I wanted to trek in a group for a change. I had been traveling solo to many places and this time for a change, I wanted to explore Mount Kanchanjunga in a group. I met Bet and Alba through TrekkingPartner.com. After much email correspondence we met in Kathmandu, dealt with final details, and set off with our guide, Raju, coordinated by our fabulous trekking agent, Kanchenjunga Trek. We headed towards Bhadrapur and then to Taplejung via jeep.
The starting point of our official trek was Taplegunj. The first few days of the trek were spent hiking through the wide and beautiful Tamor Nadi River Valley. We crossed small villages where we were greeted with warm gesture of villagers. We passed through rice paddies, cardamom fields, impressive swaths of bamboo, rhododendron trees forests, langurs and red monkeys. On our second night we stayed in Amjilosa, a picturesque village perched on top of a hillside. I even indulged myself in kitchen to make vegetable momo.
The first 2 days of our trek were slightly difficult. My new trekking buddies were facing difficulties initially. Luckily for me, I had been walking for the last two months, so I was in a good shape. We were shocked as well as saddened when we saw young trekkers carrying almost 50 kg each. On top of that, they were paid only approximately $50 for a total of 5 day walk carrying such heavy loads.
On our third hiking day we reached the village of Gyabla, where we caught up with two other groups of people hiking with the same trekking company as us. The night ended with a great celebration over Tongba(Nepali ‘beer’ homemade from fermented millet and corn mixed with hot water and served in characteristic wooden drums), yummy food and dance. The good part was that there were new members in our group. We were a group of 8 now. Coming from Nepal, Canada, Germany, Spain and the US we became a nice little multicultural family!
One of the specialities of Gyabla is Tibetan Bread. It is finger licking good and you must try it once in your life. On the 4th day, we hiked through the Tibetan refugee village of Phale. We watched the colorful monastery where artisans were weaving and crafting. Then we headed towards Ghunsa. The village is incredibly charming and nicely manicured by the resident Sherpa population, with all the buildings made of blackened wood and brightly painted doors and windowsills. We stayed at Ghunsa Guest House which was owned by lovely Sherpa Family. They served us amazing tibetan tea brewed with salty butter and milk. Here ,I purchased a beautiful necklace made of Tibetan beads as well as a locally made hand-weaved yak-wool scarf since it was getting colder. We decided to take a day off in Ghunsa(3400m) and spent the whole day hiking up to 4150 m to witness majestic Mount Jannu towering above us and then walking back down.
After taking a day off, it was now time for us to climb again up to Khangbachen at 4115m. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself climbing through majestic larch forests turned golden with the changing season, highlighted by other fall shades of red and orange, set on black rocks, all lightly frosted. We were greeted by extremely polite owner of the White House hotel, Mr. Nupu Sherpa upon reachhing Khangbachen. Some of us preferred to hike to gain a little more elevation. The day ended on a good note with Mr Sherpa feeding us delicious sphagetti bolognese made with yak meat and cheese.
Our next destination was up to Lhonak. We climbed only ~600m gradually over 8km, up to 4770m. Lhonak itself is a collection of 8 crudely constructed and rather drafty wood buildings. We arrived during brilliant sunlight, in which we basked for a few hours enjoying the spectacular views of the awe-inspiring snow covered peaks all around us. Alas, the sun did not last and again clouds shrouded the views and caused the temperature to drop substantially. Quickly, we rolled ourselves into our sleeping bags and ended the day anticipating about a lovely morning tomorrow.
From Lhonak we started our walk at 4:30am in subzero temperatures, reaching the Kanchenjunga North Base Camp at 5128m by about 7:45. Apparently the weather there is usually dreadful, but we arrived in no clouds or wind, with a strong sun warming our skin. Mount Kanchanjunga was truly worth all our efforts. It was so inspiring to see such a majestic mountain towering infront of us completely wrapped by ice and snow. After admiring the amazing view, we headed downwards and reached Ghunsa a day later.
After our return to Ghunsa we enjoyed a bit of relaxation along with the opportunity to shower and wash clothes. We joked around and were having a quality time. We loved our guide whom we used to address as “Dal-Bhat” boys. There are people who swear by teahouse trekking and people who swear by camping. I say that if teahouses are available – jump on the opportunity! It is a wonderful opportunity to get to know locals, interact with them, learn about their culture. It is an absolute joy. Plus, you have to carry less gear if you’re staying in teahouses. The downside to guest houses is that beds are sometimes pretty uncomfortable, and occasionally your room ends up being close to the kitchen which can mean a smoky sleep. Sleeping in a the same tent for the whole trip allows for more consistency on that front, to be sure.