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Kanchenjunga Spring - Sikkim, India
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At the opposite end of the Himalaya from our summer trekking routes in Ladakh lies Sikkim, a former independent kingdom which has only been part of India since 1975. Sandwiched between Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan, its history and people, like all the Himalayan Kingdoms we visit, has a variety of cultures and ethnic groups which are a result of its position on both trade and pilgrimage routes.
This short but splendid trek is a great combination of the culture, demanding trekking, and awesome views.
Fitness and trekking experience
Basically you should be healthy, active, adventurous and spend time in the outdoors. Past trekking experience isn't necessary, although it will help you understand what a 'trek' involves. The most important factor for enjoying the trek is a positive attitude, and a sense of humor.
Note that the trekking itinerary and campsites may vary slightly depending on trail and weather conditions and the various trekkers' acclimatization rate.
Day 1 - Arrive Delhi
Joel will be on hand at the airport to meet you, look out for the sign with your name on. After settling in at our hotel in the main bazaar, we have dinner together at one of Delhi's many excellent restaurants - and talk over our adventure.
Day 2 - Fly to Bagdogra and drive to Gangtok
Our flight this morning heads north and then turns to fly parallel with the Himalayan barrier. Nanda Devi, Annapurna, Everest and Makalu are among the peaks we see. After 90 minutes in the air, we touch down in the cooler air of Bagdogra, where we have an early lunch and take a five hour drive - in easy stages - to our hotel in Gangtok, the capital of modern Sikkim.
Day 3 - Drive Yuksam 1770m
We drive in easy stages through the beautiful forested countryside of Sikkim, arriving at our Swiss alpine style hotel at Yuksam, the site of the Kanchenjunga park headquarters and the roadhead. Here we meet our crew, and after dinner an early night; breakfast at six!
Day 4 - Trek Tshoka 2900m
Time to get the kinks out after all that sitting in planes and jeeps!
Our trail leads through dense, and normally misty forest and Rhododendron, with a profusion of other wildflowers. The trail winds up for three hours before crossing the Prek Chu to begin what the locals call the real climb, another three to the small Lepcha settlement of Tshoka, passing the alpine huts at Bakhim en route. Evenings are almost always misty and damp here, but our crew are waiting with hot tea, and our tents will be up.
Day 5- Rest at Tshoka or trek Phodung
We made a lot of elevation, so we may spend this day resting at Tshoka, or moving up a gentle 300m to the forested hillside at Phodung. Whichever we chose to do, the mornings at Tshoka are always a contrast with the night; the forested foothills and the peak of Pandim (6720m) giving us a taste of things to come.
Day 6 - Trek Dzongri 3950m
An early start is the norm on this trek, tea at six, then a steep climb through forest - the trail at times is paved with tree trunks to assist us up, through Phodung, where the temperate forest gives way to more rhododendron and magnolia. After two hours climbing we emerge onto a narrow ridge with excellent views of Pandim, Nar Singh (6010m) and Jopunu (6000m). We follow the ridge to the wide pastures known as Dzongri.
Day 7 - Climb Dzongri top and trek Thangshing 3800m
Up at 4am for the climb to Dzongri top, and worth the lost sleep! After half an hours steep climbing we attain the ridge, with the ghostly images of the peaks that separate India from Nepal visible in the starlight, and the multihued horizon south colored by the approaching sun. After an hour we reach the prayer flags that mark the top, and have hot tea and coffee as we watch Kanchenjunga and the summits around turn pink in the first rays of the sun. With full light the massed ranges are revealed, summit beyond summit. Then down to a huge breakfast...we still have trekking to do! Eating done, we climb briefly away from camp to contour around hillsides of spring flowers against snowy peaks, before dropping to the rest house at Kochu and another crossing of the Prek Chu. In all, three hours walking from Dzongri to our camp in the wide pastures of Thangshing.
Day 8 - Acclimatization trek
This is a day to get our bodies used to the higher elevations we are heading to soon, we contour slowly up and away from camp through forests of moss draped rhododendrons. An hour out we see Kanchenjunga, easily identified by the silvery grey summit pyramid. As we climb even higher, Pandim, Tenzin Khan and Jopunu, all 6000m plus, greet us. Looking west, we can pick out the Kabru range and Ratong peak. The trail crosses wide pastures watered by streams that resemble nothing so much as Scottish glens, with the mist and low cloud so typical of Sikkim adding to the illusion, soon dispelled as the mist clears and 6000m peaks appear. Two hours walking brings us to a forest rest house, and three to a view across Lam Pokhari lakes, where we lunch - and drink in the views. Then we race back down to enjoy the last of the spring sunshine at camp.
Day 9 - Trek Lamoni 4100m
Today is an easy walk, just four hours, after an hour with the Kanchenjunga massif revealed, across open hillsides with juniper and heather scenting the air. The views get ever more spectacular as we approach the old moraines and glacial rubble, and we arrive and make camp by the old herders hut at Lamoni for lunch. After lunch relax and take in the views, or take a walk up valley to the beautiful Samiti Lake.
Day 10 - Trek Goecha la and Thangshing 3800m
3.30 in the morning is the time, with those extra layers, gloves, and head torch laid out ready the night before. Hot drinks, then we move. We follow the flickering torches of those ahead, gently rising at first and then steeply up glacial rubble. After two hours we see the same shadowy peaks as from Dzongri top, but much closer; after three a viewpoint a lot of trekkers - but not us - seem happy with, from where we see the first light catching the peaks. Steeply down across the bed of what was once a lake, then up along a ridge, and there is the pass with the full mass of Kanchenjunga behind. And here we have time to take it in...snacks, hot drinks, and of course, cameras. Sinochuli, Kabru dome, this viewpoint is one of the best in the Himalaya. When we do leave, another lovely surprise, as we passed in the dark through some of the loveliest high pastures in the Himalaya...and now we see them with their sublime backdrop. By noon we are at Samiti lake, and an hour later, still high on all the beauty, a huge meal before heading down to Thangshing.
Day 11 - Trek Tshoka 2900m
A different route, contouring around hillsides and walking on air after our high points. By late afternoon we are back at Tshoka, unbelievable that we have packed so much into just one week...
Day 12- Trek Yuksam
Down! Over 1000m, through forest, the temperature rising as we descend. By three we are back at our hotel, hot showers and cold beers, and a special goodbye for our crew.
Day 13 - Drive Darjeeling
A beautiful days drive, thus the early start. Tea plantations and forests against a stupendous Himalayan backdrop. By six we are in our comfy hotel in Darjeeling's old mall, in time for a sundowner in the old Windamere Hotel.
Day 14 - To Bagdogra and Delhi
An early morning drive through the lush green scenery and hills to the airfield at Bagdogra, and our flight to Delhi.
Day 15 - Farewell
We take you to the airport for your flight home. Return soon!