GoechaLa Trek – Yuksum to Tshokha via Sachen
Yuksum to Tshokha via Sachen
We did the GoechaLa trek in April 2016, after spending a few days in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. You can read one of the Bhutan articles here. In this first part, we cover the trek from Yuksum to Tshokha via Sachen. Yuksum is a small town in Sikkim, and is the starting point for various treks in the Kanchenjunga mountain range. Sachen and Tshokha, are usually the first and second night halting points on this trek.
On our final day in Paro, Bhutan, we leave for Yuksum, which is atleast 12 hours away. The first ride is by taxi from Paro to Jaigaon and we halt for breakfast at a restaurant in Banuga. The route is extremely scenic along the river Pachhu.
We are dropped across the border into India and immediately brought back to the reality of chaos, filth and a disorganised life. Due to elections in West Bengal, most buses are off duty, but we are lucky to get booking in a bus leaving for Siliguri, and it takes us 6 hrs to reach there.
After lots of asking around and haggling we find a driver who is ready to take us to Jorethang at a reasonable rate. Post a halt for dinner, our first full meal of the day, and a tyre puncture, we reach Jorethang past mid-night, only to realise that hotels and shops closed several hours ago. With help from local police, we wake up a hotel owner who rents us a room for the night.
The road from Jorethang to Yuksum is extremely poor, almost non existent, it takes us 3 hours to cover less than 60 kms next morning. With reference from an acquaintance, we book a room at Limboo homestay, which I thoroughly recommend for their clean, attractive rooms and very professional service. It has new rooms that are well maintained, with carpeted floors and offer fresh towels. The rest of the evening is spent unsuccessfully in finalising a porter and purchasing stock for the trek.
There is no organised service for finding porters or guides in Yuksum. We inquire at the police station, but their response is vague. At times the policeman insisted it’s compulsory to take a guide, and then retracted saying it’s okay to go alone but it’s risky to do so.
Our homestay owner Mr Limboo introduced us to Bob, who is a guide himself, but also coordinates with other guides for trekkers. Bob introduced us to Buddha, but the guy seemed too young and inexperienced and backed out when I pushed him about the support we wanted from him. We asked around elsewhere but couldn’t finalise anyone. Hence our plan of starting the trek next morning was a non starter.
Bob is our only hope and we keep following up with him. He asks us to pack our stuff and be ready as he has someone in mind. Around 10 am, he brings along Bhaichung Bhutia, who also looked fairly young but sounded confident. We quickly complete the formalities required for Indian trekkers: 1 Passport photo, 1 copy of first & last page of Passport and a declaration to be submitted to the local police. The format for the declaration can be obtained from the police. Your guide should help you on this. Looking at the size of our rucksacks, we thought it wise to book another porter, Changba, a last minute addition to our original plan of carrying all our luggage by ourselves.
And then starts the journey to our first halt for the night, Sachen.
Yuksum to Sachen
Distance: 6-7 kms
Height: From 1700 mtrs to 2200 mtrs
(Note: All distances and heights in this blog are approximate, as there are no consistent figures available anywhere to know the exact distance and height of various places on this trek).
This is my first long distance trek ever. We encountered 3 bridges over gurgling streams, two lovely wooden hanging bridges and one cemented one. Most of the journey is a trail along the edge of the hills with greenery all around. Deep below, various rivers and streams hurry down the hills. We started at 1 pm and after 4 hours reached the first camp at Sachen, which has a rudimentary hut that is dirty and poorly maintained. An extremely small stream provides water which is used by trekkers. However, I am very excited notwithstanding the 6 km hike over such rough terrain. A quick dinner of paranthas packed earlier in the day and tea boiled over a stove adds to the fun. Setting up the tent is a first time experience for me.
As Rajesh, Ruchi and I lay in the tent, we discuss our options of ration, as we now have an additional porter we hadn’t budgeted for. Unfortunately, the only option is to rush back to Yuksum early next morning and pick up more stock. The two porters are reluctant, and I am frightened beyond words at the prospect of trekking back and up again. Rajesh and Ruchi confidently volunteer to take this additional burden. Salute.
Tired, exhausted and excited, we are in bed by 7.30.
Sachen to Tshokha
Distance: 6 kms
Height: From 2200 mtrs to 2950 mtrs
Rajesh & Ruchi were up by 4 am and within half an hour on their way down to Yuksum. There is already enough light by 5.30 and I am unable to go back to sleep. I am all alone, except for a foreign group perched in another tent above us, and our porters who are in the trekkers hut. After a quick shave, I join them as Bhaichung prepares tea, noodles and dal-rice.
The plan is for me to move ahead to Tshokha with Changba while Bhaichung waits for Rajesh and Ruchi to make it back to Sachen.
I start walking. After a while, the trail feels the same, a stone path and lots of lush green mountains all around. The weather is getting misty & foggy pretty early today, as we see clouds gathering around the hill tops. We keep crossing hill after hill through twisted turns, hairpin bends and steep climbs. After a bit of climb the trail starts descending and the gurgling of a noisy river can be heard and within minutes I see white waters rushing down below. There is a long suspension bridge to cross the river and my hopes of going down right up to the river are crushed. This is followed by a continuous descent.
Under normal circumstances, a normal person would give up. But this is adventure, this is excitement, this is a way to prove that you can do it too. The legs and body give up pretty early, probably within the first half an hour of starting. After that it is sheer will power and some unknown ‘automatic’ mode of the body that keeps you going. The question of ‘Why do I have to do this?’ no more arises. You ‘Just do it’.
An hour after crossing the river is an HMI (Himalayan Mountaineering Institute) building, which hosts students from the Darjeeling institute. And a few metres before this is a run-down log hut with a fine gazebo and even finer views. A lone guy is reading a book and sipping hot coffee. We smile and say hi as he invites me to join him. He name is Captain Rahul Goel and he is with the Indian army, here as medical officer with HMI, to support the group undergoing training. He is kind enough to offer me a cup of hot coffee which I gladly accept. This place is called Bakhim.
The trail continues to climb up, but this time there are openings of green fields, lots of meadows. A couple of hours later I can see a wooden fencing which announces the arrival of our next stop Tshokha. My porter has already made it there a while ago and he comes down to carry my rucksack for the last stretch.
Tshokha is a much larger camping location with multiple huts and several rooms. One can either pay Rs 100 per person and get access to a room or set up tent outside. The drizzle which had started a while back turns into heavy rain accompanied by thunderstorm and strong winds. And we have no choice but to book a room rather than set up tent in the open. Its only by 5 pm that Rajesh and Ruchi make it to the camp, I am awed by their grit and stamina. A few minutes after the downpour, the sky clears up briefly and we are treated to gorgeous views of snow clad mountains.
Tshokha is the best of all camps on the GoechaLa trek, its fairly well equipped – has several huts for trekkers, a grocery store, continuous supply of water, decent toilets and even a small lake and an abandoned hut that make for good scouting in the morning.
We dine on dal-rice and vegetable soup. And by 8.30, are ensconced in our sleeping bags in the wooden huts. The first two days of the trek from Yuksum to Tshokha via Sachen are thrilling, but we are told the best is yet to come.