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Khangchendzonga Circuit is easily one of the finest treks the Indian Himalaya has to offer. Set in the kingdom of Sikkim, the hike takes you to touching distance of the 3rd highest mountain in the world and other snow jewels of Sikkim. Starting from as low as 1800m at Uttarey, the trek reaches its crescendo at Goechala(4940m), where the Khangchendzonga face is only 9 kms as the crow flies. It is an amphitheatre of huge mountains ranging from small peaks to 6000ers, 7000ers and the highest one in India!Some notable mountains are Janoo, Talung, Pandim, Jopuno, Narsing, Simvo and Kabru.
The first half of the trek straddles the border with Nepal passing through dense forests of rhododendron and sprawling meadows where Yaks and Dzos graze. Midway through the trek we camp beside high altitude holy lakes, before entering the Indian side of the border.
This is a demanding trek with some long days of walking where not many trekking groups venture. The route is mostly isolated all the way to Dzongri after which it joins the popular YuKsom-Dzongri Circuit where the footfall of hikers is higher. The Nepalese culture, rugged mountain route, heartwarming scenery, and the pacing of the route make this our personal favorite.
Consider this if you have a few treks under your belt, and lead a reasonably active lifestyle.Airfares and taxes to and out of Bagdogra
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Day 1 : Arrive Bagdogra. Drive to Darjeeling(2050m)
Most of the flights to Bagdogra come in by late noon. As you walk out of the airport look around for our representative holding the ‘Adventure Sindbad’ placard. We have to wait for a little while as all our incoming guests assemble before hoping into our cars and taking the 3 hr drive to Darjeeling. It is interesting how the weather changes from hot to cool in a short while as the car moves up the hills. We will be passing through sprawling tea gardens, quaint hamlets, small eateries and toy train stations at Kurseong and Ghoom. From Kurseong, we are in the misty hills and enter the Gorkha hinterland.
Day 2 : Drive to Pelling(2150m)
The drive to Pelling is completely scenic, but a little bumpy in parts…esp after entering Sikkim. We pass through the composite checkpost at Melli, where we have to show our entry permits. We stop for lunch at a small place in Jorethang before proceeding on to Pelling. Amazing views of Khangchendzonga from Pelling and draws a lot of tourists for its cool climate and splendid mountain views. Pelling is home to one of the oldest and premier monasteries of Sikkim – Pemayangtse, which was established in 1705 by Lama Lhatsun Chempo. The monastery has been refurbished many times after it was affected by earthquakes during 1913 and 1960. Pelling also houses the Rabdentse ruins, which used to be the second capital of Sikkim before it was invaded by the Gurkha army. We settle in our hotel in Pelling for a peaceful night before our adventure begins from the next day.
Day 3 : Drive to Uttarey(1870m). Trek to Chitre(2600m)
A short drive to Uttarey over the famous Singshore bridge, supposed to be the second highest suspension bridge in Asia. We meet our trekking crew and pack animals at Uttarey. It takes sometime to get the Wildlife permits and the animals loaded with camping equipment and luggage. The walk to Chitre starts with crossing the fishing farms and Cardomom plantations. We soon enter the dense jungles filled with oak trees, rhododendron and orchids. In sometime we get to the gate welcoming us into the Barsey rhododendron sanctuary. Another hour and half ahead is our campsite just next to the SSB army camp.
Day 4 : Trek to Chiwabhanjhang(3050m)
A steep narrow trail through dense forests leads us to Chiwabhanjang, a big clearing in the forest and the border with Nepal. There is a huge Indian army camp here. Chiwabhanjang is a popular trekking spot to local tourists who trek upto this camp and return or complete a circuit by descending towards Hilley. We spend the afternoon trekking towards a high point called Phoktey Dara on the Nepalese side. If the mist should clear, we get to see the entire Khangchendzonga range that takes the shape of a man sleeping and is referred to as ‘The Sleeping Buddha’! We can also visit some yak herders huts on the Nepalese side.
Day 5 : Trek to Dhor(3700m)
After 2 days of short walks, we are well rested and acclimatized for the long day to Dhor. The walk starts with a gradual uphill right from the camp to a high point on the ridge with amazing views of valleys on either side. The ridge line actually forms the border between India and Nepal. The walk continues all along the ridge going up and down like riding a camel back. We are soon walking in heavy fog and stop by for lunch in a huddle. This particular section is always fog-ridden and slows our pace to camp. We reach camp, next to a yak herder’s hut by late afternoon. The camp is on the Nepalese side of the border. Water is scarce at the campsite and has to be fetched from very far.Hence, advice careful usage of water.
Day 6 : Trek to Pareymegu(3820m)
Dawn breaks with clear views of Khangchendzonga range, from a ridge point just above camp. The mountains start growing in size now as we inch closer to it as the trek progresses. Also seen on the far left is the Everest range.After breakfast, we continue our walk on the ridge to reach the grazing grounds at Parey Megu. Most of the bits is through dense rhododendron forests. Towards the end there is a small shrine called Tarunipani with water trickling into the shrine from inside the rocky mountain. There are multiple yak herder huts at Pareymegu, with one just below camp with hospitable hosts. All the Yaks and Dzos return to the huts in the evening. SOme menacing Tibetan mastiffs guard the hut and livestock, from predators. We afre still on the Nepalese side. The camp on the Indian side is called Sikkim Megu.
Day 7 : Trek to Lam Pokhari(4200m)
Leaving Pareymegu, we ascend gradually through more rhododendron forests to reach a high point and then descend to reach another wide campsite with an isolated hut. The Valley opens up and we walk on the high mountain side on the river left. Soon, we start seeing lakes starting with Laxmi Pokhari, which is also a camping ground. There are about 7 lakes in the vicinity and is highly revered by the locals. From Laxmi Pokhari we enter back into the Indian side and descend to the huge Lam Pokhari, our campsite for the day. It is prettu high and does get cold next to the lake.
Day 8 : Trek to Yangseb(3830m)
From Lam Pokhari, we ascend to a small pass from where we get views of the Everest range and Janoo from this vantage point. We walk around a small bend to stupendous mountain views on a clear day with views of Pandim, Simvo and most of the Khangchendzonga range. Huge prayer flagposts are dug into the ground here. We move down to the camping grounds at Gomuthang through sprawling meadows sprinkled with rhododendrons and juniper plants. We stop for lunch at Gomuthang before proceeding on towards our campsite across the river at Yangseb.
Day 9 : Trek to Doban(3585m)
From Yangseb, we ascend steeply to a wide plateau called Pangding which affords some great views of the mountains. From here, we descend through thick rhododendron jungle to reach the river. Our campsite is across the river next to a giant rock which cuts the cold wind from the river. The campsite is sheltered and a warm place to camp for the night.
Day 10 : Trek to Dzongri(4000m)
We climb a steep, narrow path through dense jungle and past huge rock faces to the sprawling meadows of Dzongri. There are many Yak herders huts that lay abandoned after the Sikkim govt. banned Yak herders from using the Khangchendzonga National Park for cattle grazing to preserve the rich bio diversity of the land. Now these huts are used by horsemen. Dzongri grounds are massive and has amazing views of Pandim and adjacent peaks. Dzongri top is one of the finest vantage points to view the massive Khangchendzonga and the snow jewels of Sikkim.
Day 11 : Trek to Thangsing(3850m)
We walk upto the ridge and walk the sprawling grounds till we reach a narrow path, through dense rhododendrons leading down to Prek Chu river. We descend almost 500m to a small clearing next to the Prek Chu called Kokchurong. From here, we cross a bridge and hike up beside the true left of Prek Chu to reach Thansing, the large camping grounds above the treeline with a few wooden lodges. Pandim and Thinchenkhang cover the right sky and we can see the left ridge of Khanchendzonga. Maila Dai, the tea-house keeper is the most familiar face in this area. He has been manning the Tea-houses and is the provides food and tea to the porters and yakmen.
Day 12 : Trek to Lamunae(4100m)
Lamunae is the last campsite and serves as base camp for trekking upto Goechala. A few years ago, trekkers were allowed to camp next to the holy Samiti Lake, but was discontinued to keep it pristine. It is a short walk and we rest for most of the day enjoying the view around as the mountains play hide and seek behind the thick cloud cover. The high mountains generally draw cloud curtains around themselves by noon and can give slight sneak peeks around dusk.Only if we are lucky
Day 13 : Morning Visit Goechala(4940m). Trek to Thangsing(3850m)
We wake up by 2.30 am and start walking by 3am in the morning with super warm clothing and headlights. We walk up gradually making our way first to Samiti Lake and onwards to different points on the trail which are recognized lately as the first view point, the second view point and eventually Goechala. We feel very tiny as we walk right into the the centre court of the jewels of snow. The sun rises from behind Pandim and it is not until 6.45 am that the sun hits us. There are green lakes on the left of the path and fluttering prayer flags and stone chortens. We enjoy our packed breakfast here, after which we retreat through the boulder zone of Zemathang and past Samiti Lake to our campsite at Lamunae. We have hot lunch here and descend gradually to Thangsing.
Day 14 : Trek to Bakhim(2600m)
From Thansing, it takes about an hour to Kokchurang where we enter the narrow forest path while the pack animals take the route through Dzongri. The 3 hr long path from Kokchurang to Phedang is one of the finest forest walks on this trek. We have lunch at Phedang and retrace our steps to Bakhim, a little further below Tsokha.
Day 15 : Trek to Yuksom(1800m)
The last day’s trek is not all downhill. It’s up and down as we descend to steel suspension bridges and rise again. We have our lunch at the last suspension bridge next to the creek and gradually make our way to Yuksom. Spend the evening walking around the main street of Yuksom and enjoying some local brews. Yuksom is home to diverse ethnic communities – Bhutias, Lepchas, Nepalis, and Limbu.
Day 16 : Drive to Kalimpong(1250m)
Kalimpong is famous for its orchids and the enviable view of Khangchendzonga from the town. It is also the place for many local singers and rockbands from the region. The drive from Yuksom to Kalimpong is slow and we pass Jorethang yet again where we stop for lunch. Most of the drive is along Rangeet and Teesta river.
Day 17 : Drive to Bagdogra. Depart
From Kalimpong, we make an early start in the morning to reach the airport at Bagdogra for our flights back home. Trip ends.
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