When you yearn to get lost amidst the dense rhododendrons and gaze at the shimmering ice on the mountain peaks, there are only a very few places in India which can match Sikkim. Its close proximity to the international border means that a lot of the territory is out of reach of the civilians and that reduces the trekking options to a couple of routes. Hence, it wasn’t at all difficult to zero-in on the Dzongri-La Trek. Incidentally, in order to promote tourism, the Sikkim government was organizing this trek at a very affordable cost of Rs. 5000/-, all inclusive. We registered for the same. Two weeks later, five of us were at Yuksom, the erstwhile capital of Sikkim. It’s a beautiful sleepy little town. Accompanying us on our trek was a guide, two porters and a cook.
The erstwhile capital of Sikkim
Sikkim is one of the more organized of the Himalayan states when it comes to Hiking. The majority of the Goecha-La trek runs through the Konchendzonga National Park and that means that the inflow is pretty regulated. All the groups leaving for the trek need to register their names and itinerary at the Forest Office and acquire permits for the trek. The permits can be obtained at Yuksom itself and our Guide arranged the same for us.
We stayed put in a hotel while at Yuksom. Surprisingly, the hotels at Yuksom were pretty comfortable; not that we were bothered anyway ! We started from Yuksom pretty early up in the morning and gradually, we moved into a dense rhododendron forest, leaving behind Yuksom. As we moved farther up, we crossed several shaky wooden bridges built over streams: at times they can shake your confidence, especially when you have yaks for company while crossing them ! Even though it was the month of October, we could witness a wide range of fauna on the way. However, March-May is the best time if you are interested in the Rhododendrons. Water is plentiful along the way, thanks to the innumerable streams. Our first day’s halt was Bakhim, a village having only a handful of inhabitants. We stayed there in a trekker’s hut. The evening passed away chatting with the other trekkers’ group, which included people from all parts of the world. To beat the cold , we had local beer called Tomba for the night.
“The beer is served in a cylindrical bamboo container and sipped through a bamboo straw. Fermented millets are kept in warm water in the bamboo container.”
The inner diameter of the straw is small enough to limit the millets getting through. The morning at Bakhim was beautiful.
Reaching Tsoka: A small Tibetan Settlement
The following day we had a very short distance to cover, which we managed in a couple of hour’s time. We moved from Bakhim to a small Tibetan settlement of close to 50 residents called Tsoka. The very existence of the village is due to the inflow of the trekkers. It boasts of a few lodges and coffee corners, one small shop and a monastery.
“Solar energy is used effectively to light up the cafés at night.”
The irresistible Tomba kept us engaged for a good part of the evening. As we moved away from Tsoka the following day, the rhododendrons gave way to a rocky and rugged terrain. The weather turned a little volatile as well – the mercury dipped a good 10 degrees or so. The visibility got reduced to only a few feet. To add fuel to the fire – it started to rain, dipping the temperature further more. The route too got increasingly difficult as the slope got steeper, muddier, and the air thinner. We were walking as slowly as molasses in January. Somehow, we managed through all the adverse conditions to reach Dzongri. As soon as we reached the Trekker’s hut at Dzongri, we rushed inside and drank the garlic soup that our cook had it ready by then to soothe our numbed senses. The cold hours of the evening and night confined us to our cozy sleeping bags.
The might of the Konchendzonga
Day 4 into the trek. With a lot of effort, we got up at 3 in the morning, stepped out of the trekking hut and lifted our gaze to the sky. The million stars that we saw made us thank our stars, as it implied a clear sky, which in turn implied that we could witness an amazing sunrise over the konchendzonga. Keeping our fingers crossed (inside the gloves!!) ,we proceeded towards the Dzongri viewpoint.
“Much to our dismay, big, dark clouds started to descend down and gradually covered the entire horizon.”
While we were we were halfway through, it started to rain, washing away our high hopes. We managed to reach the top at an altitude of 4,200 m. by 4:30 a.m. After an impatient wait which lasted for close to an hour, we decided to descend down as it was getting pretty cold up there. Though we couldn’t witness the sunrise, we captured some novel hues in our camera and got back to our hut.
After having our breakfast, we decided to move up to Dzongri-La. Unfortunately, our guide fell sick and so did three of my friends who were accompanying me. Eventually, two of us decided to ascend with one of our porters as our guide: since the thrill of being at Dzongri-La was surely not the one to be missed. We traversed through an amazingly beautiful valley: full of meadows and milky streams; straight out of Heaven. By this time, the weather too had cleared and all the peaks of the valley were in sight: konchendzonga, Black Kabur, Pandim and many more. We were just next to the holy Black Kabur with no other living being in sight. It was veritably a thrilling experience.
“The air got really thin and it got to us as we became a little dis-oriented.”
We were walking in a zigzag manner. Soon, it was time to descend as the clouds started playing hide and seek once again. Once back to the trekking hut at Dzongri, it took a good sleep to get back to normal. Slowly, the dizziness and the head-ache receded.
Some breathtaking Vistas
Fortunately, the weather Gods were generous during our descent and on our way back to Yuksom we had the perfect weather. The same landscape offered some wonderful vistas that we had missed while on our way up. One of the highlights of the trek was this particular place that you could see in these pictures: Blues Skies, Snow-capped peaks, rolling green meadows and perfect reflections in a lake. Its landscape like this that convinces me that this is one of the finer treks in India. Time to go back to Yuksom.
How to get there?
The nearest railhead is Siliguri in West-Bengal. You could hire a jeep from Siliguri to Yuksom. If you are travelling alone, better option is to get in a jeep leaving for Jorethang from Siliguri on a sharing basis in the morning. Once you are at Jorethang, you can get similar jeeps leaving for Yuksom. The entire journey can be done in a day.
When to Visit?
The best time to visit the park is during late April and May for the Rhododendrons and then during October when everything is green post the monsoon rains.
The trek could be extended from 5 days to a 10 day trek, where you could visit Samiti Lake and Goecha-La.