traverse the meadow while gently descending. The walk on this rolling meadow, dotted with red pygmy shrubs, wildflowers , Yaks grazing on both sides of the trail is a delight in itself. After an hour on the meadow, we start descending to the river bed through the dense forest. This trail is famous for Blood Pheasant, Sikkim’s state bird. Descending on the rock and gravel for about 45 mins we reach a level ground, Kokchurang (~ 3650 m, 12000ft). The place is a lovely camping ground with a Trekkers Hut and Prek Chu river flowing beside. From the hut we take a right turn to follow the main trail and cross a log bridge over a side stream. Then we turn left and go along the Prek for a while until we cross the bridge. From this point Prek is on our left and will remain till Samity lake ( though not visible most of the time). After walking along the river for a while we gradually climb a ridge covered with moist fern and moss laden trees and walking for another hour and half we enter into the the wide Thansing valley (~ 3930m, 12900ft), our destination for the day. Total distance is around 10 Km and can take 5/6 hours. The valley is at the base of Jopunu peak and a clear view of Pandim is awe-inspiring. Pandim is considered sacred by the Sikkimese and mountaineers are not allowed to attempt it. Straight in front is the sheer ridge of Kanchendzongha all white, without any protruding a rock spur! Prek river slicing through the valley on our left. Thansing Trekkers Hut is renovated few years back and can host 40 trekkers easily. We stay the night inside the hut.
Day 6: Today is the easiest day while we trek to Lamuney (~ 4180m, 13700ft) on an almost level ground to a distance of 4 Km. Lamuney is on the same valley further north. Tree line ends in this valley with occasional bushes and shrubs. Prek chu flows on our left and the peaks of Jopunu, Tenzing Khang and Pandim on our right. This valley is very rich for avifauna including various species of Finch, Assentor, Laughingthrush etc. It will take around 2 hours to cover the distance and we camp beside the Prek. There is a small kitchen hut built on the left side of trail. There is no Trekkers Hut at Lamuney and hence camping is mandatory. For post lunch session it is a good idea to walk further and visit the Samity lake (~ 4200m, 14100ft). From the campsite we head further north along the trail and slowly start ascending on the rocky terrain. After walking for an hour the terrain levels out and we see the turquoise water of the lake. This is a medium size lake with an inlet and outlet. The outlet contributes to the Prek. Mt. Pandim is towering on the right side of the lake and stagnant water gives its reflection on the water. After spending some time we trace back our path to Lamuney. The round trip may take around 3 hours and holds the basic principle of mountain, “Walk high and sleep low”. It is a must that we go to sleep early today as tomorrow we need to start after midnight and will be indeed a long and strenuous day.
Day 7: Our start for the day depends on two major points. First and most important till how far we want to go? Secondly, when do we wish to reach and get back? Goecha La, as by the name is essentially a pass (La means Pass in Tibetan) between Oglanthang and Talung valley. There are 3 significant points for Goecha La, (a) View point 1, which is a the sunrise point, offers stunning view of the high peaks during sunrise (b) View Point 2 – A glacial lake,which can be seen from the moraine ridge and (c) View Point 3 – which is the pass in itself. We need to start by 2 am if we want to visit the View point 3 and return to Kokchurang camp by afternoon.Start with the torch (head lamp is preferred) and reach Samity lake. After that we head straight on the ridge above the lake and then traversing to View point 1 (~ 4600m, 15100ft). It takes around 2 hours to reach. From here looming Kanchendzongha dominates the vista and a vast panorama of peak sweeping towards the south which are on our left. Several glaciers, streams, lateral and median moraine ridges can be seen on the left while a sheer ice fall sweeping from Pandim on our right. We continue further while descending on a loose scree zone and enter into the a kilometer long flat sand bed, named as Zemathang (~ 4500m, 14750ft). The porous bed is soft and water runs underneath. There is a sharp ridge on our left which also offers spectacular view from its top. From Zemathang the pass is another 5 Km. Crossing this zone enters into a boulder strewn terrain and we climb a moraine ridge which is like a semicircular arc. There is a lake below the ridge on our right. At the end of the ridge View Point 2 is marked with prayer flags. It takes another 2 hours to reach here. The Goecha La pass (~ 4950m, 16200ft) or View Point 3 is further one and half hour from here over moraines covered with snow with occasional ups and downs. From the pass Goecha peak is just in front and Shimvo peak peeping behind it. The return will also take a considerable time over this terrain. On our way back we trace back the trail to Lamuney and further down to reach the campsite of Kokchurang (~ 3650m, 12000ft) via Thansing. We camp or stay in the Trekkers Hut for the night. Total distance is 22 Km and can take 12 to 14 hours.
Day 8: From Kokchurang Trekkers Hut on the way back the trail bifurcates. We take the trail on our left to bypass Dzongri and reach directly to Phedang. The trail is on the level ground traversing one after another mountain keeping almost a constant height. The jungle is dense, serene, full with different types of Rhododendrons. The trail is ideal for bird watching as human movement is very sparse. At times it is only couple of feet wide and covered with fallen leaves. The 12 Km long trail takes 4 to 5 hours of traversing and leading into the opening at Phedang. From here we turn left and descend to Tsokha by the same way we came. Total distance is 18 Km and can take 6 to 7 hours. Camp or hut stay at night.
Day 9: Today is our last day on trail and we descend via Bakhim and 4th bridge. From here we climb for half an hour and then almost straight to Sachen. Then we continue retracing our path back to the town of Yuksom. It will take around 5/6 hours for a distance of 15 Km. Night stay in tourist lodge.
Day 10: Back to NJP/Bagdogra by 6 pm.