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West Sikkim high-altitude treks

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Two high-altitude treks are currently allowed in Sikkim. The first, from Yoksum to Dzongri, in the shadow of Kanchenjunga, passes through huge tracts of forest and provides incredible mountain vistas; all-inclusive rates from a decent agency are around $50 per head per day. The second, the Singalila Ridge, explores the remote high pastures of the Singalila frontier range with breathtaking views of the massif; per-person daily rates are higher, at around $65. Trekkers for either of the two must have special permits and travel in groups of at least two organized by authorized agencies. Check permits and arrangement for porterage, guides and food before you set off – all should be included in the cost; scrutinize itineraries too. Bring adequate clothing, boots and sleeping bags and a hat for warmth. The best time to do both treks is between October and mid-November, when the weather is clearest.

The Dzongri Trail

Although Dzongri is the junction of several trails, the prescribed route onwards leads to Goecha La via Zemanthang and Samiti Lake. Well-marked and dotted with basic accommodation, the trail, also used by yak herders, is at its best in May when the rhododendrons bloom.

DAY 1

It takes approximately 6hr to climb the 16km from Yoksum (1780m) to Tsokha (3048m). The forested trail begins gently before arriving at the Parekh Chu above its confluence with the Rathong. The next 4.5km involve a knee-grinding ascent, entering the lichen zone and cloud forests, past the Forest Rest House at Bakhim (2684m) to the Tibetan yak herders’ settlement of Tsokha where there are a couple of trekkers huts.

DAY 2

This day can be spent acclimatizing yourself to the altitude at Tsokha, perhaps with a short trek of around 5km towards Dzongri, to a watchtower for superb views of Kanchenjunga and Pandim.

DAY 3

The 11km section from Tsokha to Dzongri (4030m) takes at least 5hr, rising through beautiful pine and rhododendron forests to Phedang Meadows (3450m), before continuing to the hut at Dzongri.

DAY 4

Once again, it’s worth staying around Dzongri for further acclimatization. This gives you the opportunity to climb Dzongri Hill above the hut, for early-morning and early-evening views of Kanchenjunga’s craggy south summit and the black rocky tooth of Kabur, a holy mountain towering above Dzongri La (4400m), a pass that leads to the HMI base camp 12km away at Chaurikhang and the Rathong Glacier (a recommended variation).

DAY 5

The 8km trek from Dzongri to Thangsing (3841m) takes around 4hr, descending against an incredible backdrop of peaks to a rhododendron forest, crossing a bridge and continuing through woods to the Trekkers Hut at Thangsing at the end of a glacial valley.

DAY 6

The 10km short, sharp shock up to Samiti Lake (4303m) takes around 3hr through alpine meadows traversing glacial moraine before arriving at the emerald-green Samiti Lake (local name Sungmoteng Tso). If you are still going strong, you could continue to Zemanthang (4453m) where there’s a trekkers hut.

DAY 7

The climax of the trek, and also its most difficult section by far simply due to its high altitude. From Samiti Lake, the 14km round-trip climb takes around 4hr up to Goecha La and 2–3hr back down again. The trail follows glacial moraine to a dry lake at Zemanthang, before a final grinding rise following cairns and the occasional prayer flag to the narrow defile at Goeche La (5000m), where Kanchenjunga South is clearly visible on a clear day.

DAY 8

Most of the long 24km hike from Samiti Lake back to Tsokha is downhill and takes around 8hr, involving a short cut after the bridge to avoid Dzongri. There are several variations to this finish.

The Singalila Ridge

Itineraries for Singalila Ridge treks range between ten and nineteen days and though more expensive due to the area’s remoteness, they prove exceptionally rewarding, with views from Everest to the huge Kanchenjunga massif ahead. It’s best done from south to north facing the views as the trail rises towards the snows through remote alpine pastures and past hidden lakes. From the roadhead at Uttarey (1965m), 28km to the west of Pelling, or from Soreng, 30km to the west of Jorethang, the trek ascends to Chewabhanjang (3170m) on the Sikkim–Nepal frontier. Thereafter, the trail rarely descends below 3500m, high above the tree line; the highest point of the trail is the Danfeybhir Tar, a pass at 4400m. Several lakes such as Lampokhari, all considered holy, are encountered along the route, and here and there dwarf rhododendron forests bring a blaze of colour in season (April–May). The route dips down to Gomathang (3725m), a yak-herders’ shelter on the banks of the Boktochu, then passes through a delightful forest of silver fir and rhododendron before arriving at the welcome sight of the bungalow at Dzongri. You could descend from here via Tsokha to Yoksum or continue to Goecha La, thus completing a grand and rewarding traverse.

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