Kanchenjunga and Mt. Pandim, were really close. But the view from the Dzongri top was not that great for me! Though the view from Dzongri top could not satisfy my expectation, I was pretty hopeful for the rest of the trek. Standing at the top, I confirmed our route for the next day from Sanman Subba (our Guide), and realized that we are going the cross the mountain, and that will reveals the view of the entire range.
The plan for doing Dzongri-goechala trek this time started one evening during mid November. Well, I saied ‘this time’ because I planned for this route many a times before. In a mid November evening, me and Arindam were seating in a coffee shop and he was sharing his recent experience of Versey to Soreng trek. Though he did not have a nice experience in the trek due to lots of different reasons but still he showed his interest to do the Dzongri-goechala trek. I just accepted the proposal without any delay and the ball starts rolling…..
We started from Kolkata on 02.April and reached NJP without any trouble on the next day morning. We reached NJP at 0800 hour and reached Yuksom at 1900 hour! Normally it takes 6 hours from NJP to Yuksom. In our case, we had to wait almost 3 hours at the station, driver was not at all comfortable in driving in the plains, not carrying any driving license, caught by traffic police and one tyre got punctured at around 5:00 in the evening.
We had a booking at Hotel Demazong and just after having a cup of tea there we started discussing our plan in detail with our guide cum cook Sanman Subba. Within a few minutes we realized that Sanman has few words in his Hindi vocabulary and he expresses all of his feeling through those only (and the most common one was ‘thoda thoda, dekhna padega‘) . Some of the food items were already bought by Rob (hotel manager) and Subba, rest we finished within an hour . It was almost 10:00 when we could finish with another round of checking for necessary items and finalizing porters and Yaks. We decided to have one guide cum cook, one porter cum cook helper and three Yaks. Actually those are not Yaks, locally they call it Jo.
We started from Yuksom at 8:00 in the morning. We knew we need to complete two formalities here. One is taking permission from local Police station, and giving entry fee to the Khangchendzonga National Park authority. After finishing these formalities we came to know about another organization TAAS, who charge for tent pitching and kitchen usage during this Dzongri-goechala trek. It was more than 9:00 in the morning by the time we could finishing all these formalities. Only Sanman was with us,rest of the team went ahead. It took us just above four hours to reach Sachen. Till Sachen we did not face any real challenge of ascending for which Dzongri is famous. Well we crossed three bridges and in each case you have to first descend and then ascend. But we were very exhausted by the time we could manage to reach Sachen. Most of the teams do not stay at Sachen, they go to Tshoka on the first day. But we got really exhausted by Sachen only. I knew this is how it works!! First day of any trek is always the most tiring day. But after taking some rest and the first seep on the hot soup with noodles took away all the tiredness of the first day trek. One point was clear to us. We did not perform well on the first day and if we continue like this only, we are not going to make it. We knew that coming days would be more challenging. We asked Sanman ji to arrange two trekking poles for us.
Next day the trail descends steeply to the last bridge on the Dzongri-goechala route after walking a hour from Sachen. And then, the ascends starts. It continues till you reach Tsoka. It took us only four and half hours. fantastic! Took only one break of around half an hour at Bakhim. We did it pretty well. Tsoka is the last habitation in the route. Well, here habitation means four to five families. Few private hotels/restaurant (very small) and a medium size tenting ground. Having clear weather, you can see the small portion of the Mt. Pandim. After reaching Tsoka our feeling was like ‘net practice’ and friendly match with the local team is over but the actual match is yet to come. As far as we have heard about the trek, Toska to Dzongri is the toughest part of the Dzongri-goechala trek. It has real steep ascends.
The trail till Tsoka was very boring. No view of any peak, no variation in the mountain faces, you continue to walk through a deep gorge and cross Prekchu river few times. Any way, we started from Tsoka by seven. Today we decided to have our lunch at Phedang, mid way to Dzongri from Tsoka. Mentally we were prepared to face a very boring steep continuous ascending to Dzongri. But after an hour walking from Tsoka we were through a lovely trail. First time we felt the charm walking in Himalaya. No peaks were visible, but the trail was much easy to negotiate and there were lot of rhododendrons all around. Though not much verity was there at that time, but still the view was pretty nice. But like any other good part of life it finished pretty soon and the ascend started. But again, like any other bad part of life it finally came to an end and we reached Phedang. It was around 10:30 in the morning, the place is basically a big flat green ground. Weather was pretty nice, clear sunny day, so I must say we were all in a good shape.
Lunch at Phedang was third from Sanman ji and we also already had had two dinners. By that time we were convinced that he is a real good cook, but had enough doubt on his guiding. Got pretty more lesson on this during rest of the trek. After completing our lunch we started from Phedang at round 11:30. Immediately after the ground the ascends starts. The more you go, the steeper it becomes. And there is no flat / descend, its up up and up. After about an hour or a little more I felt it’s really tiring. Seems to be some thing wrong. Suddenly something came into my mind I checked the altitude. Opps!! it’s almost 14,000 feet!! Then I realized the low air pressure, low Oxygen level is making our journey more challenging. It was at least three times more tiring than negotiating the same trail at a lower altitude. Around 1:00 P.M. we reached Deworali @ 14000 feet. That was the end of the ascend. Though still we need to walk more than an hour to reach Dzongri, but the trail was pretty ok, little ups and down, nothing serious. With one more hour of little struggle we reached Dzongri at around 2:00.
This is the first time we were at such an high altitude and more importantly we had to spend nights. We knew that there were high possibility of getting affected by high altitude sickness. So we spend one extra day at Dzongri. Did a lot of physical activities, that helps acclimatization. On the second day visit the Dzongri top. It’s a steep ascend of around an hour. The temperature out side was sub-zero and a strong chill wind was blowing. And the view point was almost 1000 feet high than the valley.
Next morning we left Dzongri early morning and within 30 minutes we were on the ridge. And from then we started getting the feeling of being on the top. Today we need to reach Phedang. Most of the trail is having little ups and downs but gradually it will take you at almost 14000 feet. Of course you will have a lively view of the range. A little after that it will start descending. A steep descend will take you to Kokchurang at 12100 feet. There are lot of gravels in the route on a long stretch and descends very deep. Arindam got scared a lot in this stretch. But the problem increases when our guide could not take an active role to help and guide on how to negotiate such trails. By the time we reached Kokchurang, Arindam was very tired. Any way had our lunch there and started for Thansing. The route starts along the river bed of Preckchu, crosses that within a kilometer and then enters into a forest where almost all the trees are covered with thick moss. It continues and ascends gradually till it suddenly opens up Thansing valley in front of you.
Thansing is a large valley having Prekchu river on its left side and an excellent place to enjoy the first view of Pandim and Kanchenjunga at almost 13000 feet. Morning light reaches the valley quite late due the high mountains surroundings and gives a lovely chance for morning shots! We started from Thansing around 8:40 and reached Lamuni within a little more than two hours. It was almost flat through the valley and with every step forward you will see Kanchenjunga appearing bigger. When reached Lamuni we realized we are at the base of Pandim. What excited me most was nothing in between me and Pnadim! On the right hand side Pandim standing high and in front the mighty Kanchenjunga. The feeling was awesome.
As we reached Lamuni quite early in the morning, after lunch we started exploring the trail towards Samity Lake and Goechala. After walking around half hour or so we again found a small stretch having gravels. Arindam decided at that very moment not to try Samity Lake or Goechala next morning. We finally decided stay at Lamuni valley and take photographs. Probably for taking photographs this valley was the best. We came back to Kokchurang from Lamuni just in two hours. Weather was not very good so missed the lovely possible landscape shots at Kokchurang. But overall we were happy.
The rest of the trail was already known to us and walked easily except Kokchurang to Phedang. Its a long stretch without much ups and downs but stretches with gravels again! Also there are zones were the main trail is not visible due to land slide (not very serious) and you have to manage it carefully. In this case also Arindam started feeling uncomfortable. But finally we made it. And from Phedang to Tsoka was pretty easy. Last day Tsoka to Yuksom went pretty smooth and it took us a little more than seven hours. Just after we reached into the hotel it started raining and the next day continued also. But we had another day extra at our bag and explored Yuksome a bit. Visit Dibdhi monastery and the lake.
Now its time go back home after a nine day strenuous trek and we booked a car from Yuksom to NJP. This time the driver and the car both were nice and we reached NJP well ahead of train time.
The overall experience was excellent. Weather was quite supportive and we did not have any major issues during the trek. Our guide Sanman ji was a very nice person and unfortunately not a good guide. But as a cook he is excellent. The Dzongri-Goechala trek route is quite strenuous both due its sharp ascends as well as for the altitude. But the journey beyond the Dzongri valley is really rewarding. This route may not be a good choice as first trek.