Goecha La Trek Day 04

CONTINUED FROM: Goecha La Trek Day 03

Day 04: 19-April-2022

Route: Dzongri (3970 m/13024 ft) To Thansing (3704 m/12152 ft)

Distance: 10km (6-7H)

As always, I woke up before the alarm went off. At 3:00Am, I went and knocked at the kitchen window and woke Ram up. By 3:30AM, I was ready. By the time tea was served and everyone else got ready it was 4:15AM. We began our trek to Dzongri top. Apart from Adventura and us, there was one other team who had been trekking along with us. Let us name them as 'Group B'. Group B had a bunch of trekkers, mostly from West Bengal. The two groups had already left to the peak and I could see their head torches move along the trail. That made me nervous. Would we make it to the summit on time? 

So in total, including Indiahikes, we were 4 groups trekking on this schedule. Indiahikes had setup their camp on the other side of Dzongri top. They had the best spot. I was told by other group leaders that Indiahike is extremely influential and bribes the forest department to pick the best spot and also setup fixed camps as they run back to back groups starting every single day from Yuksom. Many dislike them for ruining the trekking trails with their heavily commercial mindset. I remember, in Sankri, the villagers had told that they do not allow Indiahikes to trek from the village and therefore they have a different base village. 

The hike up to Dzongri top ( 4200 m/  13,681 ft ) was steep but not very difficult without any luggage. At summit, all the groups had gathered. I joined Siddhant at Dzongri top to watch the reflection of the rising sun on Kanchenjenga and other mountains. 

At the summit, I spoke to another member from Adventura - Ritwik. We had a short conversation about art and he told me that he enjoys sketching too. Of course, we met often along the trail. I mention this conversation for a reason. After the trek, when I got back home and was checking my Instagram page one day, I came across a familiar face on my feed. It was then that I realised that Ritwik and I have been following each other on Instagram since a long time. It is funny how social media works. We follow so many people that we don’t even recognise them when we meet in person. Such are the relationships of social media. 

Ram helped me identify the peaks. Here is a layout of the same. 

We spent a lot of time at the summit; perhaps close to two hours. Group pictures were taken before we decided to head back. 

I am sharing the part 1 of Goecha La vlog here. The video covers our journey from Yuksom to Dzongri Top. 

Back at the campsite, I spoke to our helper boy Abhishek for a while. I asked him what grade he was studying in and he told me that he was in the 6th Grade. When asked if he had holidays now, he smiled and nodded his head. When I asked him about his family, he hesitated for a moment and then told me that he was an orphan. His mother he said is not with him and then corrected that she is dead. He lived with his grandparents. He also told me that he had a younger brother who now lives in Gangtok. He was adopted by a family. His story made me really sad. Abhishek is one of the most soft spoken and humble person you will come across. I recollected an incident from the previous day. 

While we were trekking to Dzongri, Abhishek joined us at one point. He was carrying a bamboo basket filled with kitchen utensils. Pavan jokingly mentioned that Abhishesk is the prince of Yuksom. To which, he was quick in replying - "Prince Aisa karma karta hai kya?" (Will a prince do such job?). I was shocked by such a profound response by a young boy then and now, I understood where such profundity came from. 

I learnt later from Ram that he had quit school a couple of years ago. Ram was his distant relative and he cared for the boy. So, he is slowly training him in this job. He would like him to turn a cook someday. Ram keeps an account of the money Abhishek has earned and buys the boy whatever he wants. He prefers not to give the money to him or to his family directly. He told me that once, Ram had bought him a new smart phone and  Abhishek had exchanged it for some money. So, he is careful how the money earned by him is spent. I also learnt the real deal about his mother and father, which is heart-breaking and I choose not to detail it out here.

As per the original plan we had a rest day at Dzongri. But Ram thought that it would be better to move to the next campsite - Thansing. So, after having some delicious wheat pancakes for breakfast, at around 9:15 AM, we began our trek to Thansing. The entire stretch was covered in mist. 

Along the way, Subham and I discussed greek philosophy, French enlightenment era, Rabindranath Tagore and other interesting topics.

The trek involved a steep descent to Kokchurong, Prek Chu river crossing and a gradual ascend through a forest till Thansing. 

We stopped at Kokchurong for lunch - Roti and channa. The entire place was covered in mist and it looked mesmerising. 

Divyesh, Subham and I left Kokchurong together. Pavan had left some time before us. Our guide and two others were still at the shelter. We stopped at the banks of river Prek Chu. The setting was idyllic. 

We clicked a few pictures and slowly continued our walk. I came across this set of rocks that had formed a cave like structure. I insisted upon taking a picture of mine in front of it. I even joked that if it rains, this could be our shelter. It surprises me how this very rock saved us from what was about to come. 

The three of us continued our journey. About 100m past the rock, we heard a sound gradually approach us. Assuming it to be rain, I pulled out my poncho and began to wear it. But the approaching sound turned out to be that of a hailstorm. Hail ice balls, close to 1cm in diameter began to hit us really hard. Instinctively, we ran back towards the rock. 

Divyesh crammed himself into the space under the rock, while Subham and I were partially protected under it. Hail hit my hands pretty hard and my pant was completely wet. For a while, it seemed like fun. It was a new experience. But when the hailstorm continued for more than 20 minutes I began to worry. The ground beneath our feet was filled with ice balls which I feared would melt and merge with the river. We could not continue the trek as we did not want to be lost and the hail prevented us from going back to Kokchurong shelter. Therefore, we waited for our guide to arrive. After what seemed like an eternity, we saw Ram and the others walk towards us. There was no way but to continue walking as this hailstorm did not seem to stop. Ram helped us wear the poncho and we began walking. 

Along the trail, we all got separated due to our respective speeds. I had to keep looking for footprints of the trekkers ahead as it was fast disappearing due to fresh ice falling over it. But thankfully, the trail was obvious and I slowly made my way to Thansing. But to be honest, this was one of the most scariest part of the trek. Not only was I alone during a hailstorm, but the trail was also getting slippery. 

As I approached Thansing shelter at around 4:30PM, guides and trekkers from other teams stood on the trail to encourage and direct us. The camping ground at Thansing had turned into a pool of sludge and therefore, we had to settle in a room within the shelter. Ram had already spoken to the forest officer through his walkie talkie and booked one for us. It costs Rs 100 per person. 

The six of us got a small room with a cot. I did not have time to cover my bag. Though the poncho was worn over it, that was not sufficient. But thankfully, as I pack everything in waterproof bags, none of my clothes were wet. Things that seemed damp were hung inside the room for drying. 

At the shelter, I heard stories of others who were stuck in the hailstorm. Some had got lost in the forest and somehow found their way up to the shelter. For everyone, this was an experience of a lifetime. Outside, it was calm after the storm. I sat at the entrance and began to sketch. As my sketching made me noticeable, I became known to many trekkers from other groups. They would come and speak to me or would want to see my sketches. It dawned upon me that though we were from different trekking groups, we all were together in this memorable journey. 

Abhishek called me to see a family of wild yaks that was visiting the campsite. From a distance, he pointed at the mother yak and its little one. The wild yaks have more fur on them than the domesticated ones. 

Ram told me that one of the trekkers who had reached Thansing last night was terribly sick. He was suffering from HAPE (High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema), a condition caused by excess fluid in the lungs. But over night his condition improved. Don from Adventura was also unwell. When I had met him earlier during the trek, he had a bad throat and could not speak properly. When I enquired, he told me that as soon as he had woken up that morning, he had drunk a bottle of cold water. “Why? “ I asked almost immediately and in response, he laughed out loudly. He too was planning on returning back from Thansing. 

It is important that we share such stories because one should not be misinformed through selective posts and pictures on social media that everything is rosy up in the mountains. The weather conditions there are extreme. One has to be phyiscally and mentally prepared before venturing into the Himalayas. Goecha La, by no means, is an easy trek!

It was a cold night. The six of us fit tightly in that small room that was allotted to us. The dogs accompanying the mule-men also chose to sleep inside the shelter that night. It had been an incredible day. Tired that I was, I dozed off as soon as I hit the bed. 

CONTINUED HERE:  Goecha La Trek Day 05