Sunday, October 11, 2015

Revisiting Sikkim - Land of Waterfalls, Lush Green Forest & Mountains

Late Monsoon did not deter our spirit to get the glimpses of the Crowning Glory of the Nation Mt. Khangchendzonga. A good long 7 hours drive from Bagdogra to Yuksom in Western Sikkim through patches of bad roads, cascading waterfalls flowing onto the road, lush green forest cover and misty hills all added to the scenic beauty the Sikkim is known for. 

Yuksom (means meeting place of three Lamas), the old capital of Sikkim, a peaceful valley which is the gateway to one of the most popular and beautiful trek in Sikkim the Yuksom- Dzongri -GoechaLa Trek. Yuksom is all of two roads, with beautiful large monastery and stupas, home stays and few hotels play host to travellers. A bright day would mean a good view of Mount Kabru for visitors to Yuksom. With almost 24 hours electricity, clean environment, fresh water and enterprising people Yuksom is indeed a dream land. 
Our Trek to GoechaLa, started from small lanes of Yuksom leading to the entrance of Khangchendzonga National Park (KNP). Unlike the other Himalayan range North-East Himalayas are a blanket of green cover, rich evergreen forest and huge trees embrace the hills, with bright white patches amidst, which indeed are waterfalls rushing down finding its way to join the giant streams below. Sounds of the gushing of water and the wind overpowered the rains, as we trekking on a fairly well carved path. 

With lashing rains and leeches around there was little option for camping in tents, small trekkers lodge was our home, my team decided in sleep in the lodge I happily opted to sleep outside with just a roof on top, surprisingly it was not cold enough to send me back into the lodge. 

Day two was going to be a long trek gaining altitude to our next destination Tshoka, with the trail going up-and down all through the forest, keens were getting tired, and gloomy weather with occasional showers did not help either. Even a few kilometres in the higher altitudes can be gruelling more so with unfavourable weather, we reached Tshoka at about 3pm fully drenched, just in time for some hot noodle soup and Tea. 

Tshoka is a larger place with better trekkers’ lodges, we were indeed disappointed to meet fellow trekkers who were returning from Dzongri due to bad weather and we were hoping weather would change as we reach Dzongri. As I woke up, weather that seemed fine was a complete whiteout in few minutes, but that did not deter us from hitting the trail to Dzongri at 7.30am, Dzongri was a long slipper trail and was the toughest day of the trail, we had the company of Himalayan Mountaineering Institute Trainees heading to their Basecamp via Dzongri carrying their 20-25 kg back pack and it remained me of my training days in Nehru Institute of Mountaineering. 
Couple of foreigner trekker friends ended up in tent due to shortage of space and with rain all through the night their tents turned into mini-pools by morning. With no clear weather we stayed another day in Dzongri, with very little hope to proceed further. Next day with weather not giving much hope and given the fact that we had to cover two days of trek in a day, we had to take a sad and hard decision to trek back to Tshoka and to Yuksom the following day. 

The last day of the trek as we headed back the weather got better, and we could see all that we missed when we had trekked up. Birds, Butterflies & Insects were out in the mild sun making merry. Flowers blooms and the marshy rocky walls of the trial turned brighter and greener, as Sun cleared the mist, lichens hanging from trees with swinging branches from the giant trees looked like the trail turned into Paradise on Earth overnight. Every waterfall was our water and photo break, crossing the bridges with gushing crystal clear water underneath was more fun. It was time to cherish the real beauty of the trail that we missed for the last 5 days due to bad weather. There was indeed disappointment that we could not complete our mission, but in the mountains it’s the weather that all ways wins. 

As we exited the KNP, the forest department was getting ready to receive UN delegation, the delegation scheduled to visit KNP and trek through the trail to assess if KNP indeed deserves the UNESCO Heritage reorganization. I wished the forest staff good luck and hoped next year I will be trekking in the region that has a UNESCO Heritage tag, which it truly deserves. 

Back in Yuksom, a hot shower and strong cup of masala tea at Gupta’s restaurant took away all the tiredness, feeling fresh once again. Gupta’s restaurant is indeed a place to hang out in Yuksom, good hot food, friendly ambiance and Gupta Ji sharing his journey of 23 years from Bihar to Yuksom hooks you there for longer time. With Yummy aloo parata and few cups of masala tea, we left Yuksom with pleasant memories and a lasting friendship, back to the hustle bustle city life, which we did not miss much….with a promise to return next year. 

- Kavitha Reddy