Goecha La Trek: Surreal Beauty of Sikkim, In Pictures

Friday, July 11, 2014


Goecha La is a high altitude trek in West Sikkim famous for grand views of Mt Kanchenjunga. Over a week, we climbed to 5000m and were suitably rewarded with surreal views. Here's a quick story of what happened and what we saw, in pictures!

Note : The beautiful zoomed in pictures of the mountains was possible only because of the super steady Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM lens I rented from Tapprs - A Bangalore Based Photography Gear Rental Company. It was really really hard to stay still in that cold! :)


Sikkim, Goecha La Trek
I'm not going to make you wait to show you what the trek was all about! Here's a grand view of the 8586m high mammoth of a mountain, the mighty Kanchenjunga, third highest mountain in the whole world. We trudged up to a height of 5000m, walked for a whole week, in the night, in the morning, in the evening for this. For this view, we hiked from 1AM till 3PM the next day, worth it? Totally!


Sikkim, Goecha La Trek
Sikkim is famous for two things, unobstructed view of Mt. Kanchenjunga and the stunning rhododendron bloom that paints the landscape in all shades in April/May. We didn't miss the glory, we saw flowers of all colors - pink, yellow, red, white! This was on the second day of the trek, we gained a height of whopping 5000ft in a single day. It was crazy as hell. 

Sikkim, Goecha La Trek
The treks starts from Yuksom in West Sikkim. The first day we entered Kanchenjunga National Park and walked through dense forests with nasty little flying insects and abundant yaks for company.  We started from Yuksom and camped at Bakhim(9000ft) for the night. 

Sikkim, Goecha La Trek
The next day was a long day. We started from Bakhim towards Dzongri at 14000ft high. The climb was long and endless but this view at the Devrali Top made up for it. For the first time, we saw the clouds clear up to show the mountains hiding behind them. It was a glorious day, two things Sikkim's known for were right in front of us - the mountains and the flowers.

Sikkim, Goecha La Trek
The third morning, we woke up at the ungodly hour of 3AM and climbed to up to a sunrise point, Dzongri Top at 15000ft. Because sunrise happens here at 4.30AM. It was so damn cold that it was impossible to stand still, we had to keep moving to generate body warmth. Taking pictures was next to impossible for me as I tend to get very cold very easily. But having a good lens helped! Early morning glory shining on the mountain tops. This looks like Mt. Kabru but need confirmation.

Sikkim, Goecha La Trek
Same morning, same place, another view. Turning back from Dzongri Top I saw clouds fill up the valleys, ready to leave. 

Sikkim, Goecha La Trek
On the fourth day, we marched towards Lamuney, the camp before Goecha La. The terrain was flat, felt like high altitude with little vegetation and stark landscapes. We walked on the pleasant terrain for a while before the altitude dropped like crazy. We went down to Kokhchurung all the way down to the river and walked up again to our campsite. From 14500ft we lost the altitude just like that. 

Sikkim, Goecha La Trek
So it turned out the campsite at Lamuney was full, so we stopped at Thansing. But the catch was on the summit day, we'll have to cover that extra distance and climb to the pass and walk back extra to reach back to Thansing. So we did, woke up at 1AM and climbed and climbed and climbed and climbed. It was a long climb to 5000m/16000ft and back! But we did it, for the sake of mountains. Seen here is Mt. Pandim glowing in the moonlight. 

Sikkim, Goecha La Trek
We reached Goecha La View Point 1 by sunrise time, it was a very difficult climb for me considering I hadn't exercised at all in 2 years but I made it. Barely so, but I reached. We got a small glimpse of might Kanchenjunga, the same picture you saw at the beginning of the post. But then we proceeded towards Goecha La View Point ahead for a close up view of Kanchenjunga. That was the longest hike ever, at least if felt like that. We crossed a desert, a barren rocky field and a huge mountain slope covered in scree. Only I know how I crawled through the landscape, and thanks to few other friends who were equally tired but wanted to reach the viewpoint2, I managed to reach the second viewpoint. But what a disappointment because Kanchenjunga was right in front of us, completely shrouded in clouds! No view, zilch! But the silver lining was this gorgeous glacial lake, Goecha Lake. 

Sikkim, Goecha La Trek
This is the view of Kanchenjunga from Dzongri Top, since we didn't see anything from Goecha La View point 2, I'm showing you this. :) My friends went ahead on another hour long hike to the original Goecha La while me and a friend embarked on the impossibly long hike back to campsite.

Sikkim, Goecha La Trek
The hike back to the campsite, Thansing was so long it felt like an eternity. We we were so spent with the climb up that walking back felt impossible. We slept on the desert, stopped by the moraines, sat by the lake side and yet the campsite was nowhere near. We walked all afternoon and finally reached 14 hours after we started. 

Sikkim, Goecha La Trek
The sparkling blue Samiti Lake just below Goecha La Viewpoint 1. The sun sparkled for few minutes to reveal its colors. It was cloudy for most of the trek, I didn't see blue skies, gorgeous sunsets or glorious mornings. It was cold and cloudy all the time but at least we got view of Kanchenjunga when it mattered!

Sikkim, Goecha La Trek
The surreal landscape of high altitudes in Sikkim. The land was barren but stubborn vegetation dotted the landscape.  A clear water stream ran through the valley and somewhere between this is Lamuney campsite. We walked past it to the next campsite. 

Sikkim, Goecha La Trek
On the fifth day, we were back to greenery. We walked along the river for a long time before entering dense forest where no yak has littered the path. It was extremely long again, but beautiful nonetheless. Our guide, Basant enjoying the view or rather waiting for the laggard, me! ;)

Sikkim, Goecha La Trek
Yaks are used as the pack animals in Sikkim. And the thing with yaks is they carry little, are quite stubborn and they shit a lot! So you can imagine the trail with the rains, slush and abundant yak shit. The trail was the dirtiest I've ever walked upon and I wondered at my own decision of hiking with yaks. Sometime in future I'd like to do away with pack animals and hike alpine style. But for now, I had to live with the guilt. This trail from Kokhchurung to Dzongri however was only for hikers, yaks go through another route. This day was again very long but also extremely beautiful. We climbed through narrow trails amidst dense misty forest and full of rhododendron bloom. The next day, another long walk later we were back in Yuksom.

Goecha La is a trek unlike any other I have been on so far. It is undoubtedly the most beautiful in terms of views but the route is a little bit tricky. You climb almost every day, even when you are returning back. But there are trekkers huts everywhere making the trek a little but comfortable. The views were worth the effort however, Sikkim is very very beautiful. I was convinced of this again. 

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34 comments

  1. Wow. I loved the post. This is surreal; takes me back to my time in Sikkim.

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    1. Ha ha, I know what you mean. Sikkim has that effect on you! ;)

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  2. Stunning pictures! And what a trek!

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  3. Awesome write up and pics :). The last pic reminded me of Kumara Parvatha :)

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    1. He he, we always carry a piece of home in our hearts! No wonder you see KP! ;)

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  4. Hi Neelima .. Great story there and lovely pictures! A question: What exactly is the trail like on this trek? Is it clearly marked or is it confusing with many twists and turns and non-trail-like patches?

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    1. The trail is very well marked, right up till the end. Unless you are doing the trek in late Oct/Nov when the higher parts are snowbound. Otherwise very easy to trek by yourself if you are used to this kind of adventures.

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  5. Fantastic it is :)
    Did you go on your own? Or with some trek company?

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    1. A couple of us friends organized it ourselves. We hired a local guide from Yuksom, small team.

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  6. Thanks god one place in India is still like it was when I visited it decades ago. Sikkim is still pristine and I hope it remains like that..... Great pictures...

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    1. I am sure the place has changed loads Prasad since your visit decades ago, I found some pristine corners because we were on a trek but the crowd was there even there. It's unfortunate but no place in India can truly remain pristine. :(

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  7. Absolutely stunning pictures… I still get over the beauty that you witnessed. Now I have to do this trek!

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    1. Thanks Chaitali, Goecha La is one of the most popular treks for exactly this reason. Lots of amazing views!

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  8. Nice pics! What is a good time to trek here?

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  9. What I think of Sikkim??? After reading your post... Its heaven!!! I always think of the physical and mental strength one need to do such trek in result to experience the beauty you experienced... then I really admire you!!!

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    1. Thanks Shilpa, it's both fortunate and unfortunate that beautiful places with beautiful views require a physical effort. But I think that's best suited for the Indian temperament where we seem to spoil everything we touch. I had a very tough time on this trek, struggled a lot due to lack of physical preparation but sometimes mental strength can take you places too. :)

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  10. These are absolutely fantastic Neelima! Love them all :) I hope you never make the choice and continue to both take great pics and write great stories :)

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  11. Stunning pictures. Have never gone beyond Yuksom and after seeing your pictures, I am wondering why I have not so far. And I am J that you got to see the rhododendrons in full bloom. Whenever I go, I always seem to get the timing wrong.

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    1. It was a very lucky and wonderful coincidence, knew it was rhododendron season but didn't expect it to be this beautiful! You must go back to do the trek. :)

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  12. Heavenly captures, Neelima! This trek looks so tempting for the landscapes.

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    1. Thanks Niranjan, it is one of most beautiful treks I've been on so far.

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  13. Beautiful post Neelima (as always). You should write a blog on photography tips. I love your pictures, they are so beautiful and natural. Sikkim is an amazing place, I have been to Goecha La and it is a beautiful place. Thank you for sharing this experience with us.

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    1. Thanks Ayushi, I will think about it. I would love to write more about photography at some point in future.

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  14. Amazingly amazing. The place, the pictures and the post!

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  15. Hi Neelima, great post. Is this trek suitable for beginners you think? I have been to high altitudes - Tibet etc - but don't have a lot of experience trekking in thee conditions. Am of reasonable fitness - have done some day hikes with no issues but never a one week+ trek. Thanks!

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  16. Awesome write up! And yes Sikkim is beautiful! I am going to Goechala trek in April! This is really helpful!

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