The treks to the Eastern Himalayas of Sikkim are notable for their views of snow-capped peaks, glacial passes and lakes, subtropical climate, and biodiversity. The trekking trail to Goechala is one such popular route amongst seasoned trekkers.
The Goechala Trek height is over 4572 meters. You pass through the thick mountainous vegetation to the rough, uneven terrain embracing the freezing cold air at such great heights. One of the high points of this trail is the Kanchenjunga National Park. The walk through the Kanchenjunga National Park is characterized by the picturesque sunrises on the mountain range, scenic glades, alpine lake, and a multitude of flowering trees that abound the mountainous forests.
Unlike the other popular treks to the Eastern Himalayas, the Goechala trek is not an easy one. Experts have classified this as a challenging trek, so trekkers have to be ready to face any challenges and eventualities.
The trek to Goechala takes around ten days, starting from Yuksom (1780 meters), and the trail covers a distance of 65.7 km back to the starting point. It takes longer to reach the actual Goechala Pass but currently, trekking beyond ViewPoint 1 is not permitted.
The original trek continues onward to the Goechala Lake, termed as ViewPoint 2, going up to the Goechala Pass at ViewPoint 3. These are located at an even higher altitude of 4907 meters. But due to some sightings of the wild snow leopard around ViewPoint 2, the trek was contained till ViewPoint 1 from the spring of 2017.
You will be closest to the third highest peak of the world, Mt. Kanchenjunga (8586 meters), from ViewPoint 1. The trekking trail to Goechala is often compared to the highest treks of Nepal in terms of difficulty level and challenges involved.
Here is a list of highlights that the trek to Goechala has to offer:
Experience breathtaking views on the trek:
From Viewpoint 1 and Dzongri Top, the sunrise on the Kanchenjunga range is always an enchanting sight. The massif starts changing colors from when the first ray of the sun hits. As the sky erupts in the clear morning light, the panoramic view of the peaks becomes an ideal photographic subject.
The scene around will change drastically as one proceeds through the trekking days. On the trail to Dzongri Top (4250 meters), the hike will start through the canopy of rhododendron and pine trees with a view of the lush green meadows at the foothills. Even at an altitude of 3657 meters, you will be walking through thick vegetation here, which usually tapers off at around 3045 meters in other parts of the Eastern Himalayas. Then you will suddenly encounter an entirely barren and rough terrain from Phedang for the rest of the way.
In another part of the trek, the Prekchu river that is distantly seen flowing through the valleys and gorges will suddenly be at the side of the trail. There are three wooden suspension bridges on the way - Pha Khola, Tshushey Khola, and Mentogang Khola - out of which the last one offers an exciting view of the Prekchu river rippling down the narrow valley between the mountains.
Besides Kanchenjunga, peaks like Mt. Kabru (7412 meters), Mt. Pandim (6691 meters), Mt. Kokthang (6147 meters), and Mt. Narsing (5806 meters) can be seen from here.
Beautiful stops on the way:
On a trail slightly off the campsite of Tsokha sits a monastery that can be visited after setting up your camps.
The Thangsing campsite is located at the base of Mt. Pandim. An extension of the Prekchu riverbed, this location is ideal for sitting and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere around you while marveling at the massive natural structures with reverence.
The crystal clear aqua colors of the Samiti Lake reflecting the mountaintops surrounding it is a splendid sight. Unfortunately, camping for the night is no longer allowed here.
Rare species of flora and fauna:
A hotspot of the Himalayan biodiversity, you can glimpse rare mountainous species of flora and fauna inside the Kanchenjunga Biosphere Reserve in spring. Spring is ideally the Goechala Trek best time. For wildlife photographers, avid bird-watchers, and enthusiasts, this is a rewarding experience. You will spot bulbul, woodpecker, barbet, sunbird, thrush, fulvetta, magpie, wren babbler, finches, accentors, and grandala among the numerous bird species here during spring. The State Bird of Sikkim- the blood pheasant, may also be spotted easily. Red pandas are very rarely seen in this region. Other mountainous animals like yellow-throated marten, mountain weasel, pika, and Himalayan blue sheep, also called Bharal, can be spotted.
Approximate cost for the trek and acquisition of permits:
The state of Sikkim requires the issuing of tourist permits to allow trekkers to access this region. When estimating the Goechala Trek cost, one must consider that the fees for these permits are different for Indians and foreign nationals. If you are a student, carry your institution ID card to apply for student concessions.
The Goechala Trek cost is approximately USD 202 to 242 (INR 15000 to 18000) per person for a trekking package from Yuksom. If a group of 8-10 trekkers is already formed beforehand, the package can also be worked out at USD 161 (INR 12000) per person.
Sikkim has also made it necessary for Indian tourists to take an authorized Goechala Trek guide from Yuksom. This will cost around USD 9 to 11 (INR 600 to 800). Porters are also available here at similar rates if needed.
Apart from these, the Sikkim government has also introduced the Sikkim Travel Card, a compulsory online card for all travelers to the state. This has been done to maintain safety protocols according to the COVID-19 guidelines. The details entered in the online form for this card keep track of the tourists' health and their duration of stay in Sikkim. It is instantly available free of cost from the Sikkim Government website. This travel card needs to be updated every day online, which is usually done by the hotel or tour operator on the visitor's behalf.
The Goechala Trek difficulty is ranked as difficult by expert trekkers for its long trekking days and quick ascent. It is pretty demanding and requires the trekkers to be physically fit and have high endurance. It should be undertaken only by trekkers who already have some experience in high-altitude trekking.
The blooming rhododendrons and the rare species of birds are the attractions of the months of spring, March, and April. The temperatures are optimum and range between 15°C to -3°C during this time, making this season the Goechala Trek best time. However, there is the scare of occasional bursts of rainfall and the sky becoming hazy with clouds.
In autumn, from late September to early November, the weather gets colder quickly, and the temperature can drop to -5°C to -10°C. You can experience a clear blue sky during the day in autumn, ideal for photography.
One of the crucial things to keep in mind about a mountain trek is to pack light. Heavy luggage can be quite inconvenient to carry all by yourself.
A list of necessary gear can be found here:
Mandatory Clothing Items and Footwear:
Polyester full-sleeve t-shirts along with joggers or track pants are quick to dry and take up less space. 2-3 sets of these can be packed for the daytime treks with a windcheater at hand. Wearing thermal inners will help to keep the body warm. One or two jackets should be carried along with fleece sweaters to layer up when it gets colder. Padded puffer jackets are ideal for keeping the cold out.
Woolen ski-caps or a beanie paired with a muffler can protect your entire head and face from the biting cold. Thick, woolen gloves and socks should be carried along with some extra pairs. Spare sets of underwear will also be required.
Rainfall in mountainous regions is difficult to predict. So a trekker should be prepared for it with an umbrella, a waterproof raincoat with a hood, or a water-resistant poncho.
The hiking boots for this trek must be sturdy and broken into weeks prior to ease walking in. Waterproof hiking boots with an excellent grip and high ankle support should be chosen according to the trekker's comfort for rugged terrain.
Essential Baggage Requirements:
For a trek to the Goechala Pass, a rucksack of 50-65 liters capacity, with good hip support and multiple pockets, is required. Smaller necessary items like wallet, money, permits, electronics, etc., can be packed into a smaller purse so that you can reach them at once whenever needed. Waterproof covers for backpacks and a waterproof bag to put in your electronics and money are essential for when it rains.
A first-aid kit should contain a bottle of antiseptic liquid, a tube of ointment, bandaids, gauze swabs, crepe bandages, and pain-relieving sprays. Common medicines like painkillers, paracetamols, antihistamines, antacids, and anti-nausea pills should be carried. Water-purifying tablets will also be needed to ensure the safety of drinking water.
Toiletries and Hygiene products:
The following products will be necessary to maintain hygiene:
Essential travel documents and other essentials:
Carrying all the essential documents needed to get the entry permits issued for the trek to Goechala is a must. These permits should be kept safe throughout the trek.
Foreign nationals must carry their passports and Visa, along with multiple photocopies of the same. A doctor's certificate declaring the trekker to be fit enough is always required for all Indians and foreign nationals.
On the trek to Goechala, electricity is not available. So, it is best to carry power banks to charge your phones. Torches with long battery life are a requirement. A pair of robust and sturdy trekking poles will aid you in climbing the steep slopes.
A heavy sleeping bag is also necessary on the trek. This will be required for sleeping at night in the tents at the campsites.
The Goechala Trek takes around nine nights and ten days to complete. The itinerary includes a week-long ascent.
From the nearest railway station at New Jalpaiguri (NJP) or Bagdogra airport, one will need to arrive at Yuksom, which is the basecamp for the trek. There are several tourist lodges here for overnight accommodation, including a handful of hotels offering up to 3-star rating facilities. If you are a group of 8-10 trekkers, you can also reserve dormitories here.
The Goechala Trek difficulty tests your endurance, so intense workouts and gym sessions are a must. Walking, jogging, squats, skipping, and stair climbing exercises will enhance the trekker's stamina. Yoga and meditation will help to build the mental grit and determination required to overcome any difficult situation.
The trek to Goechala will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for any trekker. It is a thrilling adventure through the rough terrain of the Eastern Himalayas accompanied by fantastic views. Remember to follow safety protocols and exercise precautions to enjoy the trek to the fullest.