Day 3 (Yuksom – Tshoka):
Our mountain guide, Nima knocked on our room doors at 730am. After introducing himself, he placed a welcome scarf (khata) around our necks. He told us that everything including the pack animals were ready and we could start our hike immediately after breakfast. We were impressed by his efficiency. After our breakfast (omelette, toast and oatmeal) provided by the hotel, we boarded a jeep to the Sikkim Park Office for mandatory paperwork which was settled by our guide. The trail head was just beside the Park Office, but we only started the trek proper at approximately 930am.
Our Trek Entourage
Our entourage consisted of one mountain guide (Nima Sherpa), two porters (Tashi Sherpa and Dharma Singh ), one master cook, two cooking assistants, one yak man, one horseman, 4 dzos (a hybrid of yak and cow) and 4 horses. Our large entourage made us feel like we were Glamping, rather than a typical rough- it- out hike with the bare essentials. The guide and his helpers were all ethnic Nepalis and they conversed with each other in Nepali language.
We covered a hefty 16km on the first day of our trek, ascending from Yuksom (~1,700m) to Tshoka (~2,900m) in approximately 7 hrs (including rest-time and lunch break). The route was the toughest and the longest, as compared to the other days, as it involved plenty of uphill climbs and walking on uneven rocky paths which took up a lot of our energy. As the trail was still at relatively low altitude, we started to sweat profusely after a few mins of walking and had to start removing our pre-worn layers. (Advice: For trekking on the first day, wearing a pair of shorts, t-shirt and windbreaker will be sufficient. Cold wear is not needed at all.)
The first part of the trail ran parallel to the Rathong River and winded through the dense semi-tropical forests. For the first 3 hrs, the trail was highly undulating with a gentle rise in altitude. Shortly beyond the confluence of the Rathong and Prek Chu rivers, the trail then descended steeply onto a suspension bridge. We crossed the Prek Chu river via the suspension bridge and stopped for lunch nearby. While resting, we watched our cook knead the dough fastidiously to make naan. Lunch consisted of noodle soup, masala vegetables, cauliflower with mayonnaise, fried potatoes and naans. After the bridge crossing, we had to endure a steep ascend for nearly two hours straight to reach Bakhim (~2,700m). There was a tea/snack stall in Bakhim, a couple of trekkers’ huts and a view that provided plenty of photo-taking opportunities. From Bakhim, it was another hour’s worth of steep climb before reaching our destination for the day- Tshoka.
Tshoka was located on a plateau with some huts and wooden cabins for trekkers. There was a flat campground to the left of the trekkers’ cabins, and a cafe located slightly uphill, serving the locally brewed millet beer and momos. At the edge of the plateau was a small Tibetan monastery with a pond.
We reached Tshoka at around 430pm and waited for 45 mins before the pack animals arrived with our baggage, food and tents (for the other days, the animals actually arrived at the destinations before us). Our porters set up our tents (sleeping, kitchen, dining and toilet) on the campground and we did what we could to freshen up (using plenty of wet wipes and powder) while waiting for dinner to be served. Dinner was served at 7 pm in a dining tent with plastic table and foldable chairs. Dinner was plentiful with salad, soup, fried long beans, stewed vegetables, curry chicken, dal, and rice followed by dessert. The temperature for that night was about 8 Degrees Celsius
Day 4 (Tshoka – Dzongri):
We woke up at about 630 am with stunning views of the snow- clad Mount Pandim (6,691m) and Tenzingkhan (named after Tenzing Norgay). As part of the wake-up call, a choice of tea, coffee or hot chocolate, followed by a basin of warm washing water were served to our tent every morning. We had a nutritious breakfast of omelet, toast, oatmeal and cereal with milk. While we were having breakfast, the rest of our trekking entourage were busy dismantling the tents, rolling up the sleeping bags and getting ready for today’s trek. We started the trek at about 9am.
The trek from Tsokha to Dzongri (~3,900m) spanned a distance of 9 km and it took us about 5 hrs to complete. The trek started off with a steep climb for the initial 30 mins and then evened out to a relatively gentle slope on wooden planks for the next 2 hrs. The wooden path eventually led us out to a large clearing called Phedang (~3,600m) where the peaks of Pandim, Narsingh and Joponu were clearly visible. We rested for lunch and were served with salad, soup noodles, penne pasta, stirred fried sausages, baked potatoes and rice. After lunch, we ascended uphill for another hour to reach a small clearing with multitude of prayer flags. It was a place called Deorali (~3,980m), the highest point of the day’s trek. After a short rest in Deorali, we continued on for another 30 mins to reach Dzongri, at about 2 pm in the afternoon.
We saw many Rhododendron shrubs along the trail. As it was autumn, we did not manage to see any of their magnificent flowers (they bloom only during spring). Otherwise, this stretch of the trail would definitely be the highlight. We were, however, surrounded by the fragrant smell originating from the trees.
Dzongri was a meadow surrounded by hills and mountains on all sides. There was a trekkers’ hut, two mini shops selling drinks, snacks, beanies, batteries etc and a huge campground. Our porters set up our tents and we waited passively inside our warmer tents for the day to pass. There was nothing much to do at the campground except to read books, play cards, do our body maintenance routine, shit or sleep.
Dzongri was where we started to feel cold. The night’s temperature was below 5 Degrees Celsius. We had an early night after dinner as we had to wake up early the next morning to climb up to the top of Dzongri to watch the sunrise.