Trekking in Sikkim, India

November 5-25, 2006






We decided to do some hiking in the Indian Himalayas, in the state of Sikkim, after getting favorable recommendations from fellow travelers we had met along our journey. This region is due south of Gyantse, Tibet, which we visited on our passage from Lhasa. Although the Tibet-India border was recently opened into Sikkim, foreigners are still not allowed to use this border crossing. So we went the long way around: Lhasa -> Kathmandu -> Bhadrapur (Nepal) -> Siliguri (India) -> Darjeeling -> Yuksom (in Sikkim).

We discovered by chance that a friend of a friend's brother runs a trekking company in Sikkim's capitol, Gangtok. So we made arrangements for a 10-day trek from the 5,900' trailhead in Yuksom, to the 14,000' viewpoint above Samiti Lake at the base of the world's third highest mountain -- the magnificent Khangchendzonga at 28,330'.


At first it seemed ludicrous that we would need a large team of guides, porters, and animals for ten days of mountain hiking. But we were finally convinced that this is the way it's done out here and decided to go along with the program (with some skepticism). In Darjeeling, we met a couple of Canadians, Hannah and Jason, who also wanted to do some trekking. So with our group of four, we were accompanied by two sherpa guides, a cook, two kitchen helpers, three porters, two "yakmen", two djos (cross between a yak and a cow), and four horses. We had two sleeping tents, a dining tent with table and chairs, kitchen tent, and toilet tent. (The staff slept in the park service huts located at each campsite.)

All we had to carry was our daypacks with a camera and some warm clothes! And with hot coffee delivered to our tent at 6am every morning, afternoon tea, and three hot meals cooked on two huge kerosene stoves, it wasn't that hard to get used to the program.

Sadly, Jason suffered from an increasingly bad sinus infection as we moved to higher altitudes and colder climates. He and Hannah turned around and walked back to town on day five, taking a sherpa guide and two porters with them. That left Liza and I with our team of 7 staff and 6 animals for the rest of the trip. And, although it was bitter cold at times, our trek in the mist-shrouded lowlands, through bamboo forests, past giant rhododendrons, up to the high elevation silver fir forest, finally emerging at the base of snow-capped peaks high above the tree line, was one of the most magnificent hikes we've ever had.

Loading the up the pack animals





As we walked the trail, we could hear the yakmen whistling and calling to their djo's and horses, and bells clanging as the animals carried their heavy loads up the mountain.



Hiking into the clouds









Sunrise glow on Khangchendzonga from Dzongri Peak







Hiking with Mingma Sherpa from our 13,300' camp at Dzongri to the Prek valley with Mount Pandim looming in the distance.






22,000' Mount Pandim





28,330' Khangchendzonga shortly before the morning clouds roll in





Prayer flags at the Tashiding Gompa









A cold and starry night from our 13,000' camp at Thangsing



Bhaktapur, Nepal (car) ► Kathmandu (plane) ► Bhadrapur (car) ► Bagdoga (jeep) ► Darjeeling, India (jeep) ► Revengla (jeep) ► Yuksom (jeep) ► Gangtok (jeep) ► Siliguri