Hiking - Destination

The Quest of Goecha La Trek - The peak of Eastern Himalayas

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While to the whole world, Kanchenjunga is famous as the third highest peak, to the people of Sikkim it is more than just that. Kanchenjunga is believed to be the abode of the state’s patron deity. If you are looking to encapsulate the vista of the Kanchenjunga range, then the Goecha La trek is the perfect choice for you. This trek will take you up close to the big mountain. This journey will empower you to travel across the beautiful alpine forest that melds with the vast biosphere of Sikkim. Be prepared to be boggled by the vast forest of the rhododendrons, stretched over a terrain of downhill and uphill treks going through narrow ridges and rough tracks. This trail will make you acquainted with a variety of wildflowers, animals, and avifauna spread across different altitudes. The Goecha La trek is one of the best treks in the Indian Himalayan region. The trail is strewn with several monasteries pocketed away within the mountains, enveloped in history throws light on Buddhism in Sikkim, and the cultural essences of the Bhutias, Nepalis, and Lepchas. 
 

goechala trek
Goechala Trek (source)

What is the better way there to experience Sikkim than to master this high altitude trek in its mountains? Before it was discovered in the 19th century that Mt. Everest is the highest peak in the world, it was Kanchenjunga that held the title.

Of course, there stands no reason to doubt why, when you see its huge flanks rising high above the foothills, surrounded by the many 7000m peaks which complete the majestic view. And still, the view is not all that is alluring to a trekker, but also the trails within the subtropical forest with bamboo, temperate forest bands with ancient oak, luxurious ferns and orchids and of course the sight of the East Ridge of the mighty Kanchenjunga which gets the heart racing. 

Know More Here:

Where is the Goecha La Trek

The trek to Goecha La is the highest mountain pass one can reach in the Sikkim Himalaya, offering the possessing view of the southeast face of mountain Kanchenjunga and is moderately difficult. 

Sikkim is an Indian state adjacent to the Darjeeling hills. Many tourists after visiting Darjeeling, take it upon themselves to visit this neighbour, attempting this scenic trek to experience another paradise on earth. Sikkim lies with Tibet to its North, Bhutan on its east and Tibet on the north.  

The best view comes after the hardest climb!

The Goecha La pass is situated at the elevation of approx. 5000m. This pass is the base camp of many neighbouring mountains as well. The trek to Goecha La begins from the highest motorable road in Sikkim, Yuksom (a town which is located at an altitude of 5670 feet above mean sea level) and passes through the unconquered lands and the towering mountain peaks. 

The Goecha La trek is also known as - Walking in Paradise.

But be warned this trek isn’t for the faint hearted, but with determination, one can conquer the altitude gain of over 10,000 feet. 

The Goecha La trek is rewarded with undefeated views of the East Ridge of Kanchenjunga high above the Talung Glacier and also the high peaks and ridges of the upper Prek Valley. To the north is the more mountainous area, yet unexplored, but the Goecha La pass is the upper limit till which you are permitted to go. 

Due to its high altitude, the pass is mostly covered in mist and cloud, even a short time after sunrise, so it’s necessary to make an early start. The trail runs along the lake, before crossing a sandy section alongside the Onglakhing Glacier from where you can view the pass at the head of the Valley. 

Goechala trek starts from where and ends at
Goecha La - The paradise (source)

The final destination of the Dzongri - Goecha La Trek is at Samiti Lake from which the way to Goecha La brings the best views of the Kanchenjunga. 

Dzongri is located at an altitude of about 4020 m in west Sikkim brings you closer to a close-up of Kanchenjunga and Mt. Pandim. The final destination of the west of Dzongri will bring you to the outline of the Kyangla ridge. Whilst trekking the Dzongri-Goecha La ranges, you will also come across the Kanchenjunga National Park where you can expect to find different species of animals and mammals like the Barking Deer, Himalayan Black Bear, Marbled Cat, Musk Deer, and the very rare and endangered Red Panda.

Understanding the Terrain

Mt. Kangchendzonga, the tallest peak of India, holds one of the greenest zones on the planet. It lies pure and untouched by any human influences, the forests of the National Park preserving the fine ecosystem comprising of numerous species of unusual flora and fauna. 

While the weather remains it’s most dramatic during the pre-monsoon season what with misty clouds everywhere, it remains clear during the winter. The eco-system here has maintained its balance really well, with almost no tree standing without a companion. 

One can see how the giant pine tree supports the ferns that are growing out of stretch of moss on the branches and trunk, coiled by creepers, an army of ants and other insects busy forming their nests and colonies. 

This being the story of one tree, imagine the harmony of such an environment over the multitude of trees in the forest. Its mind boggling to see how these big and small creatures all live in perfect synchronization. 

goechala trek route
Understanding the Terrain - Unusual flora and fauna

This trek will need you to get properly acclimatized as huge altitude is gained in smaller durations. For trekkers, Dzongri and Goecha La are probably the best places to experience the awesome Kanchenjunga face to face at the closest possible distance. 

This Sikkim trek is hence, often referred to as the 'Trek for Kanchenjunga'. The range has more than 15 magnificent peaks that are over 20,000ft high, and the trek offers breathtaking views of not only the third highest peak of the world but others as well such as Pandim, Kabru, Ratong and more. 

At Dzongri, the view is so captivating that when the authorities first saw it they decided to feature it on the Rs.100 note, so when you do get up there, why not keep an eye out for the same view as the Rs 100 note in your pocket! 

Along with the scenic beauty, one can also see the fluttering of many religious flags along the Goecha La pass. The trail takes you through several of the 164 monasteries of Sikkim that so faithfully do their duty to preserve the religious culture of the province amidst an ever changing world.

How to Reach - The Goecha La Route 

The closest railway station of Yuksom is the New Jalpaiguri railway station, which is around 150 km away, should you decide to take the rail route. If you’d like to fly, the nearest airport is the Bagdogra airport, which is around 12 km west of Siliguri and about 170 km from Yuksom.

If you are travelling by road, then the Goecha La trek route is quite adventurous. You can reach Yuksom in 5hrs from Geyzing either by shared or private jeeps. Gangtok (145.9 km), Geyzing (41.2 km), Tashiding (23.3 km) and Pelling (35.9 km) are the other nearest places where you can arrive via buses or jeeps available at Yuksom.

Livingit Tip:
Note to remember, there is a possibility of not getting shared jeeps post 1 PM.

The Best Time for Goecha La Trek

It’s best to take this trek either mid-March to June end or mid- September to mid-November. Until early April, the trail beyond the first view point at Goecha La remains covered with snow, which by June, this part of the trail becomes fully accessible. There are chances that you might find light snow in the high altitude areas even in September or October. 

April and May blooming time is spring time. In the lower elevation spots, blooming begins as early as March, and gradually towards the end of spring the higher altitude also catches up. Rhododendron and Giant Magnolia are two most famous amongst other several wild flower species. 

You can expect a cloudy or a misty atmosphere during spring, though occasionally clear mountain views show up, especially during the early mornings. The summer months of May and June, Yuksom states temperatures between 15 C to 25 C in the day and 8 C to 15 C in the nights, while Dzongri has temperatures between 7 C to 15 C in the day and 3 C to -2 C in the nights. 

The Eastern Himalayas observe a longer monsoon as compared to its western counterpart. Clouds start forming in April and monsoons may arrive as early as mid/late May. Monsoon normally recedes by end of September and occasionally stretches to the first week of October. 

goechala trek blog
July to Sept - Best Time for Goecha La Trek

During the monsoon months of July to Mid-September, its best to avoid trekking since the trails get very slippery and the roads too remain blocked due to the torrential rains. The autumn months of mid-September to end of October show temperatures of 13C to 20C in the day, and 2 C to 7C in the nights at Yuksom, while Dzongri exhibits temperatures of 2C to 7C in the day and 3C to -4C in the night. 

Winters hold strong between the months of October to April. November is particularly known for its crystal clear views of the mountains. From the end of November, it becomes very cold at Dzongri and further up. 

Also being very high altitude the chances of snowfall is high. In the winters too, trekking is often impossible due to the heavy snowfall, foul weather and inaccessible trails. Even the motorable roads remain blocked due to heavy snowfall, and temperatures might hit as low as -20°C and trekking could unnecessarily turn out to be a dangerous activity.

The Basic Itinerary - Goecha La Trek

While the actual route and timing of a trek can vary from person to person and their planning, the basic itinerary will encompass the following: 

  • Drive down from Siliguri to Yuksom
  • Yuksom to Sachen – 10km hike
  • Sachen to Tshoka – 7km hike
  • Tshoka to Dzongri – 10km hike 
  • Hike to Dzongri La Pass – 4417m
  • Dzongri to Thansing – 10km hike 
  • Thansing to Goecha LaPass and back – 14km hike 
  • Thansing to Tshoka – 16km hike 
  • Tshoka to Yuksom – 17km hike 
  • Drive back to Siliguri 
goechala trek route map
Goecha La Trek - A must visit

List of Essentials for the Goencha La Trek 

  • Backpack of minimum 60ltrs with Rain Cover
  • Trekking Shoes/ Gum Boots
  • Full Sleeve shirts/t-shirts and track pants (at least one should be waterproof/windproof)
  • Woollen Socks, Cotton Socks
  • Full Sleeve Sweater
  • Thermal Innerwear
  • A Heavy Down Jacket
  • Waterproof Hand-gloves
  • Scarf, Cap, Woollen Hat
  • Light towel 
  • Sunscreen SPF 40+
  • Water Bottle 1ltr, preferably a thermos 
  • Headlamp/Torch with extra batteries 
  • Personal toilet kit with necessary toiletries
  • U/V protected dark sunglasses
  • Walking Stick /Trekking Pole
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Duffel Bag Down/Synthetic Camp Booties 
  • Daypack 
  • High Energy snacks 
  • I/D Proof and Passport Photograph
  • Light Windcheater
  • Swiss Army Knife – Classic Pocket Tool 
dzongri goechala trek
Essentials for the Goencha La Trek 

Permit Requirements 

The trek requires you to take an Inner Line Permit, an official travel document which is issued by the Government of India. The best time to go for the trek, which takes approximately 11-12 days, is during the months of March, April, May, June, September, and October. 

For Indian Nationals:

A trekking permit is required inside Kanchendzongha National park and the local police verification at Yuksom police outpost. Two recent passport size photos, One personal photo ID card with address proof in it along with photocopies of the same are to be submitted along with a self-declaration at the Yuksom police outpost.

For Foreigners:

Any foreigner -with some relaxation to Nepalese and Bhutanese citizens- will require Inner Line Permit which is recently renamed as Restricted Area Permit (RAP) to enter the boundary of Sikkim. The nationals of Bangladesh, Pakistan, Myanmar, Nigeria and China can apply for ILP/RAP only through the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, New Delhi. Any other foreign nationals can obtain the ILP (RAP)free of cost with the strength of valid Passport and Indian visa at the check points while entering Sikkim.

The Goecha La  Trek - Highlights to look forward to!

Yuksom is a tiny hamlet which was once upon a time, the ancient capital of the Sikkim. It serves as a base camp for many of the trekking trails to Goecha La, Kanchenjunga, and several other mountains. Many of the sacred monasteries and lakes are located in Yuksom such as the Tashiding monastery, Kartok monastery, and Khecheopalri Lake.

Yuksom is officially acknowledged as the "Gateway to Kangchendzongha”.
 
The trek from Yuksom, which is at an elevation of 1,780 meters, follows a gradual climb to Tshoka at 2,743 meters through the dense tropical forest of pine, bamboo, fir, oaks and flowering trees like magnolias and rhododendrons, which is a home to several wildlife and bird species at a different altitude.
 
Tshoka is a small refugee settlement in the Kanchenjunga National Park in the west of Sikkim. It is located at a height of 3000m above the sea level, and offers a peak at the towering snow-capped Mt. Pandim and few others.
 
Dzongri Viewpoint is from where you can see the 360 view of Eastern Himalayan ranges. It is located at a height of 4250m atop a hill, providing a sublime captivity of the entire Himalayan Range. 
 
The Laxmi Pokhari Lake is one of the most sparkling gems on the topography of Sikkim. This incredibly beautiful spectacular lake is located in the West Sikkim district. In addition to this, the region on the fringes of this lake offers excellent panoramas of the Kanchenjunga.
 
Thangsing is a valley layered with abundant pastures, and is situated at an elevation of 3931.92m. Here, you can see many monasteries against the backdrop of the snow-covered mountains of Pandim and Kachenjunga.

goechala trek cost
Highlights of the Trek - Spectacular view of Pandim and Kanchenjunga

Chemathang is located at the base of Mt. Pandim, about 8kms from Thangsing, which takes around hrs of hiking with the walk majorly going through the valley of Onglathang. Throughout these trails, you will witness the spectacular view of Pandim and Kanchenjunga which only grow better as you move closer. 
 
Lamuney and Samiti Lake: Lamuney is the campsite that offers the scenic view of the Lake Samiti. The lake offers crystal blue-green water, and the sight of these waters coupled with the mystique of the surrounding mountainous scenery is a sight to behold. A look around you, and you will be welcomed to a sight of the snow mounts of Pandim, Kanchenjunga, Kabru and others. The colours in the snow seem to keep changing as the sunlight shifts and the clouds pass. This lake is considered holy by the Sikkimese.

Livingit Tip
Camping is no longer permitted in the lake area. 

The Goecha La Pass itself is the ultimate destination for this trekking experience. To get here, there is no more a marked trail available but instead is a steep uphill with rugged terrain through loose rocks. Additionally, there are also some steep descents which you need to carefully navigate. You will soon enough pass through a glacial moraine, which is a large flat area, kind of like a frozen lake covered with snow and surrounded by the gigantic peaks of Kanchenjunga, Kabru, and Pandim.

Past the moraine, you will finally start trekking along the Goecha La pass itself. 
 
This snow covered pass, with its mountain slopes on the sides, looks like skiing fields. Walk along for another 20 minutes, and the prayer flags will come into view, fluttering away in the air, a clear indication of your destination. At this point, the exalted Kanchenjunga couldn’t be any closer. You can see that it is interspersed with many glaciers. 
 
Sometimes you could even chance upon witnessing a mini avalanche in the snow mountains surrounding you, hearing the roar of the huge mass of stones and snow hurtling and stumbling down the steep mountainous slopes. 
 
While not drawing away any attention from the Goecha La Trek, if you have some more time to spare or wish to explore more, and try more challenging routes you could try either Singalila trek which is about 16 days of walk or by adding 3 more days to your schedule and do the Kasturi trek. These two trails not just allow you to explore the mountains but also introduce you to the Sikkimese culture.

Additional Tips and Information NOT to be missed 

  1. The weather in and around Goecha La can be very unpredictable. Often it gets very windy, and in absolutely no time at all, you could be suddenly enveloped by cloud or fog that creeps out of nowhere. You won’t be able to spend much time on the pass due to these weather conditions and will need to head back to your camp. 
  2. As mentioned before this is moderate to a strenuous level of the trek. You need to be physically fit to undertake it. While not necessary to have previous trekking experience it could be of additional advantage to you if you did. 
  3.  Since beyond Dzongri, the air gets lighter and with lesser oxygen, altitude acclimatization is a must. 
goechala trek route map
Goecha La - Mesmerizing!

On Reaching the End  

Few trails of India which are popular both among Indians as well as people over the world and the Goecha La trails dominates among the higher ranks of this list. The trails are a blend of typical Eastern Himalayan moist and almost evergreen forests with truly majestic views of Kanchendzongha and a host of high Sikkim peaks almost looming in.

Since the entire Goecha La trek trail runs inside the Kanchendzongha National Park in West Sikkim, titled a Heritage Site by UNESCO, Dzongri Goecha La trek is one you will fall in love with. Trekking beyond the meadows of Dzongri is the raw adventure at its best, where you are taken into the arms of the towering mountain peaks amidst high mountain glaciers and rumbling avalanches. 

Well, while the trails always do come to an end, the Goecha La Trek makes you reflect that there will always be one more step to come closer, there will always be one more step to climb higher, and it’s never really the end. It’s put across very well as -

                           The top of one mountain is always the bottom of another.

                                      – Marianne Williamson
 

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