Stairway to Heaven

Article published in Deccan Herald on 24th April 2015.

To quote Ruskin Bonds: “It is always the same with mountains. Once you have lived with them for any length of time, you belong to them. There is no escape.”
It was always my dream to trek the Himalayas, to be amongst the mighty and majestic mountains and to be lost in their magnificence. I am elated that I got an opportunity to do so and I have fallen in love with the Himalayas.

GOECHA LA or GOECHA PASS is a Himalayan mountain pass in the state of Sikkim. At an elevation of 16,200 ft, Goecha La serves as the gateway to Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world.

Thansing Base Camp, Kanchenjunga National Park (Mt. Kanchenjunga can be seen in the centre)
Thansing base camp

We were a group of 11 (experienced and novice) trekkers who started off the 9-day trek to Goecha La. We reached Yuksom, a small village in West Sikkim at an elevation of 6000ft with few houses, monasteries, hotels and restaurants. The nearest airport to Yuksom is at Bagdogra in West Bengal and Yuksom can be reached via Siliguri(WB) by road.

The start of the Goecha La trek is a walk through the village of Yuksom and then the trail passes around the mountain. Later we reached the Kanchendzonga National Park which is the gateway to Goechala and then the trail runs through lush mountains and bridges and is a gradual climb through the oak forests. We reached Sachen and rested for the night. The next day we took on another steep climb to reach Tshoka, the next base camp.

The trail from Tshoka-Dzongri is one of the most beautiful trails as it is a log trail and from April to May, the trail is filled with rhododendrons. On nearing Dzongri, we could see many mountain ranges and they were breath-taking. From the Dzongri Mountain Top, the sunrise was beautiful and all the mountain ranges along with Kanchenjunga can be viewed.

 

Later the trail runs through lush meadows where Mt. Pandim seems up close and looks majestic. We then came to Kokchurang where the Prek Chu river flows along and it is such a beautiful sight that we were enchanted by the place. We finally reached Thansing, the next base camp, where on one side there are snow-clad mountains and on the other a black stony mountain where you can catch a glimpse of Mt.Kanchenjunga. The view in the night is mesmerising-it is filled with zillions of stars and Mt. Pandim is brightly lit by the moon. Further ahead the mountains get closer and the terrain became rocky as we reached the next base camp, Lamuney.

On the last day of the trek to Goechala pass, we had to wake up very early as we had to reach the first view point before sunrise. I woke up to the most marvelous and memorable sight: a star-studded sky, zillions of stars just so close to you and the snow clad mountains were brightly shining in the moonlight. I was just mesmerized by the beauty of it. And the weather was extremely cold. The path goes right next to the Samiti Lake which is a glacial lake which is turquoise in color. We were just in time on one of the mountains(first view point) to catch the beauty of the Kanchenjunga as it had turned golden(literally) by the first rays of the sun. The experience-inexplicable.

Samiti Lake, Kanchenjunga National Park
Samiti Lake at 14700 ft

We were all elated on our achievement and enjoyed the final trek back to Yuksom. I just rejoiced every single moment as it was going to be the last day amongst the mighty Himalayas.

Those were the most amazing days of my life. When I recall the entire journey, it just feels like I have lived a Life! The beauty, the tranquility, the rolling hills, cool streams, bridges, the star-studded sky, lush landscapes, feeling of being one with nature and yourself- what more can one ask !

Shwetha Krish

GOECHA LA

“It is always the same with mountains. Once you have lived with them for any length of time, you belong to them. There is no escape.” ― Ruskin Bond, Rain in the Mountains: Notes from the Himalayas I truly agree to the above quote. I have fallen in love with the Himalayas. It was always my dream to trek the  Himalayas (on top of my bucket list), to be amongst the mighty and majestic mountains and to be lost in their magnificence. I am elated that I got an opportunity to do so. Goecha La trek ……… the name resounded in my ears when my friend asked “Would you be joining?” My answer went from hmmm to NO!!!!!! And I went on with my so called life!!!!!!!! But the day I turned a year older, I asked myself … What is it that I have achieved or cherished doing in my life or have I done anything from my Bucket list? Well the answer was evident …… I took a couple of weeks  to call my friend again and ask if it was too late for me to join ….. well all he said was ” Book your flight tickets ASAP …. you are in ” . And thus started the most amazing journey of my life!!!!!!!!!!! The GOECHA LA trek GOECHA LA or GOECHA PASS is a Himalayan mountain pass in the state of Sikkim. At an elevation of 16,200 ft, Goecha La serves as the gateway to Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world. Sikkim is a wonderful place to be. It is the abode of the Mt. Kanchenjunga- the third largest mountain in the world, nestled in lush landscapes, rolling mountains , breath-taking views and it just feels like you are seeking a different god or in other words seeking yourself!!!!!  😉 We were a group of 11 (experienced & novice)trekkers. I am a novice with High altitude treks. So I was although more paranoid, excited and impatient to start the journey. Well we started off  the 9 day trek to Goecha La. We reached Yuksom, which was once the capital of Sikkim. It is a small village in West Sikkim at an elevation of 6000ft with few houses, monasteries, hotels and restaurants. It has a population of around 1690 people. And it becomes crowded during the trekking seasons. The nearest airport is at Bagdogra in West Bengal and then you can travel to Yuksom from Bagdogra via Siliguri(WB). On reaching Yuksom, we gathered for an early dinner at 6:30 PM, the weather was cold, chilling and there was a light drizzle as well. Below is the restaurant/eat-out that we gathered at. We were briefed by our team lead about the Do’s and Don’ts of high altitude trekking.

Gupta's restaurant
Gupta’s restaurant

We were famished and ordered Maggi, Thukpa(Tibetan noodle soup- popular dish in Sikkim), Momos, Soup , pakodas. And then went for a stroll and it was getting colder by the hour . We had planned for a jog and work out early in the morning. But the next morning we woke up to the rain gods growling and roaring.  Eventually after the rain stopped we did work out and then had breakfast of parathas, tea, omelette. A few of us explored an estate which was quiet and rustic. After a short nap in the afternoon, we went to see the oldest monastery in Sikkim -Dubdi monastery . The small trek took us around 20 mins to reach the top. The path was very slippery due to the green moss.  And as we reached the top , we could see an old monastery which  was being renovated and was closed. We spent an hour around the monastery just soaking ourselves in the light breeze & serenity.

THE MONASTERY
THE MONASTERY
Prayer Flags at the Dubdi Monastery
Prayer Flags at the Dubdi Monastery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That evening we geared up for our trek of 9 days. The aim was to carry only the essentials and to have a very light bag. Because as we tend move higher the oxygen is less and it makes us all the more weary and hence having a light back pack helps. I think I had a lot many essentials and my backpack was way heavy. 😛 We had 2 guides, 2 cooks and 3 porters joining us. A few Yaks to carry the tents, groceries and sleeping bags as well. Day 1: Yuksom(5700ft)- Sachen(7200ft) We started the trek at 11:00 AM, the initial 20 mins is a walk through the village of Yuksom and then the trail passes around the mountain. After about 30 mins we reached the Kanchendzonga National Park which is the gateway to Goechala. Post which the trail  runs through lush mountains and bridges.

 

Starting off the trek from Yuksom!!!!
Starting off the trek from Yuksom!!!!
On the way through the mountains
On the way around  the mountains

              DSC00199

Kanchendzonga National Park , gateway to GOECHALA
Kanchendzonga National Park , gateway to GOECHALA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is a steep climb up . Around 3PM it started raining heavily, we were famished by the end of it and just as we were nearing Sachen, one of the guides got us hot tea and biscuits which was an elixir. And we reached  Sachen – our next base camp at around 4pm. Had a quick lunch at 5pm. (Hot maggi and Poori). We did get to meet a lot of people from various countries- Germany, Australia, New Zealand. We then went to our tent and didn’t want to get out as it was raining cats and dogs. And as we had nothing much to do we hit the sack. I got up in the wee hours of the morning and as I went out of the tent , the rain had stopped and I could see an amazing view of the sky – it was bejeweled with stars. It was a  brilliant sight that I will forever cherish.

Our camp site at Sachen
Our camp site at Sachen

Day 2: Sachen(7200ft)-Bhakim(8600ft)-Tshoka(9650ft) The following day we had a quick breakfast(Bread , Omelette & Boiled Potato). We started  by around 9:30AM, the trail runs through a bridge and then it is a gradual climb through the oak forests. We reached Bhakim around 1 PM , that was kind of the last point where you get the network. Rested for a while and then got going. It is a steep climb with many ups and downs. Reached Tshoka around 3:15 PM. We freshened up and had Khichdi which was like a feast for us tired souls. And then  went for a small walk to the Tshoka monastery which faces a small pond . The night was getting  colder  and we slept listening to wonderful songs and guitar being played by the other trekking group.

The view from Bhakim, our last point of contact to the mobile networks
The view from Bhakim, our last point of contact to the outside world
Prayer flag Iron Bridge above Prek Chu river
Prayer flag Iron Bridge above Prek Chu river

 

Day 3: Tshoka(9650ft)-Phedang(12050ft)-Dzongri(12980ft) The toughest and a beautiful trail was upon us. We started our trek at 8:30am after fueling ourselves with bread and jam. The path is beautiful as it is a log trail and when in April-May the trail is filled with rhododendrons. The highlight of the trek was Yaks -they  were always coming towards me(probably because of the color of my jacket), it was funny as most of the times we waited for the Yaks to pass by. But we did enjoy the trail as it was cool and  serene.  We reached Phedang by 1pm and had our light lunch snack”Boiled egg and Boiled potato” . Rested for a while and then embarked upon the steepest climb. But the view was breathtaking, we were on top of one of the mountains and could get a view  of other mountains as well. It was surreal an experience. On nearing the Dzongri trekkers hut we could see many mountain ranges and it was breath-taking. We stayed in the trekkers hut this time and it was very very very cold probably below 0 deg C in the night. And out came our thermals to the rescue.

Our Tents in Tshoka
Our Tents in Tshoka
Wooden trail leading to Phedang
Wooden trail leading to Phedang
View from our tents at Tshoka
View from our tents at Tshoka
On reaching Dzongri, Thansing, Prek Chu River in the background
On reaching Dzongri, Thansing, Prek Chu River in the background

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 4:Dzongri Top We got up early in the morning around 4:30AM to go watch the sunrise. The  dzongri top is at a feet of about 13000. We reached just in time for the sunrise but the clouds played hide and seek and we could not get a clear view of Kanchenjunga.  We came back, rested and spent the day at Dzongri just to get acclimatized to the weather.

The sun rays falling on Kanchenjunga but the clouds are covering it.
The sun rays falling on Kanchenjunga but the clouds are covering it.
On Dzongri Top , Amongst the other ranges , its freezing cold
On Dzongri Top , Amongst the other ranges , its freezing cold

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 5: Dzongri(12980ft)-Kokchurang(12096ft)-Thansing(12894ft) So here the comes my favourite trail. I just dream of it every day and feel like getting teleported to this place every now and then. We started our trek at 8:30 AM and the trail  was through lush meadows. You could catch a view of Mt. Pandim but it was covered amongst the clouds but nevertheless seemed majestic and close. The trail is one of the best , I was totally in a different world altogether. And one scary descent was upon me , had to trek down one of the mountains which was way too slippery and was winding sharply. But did it and reached Kokchurang. Here you can see the Prek Chu river flowing with all its might and the view is brilliant. We finally reached Thansing and luckily got the trekkers hut. On one side are snow clad mountains and on the other a black stony mountain and you get to catch a glimpse of Mt.Kanchenjunga. The view in the night is amazing- it is filled with zillions of stars and Mt. Pandim is brightly lit by the moon light. The picture of it is below.

 

Dzongri Meadows, Mt Pandim can be seen amongst the clouds
Dzongri Meadows, Mt Pandim can be seen amongst the clouds
Prek Chu River, Kokchurang
Prek Chu River, Kokchurang

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 6: Thansing(12894ft)-Lamuney(13693ft) This trail was the shortest and the most sublime one. And not to forget it was one our friends birthday as well and he was lucky enough to celebrate the day at an amazing  place . The trail is next to the Prek Chu river and the flora reminded me of “Lord of the Rings”. It was truly wonderful: the path, the river, the sky, the weather, music .The mountains get closer and the terrain becomes rocky as we go ahead. It took 3 hours for us to reach Lamuney. We helped the porters to pitch the tents. And the weather was very cold and windy. We had lunch – Maggi and Papad. And then hit the sack pretty early as we had to wake up by 1:30 AM the following day.

Thansing at Night
Thansing at Night , Trekkers hut and Mt Pandim and the star-studded sky
Thansing by Morning , Trekkers Hut, Rocky mountain on the left , Mt Pandim on the right and Kanchenjunga in the middle at the far end
Thansing by Morning , Trekkers Hut, Rocky mountain on the left , Mt Pandim on the right and Kanchenjunga in the middle at the far end

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 7: Lamuney(13693ft)- Goechala(16000ft)-Lamuney(13693ft)-Thansing(12894ft) THE D-DAY I woke up to the most amazing & memorable sight : A star-studded sky, zillions of stars just so close to you and the snow clad mountains were brightly shining in the moon-light. I was just mesmerized by the beauty of it. The scene is captured in my memory forever. And not to forget the cold, I am sure it was way below 0 deg C. Had – Lemon tea and biscuits and started off for the Pass. We started around 2:30 AM and had to reach the first view point before the Sunrise. The path goes right next to the Samiti Lake but we couldn’t see  the Lake and could just hear the waves. Some of us did lose our way as it was dark and the path was winding. But eventually we held on to the path and were just in time on one of the mountains to catch the beauty of the Kanchenjunga as it had turned golden(Literally) by the first rays of the sun.The experience- inexplicable. It was just out of the world an experience, if this is called heaven – then I made it !!!!!! It was really cold and all I could hear was the breeze and nothing else.

The Golden Kanchenjunga :)
The Golden Kanchenjunga 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few of us returned from the first view point.( I had the chills and fever and didn’t want to risk the extra mile). The others did go to the Second view point and the Pass which was covered with Snow.

Made it !!!!!!!!
Made it !!!!!!!!
Kanchenjunga as seen from View Point 2
Kanchenjunga as seen from View Point 2
DSC00765
Goechala Pass

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few us started our way back to Lamuney. It was a very beautiful sight of the ranges as we couldn’t see the beauty of it in the wee hours of the morning. And we walked past Samiti Lake. Its a glacial lake which is turquoise in colour. We rested for a while and were lost in the beauty of the lake and the ranges around.  And we did see a herd of Deer which were grazing on one of the ranges.I can tell you, we were drunk by the beauty that surrounded us. We finally reached Lamuney by 10:30 AM and waited for the others to come.

 

Samiti Lake at 14100ft
Samiti Lake at 14100ft
Near Samiti Lake , a herd of deer passing by on one of the ranges
Near Samiti Lake , a herd of deer passing by on one of the ranges

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And started off our journey to Thansing as the weather in Lamuney was getting worse and cold. We started around 5:30 PM and reached Thansing by 6:45PM. We were happy to have rice and dal for dinner 😛

 

 

Day 8: Thansing(12894ft)-Kokchurang(12096ft)-Phedang(12050ft)-Tshoka(9650ft) We started our trek around 8:30AM , the view at Kokchurang is marvelous , the weather was sunny and you could get a view of the ranges and the pine trees. We didn’t take the route towards Dzongri but instead we went through a forest and reached Phedang by 2:30 PM. And our mini lunch of “Boiled Potato & Boiled Egg”. We rested a bit and then started off through the log trail to reach Tshoka. It is a steep descent and we covered the distance pretty soon. We reached around 4:00 PM. Stayed in the Trekkers hut and we celebrated our achievement with Chicken and Rice and of course special cake for the birthday boy. Ohh it was awesome !!!! And we did make calls to our near and dear ones after 5 whole days as soon as we got the network.

 

Kokchurang
Kokchurang
Kokchurang and Prek Chu river
Kokchurang and Prek Chu river

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 9: Tshoka(9650ft)-Sachen(8600ft)-Bhakim(7200ft)-Yuksom(5700ft) We were all elated with our achievement and probably wanted to reach back to civilization ;P. I enjoyed the final trek back to Yuksom. I just rejoiced every single moment as it was going to be the last day amongst the mighty Himalayas . Was soaked in the beauty , the flora and fauna , rivers, bridges, steep trails. And finally made it to Yuksom about 6PM.

 

Phew!!!! Finally the end of the amazing trek !!! Back at Yuksom
Phew!!!! Finally the end of the amazing trek !!! Back at Yuksom

And got down to having food-varieties of food I must say. And then freshened ourselves and put on our party caps. We did have loads of fun, partied hard and finally slept on a bed after what it seemed like ages. And everything seemed to be a luxury 🙂 Those were the most amazing days of my life. When I recall the entire journey , it just feels like I have lived a Life!!!!!!! 🙂 The beauty, the tranquility, the rolling hills, cool streams, bridges, the star-studded sky, lush landscapes, feeling of being one with nature and yourself- what more can I ask !!!! And I think I am blessed with Inner Peace 🙂 PS : For all of you out there- A humble request – Please make a trip to the Himalayas at least once in your lifetime, you got to experience it to believe the beauty, the mesmerism, the serenity, finding yourself, being one with nature and for the feeling that your so called routine life is nothing compared to the experience out there amongst the mighty and majestic Mountains, beauty of the mountains, rolling hills , rivers, brilliant landscapes. So add it to your Bucket list or your wish list and go for it before it is too late !!!!!!! Wanna end it with a few lines from Kabir and also the “Fakiri Song”Vishal Dadlani & Neeraj Arya- Kabir’s Cafe from the Dewarists. It defines the Vagabond/traveller in you 🙂

MAAN LAGO MERA YAAR FAKIRI MEIN !!!!!

The joy of Ram’s remembrance Can’t be found in plenty My dwelling is the city of love Became beautiful with patience My Mind rejoices in simplicity My mind has taken to living free A bowl and staff is all I carry Yet my kingdom stretches wherever I see Your body will bite the dust one day Why strut about, so smug, so vain? My Mind rejoices in simplicity My mind has taken to living free Says Kabir, Listen seekers The Lord is found in contentment My Mind rejoices in simplicity My mind has taken to living free !!!!!!