The Goechala Trek: A 9-day trek in Sikkim to discover yourself
Whether you enjoy magnificent landscapes, nature & wildlife, adventure sports, food & culture, Sikkim will offer you all that – and then some more! Among the many pretty places to visit in Sikkim, The GOECHALA TREK has to be one of the best. With its perfect blend of natural beauty and vibrant culture, raw adventure and glorious landscapes, it will definitely enthral you and surprise you with lifelong memories. Here, I’m sharing my experience of completing one of the most scenic and adventurous treks in Sikkim Himalayas, GOECHALA TREK.
Some quick facts about the trek:
Nearest airport: Bagdogra, West Bengal
Start point: Yuksom, West Sikkim
Duration: 09 days of trekking
Difficulty level: Moderate to Difficult
I took the morning flight from Delhi to Bagdogra and met the rest of the group members at Bagdogra airport. It was great to see all the smiling faces beaming with the excitement for the Goechala Trek. Adventure Pulse had organized a comfortable pickup vehicle for the road journey to the start point of Yuksom which is around 150 km from Bagdogra airport. The weather in Bagdogra was very hot that day. As we moved through the ghats there was a sudden change in the temperature. Our driver was a local resident of Yuksom. He shared some interesting facts and history of Yuksom, the first capital of Sikkim and also about the nearby places. As we reached Yuksom and checked into our hotel near the main bazaar. After a quick briefing and a delicious dinner, we called it a day.
Tip 1: Proper rest and sleep before starting the trek is the most important part. The long road journey in the mountains is tiring indeed, and sometimes odd flight timings mean a disturbed sleep cycle. So take proper rest, stay hydrated, keep your packs ready on the previous night itself and sleep on time.
Day 1: Yuksom to Sachen
It was a pleasant morning. Post breakfast we met our guide Itching Dai and the rest of the staff members. Between all the members of the staff, they had done the Goechala Trek about 100 times! Since we had some time before we hit the trail, we strolled around the lanes of Yuksom and interacted with some locals. Around 9:15 am, the staff loaded our backpacks and we got ready to hit the trail. We walked through pretty streets of Yuksom town for about half an hour. It was interesting to see the quiet and lovely houses decorated with colourful flower plants in the compounds. We stopped at the Yuksom check post and Kangchenjunga interpretation centre before starting the hike towards Sachen, our first campsite on the trek. The interpretation centre is managed by the forest department which has a great collection of photographs of Kanchenjunga National Park. The trail passes through the village for some time and runs parallel to the beautiful valley and leads to the entrance gate of Kanchenjunga National Park after crossing the ‘Pha Khola’ Bridge. It was a pleasant but humid walk through the forest beside the ‘Prek Chu’ (River) with a gradual increase in altitude. At Sachen, there is a small hut where our staff set up the kitchen. We also had the luxury of dining table with stools. The kitchen staff prepared some delicious food and made every effort to make us comfortable on the very first day of our trek.
The camping area in Sachen is surrounded by dense jungle and we didn’t get to see any mountains from here. Yet, away from the hustle-bustle of the city, it was the best place for stargazing. I was little sceptical about sleeping in the tent in a dense forest as the weather was humid after a light rainfall. I slept comfortably thanks to the thick foam mattresses and warm sleeping bags that the Adventure Pulse team had provided.
Tip 2: Sleeping in the tent can be an uncomfortable experience, especially if you are a claustrophobic or camping for the first time. To avoid it, keep the zip of the ventilation cover of your tent little open to allow air circulation. Use thermals during the night to keep you warm. The quality of a tent, sleeping bag and mattress will make a huge difference so always prefer an operator who can assure quality equipment.
Day 2: Sachen to Tshoka via Bhakim
We woke up early today and witnessed a beautiful sunrise. The weather was perfect and everyone was feeling fresh and energetic after a good rest last night. We had our breakfast and after a briefing by our trek leader and guide, we started the hike towards the next destination, Tshoka. The trail started getting steeper as we had to descend to the bridge to cross the river and then climb up towards Bhakim. It drizzled for a while during the hike and temperature dropped drastically. As we reached Bhakim which has a tiny little tea shop with amazing views of the entire valley as far as the sight reaches. Rhododendron trees were present all around us. After the much needed ‘chai break’ the group’s energy was back and within the next hour we reached our destination, Tshoka.
Tshoka is a beautiful small settlement of Tibetan refugees. There are few forest rest houses where trekkers can stay and little ahead on the trail, there is a café which serves Maggie and Tea. In the evening we visited a nearby monastery which is right next to a beautiful pond. Although little crowded, Tshoka was the perfect spot for an evening stroll and to experience the serenity of nature. We couldn’t see Mt. Pandim as it got cloudy and the increasing cold forced us to sit inside for the rest of the evening. We had a great time playing some fun indoor games while sipping some hot tea with pakoras! A big thumbs up to the Adventure Pulse team for keeping the group size less thus allowing us to engage and interact with each other easily. People gelled well and everyone was high on energy thanks to the lip-smacking food served by the kitchen staff. As usual, we had a team briefing post-dinner by our trek leader and guide. It was very useful to get an insight into the next day’s hike to prepare ourselves for the journey. I was impressed by the way the Adventure Pulse team was working as a unit with attention to every small detail.
Day 3: Tshoka to Dzongri
Today’s hike was one of the longest days of the trek. As advised by our trek leader, we started early to reach Dzongri before afternoon to avoid bad weather. The gradual ascent into the rhododendron forest was challenging. The forest became dense as we continued climbing the steps marked by wooden logs. We had an adventurous encounter with the Dzo and Mules that were coming down from the same trail.
Tip 3: Always give way to Yaks, Dzos and Mules while walking on the trail in the Goechala Trek. Make sure you find a good spot to stand towards the mountainside to avoid an accidental fall. Don’t panic and avoid touching the mules and wait till they the pass-through and that there is sufficient space on the trail.
The trail opened up to a flat ground in a place called Phedang where a small hut is. It was a perfect lunch spot after a tiring walk on the steep wooden trail. From Phedang the trail became steep and breathing was difficult due to altitude and cold wind. We followed the instructions given by the trek leader and guide and soon made our way to Dzongri, our home for the next two nights. With the total altitude gain of around 1000 metres, this was the most challenging part of the trek. With the support and encouragement from the Adventure Pulse team, everyone made it to Dzongri before the weather turned bad. Later in the evening, the weather cleared up and we saw a beautiful sunset from the top of a nearby hill. Dzongri has a big trekker’s hut which was a common area for all the trekkers to have meals and place for our endless sessions of card games and charades. Most groups spend an extra night in Dzongri to acclimatize well before moving further up to GOECHALA.
Day 4: Dzongri
Next morning, we hiked up to Dzongri La for acclimatization. Though we had to wake up at midnight and walk in the dark, it was worth all the effort. I was dancing with the joy when I saw the entire range of Kangchenjunga glowing with the first rays of sunlight. From the Dzongri La, we could see 180° views of the entire Kabru range. It was a spectacular sight as Mt. Kangchenjunga was shining like gold in all her glory. We clicked lots of pictures and descended back to our hut right in time for a sumptuous breakfast. We spent the rest of the day resting and acclimatizing to prepare ourselves for the journey ahead.
Day 5: Dzongri to Thansing
After spending two amazing days at Dzongri we were excited to move closer to our goal, Goechala pass. We left Dzongri and made our way through colourful meadows towards our next campsite at Thansing via Kokchurong. The meadows were gorgeous and the surrounding mountain peaks kept appearing at a distance through the clouds. Eventually, the trail entered another beautiful Rhododendron forest. We even spotted some birds on the way. We stopped near the hut at Kockchurang for some rest. Prek Chu River flows just a few meters away from the hut. After crossing a small bridge the trail opened up to a flat area with a gradual ascent and at the end of a steep climb was Thansing. Thansing is a huge open camping ground and is surrounded by hills. We were standing right in front of Mt. Pandim and the left wall of Kangchenjunga. I was amazed to see the grandeur of the mighty Pandim and Kangchenjunga. Later in the night, I tried capturing the beautiful night sky with my GoPro and we had fun clicking and learning light painting. It was a surreal experience to see the soft moonlight reflecting from the snowy peaks of Pandim and Tenzing Khang.
Day 6: Thansing to Lamuney
This was probably the best stretch of the trek as we were walking on almost a flat trail through the colourful meadows. With each step, the mountains were appearing closer and closer. Soon we reached a spot from where the Lamuney campsite was visible. We had enough time before Lunch so decided to spend some time in the meadows. The excitement of seeing Mt. Kangchenjunga was difficult to contain and the energy levels were high because of the adrenaline rush. We danced at the altitude of almost 15,000 ft to the tune of some Punjabi and Nepali songs and captured the wonderful memories in our heart, mind and camera. We had an early dinner as we were supposed to leave at around 3:00 am to make our way to Goechala viewpoint 1 and catch the first rays of sunlight hitting the lofty peaks of the Kangchenjunga Range.
Day 7: Lamuney to Goechala and back to Thansing.
The trek to Goechala viewpoint 1 was challenging as the night temperatures were low. The kitchen staff made some hot soup and noodles and gave us dry fruits to munch on during the hike. We offered a prayer before the trek and started moving slowly, lighting the trail with our torch lights. As we moved closer to the glacier, the terrain became steeper and rocky. In parts, we also negotiated some moraine. The view from Goechala was surreal! The entire Kanchenjunga range was shining bright with the golden rays of sunlight. The experience was very humbling as I was standing face to face with the third highest mountain in the world! Words and pictures cannot do justice to the sense of accomplishment you get after seeing the gorgeous sunrise over the Kangchenjunga Range. So I will leave that up to your imaginations. The Descent from the pass was quick and comfortable as the sun god provided some much-needed warmth. While descending, the trail took us to the beautiful alpine lake, Samiti Lake. The surrounding mountain hills and the sunlight created surreal reflections on the crystal clear, partially frozen water of the lake. For me, it was the most scenic landscape on the entire route. We stopped on our way back for a good sumptuous breakfast and regained our energy to continue further to Thansing.
Day 8: Thansing to Tshoka
We took a direct trail by-passing Dzongri and crossed the Rhododendron forest to finally reach Tshoka. This time Tshoka had a different vibe as we were seeing other groups getting ready for their Goechala trek while there were other groups, like us, who were returning from the Goechala trek. It was time for a celebration and the Adventure Pulse team made sure we had a great time on our last camping night before we got back to civilization. The kitchen staff prepared a delicious chocolate cake to celebrate this successful trip. It was an emotional moment for the group as we realized the fact that this incredible journey in the lap of nature was about to end. The entire team and staff had a dinner together and shared their experience of the journey.
Day 9: Tshoka to Yuksom.
We woke up to see a gorgeous sunrise and got ready to start the long walk from Tshoka to the final destination Yuksom. Retracing our way from Tshoka to Yuksom we quickly reached Sachen. It was an easy and quick hike because of the descent all the way. The last stretch had a few climbs and soon, we found ourselves back in the friendly Yuksom neighbourhood where celebratory dinner and beers were waiting for us!
I could go on and on about how this journey has given me wonderful memories and some lifelong bonds to cherish but for now, all I want to say is that this trek and Sikkim stole my heart on my first visit and even after visiting it again and again ever since I will keep coming back to its mountains and people who have welcomed me with open arms and showered their love and blessings. The Goechala Trek won our hearts. I have realized that “Like people, places also have a soul”. Each trip to Sikkim has made me the person that I am today; made me more humble and kind! Namastey!