Trekking in Sikkim

'I believe any trip in search of wildlife can be coupled with physical activity and elements of cultural diversity to form a thrilling opportunity '
John H.Eickert

28,169! Kangchendzonga is the third highest mountain on earth. Kangchendzonga is in the Indian province of Sikkim along the western border with Nepal. Of all the base camps for the earth’s highest mountains, the trek to Kangchendzonga is the shortest and most spectacular. The name Sikkim can be translated different ways, the Lepchas called it Nye-mae-el or ‘Paradise’, the Bhutias named it Beymul Denjong or ‘Hidden Valley of Rice’, and the Tsong name Su-khim means ‘Happy House.’ I hope the aspiring trekker understands the basic concept. No matter the name or meaning, this trek is a startling contrast of abundant orchids, ancient monasteries, feisty roosters, and shimmering glaciers. Indeed, in the province of Sikkim are over 660 varieties of orchid, some found at elevations exceeding 10,500 feet.

The trek into Kangchendzonga National Park begins in Yuksom and should take 8-9 days. The journey ascends through forests and orchids on a good trail. The trail leaves the rhododendron forest above Dzongri on the second day. Here, the forests give way to yak pasture and the nomadic herders who tend them. I will never forget passing through the small village of Thangshing. While walking through, I was escorted by a feisty little rooster with black feathers, orange throat feathers, and a vibrant red comb. He followed along pecking at my heels and crowed from a short stonewall as we continued up the trail. Upon our return through the village, he seemingly waited for us and repeated the performance. I had hoped to spot some blue sheep in the high pastures along the trails; instead, there was this hilarious encounter with the feisty rooster. The turn around point on this trek is a pass, Gocha La, and one of the most spectacular mountain views in the Himal. The entire eastern face of Kangchendzonga is close enough to be felt as you stand at the pass amidst low pungent juniper trees.

The trek from rice fields to yak pastures is short and at times steep, but very doable. Treks can be arranged in Gangtok and are self-contained. This is the finest trek in all the Himal for the adventurer on a tight time budget. Be sure and use five full days for the approach to help with rapid acclimatization. It is important to be in good health for this magnificent trek. Because of the diversity in terrain on this adventure, there is a corresponding diversity in wildlife. In the lower fields and forests, there is an abundance of birds and butterflies. Higher and farther, the stark alpine landscape holds fewer species making sights, sounds, and smells of the return trek even more dramatic. Recently, I have had many would be adventurer ask me about SARS. As always, it is important to take precautions and not to court risk, but do not let your fears dictate your plans. Also important is to take the time and go this year; there is no reason to wait. Take the time and then take your time!


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