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A Kanchenjunga Christmas
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As the glow of Kanchenjunga
When the whistle of the Toy Train
In My heart I still shall cherish
- Jan Morris 1996
At the far end of the Himalaya from our summer trekking routes in Ladakh lies Sikkim, a former independent kingdom which has only been part of India since 1975. Sandwiched between Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan, its history and people, like all the Himalayan Kingdoms we visit, has a variety of cultures and ethnic groups which are a result of its position on both trade and pilgrimage routes.
This short but splendid trek takes us to the 5000m high Goecha la pass for the incredible sunrise views of Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world; en route we trek through dense forest to pristine campsites in high pastures with stunning mountain views.
Kanchenjunga was the first of the 8000m giants to become familiar to the British, sunrise on the peak being an obligatory part of any visit to Darjeeling, one of the hill stations the homesick Brits established to escape the heat of the plains, and to have a 'real Christmas' with snow and holly.
We have Christmas while on this lovely trek, followed by new year at the wonderful Raj era Windamere Hotel in Darjeeling that has hosted many of our trekkers.
The Goeche La - Joel
The Dzo in the snow, the glowing crimson Himalaya, the
Nutella, the spoon, comparing Patagucci gear, the camaraderie, the
Thanks so much, for helping put together another fabulous trek.
John S, Sikkim Kanchenjunga 2007
Fitness and trekking experience
We are asked many questions about fitness levels for the treks and our guidelines are basically that you should be healthy, active, adventurous and spend time in the outdoors. Past trekking experience isn't necessary, although it will help you understand what a 'trek' involves. The most important factor for enjoying the trek is a positive attitude, and a sense of humor.
Winter trek conditions
Snow can come on this route at any time in November/December, but the really heavy snow is normally early in the year. You do have to be prepared then, for some walking in cold and snowy conditions; we are prepared for the cold with a heated dining tent, four season member tents and thick mattresses - you must be sure to have winter walking boots, gaiters, water and windproof pants, and of course a four season sleeping bag and good down jacket.
Note that the trekking itinerary and campsites may vary slightly depending on trail and weather conditions and the various trekkers' acclimatization rate.
Day 1 - Arrive Delhi
Joel will be on hand at the airport to meet you, look out for the sign with your name on. We drive to central Delhi and the beautiful Imperial hotel established in 1936 as Delhi's premier hotel. It really is a very special place, with beautiful grounds and wonderful restaurants. Over dinner in the 1911 bar we talk over our adventure.
Day 2 - Fly to Bagdogra and drive to Kalimpong
Our flight this morning heads north and then turns to fly parallel with the Himalayan barrier. Nanda Devi, Annapurna, Everest and Makalu are among the peaks we see. After 90 minutes in the air, we touch down in the cooler air of Bagdogra, where we have an early lunch and take a five hour drive - in easy stages - to our hotel in Kalimpong, the legendary Himalayan Hotel, founded by one of the early Sikkim trade agents, David Macdonald, and still run by his descendants.
Day 3 - Drive Yuksam 1770m
We drive in easy stages through the beautiful forested countryside of Sikkim, arriving at our Swiss alpine style hotel at Yuksam, the site of the Kanchenjunga park headquarters and the road head. Here we meet our crew, and after dinner an early night; breakfast at six!
Day 4 - Trek Bakhim camp 2900m
Time to get the kinks out after all that sitting in planes and jeeps! Our trail leads through dense, and normally misty forest and Rhododendron. The trail winds up for three hours before crossing the Prek Chu to begin what the locals call the real climb, another three to the small campsite at Bakhim an hour below the Lepcha settlement of Tshoka. Here we settle in to our gas lit and warmed dining tent, and you are introduced to your home for the next week, your comfy personal tent.
Day 5- Trek Phodung 3550m
Another climb, on the log built trail the forestry department have put in to beat the summer mud on the trail. An hour takes us to Tshoka, where we have time to visit the tiny 500 year old monastery, before the real climb, five hours in what is almost always misty and chilly forest - Joel will be reminding you to keep those layers handy as it gets cold; we must avoid catching a chill!
Day 6 - Trek Thangshing 3800m
We are only walking six hours today, but on a trail that can be muddy and exposed, so care is needed. two hours in, if the weather is clear we get our first views of Kanchenjunga from the hillside we are contouring around. We lunch at the open meadows around Goechang, and should be in the high pastures of Thangshing by early afternoon. Christmas eve, and as always on our Christmas treks, some surprises in store!
Day 7 - Acclimatization trek
This is a day to get our bodies used to the higher elevations we are heading to soon, we contour slowly up and away from camp through forests of moss draped rhododendrons. An hour out we see Kanchenjunga, easily identified by the silvery grey summit pyramid. As we climb higher the peaks of Nar Singh and Pandim come closer, and eventually we reach a high point of 4300m with stunning views, looping up valley to ground we will be covering tomorrow, and back to camp for afternoon tea.
Day 8 - Trek Lamoni 4100m
Today is an easy walk, just four hours, after an hour with the Kanchenjunga massif revealed, across open hillsides with juniper and heather scenting the air. The views get ever more spectacular as we approach the old moraines and glacial rubble, and we arrive and make camp by the old herders hut at Lamoni for lunch. After lunch relax and take in the views, or take a walk up valley to the beautiful Samiti Lake.
Day 9 - Trek Goecha La and Thangshing 3800m
3.30 in the morning is the time, with those extra layers, gloves, and head torch laid out ready the night before. Hot drinks, then we move. We follow the flickering torches of those ahead, gently rising at first and then steeply up glacial rubble. After two hours we see the big peaks, after three a viewpoint a lot of trekkers - but not us - seem happy with, from where we see the first light catching the peaks. Steeply down across the bed of what was once a lake, then up along a ridge, and there is the pass with the full mass of Kanchenjunga behind. And here we have time to take it in...snacks, hot drinks, and of course, cameras. Sinochuli, Kabru dome, this viewpoint is one of the best in the Himalaya. When we do leave, another lovely surprise, as we passed in the dark through some of the loveliest high pastures in the Himalaya...and now we see them with their sublime backdrop. By noon we are at Samiti lake, and an hour later, still high on all the beauty, a huge meal at Lamoni before heading down to Thangshing.
Day 10 - Trek Tshoka 2900m
The same route down, but altitude fit now, contouring around hillsides and walking on air after our high points. By Late afternoon we are back at Tshoka, unbelievable that we have packed so much into just one week...
Day 11- Trek Yuksam
Down! over 1000m of it, through forest, the temperature rising as we descend...by three we are back at our hotel, hot showers and cold beers, and a special goodbye for our crew.
Day 12 - Spare Trek Day
If we acclimatise well we will use this day for an outing to Dzongri top and more incredible views.
Day 13 - Drive Darjeeling & Windamere Hotel
A beautiful drive through tea plantations and forest against a stunning Himalayan backdrop. We aim to be at the Windamere by lunchtime on new years eve, as all meals are included in this wonderful place and the food is superb. Established as a boarding house for bachelor tea planters in the 19th century, it was converted into a hotel just before world war two. It sits above the mall on observatory hill, and we first stayed there after our winter trek in 2007...a mixed group of Brits, Canadian and American, our trekkers all had the same opinion; it made for a wonderful finish to a wonderful trek...so we celebrate new year in true style!
Day 14 - Drive Bagdogra and fly Delhi
A last lingering breakfast, then a lovely drive through tea plantations to the warm plains, Bagdogra and our flight to Delhi. Farewell for now!