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A sight for sore eyes

Debjeet Kundu | New Delhi |

This is an ccount of a seven-day trek to Goechala in West Sikkim to catch a glimpse of the wondrous Kanchenjunga.

29 March,Yuksom

Altitude: 1,780 metres (5,840 feet) It’s been a couple of hours since we have reached Yuksom from Gangtok after a six-hour drive.We have had our fill of the last ordered lunch that we’ll have access to over the next few days. We are to embark on the famed Goechala trek tomorrow morning.

30 March,Yuksom

Suncheman, the 21-year-old sherpa will guide us for the next seven days. And after a heavy breakfast we set out for the 16-kilometre trek to Tshoka through the gorgeous Kachenjunga National Park.

There are four bridges on this route and each is a resting point. These are also places for refilling one’s water botttle. Food is always limited — whatever is available is usually vegetarian and heavy on carbohydrates. Through mist and sweat, ready-to-bloom rhododendrons and rocky uphill paths, we reached Tshoka at 4:30 pm. Hungry, tired, drenched… we walked into the near-ghostly town. We climbed almost 1,500 metres (over 4,900 feet) today and deserved something hot.

We have already left electricity far behind. We made our last respective calls as we’ll leave the world of telecommunication too after this point.

31 March, Tshoka

Today we head for Dzongri, our next base at 4,050 metres (13,287 feet). And though it’s a nine km trek, the steep altitude gain will test us. But thankfully, we are to acclimatise in Dzongri for two nights and so the motivation is that a day’s rest awaits us if we could see through this climb of around 400 metres.

1 April, Dzongri

It was the first really cold night of the trek. The temperature was sub-zero, and we had to spend the whole of last evening in the kitchen — that’s where the only source of heat was.

Ankur, Richi and Rishi — the gang — are yet to wake up. I sneak out of the log hut to find a clear sky. The Dzongri Top or Dablhaghang is at 4,171 metres. I ran to the log hut to wake up others and bolted out with my camera for the 150 metres climb to the top.

By the time I reached Dablhaghang it was almost seven. The Golden Sunrise wasn’t there anymore, but what I got was no less. From the Kabur (or the Black Kabru) on the left to Mt Pandim on the right and Kanchenjunga peeping from behind all of that at a distance — it was a sight to behold.The sight was also a curtain raiser. If we made it to Goechala, the scale would be 10 times of what we saw!

2 April, Dzongri

Yesterday was spent lazing in the kitchen and eating dried beef with Sikkim Honeybee Brandy. Today we head for Thansingat around 3,800 metres, which means we have to descend from the height we have already gained.

This route will be covered in colours in another three to four weeks — with orchids and rhododendrons. The bloom is there only for a short period of time but those two to three weeks will transform these hills into paradise.

We reached Thansing at around 2 pm and were greeted with a hot lunch. But, a light one as dinner will be served at 5 pm and we are to sleep by 6 pm. Yes, 6 pm! That’s because our wake-up alarm will be at 1 am. Tomorrow is our Goechala climb and we start from Thansing at 2 in the morning!

3 April, Thansing

It was pitch dark outside. Nothing outside the purview of our torch’s light was visible as we walked close to each other over ice cold and semi-frozen streams and rocky trails. As the darkness gave way to the first hint of morning light, we reached Samiti Lake. It was 5.30 am. But the clouds showed no signs of giving way. We decided to sit near the still waters of Samiti for some time as Suncheman blew the conch shell, rang the bell and said his final prayers before the last climb. At 6 am, we got up and moved for the final push to the GP1 summit at 4,600 metres. The air had become considerably thin and every hurried move was telling me that. Just below the summit is a narrow passage of extremely loose rocks. On one side is a drop of around 400-500 metres while other is studded with huge boulders. I could see a frozen lake below and the cracks on its icy sheet made by falling rocks. One final push, and there I was at 4,600 metres. I had made it, finally!

Altitude: 4,604 metres (15,105 feet)

We were standing inside a blanket of clouds. We could hear the fearsome rumble of avalanches falling, but couldn’t see anything. We were ecstatic to have reached this far but one was apprehensive if it all would not be futile.

Suncheman, at around 8 am, hinted that sitting there would reap us nothing. But we still weren’t ready to accept that this would be the end of the story. At around 8.45 am, when Suncheman insisted that we should now turn back, Richi was struck by madness. We could see the base of Mt Pandim on our right, and the least he wanted was to make a dash and touch it, at least. He was desperate and just started for it. Suncheman, being the Sherpa, of course had to run behind him. The duo had barely crossed 300 metres, when suddenly the light brightened up from just behind Pandim. It was very difficult to look at the direction of the sun in the mountains but we could still figure out a rocky silhouette as we craned our necks to its last hilt. “Oh, my god! Do you see it?” I shouted. Ankur hadn’t fathomed until then that we were standing right under a 7,000 plus peak with its massive glacier face right above our heads! His mouth was agape. He saw it too! The next 10 minutes could be simply summed up as the greatest miracle of our lives. Words fail me.

The place seemed to have been waiting for some invisible nature’s clock up until then. And as soon as the stage bell was rung, the curtains started going up. First the massive Mt Pandim towered over us from the right. Almost simultaneously, the South Kabru and the Mt Kabru Dome made their appearances. The floodgates were opened for the winds to blow and it kept sweeping the clouds even as the North Kabru and Forked Peak was revealed.

And then, just as the King takes his seat after the other members of the durbar have lined up, the Kanchenjunga appeared. It was the greatest sight our eyes had ever witnessed.