Once you visit the Eastern Himalayas, they become a part of you. It is said that those who come here take a piece of the mountains back with them and that only a few receive the call of the mountains; and all those who hear this call must answer it.

My journey to Goecha La (pass) was one of the most enriching experiences of my life. I can still feel the piercing chill of the ice that used to crawl up my spine and the sudden rush of adrenaline I felt every morning as the snow-capped peaks beckoned me towards them, even when I’m back to my mundane life in the city.

The trek to Goecha La begins at Yuksom, a beautiful little town in West Sikkim, dotted with monasteries and quaint eateries. The town is the last bit of civilisation that you get to enjoy for the next couple of days and is a much needed resting point after the winding car journey from Bagdogra. This was my first introduction to the Eastern Himalayas and it will always remain a cherished one. We chose to travel with a group called ‘Mountain Treks, Tours and Travels’, who took care of all our needs from porters and ponies to delicious three-course meals and provided an excellent guide for the trek.

Andrea Pinto
Samiti lake enroute to Goechala
Samiti lake enroute to Goecha La

The first half of the journey is the climb from Yuksom to Dzongri, which we covered in three days. The first day took us through the Khangchendzonga National Park and across two lovely old hanging bridges that I was completely certain were going to give way (no casualties occurred though, and I even survived graphic descriptions of ‘what may happen if we fall’ stories, which my brother insisted on narrating to me as I tried not to look down). We reached Dzongri exhausted, hungry but exhilarated at what lay before us. Our group also included two guitar-strumming Canadians who were backpacking through India. One of them took to strumming his favourite Nirvana tracks at every rest stop. We sat on the grass munching on dry fruit as our Canadian friend serenaded us. (There’s nothing like a blonde boy playing the guitar to give you a little motivation to reach the top of that mountain!)

On our route from Baktim to Dzongri, we halted at most gorgeous place for lunch. It was at a spot that was sandwiched between two dense rhododendron forests, separated by a clear river in between. I remember sitting on a large flat rock after a well deserved meal and belting out my favourite songs. Me, myself and the pretty bird nearby made quite a band, with the friendly river adding a brilliant drum beat. The pleasantness of afternoon, however, did not continue to the night. I found myself shaking in my tent, shivering with cold as the rain incessantly pelted down on our tents at night at the Dzongri campsite. I heard the kitchen tent come crashing to the ground and as I lay in my sleeping bag. My imagination conjured up all sorts of terrible things that could happen to me. Our guide and porters came rushing out of their tents to make sure we were okay and I remember hearing their voices outside for quite awhile as they braved the storm to help secure our tent. I will never forget the kindness they showed us that night just like I will never forget the sight of my brother fast asleep next to me, completely unperturbed by the storm outside and my increasing fear of impending doom.

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Trekkers make their way through heavy mist on the trail to Goecha La
Trekkers make their way through heavy mist on the trail to Goecha La

We woke up the following morning to clear skies and a crisp chill in the air. The next part of the route took us on an uphill climb to Thansing and then on a leisurely walk to Lamuney. At our Lamuney campsite, we were introduced to a family of wild yak. As majestic as they are to look at, they aren’t the friendliest creatures. In his pursuit of great wildlife photography, my brother ventured too close to them and the leader of the herd lowered his horns and charged at him. The beast was surprisingly fast for his size! My brother turned tail and ran as fast as he could back to the campsite and luckily the yak gave up the chase.

We spent acclimatising at Samiti Lake and getting ready for the next morning when we would attempt to reach the Goecha La. We were woken up at 3.00am as we were scheduled to leave as soon as possible. I would love to tell you all about how wonderful the mountains were that morning but to be honest thoughts of “Why am I doing this?”, “What on Earth possessed me to leave the city?” And “Will this ever end?” were not far from my mind. However, all that changed once we finally reached View Point 1, just a few minutes before sunrise. Nothing I had ever experienced before quite prepared me for that view. The first rays of the morning sun struck the mountain crevices in a perfect arch and refracted off the snow white peaks in an orange glow. Suddenly, all thoughts of tiredness and cold were washed away. This was what we had come here for – to witness the awe-inspiring majesty of something so uncomfortably perfect and unbelieveably beautiful. We stayed in that spot watching the sun gradually illuminate each peak until the glorious Mt. Khangchendzonga appeared towards the east, glittering ominously in the light.

A lone yak grazes on a hillside
A lone yak grazes on a hillside

After spending a good hour feasting on the view, we finally pulled our eyes away and started the trek towards Goecha La. This route is full of ups and downs and not an easy one to finish – many choose to turn back from View Point 1. The path takes you through a long stretch of sandy plains where you’ll find footprints of blue sheep or bharal, an animal native to the area. After a long arduous climb, during which we maneuvered through patches of snow and ice, we finally reached the pass (not before a final steep uphill trek, though). The pass stands at 4,960m above sea level and provides a magnificent view of the Khangchendzonga. From our vantage point, we could see the lake below us, so still that it almost looked unreal. Its calm blue colour was disturbed only by the chunks of ice that a stray bird or two had perched on. The silence of the surroundings was occasionally broken by a piece of rock that tumbled down into the lake below. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay for too long because dark clouds were beginning to form a little further away from us. Not very keen on being stuck in a storm, we began our return.

We headed back to camp that day, exhausted but extremely satisfied. My aching muscles were soothed just by the thought of those phenomenal views. Clearer than any picture we could ever take, those memories remain permanently ingrained in my mind even today. Our return was dotted with rain showers and occasional cloudbursts and the dense forests lined with silver fir and rhododendron, that we had walked through, bade us farewell in a myriad of colours. Throughout the 10-day journey, my purple tent became my home, the ponies became my support system and the mountains became family and left me with a want to return soon.

Where to Stay
Yuksom serves as a convenient base for treks in this region. Hotel Tashigang (Cell: 0993307720, 09734902096; Tariff: ₹2,800–3,800) is the best bet. They arrange trekking equipment as well. Hotel Yak (Cell: 09933019978, 09933020133; Tariff: ₹1,500–2,000) is a cosy set up.

Hotel Yangri Gang (Cell: 09434164408, 09735087508, 09475 632109; Tariff: ₹300–1,500) is on the main street, with comfortable rooms and an in-house trekking agency Alpine Exodus Tours & Travels (Cell: 09735087508). For those on a tight budget, Hotel Demazong (Cell: 09775473687; Tariff: ₹600–800) is popular with trekkers.

The Khangchendzonga Conser-vation Committee (Cell: 097331 58268, 09733149975) based in Yuksom, arranges homestays (Tariff: ₹1,500 per person, with meals).

Getting There

Air Nearest airport: Bagdogra (133km/ 3.5–4hrs). Taxi to Pelling (₹4,000–4,500)

Rail Nearest railhead: New Jalpaiguri (136km/ 3.5–4hrs). Taxi as above

Road From Siliguri head for Yuksom, via Teesta Bazaar, Melli, Jorethang, Legship and Tashiding. The 141km/ 5.5hr journey by jeep costs about ₹5,000–5,500. From Yuksom, return the same way by bus or taxi. As taxis are few, book in advance for a pick-up either in Siliguri or at the Jorethang Bus Stand. It takes about 5hrs from the Siliguri Bus Stand