A pair of denims, a shirt, and a brown leather jacket was all I had. A borrowed pair of torn trekking shoes and different colored gloves was all I managed to arrange. Off I went to have a glimpse of the Kangchenjunga; off I went to be surrounded by mountains for the very first time; off I went to struggle for oxygen and to hold back my tears.
Goechala, which is considered to give even experienced trekkers cold sweat, was my first venture into the wild. It helped me change the course of a river called life and I couldn’t be more grateful for my decision.
I vaguely remember the whole experience and tried to pen it down.
I was lying on my bed, weak, frustrated and thinking about my life and where it is heading. It was mid- April and I was suffering from typhoid. Every week I had to make rounds, visiting my doctor and every time I would ask him just this one question, ‘when can I go and rejoin my office.’ to which, he always replied, ‘when you will recover completely.’ I still remember it was Friday when I visited my doctor for the last time when he finally said, ‘now you can join your office but do not take any stress otherwise it might relapse.’ Well, I didn’t take his last sentence seriously and the first thing I did after getting out of his clinic was to book a ticket for Kolkata. That was the moment from where everything started. That was the moment from where my life, as I now know it, started. From that point, my life took a long, long stroll and finally chose the road less traveled by.
After getting roasted and helping myself over numerous servings of delicious fish and rice in Kolkata, I still had too much time on my hands and hence, decided to explore Sikkim to beat the heat and absorb some tranquility. As the plan was spontaneous, I had no itinerary or bookings. The locals became my guides and one of them told me to head towards Yuksom, a beautiful small village in West Sikkim. At that time, I was unaware of what trekking really meant. I heard and read about it a hundred times, but never really gave much thought to the idea of me going to trek in the Himalayas; I was always running out of time, circling deadlines and had no blank tab in my head to look at the greener side. I reached Gangtok in the evening, rented a small room for the night and dozed off within minutes. The next morning, I left for Yuksom, drowning in the mystical views the journey had in store. I had a long conversation with my cabby; about his life, about mine, about his issues, about mine and after a genuine exchange of advices, he gave me the best one ever;
‘There is a trek named Goechala which starts from Yuksom. Do it,’ he told me authoritatively.
After enquiring about the trek and failing on finding a guide at such a short notice, I decided to follow a Canadian father-daughter duo who were commencing their trek in two days, with their permission. The next day, I borrowed a pair of trekking shoes and gloves from a dhaba vala and slept to my hearts content. The day after that? I was all pepped up to leave for the mysterious journey. I did not know a thing about the itinerary or where we had to stay or eat and I didn’t even ask; hell that was the most adventurous decision I had made until that moment and I was goings nuts. After a tiresome day one and loads of self-doubt, the sun began to set and the stars began to rise. For someone who has been born and brought up in Delhi, watching a million stars shining brightly above their head is bound to leave the teary-eyed and awestruck and amazed and bewitched and I don’t know what not. The next morning, I had a new zeal, a new mindset, a new drive and finally, I met my soul. After that, every day started to get better than the previous one. We started from a dense forest, piped into a meadow and now, we were walking amidst sky high Himalayan peaks. I slept in the sleeping bag for the first time in my life and then in a kitchen and then in a tent and then in a tea house under a snowing sky. Halfway into the trek, my already worn out shoes tore further and I thought I was doomed. I, however, managed to find a thread and did a small DIY that would keep the shoes together for a little longer and hopefully until the end of the trek. On the 4th day, we had to start trekking at 2 in the night. It was damn cold and I had no head torch. I was using my phones torch to light the path for me (thankfully I still had the battery) and when my guide saw me shivering and turning blue, he offered my a semi-torn jacket out of his backpack. I would always be thankful for that as he saved me from turning into a living ice popsicle( ha!). Though I was still shivering, I had to keep my pace because if I diverted I would get lost and boy… who wants to get lost in the Himalayas, in the night, in a leather jacket and a torn windproof? Whenever I stopped to catch my breath, I realized I had to keep moving to keep myself warm and with every tiny breathless step I took, I got closer to myself. After hours that felt like days of walking, I finally reached the top and that was the proudest I felt for myself. That was and will always remain one the happiest memories of my entire life and I wouldn’t give it away for anything. I sat there and cried my eyes out at my first encounter with the mountains and my soul. I sat there and talked to myself, to my soul and realized it had been wanting to talk to me for years. We had a long discussion about us and dear, it changed everything henceforth. Though the sky was cloudy that day, but one glimpse of Kangchenjunga shaped me into what I am today. The next day, I walked downhill for nine hours straight in a hurry to reach Yuksom as I was excited about my new life and what course it would take.
Pictures in Leather Jacket from Goechala Trek and My borrowed worn out shoes which saved my life.
It was hard. It was one of the most difficult things I ever did. I gave up 10 times. I fell down 7 times but I got up 8 times. I kept climbing the damned mountain with no one around but just me and my thoughts. I conquered not only the mountain but myself; my self-doubt; my pre-conceived notions; my fear and came down with a set of new goals and dreams.
I was going to travel the world. And no one will stop me.
The ideal itinerary for Goechala is 9 days long, from Yuksom to Yuksom. But due to lack of knowledge and careless attitude, I did it in 5. After gaining knowledge and doing some more treks, I realized the fatality of what I had done and what it could end up like. While I was doing Goechala, I had no idea about AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) and its symptoms. Had I suffered from it, I don’t know how badly I would have been affected but I do know this, it would have been quite a story. (If I somehow managed to live through it).
The bizarre itinerary that I followed was:
Day 1: Yuksum to Tshoka (16 km; 9,701 ft)
Day 2: Tshoka to Phedang (4.5 km; 12,083 ft)
Day 3: Phedang to Lamuney (12 km; 13,743 ft)
Day 4: Lamuney to Goecha Laviewpointt (22 km; 15,100 ft) and back to Dzongri La via Lamuney (13,024 ft)
Day 5: Dzongri to Yuksom (26 km; 5,643 ft)
Do not make the mistake I did and follow the proper itinerary for the trek. It will take you longer but it will surely keep you less vulnerable to AMS. As they say, follow your heart but take your mind along.
View of Kangchenjunga from Goechala View Point.