15-May-2012 The film portraits the journey of George Thengummoottil from Kolkatta to Yuksam in Sikkim and his fifteen day trek from Yuksam to Goecha La via Tshoka, Thangsing and Lamuney. This fantastic trek takes him to an altitude of 5200 Meters above sea level.The film was shot on Canon EOS 500D Camera powered with solar panel.
Part 1 Introduction
A journey to the Himalayas, trekking to one of the most, remote and inhospitable places in this world, crossing deep gorges and Holy Mountains.
My name is George, and I am here at Calcutta, at the start of this magical trip, with three of my friends: Lucas, Chew and Joe. We are going to Gochea La, a mountain pass, between India and Tibet, at an altitude of five thousand meters, above sea level.
Moving To Yuksam
My destination is in Sikkim, a tiny state in the north east corner of India.I start from Kolkotta, cross the towns of Siliguri and Jorethang to reach Yuksam, the trekking hub of Sikkim.
Vast stretch of flat land, nourished by rivers, which originate, from the melting glaciers of the Himalayas.The northern plains, also known as Indo Gangetic plain, spreads over northern India and virtually all of Bangladesh. This fertile plain is named after the Indus, and the Ganges, the twin river systems which drains it.
Indio Gangetic plains support, one of the most populous areas on Earth, being home to nearly one billion people, one seventh of the world`s population, on an area of seven hundred thousand square kilometres.
After traveling for more than 15 hours across the plains, I reach Siliguri, a city which was known for its natural beauty. It is a whole chaos, with horns blasting my ears, traffic jams and crowded streets. Result of India’s growing urban agglomeration.Siliguri, is the transit point for air, road and rail traffic to the neighbouring countries of Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan.
The lifeline of Sikkim, Teesta river, roars down the deep gorge. After two hours of travel on four wheel drive I reach the first town in Sikkim, Jorethang. Jorethang is the hub to west Sikkim. Four wheel drive vehicles connect every nook and corner of Sikkim, from this new multi floor taxi stand. The vacant streets of the town, gets jam packed during Sundays Markets. These make shift markets on the road sides; sell plenty of varieties of food, vegetables and cosmetics.
From Jorethang, I move to Yuksam, the trekking hub of west Sikkim. Sikkim is the least populous state in India. Geographically diverse due to its location in the Himalayas, climate ranges from subtropical to high alpine.The Lepcha people, the original inhabitants of Sikkim, called their homeland Nye-mae-el, or paradise, while the Bhutias call it, Beyul Demazong, or the hidden valley of rice. Beautiful mountains, and scattered hamlets, never look similar to the rest of India. After traveling for three hours, I reach the end of road, at Yuksam. This road continues as a trekking trail to the base of Mount Kangchenjunga.
In and Around Yuksam
There are three major ethnic groups in Sikkim, the Lepchas, the Bhutias and the Nepalis. Each of this community has their own language, culture and dance forms. KINGTSOOM ZAONGBOO CHOO is what Lepchas, the earliest inhabitants of the land call Kangchenjunga. It means bright auspicious forehead peak. Though the origin of leptcha community is not known, it is believed that they came from south east china, crossing Assam and settled below Mount Kangchenajungcha.
They are great worshipers of the Auspicious peak and believes that, one should always respect the mountain and must not climb the pinnacle of a holy mountain. The first climbers of Kangchenjunga Joe Brown and George Band, who were part of a British expedition, honoured the beliefs of the Lapchas, by stopping a few feet short of the actual summit.
Lepchas were followers of Shamanism;their religious practices involve a practitioner reaching altered states of consciousness in order to encounter and interact with the spirit world.
According to the Legend, Buddhist saint Guru Rinpoche, visited Sikkim in the 9th century, He introduced Buddhism and foretold the era of monarch. These monasteries and Gompas, add beauty to this mountainous landscape of Sikkim. The villagers offer pine needles, and burn incense in these traditional Buddhist stupas, a sacred place for making offerings.
When I spin these prayer wheels, prayers of peace are sent across the world. The sculpture of Lord Buddha, and Guru Rinpoche, are kept inside central prayer hall, of Buddhist temple. These monasteries are home to monks, Lamas and Drakpas. “Lama”, in Tibetan, means “superior master”. The ordinary monks are called “Drakpa”
Lamas are considered to be the spokesmen of the deity. In people’s eyes, Lamas are able to act as intermediaries, and interpret the will of the deity.If an ordinary person wishes to become a lama, he has to stay at the monastery to learn sutras. They have to undergo several years of tough training, to be ordinated as lama. Monks spend most of their time inside the monastery, though a few of them visits the villages.
“Hamara raja bhuddist dha. We meditation karne keliye edher jatha hei, our pooja karne keliye udhar dubdhi mem jatha hey”.
Yuksam was the first capital of the Kingdom of Sikkim, established in 1642. The first monarch of Sikkim was Phuntsog Namgyal. He was coronated at this spot, near Yuksam known as, Throne of Norbugang. Yuksom, literally means the “meeting place of the three learned monks”. Legend says, three monks, who came from Tibet, selected Phuntsog Namgyal as the first King of Sikkim, giving him the title Chogyal, which means “Religious King”. This little town of Yuksam lives on agriculture and Tourism. Major produce include maize and potatoes. Food pattern is mostly Tibetan, momos and choumins. I love it.
Isolated hamlets near Yuksam are connected by narrow trails. Villagers use these trails to carry food, wood and fodder between their villages and farms.These tracks are becoming more and more popular, in-between travellers as trekking trails. Tourism is an important source of income for Yuksam. Many villagers work as tourist guides, like Mr MB, the guide preferred by tourist coming to Yuksam. He works as a tourist guide during the tourist season and works in his fields during the off season. His house was destroyed by the earthquake, which rocked Sikkim in September 2011. He is living in a temporary shed setup near his house and is involved in the construction of a new house. Travellers are sad that MB Is not working as a tourist guide during this season.
Yuksam is the starting point, for most of the west Sikkim treks, the popularly known Dzongri and Goecha La Treks.
Red Panda Tours and Travels
My trek was organized by Mr Danaraj Gurung of Red Panda Tours and Travels. "Welcome Sir"." Thank you". The mountain gods have blessed us, Good weather. I wish you a very happy trekking in Sikkim.
"Your trek to Goecha La pass will take, at least eight days. We will get a very close view of Mount Kanchenjunga, the highest peak in India, along with other peaks, Mt. Pandim and Mt. Kabru. The total distance a little more than one hundred kilometers, and we will trek, about ten to fifteen kilometers every day.The best season to trek is March to May and October to November.".
He worked as a tourist guide for the past twenty year and then he started his eco-tourism company at Yuksam under the name Red Panda.
Starting the Trek
Today is the beginning of my trek.I am going to touch these peaks soon. wow. My trek through the Himalayas, will take me through Kangchenjunga National Park, crossing the villages of Thangsing, Lamuney and finally reaching Goecha la.
Another ten days of hard trekking ahead. We are accompanied by a crew of Cooks, guides and an Yakman. Eight yaks to carry, sleeping bags, tents, food to feed us and solar panels to feed my camera. An yak can carry, about forty kilogram of load.
Kangchenjunga National Park was established in 1977. It is deprived of human settlements, other than a few Leptcha Settlements. The park is home to White tiger, a mutant of the Indian Tiger.
The initial route is pretty much level, with gentle ups and downs. The recent earthquakes, in Sikkim, and subsequent landslides, has destroyed a part of the track.Thanks to our experienced guide, Ben who could make out a way through debris.These tracks are very much used by the villagers, to carry forest produce to the villages.
This track was cut through, by Tensing Sherpa, a Nepali India mountaineer, to construct a base camp, for mountaineering students, of Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, of Darjeeling. This track was used later for several Kangenchngunja Expeditions.
This is the last village on the trail, the Tibetan village of Tshoka, Inhibited by about 10 families, who fled from Tibet with Dalai Lama.I must stay here for a day, to acclimatize myself with the thin air. Our stating point, Yuksam, can be seen far down the hill. The mountains around, are so vibrant, with a thick layer of frost.
Next day, we continued our trek, to higher altitude. The low temperature during night, has blessed with little snowfall. Continuous snow fall hardens the lower layers of snow into ice. Thanks to Tula, he had an Ice axe with him. At this altitude, the vegetation is mostly, coniferous. Pine trees, grows abundantly, at this altitude. The needle shaped leaves, of pine trees help it retain water during the dry season.
Cher pine is a pine native to the Himalayas. Colonialism and commercialization had a disastrous effect on the Himalayas. During the British regime, large areas of Himalayan forests were replaced by several exotic species of trees, brought from the west. Deciduous plants, shed leaves during winter, these slots get filled, with snow, imitating, shapes of flowers and leaves.
As we ascent, the pine trees, give way to beautiful Rhododendron trees. Rhododendron, a flowering shrub, grows at high altitudes. The maximum species diversity, of rhododendrons, grows in the Himalayas. Rhododendron, is the State tree of Sikkim.
After two days of hard trekking, we reach Phethang. Spectacular View! They are so near. This view of Mt Kangchenjung, together with Mt Kabru, Mt Pandim, Mount Rathong, and many other high peaks of the Himalayas is breath-taking.Heat of afternoon sun, has melted down most of the snow. There is another three days of hard trekking to reach our final destination.
This river, Prek Chu River, originates from the south east facing glazier, of Mount Kangchenjunga. The river is a major tributary of Rathong river, which finally joins Teesta river. We cross this river a couple of times, as we walk up along this river gorge, to reach Thangsing.The trekkers hut at Thangsing will get replaced with a new one. This is a lovely place to stay. A partially frozen stream is the source of water. Cooks, had a very difficult time, making water from ice.
After a day halt at Thangsing, we start to Lamuney. We follow the gorge cut by Prek Chu river, This portion of the trail nearly flat.We set our camp, at Lamuney. The forest is most alpine, with short bushes and no trees.It is very cold, each of us crawl into a couple of sleeping bags, before sunset.Lamuney is known for dangerous strong winds,
Nothing seems equivalent to the grandeur, of this beautiful sky view from the mountain. This is Breath-taking. Reflection of early morning sun rays gives this golden colour to the snow peaks. Today is the final day of our ascend; We follow the Prek Chu river, over the rough scramble of rocks to reach Saimiti Lake. Its ,so clear. This water must be very much purer, than the packed drinking available in the market. A few of the last places on our planet, not disrupted by human intervention.
There are several Myths surrounding this place. It is said that, this is home to Kangchenjunga Demon, a type of Yeti. We continue trekking over the scramble of rocks. No proper tracks, just head North West. Ho, Its not that easy. The loose boulders are not that friendly with my shoes.Careful!
A Slight slip will pull us down into the deep glazier valley. The thin air and extreme low temperature makes it difficult to walk.This sight is so worth, Thousands of prayer flags, flapping in the winds, This is wonderful.
Panoramic view of Mount Kanchenjunga range. The third highest peak in the world, the highest peak in India. Nothing seems equivalent to the grandeur, of this beautiful snow peaks. No wonder the Leptcha people worship this mountain. Ohoh, very strong winds.
This is the end of my Trek. I am so sad to go back. I Prefer to stay back here.
I love traveling and I have made the most of it while working in Bhutan.By traveling zig-zag all across India from North to South between Kerala and Bhutan for holidays. The mercy of many editors combined with my enthusiasm to photography and (re)creative writing has filled up the pages of several glossy magazines, newspapers and books...read more