Goeche La

Long back, in 2009, while surfing in the Internet, I first came to know about the place “Goecha La”. Views of the Kanchenjunga and other mountains amazed as everyone else. This made be decide to do this trek at some point of time. Considering the mental and physical preparedness this trek would require, I reasoned that I should start with some easier treks to get some experience. In 2010 I did a trek in the Sandakphu trail beyond Darjeeling and in 2012, we trekked along routes in West Sikkim. These treks gave me the confidence needed for the Goechala Trek.

It was a pre-puja time in 2014 and I needed to fix a tour for the puja days. At my current physical fitness level, I could hardly roam for four continuous hours among the Kolkata Puja pandels. Therefore, I almost stopped thinking about trekking but at that time, Naskar called me. He was one of my college friends and was with me in the last West Sikkim trek. He suggested that we do the GOECHALA trek and without giving it much thought, I agreed. I knew my age and I knew that my physical fitness levels were not at its best. But, I also knew that after 2-3 years I would not get anymore friends to accompany me to Goechala. So, I agreed with no hesitation. It was the last opportunity for me to set on my dream trek!

Preparation

We needed to have a good company. So, I asked Koushik. He never refuses. Naskar called another two – Sajib from his hometown and Sudipta, one from his workplace. We are five in group, a nice size for a trek.

We already have known Dipak (stays at Yuksom, Contact number: 9593783148), guide of our last trek and hence, did not think twice. I called him to set a trek on selected date intervals, bargained a little and finally fixed the trek cost (Yuksom – Yuksom) to be Rs 7500. As the accommodation to stay at Yuksom, I selected Hotel Demazong having a cost-effective dormitory (Rs. 500 for a 5-bed-room). Staying busy for our work, we did not have exhausted preparation or packing. But at the same time, having a list of items which can be required in a trek, we were able to pack in a rush.

Finally we fixed a rough itinerary to set the dates after discussions made with guide Dipak and Naskar, who once already went for this trek. Though with times it changed to something as follows:

Tour Itinerary: 
  • September 26: boarding from Sealdah (SDAH) railway station,
  • September 27: reached New Jalpaiguri (NJP) and then to Yuksom via Jorethang (by car),
  • September 28: Yuksom – Sachen – Bakhim – Tsokha (Trek day 1),
  • September 29: Tsokha –  Phethang – Dzongri (Trek day 2),
  • September 30:  Rest day at Dzongri for acclimatization (Trek day 3),
  • October 1: Dzongri – Thansing (Trek day 4),
  • October 2: Thansing – Lamuney – Goecha La – Thansing (Trek day 5),
  • October 3: Thansing – Kokchurang – Phethang – Tsokha (Trek day 6),
  • October 4: Tsokha – Bakhim – Sachen – Yuksom (Trek day 7),
  • October 5: reached NJP and then to Kolkata.

Journey Begins

I reached Sealdah 30 min before scheduled train time with Koushik. Other three people were present there already. The train being late for 3 hours, gave us opportunity to finish our marketing. We bought chocolates and energy drink from Sealdah big bazar. We boarded at Teesta Torsa Express by 4 30 pm. The journey started with introducing each other among ourselves. Time spent with fruits from Naihati, tea from Bandel, snacks from Katwa and dinner at Rampurhat.

NJP to Yuksom

This was WORLD TOURISM DAY, a day being so special by its mention, could not let others be gloomy only about how late a train, which was late by 3 hours while departing, can be. May it? No, but the train was later and we reached NJP (New Jalpaiguri) by 6 am. In hurry, Sajib forgot his tripod in train. Sudipta called his brother to collect that by the time train will reach new coochbehar (NCB). Futile bargaining had been attempted by us with the best price of Rs. 4500 for reserving a Sumo Gold for the NJP – Yuksom route. The price was too high for the research scholars who had not been granted hikes over years. Therefore, we moved to SNT (Sikkim National Transport), a 20 minutes and a Rs. 20 distance by auto from NJP, and booked a shared service jeep at the cost of Rs. 200 per head for NJP – Jorethang. Entered Sikkim through Melli started reminding me the Ravangla days. By the time we reach Jorethang, Sudipta’s brother called after successfully recovering the tripod at NCB. At Jorethang, we had our lunch near the fountain and got into a Bolero for the Jorethang – Yuksom route. The Bolero was booked by Dipak and hence, it costed nominally – Rs. 2000. After a drive of 2 hours, we got a surprise break near a falls. The falls had a view-point which were climbed via numerous stairs. But, the view was awesome.

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After this break, we again started. By 5 pm, we reached Yuksom. Yuksom was a lovely small town with lots of monasteries, picturesque beauties, enthusiastic tourists and nature-lovers from different corners of the world. On arrival at Yuksom, we met Dipak and then visited the dormitory at Hotel Demazong. The dormitory was big and had five neat and clean beds waiting for us. We got fresh enough and then had food at Yak restaurant as suggested by Dipak. The food was okay and expensive. But, these all hardly mattered as we were thrilled with something else – something which we discussed with Dipak and our would-be trek guide Subhas, 18 year old brother of Dipak. After dinner, it was time for discussion about the trek itinerary and necessary details. We made the payment to Dipak and Dipak loaded our room with the stuffs (food, tent, sleeping bag etc.) to be carried for the trek. Dipak had arranged a total of two people to accompany us – our guide Subhas and a horse driver-cum-cook. Apart from that, to carry the items, he arranged 4 horses. We took bed as soon as discussion was over. We were tired and fell asleep within no time.

Yuksom to Tsokha

Trek Day 1

It was chilled. It was hard to leave the bed. But it was not the time to hold the blankets long. We started getting ready as soon as possible, still it was 7 am by the time we reached Yak restaurant. We had vegetable sandwich, omelette and chicken soup in breakfast. Dipak collected from us two photocopies of photo-identity cards, two photographs and a physical fitness statement (claiming ourselves fit and to be responsible for every consequences of this trek) to get the necessary permit. In the meantime, we finished our coffee and bought some torches we forgot to bring from our home. A good quality torch is very crucial in this trek, as you eventually need to trek at 2 am to reach the view point by sunrise (around 5 am). We started then – our trek by 10 am. Yes, I was on.

The trail started with narrow steeps keeping the local huts and monasteries aside. Groups of trekkers were found busy getting ready here and there, showing how popular this trek is. Local people were greeting us with luck, some even with toffees. After walking around half an hour, the trek route was visible. ‘Okay, so this was it’, I thought. Seemed so much okay to me at the first glance and hence, I kept on moving unless I found my shoe damaged. The sole was solely open, passing water from the streams inside the shoe now and then. Subhas consoled me with some repairs at Tsokha. Some first timers even told me that I could hire shoes from Tsokha and as usual, I believed them. I love to believe. I made friendship with the wet feet and continued walking with my 45 litre rucksack. After walking for around 1.5 hours, I crossed a suspension bridge. That trek route would have a total of 3 suspension bridges before reaching Bakhim.

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After 2 hours of walking, I was real tired. I was thinking constantly about the time elapsed and estimated time remaining. Sometimes, fear of falling in the great abysses are also peeking in my mind. This is the beauty of a trek, as people simply ignore all the hurdles and fears in the sheer hope that in the final day, they may witness the dream with their eye. We almost reached Sachen, the first place with trekker’s hut after Yuksom. People with relatively less fitness may opt to stay here after end of trek day 1. Before reaching Sachen, the trail is easier except it was slippery due to the morning rain.

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After Sachen, the trail took a higher angle make those hours harder. That route got numbers of small waterfalls, apart from the nice ones beside each of the three suspension bridges. The huge amount of force these streams were creating while touching the ground, created awesome lagoons. Anyone would like to take a bath, though it was impossible. Our cook Chung told us how some people got drowned here.

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Near the second bridge, we had our lunch. It tasted awesome as we were too hungry. We got back our energy and started once again. After walking for another 2 hours we reached Bakhim. Bakhim got also one trekker’s hut. Trekkers from most of the groups settled for that day there. Subhas showed us one shortcut to Tsokha and ran quickly. He had to set tents and help Chung in arranging food for us. The shortcut cut the time required surely, as we had tough time climbing all the way to Tsokha. We reached Tsokha by 4 pm and had view of the snow-capped mountains for the first time in the trek. The mountains were: Pandim, Japuney and Lama – Lamuney (from left to right).

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We went busy calling at home and dear ones informing all goods and bads. Tsokha is having good connection available for BSNL, whereas nominal availability for Vodafone users. I was busy searching for repairs for my shoe, but did not have luck. Our guide – Subhas seemed astonished as I did not have an alternative for the shoe. Tsokha got numbers of trekker’s hut (can only be booked with direct intervention at cost of Rs. 100 per day per head; everywhere in this trek), the main of which got a nice view. One can watch Yuksom from here and thus understand the distance (horizontal and vertical) between Yuksom and Tsokha (about 18 Km).

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The weather was getting overcast gradually. After the evening tea and popcorn, we took shelter in tents. May be due to the rain in between, I got a leech stuck in my feet. Salts came in handy there. By 7 pm, we had been asked for dinner by Subhas. We had hot and nice chicken meal. Cautiously avoiding leeches further, we went to sleep.

Tsokha to Dzongri

Trek Day 2

Yesterday Naskar knocked us many many times about how tough this day was going to be, but never before. Yesterday’s rain had cleared the day making a nice backdrop for us. It is always good to have a good view beside you, as it constantly gives the inspiration to go ahead. We finished making necessary calls, as we could make the calls again here only.

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We started our day late and loose. From the steeped early-trails, it was nice seeing back towards Tsokha monastery. To enter the monastery, one have to ask the security-in-charge at the main trekker’s hut. Leaving the monastery behind, we moved on. Here, I met some students from my institution – IIT Kharagpur. They were in their bachelors and hence, surpassed us as if I was not even walking. The steeped trail continued for about 1.5 hours.

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A sudden change in plains was followed. It was a valley and surprisingly plain. The area is well-surrounded by trees, mostly Rhododendron. Hence, one cannot estimate the height of this place being inside here. The roads are well-paved by stones and wood-stems. Being drenched with yesterday’s rain and leaves from the trees, the road was slippery like hell. One need to be cautious, because it is a long way to Goechala and it was just a start.

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The plain valley ends soon and we again started walking through ups and downs. This trail, though seemed easier by height-variation and interesting by the variations of flora and fauna. Today Naskar and Sudipta were looking fine, having crossed all the places at least 30 minutes before me. Due to the amount of heights we gained in so little time, Koushik was staggering behind a little.

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By 12 o’clock we finally reached Phethang. This was another trekker’s hut location, but is used as a buffer. Due to scarcity of water, people generally avoids staying here unless its of sheer importance. We had to make ourselves happy today with a small amount of food in lunch. The next phase is the toughest, people say. So, we did not waste time. This trail made us to take rest after every eight-to-ten minutes walk. Walking for another 2 hours ended that trail. Dzongri had been reached by 3 pm, but we needed to go further. Subhas had a different place selected for us and it was about 30 minutes walk from Dzongri. I was completely out of energy. Koushik was probably in negatives. Subhas immediately made us coffee followed by maggi.

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My tiredness was vanished after watching the beauty of that place. That was a valley with dots of shrubs which looked like tea plants to me. The place was an undulated plain with very little height variations. In the tops, it had 3 huts and the water source, a stream dividing the valley into twos. All of a sudden clearing the overcast sky, Sun came out making the scenery more dramatic. I was ecstatic.

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Koushik was feeling better now. Sajib and Sudipta were taking rest in tents. Naskar and myself were taking rest outside. Naskar was saying me about the peaks which can be seen from here, when eventually they appear a little from the clouds.

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Clouds were surrounding us quickly. So, we moved inside the tents. Rain started and I was startled at the look the rain got when they touched the ground. They were transformed in tiny frozen particles.

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The next day was kept as ‘Rest day’ for acclimatization. But, we needed to go to Dzongri top for sunrise. So after early-dinner with special Khichudi with soya-bean, we took sleep.

Acclimatization at Dzongri

Trek Day 3

The rest day was a perfect rest day for me. I got demotivated for the walk to Dzongri top for a bad reason – sheer lethargy. I repented later for this, when Naskar described what happened there. The route was little steep, but was not lengthy. They took around 1.5 hours after starting at 3 am. The sunrise made Kanchenjunga look fabulous, as always.

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As well as, Pandim. Mount Pandim is one of the peaks one can see through out the whole trek-route.

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On the other side of the horizon, the Kabrus were visible. A different version of such high-altitude mountains can be visualized in Black Kabru. Though having a height over 5500 meter, It hardly got any snow on it due to its steep rise. From Dzongri top, one can see the South Kabru peak just right to it and the north Kabru in furthest right corner along the same ridge.

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The side from which we came, did not have any peaks; should not have also. But, it also was looking stunning with the green vegetation and multicolored praying flags.

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By the time the Sun rised more in the sky, it was evident how much they climbed. Our tents were just a dot now.

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The pictures came perfect. The Dzongri top was getting more and more crowded. Naskars got advantage over others who stayed at Dzongri, as our tent location was nearer to Dzongri top than others.

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Finally, they got down. Rest prevails the first-half except food-times. I enjoyed the view relatively later from the valley only. This place was so beautiful that I was satisfied already. For having both the shoe pairs torn by now, I may had to return down-steps at any point of time. And, if this was from Dzongri I would not regret as the view was the best I had so far in my life. It was unparalleled.

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After so-long-rest and lunch, Koushik and myself got restless. We roamed making a circle around our tents, as Subhas told us to do so. This area is peculiarly similar to other places nearby and hence, one can get lost easily.

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We all were again filled with energy after the day’s rest. We were ready to start and the next day’s destination was set as Thansing. Dinner was hot, the place was getting cold and colder and the sky was exceptionally clear. We missed the tripod today badly. Hence, we could not but sleep early.

Dzongri to Thansing

Trek Day 4

After breakfast, we started earlier on trek day 4, as the route was long. Naskar told that we should get seasoned by then. We were relived after hearing these from our friend who had the experience of completing this trek earlier. The first-trails were nice and easy.

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But making Naskar anxious, I started feeling sick tremendously. The head was spinning so much that it was hard to step at places where I should. But, Naskar told me ‘no going-back’. I moved on slowly, but steadily after having a Diamox. Koushik was in his best after the rest day. He helped me a lot in the pre-lunch session carrying my sack. Just before reaching Kokchurang, Naskar met his previous-Goechala-trek-guide.

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The lunch had been finished at Kokchurang after a walk of constant steep down-steps for about 3 hours. One should not forget his/her knee cap for this trail. Its mandatory. Kokchurang is another hut location. I was feeling a little better by then. As the life of my shoe was over, our guide Subhas gave me his spare keds. It was a tremendous help. What would I do if there was not a spare left with him? I don’t know. The keds was having a plastic slippery sole and cotton surface. But it was better than my torn shoe by all means. Hence, I left my shoe at Kokchurnag and moved on with the new outfit. I was feeling confident, fine and hence, took my sack back from Koushik. I started.

The post-Kokchurang trail was outlandish. It had huge rocks kept beside a nice mountain-river named Prek Chu.

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One had to cross that stone-filled place by jumping from one stone to another, we thought. We did so. Though, later while returning through the same path, we discovered an alternative path beside the stones. The risk we took was unnecessary.

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The next trail was easy again. But the head was once again spinning. But, I had to move on. Finally, we reached Thansing by 4 pm. The place is a huge valley surrounded by high mountains on both side. The valley is cut across by a narrow stream, which got a huge size at Kokchurang. The valley was filled with huts, tents and crowd. Ahead of Thansing at Lamuney, the weather is little unpleasant due to presence of higher mountains nearby. Hence, people like to stay here mostly instead of Lamuney. We met here once again the KGP guys. They were about to leave Thansing on next day. They seemed very gloomy as they had overcast weather on the day they reached Goechala.

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We had a plan to start hitting the road by 5 am next day. We had the sunrise at Dzongri top. We were a weaker team which includes myself having spinning-head and cotton-keds instead of trekking shoe, slow Koushik and lethargic Sajib. Subhas also got headache a little. Hence, we had not planned for sunrise at Goechala.

Goechala

Trek Day 5

We had a plan to keep our tents at Thansing. We would go for Goechala in the morning and would come back at Thansing again. The night stay was suggested at Thansing. The plan seemed nice to us. We had to start at 5 am.

It was surely a sub-zero temperature at 5 o’clock. Everything around us were covered in snow. Even with 4 garments in the top and 2 in the bottom half, I was shivering constantly. There was a little coffee for us. It helped a little. Then, we started. Sajib did not take part that day. He did not have proper sleep and was suffering from headache. Subhas also had rest. He had a plan to bring lunch for us at Lamuney by 12 pm. Chung led us that day.

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The grass beneath are covered by ice-dust and got slippery. Having a very bad body-balance, I had to keep myself slow and steady. I was with Sudipta and Chung. I did not know what happened with Koushik; He was the leading one that day. He was fast and looking confident. Naskar was accompanying him. After walking for 15 – 20 minutes the Sun rises in the horizon and the first light fell on the Kanchenjunga peak. It was walk of another hour to reach Lamuney. The mountains like Pandim, Thansingkhang and Japuney starts rising just at the right; a relatively smaller mountain in the left. In front of us, we had Kanchenjunga and in between the Goecha peak and the Goecha pass.

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We reached Lamuney after crossing numerous branches of Prek Chu, the river we have crossed at Kokchurang and had at Thansing. The branches were huge somewhere creating hurdles for me. I was not in a mood of taking risk, I simply walked through the water there. At places, Chung helped us. I reached Lamuney by 6.30 am with Sudipta and Chung. It looked like a barren place with a single hut (for cooking food) and only two tents.

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The next-part of the route went to a slope towards the Goecha pass. Climbing through the pass, one will reach Samiti lake within 1 hour, Goechala first view point within 2 hours and second view point within 3 hours. I hardly walked for 20 minutes, when I saw Chung was coming with Koushik with his hands cut-and-blooded. He got slipped on a snow-covered wood kept above a stream and got hurt. The hurt was not deep, but may got worse. I felt scared due to my slippery sole of the keds and decided not to go further, but to accompany Koushik. Sudipta and Chung went along, Naskar long-long ahead.

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The road ahead was wonderful as well as severe. The pass is the place between the elite mountains of the world. Each of them are having heights over 6000 meters. The pass is like a cold-desert having loose soil.

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After finishing the early and easier climb, Samiti lake can be viewed. It was awesome to have the view of Samiti lake from the top. Sudipta and Naskar reached Samiti lake together. Ahead of that, there were scarcity of air. Sudipta sat there. Naskar moved on.

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Similar was the view of mountains from the level of the lake. People have to cross the lake through its left to go further.

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Ahead of it at the first view point, the heaven was there. The path to second view point was separated by a land slide. Naskar did not risk that much. He came back from the first view point. The landscape changed while returning with the Sun above our head. The snow was gone completely. When Naskar, Sudipta and Chung were on their way to Goechala view point, Koushik with me started for Thansing.

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I reached with Koushik at Thansing by 9.30 am.

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Sajib woke up by then and he joined Subhas. They had the lunch for the other three members.

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By the meantime, Naskar and Sudipta came to Lamuney with Chung. They waited there for the lunch to come. After lunch they started coming back to Thansing.

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Everyone were back at Thansing by 3 pm. The remaining day was spent in taking rest and watching others on their way to Lamuney.

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We had to start returning from next day. But, we were content.

Thansing to Tsokha

Trek Day 6

We were unsure about reaching Tsokha, considering our performance over last 2 days. We had a backup plan for Kokchurang in that case, but Kokchurang was only 2.5 hours walk from Thansing. So mostly we knew that we needed to reach Tsokha. Plan was to start early and reach Tsokha via Kokchurang and Phethang. Chung on the other hand, will come via Kokchurang, Dzongri and Phethang. He had to choose the longer way as the shorter way is not opted for horses. The shorter way is relatively less wide, full of forests and had numerous signs of land-slides.

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We started by 8 am as per plan. Due to less amount of ration remaining, Chung suggested to leave all the sacks behind, as they can be carried by the horses. We left them, and moved on. By 10.30 am we reached Kokchurang. All of us met together there before the suggested diversion – one way would go left towards the shorter path to Phethang directly, another path leaded to Dzongri (the same way we took while coming from Dzongri to Kokchurang). We found the path and kept moving on. We reached Phethang by 1 pm. Subhas came at 1.30 pm at Phethang with our lunch. We had lunch and again started as soon as possible. We finished that day’s trek at Tsokha by 3.30 pm.

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It was Tsokha. Hence, everyone were busy again with their mobiles calling their friends and relatives. It was Bijaya Dashami. That seemed to be the another reason. The return-train bookings were not still confirmed. We cancelled the ticket and opted for the general quota. The day was relaxed sharing experiences with people just coming to Tsokha about our trip. We were giving all of those we got while starting – be it ‘gyan’ or wishes. The dinner ended happily. As it was the last dinner of the trek, Subhas and Chung came with a nice surprise – a celebration cake having ‘Happy Trek’ written on it. The cake was tasty, tasted sweeter for the trek being nice to us.

Tsokha to Yuksom

Trek Day 7

Everybody was seasoned by day 7. Moreover, everyone was eager to reach their home. Hence, the last day’s trek saw enormous speed. After starting at 10 am, we reached Bakhim in 30 minutes and Sachen in only 2.5 hours. We waited near the first suspension bridge for about 1 hour. Subhas came with our lunch. The post-lunch session was relaxed as we needed to walk only a bit more. Finally, we reached at Yuksom at 3 pm. We roamed in the market, had coffee and got into Hotel Demazong dormitory. The sacks came late by 5 pm with Chung.

We got fresh and took rest. Dipak helped to book a service-car reserved for us. For the Yuksom-NJP trip, the car-owner took Rs. 3200. We bid good-bye and all to Dipak, Subhas and Chung. We had waited long for having some meat. Naskar wanted lamb, I wanted beef. Nothing exceptional was available. So, we made us content with chicken. We had it at Gupta restaurant during dinner at good price. We hardly slept for an hour, when the alarm started ringing. It was 2.15 am and the car is expected to come by 2.30 am.

Car came in time, started soon after and we slept all the way to NJP. We reached NJP by 8.30 am, bought our tickets and got in train (Haldibari-Kolkata Superfast Express) by 9.30 am. It was my first time in a general compartment of a train. But, luckily we managed to have seats for all of us. The time in train was spent discussing how we are going to settle in life. We reached Dumdum (Kolkata) in time and we got departed. After 30 more minutes, finally it was home, sitting where I could cherish my memories with parents.

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