Faces of Kangchenjunga

Ratan Lal Biswas

Photographs: Author
Category: Trekking, Hiking
Date of Publication: May 4 , 2014Vol-03 Issue-01

Like many others I was fascinated by the beauty of the lofty Kanchenjunga seen from Darjeeling in my early days until it beckoned me to go closer to it. In my youth, I was amazed by its glittering vastness as seen from the Sandakphu, Phalut and Dzongri tops and Barun La. That was the beginning of my inner urge that drew me to circle around its base to have a close view of this majestic peak. I made my first attempt during the 1970s, but from 1978 to 1984 all my dreams of going near it from Sikkim side were shattered because of the bureaucratic complications. After returning from Mt. Everest Base Camp in 1982, I again made several efforts to get permission from the officials to go near this gigantic peak from Nepal side along the Kanchenjunga glacier and Yalung glacier. This plan, however, did not materialize owing to entry restriction beyond Taplejung till 1990. From 1985, entry permission to the base camp of Kanchenjunga from Nepal side was granted but only to the Government registered trekking agencies and with a liaison officer from Nepal Goverment. Naturally, to obtain such a license at that time was beyond our financial capacity. After a series of correspondence with the Nepal Government, in 1991, finally, we got a green signal from the Immigration Department of Kathmandu permitting entry into that area. However, I was not provided with the detailed and latest information of the trekking route.

On way to Mitlung

On way to Mitlung

Kang-chen-junga, world's third highest peak on the Singalila range at 27°42'09" N - 88°9' E, means five treasuries of great snows, i.e. with five high summits. It is a common belief of the people of Nepal and Sikkim that God resides at the top of it. The Kangchenjunga area was first explored by the renowned botanist, J. D. Hooker in 1848. Then, Sarat Chandra Das, a Bengali scholar and the first Indian mountaineer, trekked extensively around Kangchenjunga area in 1879 and 1881 respectively, on his way to Tashilhumpo and Lhasa as a British agent. In 1899, Douglas William Freshfield, a British lawyer, author and mountaineer, circled the entire Kanchenjunga range from the north. He was also the first mountaineer to explore the western face of Kanchenjunga, which rises from the Kanchenjunga Glacier. Our trek around the Kanchenjunga range is precisely based on the information collected from the memoirs of these three great mountaineers.

The Singalila range is situated on the extreme northeast part of Nepal and is aligned north to south along the Nepal-Sikkim border. The Nepal side of Kangchejunga area is traversed by Tamur River that meets Arun Koshi below Mulghat. This area has a projection of high summits out of which fourteen are 7000 m above sea level and three are 8000 m above sea level. Kangbachen, in Ghunsa or Kangbachen valley, and Walungchung Gola, in Tamur valley have the highest human settlement in this region. Till 18th century, Tamur district was part of Sikkim but was then annexed to Nepal.There are Tipta La, Chabuk La, Jongsang La and other passes on these high mountains from where one can enter Tibet. Due to closure the trade routes of these passes are long abandoned.

Child at Ramtang Kharka

Child at Ramtang Kharka

On 5th October, 1991, Nirmal, I and three other (Alok, Subhamoy and Subhashis) left Calcutta. On the 7th morning, we arrived in a small town of Birthamore, Nepal. From there we took a bus for Phidim via Illum Bazar. Although the distance to Phidim from Birthmore is only 150 kms, it took us14 hours to reach Phidim due to the dilapidated road condition. The greenery of the beautiful tea gardens at Illum charmed us all through the way. The motorable road is up to Taplejung, much after Phidim, but owing to its extremely bad condition and water flow in Kabeli Khola, motor service was inoperative. Therefore, instead of Taplejung, we had to start our trek from Phidim, headquarter of Panchdhar District in Nepal. With the help of some locals, two porters were procured who would accompany us up to Taplejung only. There are two ways from Phidim to Taplejung - one is via Khurkhure Pool and the other through Gopetar. We left Phidim at 10.30 am on the 8th of October. From Jorsale, we went down fast along a forested area to the left bank of Hinwa Khola, a tributary of Tamur Khola. From Dobhan, we walked along left bank of Tamur Koshi. 'Dobhan' means a confluence point of two rivers. After crossing Tamur, the trail was continuously up. As there was no source of water point en route we were forced to continue the trail even in the dark. It was just before Hoda that we halted late at night in a 'Chowtara' which was an open halting place for local porters. We met human caravans carrying essential commodities to Taplejung and on return journey carrying cardamom from Taplejung.

Next morning, it took us an hour to reach Hoda. Villagers were busy in white-washing, painting and decoration of their huts with the natural resources for observing the ensuing Dasahara, Diwali and Bhaitika festivals. After crossing a ridge at Phalisha Bhagjang, we were on the way down along a pleasant trail through patches of golden paddy fields. We halted at Inwn for the night in a local hut. On October 10th, we walked steep down to Tamur Khola following its right bank. After Lumbini Pool, Phulbari and Chopur, we camped near Khurkhure Pool. Next day, from the Khurkhure Pool we climbed a steep trail path towards Taplejung. We trekked through a number of fertile villages before reaching the top of Taplejung Danda (1798 m) in the evening. The golden paddy fields, colourful huts scattered here and there, and the sharp featured, rubicund complexioned inhabitants mostly, Rai and Newar, wearing their traditional attire completed for a breathtaking and picturesque landscape of the hills.

Taplejung is a busy business centre and the district headquarters largely controlled by the Newar and the Brahmin communities of that area. Saturday, is the 'haat' or weekly market day. We left Namgial lodge by noon on 12th of October. After walking along patches of landslide zones we entered a fertile valley. At the day end, we got down to Mitlung (970 m) situated at the left bank of Tamur Khola. The conventional trekking trail from Basantpur i.e. from Dharan side also meets here. We arranged accommodattion in a decent lodge. Next morning, at Sinwa (1300 m), we met the famous Australian trekking team, Tim McCartney, his wife Anne McCartney, Sambhu Tamang and others. Form hereon, the two teams grouped to become one as both shared the same mission. Tim is one of the two summiteers who climbed Mt. Everest by Great Couloir route as well as from Nepal side in the course of his trek from Ganga Sagar. He also climbed many other renowned peaks in the Himalaya. Sambhu Tamang - a Sherpa Sardar and Director of 'In Wilderness Trekkers', a reputed trekking agency, also climbed Everest twice - once from Tibet side and the other from Nepal side when he was only 17 years old.

On way to Mitlung

On way to Mitlung

Leaving Sinwa, we were at Tawa village. There were only 3 huts with a good camping site. After an easy and pleasant trek of five hours from Mitlung along the left bank of Tamur Khola and through forested areas we reached Chirwa (1350 m) in the evening. Next morning, we reached Taplethok tea shop within an hour after crossing a small tributary. We climbed up in a zigzag way to reach Chirwani Danda and after traversing a forest we went downhill to the river bed again. The trail bifurcated - one along the right bank of Tamur is towards Walungchung Gola but beyond Walungchung it is still restricted and there is a trail towards Tipta La (16740 ft) along the Tamur Koshi to enter Tibet which was crossed by Hari Ram in August 1871 during his 'round the Everest group' trip. We followed the other route towards a suspension bridge on Simbua Khola. We ended our day's walk at Sakathun Camp site (1680 m) at the right bank of Ghunsa Khola. It was hard to imagine that this entire beautiful and ideal green grassy camp site belonged to Gamjo Sherpa, the hotel owner of Sakathun. He treated us as guests, as in this trekking route we were the first Indian trekkers he met. As the porters from Phidim were not willing to move ahead we faced fresh problem but Sambhu Tamang shouldered the responsibility and arranged porters for us up to Ghunsa. As private trekking teams are not allowed to trek in this region we hoped that Sambhu would guard us if the rule applied to the Indian citizens too. One of our team member, Subhasis kept constant touch with him.

From Sakathun, the trail bends along the right bank of Ghunsa Khola. Leaving behind a beautiful waterfall we reached Zonging - a small village with only a single hut. From here, there was a steep ascent towards Gaiyabari. At Gaiyabari, only two families resided with their cattle. From there onwards the trail climbs further up along grassy slopes crossing a number of waterfalls. The magnificent and charming view of waterfalls relieved us on this tiring trail. By afternoon we reached Amjilassa (2400 m) and took shelter in a village where a woman was living with her two children. The rest of the family was at Phale to herd their yaks. From her small shop we purchased rice, potato, and chicken and other requirements. All the way to Gyabla we trekked through calm and pleasant forest mostly lined with bamboo trees and crossed two streams. Gyabla, also known as Kyapra (2820 m), has a wide camping site and a few scattered huts but the main Gyabla village is on a table top which is situated far above the lower village. In all the villages beyond Amjilass there is good cultivation of potato. From Gyabla to Ghunsa there is one more trail along a high ridge touching Nago La (4802 m). It would take us one more day to reach Ghunsa. In 1881, while on his way to Lhasa, Sarat Chandra Das crossed Nango La and then from Walungchung, he followed the trail route to Yangma valley to cross Kanglachen Pass (17000 ft.). He crossed this on 13th November, 1881.

Next morning, we were walking through an easy ground all the way Ghunsa Khola and then came across a dense forest. As winter was approaching, yak herders with their cattle were on their way down. At noon, we reached Phale or Phere. It looked like a deserted Ladakhi village. There were a few scattered huts with a monastery but most of them had no trace of life. The terrain up to Ghunsa is more or less plain adorned with plethora of rhododendron, fir forest and juniper bushes. We took shelter at Ghunsa in a shop-cum-hotel on 17th of October.

Sakathun campsite

Sakathun campsite

Ghunsa (3480 m) is situated at the base of steep and rugged mountain. The left bank of Ghunsa Khola is also known as Kangbachen Khola and was previously known as Kangchen Chu. We all know from Sarat Chandra Das's autobiography that Ghunsa was a gig village with a famous monastery which was built at the same time as Pemayangtse monastery and the lamas of both the monastery belonged to the same sect. At that time, Ghunsa monastery was one of the richest and finest monasteries in Eastern Nepal and Sikkim. The great Buddhist Lama, Lha-tsun-chenpo, who introduced Buddhism into Sikkim entered Sikkim through this valley and had built this monastery. When routes for trading and cultural exchange between Nepal, Sikkim and Tibet through the border passes of this region went opened, Ghunsa, Kangbachen and Walungchung Gola were the most prosperous villages but in due course with the closing of all trade routes to Tibet, Gunsa lost its glory. As a ramification, sadly, the one famous and flourishing woolen carpet cottage industry of this area is now limited to only three or four families. However, after lifting the restriction on trekkers there is a little hope of re-development of this region and already two shop-cum-hotels have started business once again. We purchased cabbage, potato, yak meat and rice from villagers. High altitude porters can be arranged from here but sometimes it is difficult and also expensive, so it was rather wiser to procure them from Basantpur/Dharan. We visited the ruined monastery where still a few lamas livid in isolation. The livelihoods of the natives here mostly depended on yak herding, woolen carpet making, and to some extent, on trekkers and cultivation. In winter, most of the villagers go down to low altitude villages like Amjilassa etc. Sambhu told us that although previously the illiterate people of this area might have been brutish in nature, the area was restricted to outsiders mainly for political reasons and not because of them and until 25 years ago the Border Police Check Posts of this area were controlled by India. At Ghunsa, there is one school up to VII standard with 70 students on roll but attendance is almost next to nil. Being Indians we got whole hearted co-operation from local inhabitants.

From Ghunsa, we followed an easy and pleasant path in a bright morning along the left bank of Ghunsa Khola shaded with fir, rhododendron, juniper, deodar and weeping willow. We were accompanied by two fresh porters arranged by Sambhu Tamang from his own team. After crossing a yellow forest, we reached Rampuk Kharka at the other bank of Ghunsa Khola at noon. At the end of the tree line we were overwhelmed by the beauty of a waterfall. From here we, moved on along an upward trail traversing a landslide and rock fall zone. As we gradually approached Kanbachen, the snow- covered peaks from our right became prominent such as White Wall (6770 m), Jannu (7710 m), Sobitewange (6669 m) and Phole (6645 m). Out of all, Jannu the 'Mystery Peak' also known as "Peak of terror" was the most majestic. After trekking for almost six hours from Ghunsa we reached Kangbachen or Kangpachen (4000m), a summer retreat with a vast and beautiful grassy green meadow and the Thang-chen-chu brook flowing across the pasture. Naturally, it was crowded with yaks. At the left of this pasture land there were only 9 stone huts where a handful of villagers resided and there was also a seasonal shop-cum-hotel for trekkers. The people residing in Amjilasssa onwards are mostly Bhotiyas of Tibetan origin. The famous Kangbachen monastery is no longer in existence but only a few Chortens, small Buddhist shrines are left with Mani, the stone in Buddhist Stupa and prayer flags. Along with yak herding, all the people were engaged in collecting bushes and yak dung cakes for fuel. In the morning they extracted the yak milk and after churning it in a wooden container they prepared 'Surpi', a local variation of raw cheese. The native women wore a traditional Tibetan cloak called 'Jobba'. We stayed here for one more day for acclimatization. We utilized the day by marching north-west towards Nupchu glacier to get a closer view of Sharphu I and IV. From the top of a boulder ridge we were overwhelmed by the magnificent view of north face of Jannu with Jannu glacier in the east and Nupchu (6699 m) in the NW. The night was very cold (-10°C). Although there was no snow fall, in the morning we found frost all around. At night the glittering beauty of Jannu in moonlight will ever remain a cherishing memory to us.

Map of Kangchenjunga Base Camp area

Map of Kangchenjunga Base Camp area

The legend of Kangbachen valley is very interesting. The upper Kangbachen valley belonged to the Tibetans and the lower valley was under Magar tribe. The Magar Chief was very powerful and exacted heavy taxes from the Sherpa and Bhotiya people. His deputes also oppressed the people and squeezed out money from them. Then one day the Magar chief and his men were murdered by the Kangbachen villagers while he was on a visit to the village and the dead bodies were concealed. The queen herself went to Kangbachen to ascertain the cause of her husband's disappearance. All of a sudden the queen noticed some flies buzzing out from a spot and upon digging the spot the corpse of her slain husband was discovered along with the others. Without taking any instant revenge she ordered a grand funeral and large bowls filled with wine were brought to entertain the villagers and her followers near Ghunsa. After the queen's followers finished drinking, the wine was poisoned and distributed to Kangbachen villagers and one thousand men and women were dead. She took the revenge in this manner. Only those who did not attend the function were saved and reported this horrible incident to their Tibetian rulers. At this, the Tibetan Army invaded several Jongs or the army camps belonging to the queen and destroyed all the forts. After three months of fighting, the Tibetan Army finally expelled all the Magars from Kangbachen and distributed their properties amongst the survivors a of Kangbachen people.

We started late in the morning with our Australian counterparts. Following a pleasant trail path along the right slope of Kang-chen-chu we walked for some time. On our way we halted for a while to see a herd of burhel or wild sheep (locally known as 'ban bhera'). We then traversed a quite risky landslide and rock fall zone very cautiously and at its northern end there was a beautiful waterfall that formed fog at its base. It was called the Nymph Fall or Dakini Fall or Khan-dun-chu in the Tibetan language. This fall was once considered holy and traders and Lamas on their way to Tibet use to collect its sacred water. But with the ancient trade route completely closed it seems to have lost all its mythological importance. We reached Ramthang Kharka at noon. The weather was foggy and in this misty envelop of clouds the bells tinkling on yaks' necks formed a dramatic surrounding. After crossing the Lhonak nullah, also known as Chabuk Chu, we passed through a grassy meadow and reached Lhonak (4700 m) at around 3.00 pm. This place was previously known as Ramthang. Here also, there is a vast and beautiful camping site at the left bank of Chabuk chu. Mera Peak (6340 m) is at the south of Lhonak and at north-west there are Chabuk (6960 m), Janka (7090 m) and other peaks and also Chabuk La (6150 m). At night we countered a cold wave of -15°C.

From Lhonak, we moved in northeast direction. Sometimes the trail followed the grassy meadow at the right bank of Kanchenjunga glacier and sometimes we had to follow the lateral moraines. As we came nearer to Pangpema, the Pyramid Peak (7123 m), and Nepal Peak (7168 m), Twin Peak (7350 m & 7005 m respectively) and Wedge Peak (6750 m) became gradually visible. We reached Pangpema or Pangperma camping ground (5139 m) at 14 hours of 21st of October, 1991 after 14 days trek from Phidim. Pangpema is the base camp of north-west flank of Kanchenjunga wherefrom one can witness the true beauty of the massif Kanchenjunga (8586 m) range, Yalung Kang (Kanchenjunga West - 8505 m), North Col (6900 m) and Kangbachen (7903 m) as never from any other point. Kanchenjunga was first climbed by a British Expedition team under the leadership of Dog Scott in 1979 along this northern ridge. Our porter Dhukuram Chowdhury all along collected yak-dung cakes to lit a continuous fire at night. I spent here a coldest ever night of my life with the temperature down to - 20°C. On a bright morning, next day, Nirmal and I started ascending along a north-west ridge. At one point (5500 m approx.) we clearly saw the Nepal gap (6170 m) in between Twin Peak and Nepal Peak - a pass between Sikkim and Nepal. Towards north, there is the way to Jongsang La (6159 m) which is east of Jongsang Peak (7483 m) and west of Langpo Peak. One can see a galaxy of peaks of the Kanchenjunga massif from here.

Mt. Jannu

Mt. Jannu

The famous Wedge Peak, located behind the 20 kms long Kanchenjunga Glacier was also visible from Pangpema. While on his way to Tashilumpo, Sarat Chandra Das with Ugyen Gyastsho of Pemayangtse monastery crossed Chathang La (around 20,000 ft) located at the west of Jongsang Peak way back in 28th June 1879.There is some confusion and contradiction about the position and name of the passes. Whether Chathang La and Jongsang La are same or Chathang La and Chabuk La are same, one is not sure. Rinjin Namgyal, another famous mountaineer, followed Sarat Chandra Das' footsteps to cross Jongsang La in 1884 but D.W.Freshfield and few other introduced some confusion into it. Freshfield along with Rinjin Namgyal crossed Jongsang La from Lhonak valley i.e. from Sikkim side in 1899 during his round Kanchenjunga trip.

Completing the first phase of our trek we returned to Ghunsa within two days by the same route. On our way back we spent a night at Ramthang Kharka. Ramthang glacier, which comes from a gap or 'col' between Kanchenjunga and Jannu meets Kanchenjunga glacier near Ramthang Kharka. We halted for two more days at Ghunsa as we had to march with Sambhu for the most difficult and risky part of our venture i.e. crossing Lapsang La for entering Yalung valley. There is another route of relatively low altitude to Yalung valley by crossing Mirjin La (14833 ft), Pango La, Sinclapche La, and Tama La. On the request of Sambhu, Dorje Chetri of Ghunsa agreed to accompany us. At noon of the 26th we started with Dorje and the rest of our luggage was distributed amongst the other Sherpas of Sambu Tamang.

Mt. Jannu and Sobite wange from Khambachen

Mt. Jannu and Sobite wange from Khambachen

From Ghunsa, it was a continuous ascent towards east through dense rhododendron forest. At the end of tree-line we met a tributary of Yamatari Khola. At its left bank there is a bifurcation - the trail to Yamatari glacier is more prominent i.e. towards Rakpa Kharka, Cherubu Kharka and Jannu Base Camp but we followed another route down to Yamatari Khola. After crossing it we were on a steep ascending trail to a shrub covered ridge and followed it towards north-east direction. Within 4 hours of our trek we reached Lumba Sumba, the base camp of Lapsang La at the left bank of the stream. On 27th of October, we started from Lapsang La Base Camp at 4.00 am with the Australian team. The Australian team members had powerful head lights which we didn't had. So in that extremely chilly morning we followed them blindly along a tough steep trail in semi-darkness. Visibility was very obscure but we continued anyhow, depending on Tim. Tim was at the front and Sambu was at the tail of the long caravan. At one time we were enchanted when we looked back and saw the majestic beauty of the day's first light touching Mr. Everest, Makalu, Lhotse and Chamlang tops and other peaks including Baruntse almost at the same time. After a continuous steep path we entered a loose and unstable boulder region. Soon we were on an ice slope. After negotiating the ice slope we were again on the loose boulders where there were frequent rock falls, and therefore, we turned right and started traversing up along the base of a rock wall. We reached the top of Lapsang La (5200 nm) at 11.00 am. Sambhu, with his great sense of responsibility, waited for us eagerly at the top to see that we all had made it safely. We started down along the debris of unstable boulders where there were also frequent rock falls. After a continuous down trail, we stopped for a while at the bank of a lake. From here, again we descended along a steep landslide zone and were then on a grassy slope. We moved towards north to reach Lapsang Lake where we found that our guide Dorje has already camped on its bank. It was a wonderful camping site. The sight of Rathong and Kabru with their reflections in the lake was memorable. Dorje was persuaded by Sambhu to accompany us to Sikkim but he kept the condition that he would return after crossing the pass.

We marched towards north to see the south-west face of Kanchenjunga. Along our west, a series of snow peaks on the ridge extended towards south from Jannu. And in the east on the Singalila range a number of renowned majestic peaks dominated the scene. There is a high embankment i.e. lateral moraine between the pasture land and the Yalung glacier. Within an hour we reached Ramser Lake (4560 m) - a beautiful place with two huts at its bank, at the base of Boktoh Peak (5932 m). This lake is larger than Lapsang Lake with a greenish blue stain. The trail towards Rathong La starts from here. Not only at Lapsang or Ramser but all along there are good camping sites. In this sunny morning we marched ahead along an easy rise area and gradually the Kabru group of peaks and Talung came before us. We were nearer to Okthang (thang means plain in Tibetan language) also known as Corner Camp (5140 m). Within two hours we saw the Kanchenjunga massif including Kangchenjunga main, Kangchenjunga south (8476 m), Yalung Kang, Kangbachen forming a wall to the north. Well before Oktahng there is a stupa with tridents fixed on it. A ridge from Kanchenjunga massif extends towards south-west face along the lateral moraine of Yalung glacier and without sufficient mountaineering gears it is difficult to reach there. Kanchenjunga was first climbed by a British Expedition team in 1955 along this face under leadership of Charles Evans. Beyond this trident point (4890 m), towards Corner Camp is a risky rock fall zone. After enjoying this milky glittering view of gigantic peaks all around in a cloud free bright sunny weather we started downward. From Lapsang, the trail plunges down towards Taplejung/Phidim via Yamphudin, a trek of 6 and 8 days respectively.

We left Lapsang at noon and moved fast along the right bank of Yalung glacier. All through the trail path there were vast yak pasture lands. Within an hour we were at a small village called, Lanyang, with only one Goth house. We halted there for a cup of hot yak milk and requested the yak-herders to accompany us up to Sikkim. All of them were familiar with the area of West Sikkim as they often come down to India with their yaks sometimes even through Rathong La. But owing to shortage of manpower and the ensuing winter they could not accompany us and were preparing to go down with their cattle. From here, towards east we directly climbed up to glacier embankment and went down to lateral moraine. Dorje moved up and down for searching a convenient point wherefrom we could negotiate the glacier. After negotiating a portion of glacier we were on medial moraine from where we availed a log bridge on a stream of Yalung Khola at the snout point. We moved on to south-east direction along a grassy slope and camped at Tashi Topke.

Next morning, we climbed up along a grassy slope. From here, we looked behind toward other peaks and Lapsang La and the flow of Yalung glacier. We climbed atop a ridge towards southern direction. Tseram or Chairam is far below on the western bank of Yalung Khola or Simbua Khola. From this point, it is clear that from east a trail is coming from Kang La and to the west the trail climbs up from Tseram towards Ghunsa crossing passes including Mirjin La. Sarat Chandra Das had followed this trail during his trek from Darjeeling to Tashilhunpo (Tibet). From this point, we found the snow massif on the north and the green valley of Yamphudin on the south, Singalila on the east and Sinelapche La on the west. We turned left and traversed the grassy slope down to Namga Tshalglen where we met the trail coming from Tseram towards Kang La (16313 ft.). Along the right bank of Namga Chu we gradually climbed up. After crossing the stream we turned right and reached the foot of a ridge. Weather condition deteriorated all of sudden here and it started snowing.

Nymph falls on way to Lhonak

Nymph falls on way to Lhonak

It was in this course of our trail towards Kang La we realized that we were not in the right track and most probably have lost our way. Dorje told us that he did not know the trail to Kang La well but knew another safe pass on the southern side of Kang Peak. But as winter was approaching fast and with the sudden deterioration of weather, the crevasses of Kang La route might be covered by fresh snow deposition. In that case it would be rather risky for us to try this crevasse-prone area. At this stage, we followed Dorje on a steep boulder slope towards Chongpa La. Within an hour we reached Rathakphu, a flat top where on grassy land there were plenty of Phen Kamal (Saussurea gossypiphora). In this white-out condition we lost the distant view but moved fast on a comfortable down trail all along through pasture land. We came across some dry streams on our way. Owing to the scarcity of water we moved further and stopped at dawn at Chulungja and took shelter near an overhanging rock where we collected some fresh snow for melting.

Next morning, we ascended again to the ridge and after traversing another slope we were at Lumba Kharka, the base of Chongpa La. There were scattered pagoda shaped 2/3 feet high brownish coloured blossom known as snow cabbage (Rheum nobile) which is locally known as Keljog in Nepali and Chulama in Sherpa language. Its inner portion is edible. We started climbing along a boulder slope covered with patches of snow and climbed to the top of a ridge but it is not top of the pass and we turned left to the base of another ridge. After climbing that one I found that Dorje shouting from another top. Weather was cloudy although we saw for a while the distant view of Mt. Everest, Kakalu, Lhostse. We were on top of Chongpa La (4436 m) and found our country India. During 1881, on way to Lhasa, Sarat Chandra Das entered Nepal by crossing Chumbok La/Chumbab La, a pass on the Singalila range, at the south of Kang Peak. Chongpa La and Chumbok La may be the same pass. After descending to Sikkim side we reached Rangin Pokhari where we camped at the bank of a lake. There are 7 sacred lakes in this area. Dorje left us here after showing us the next part of our trail. From here to Rimbi it was only two days' walk.

Chabuk range from Lhonak

Chabuk range from Lhonak

Next morning we followed a comfortable and easy down trail above the left bank of Kuimothang Khola or Bokto Chu. At its other bank there is another big lake named Tshodhamdong or Cho Dom dong. After Bokto we reached at a point wherefrom we left the main trail which led perhaps towards Tegap La and we turned right to the bed of Kuimothang Khola where we halted in a Goth House. On 1st November, 1991 we started climbing from Kuimolthang Kharka. After one hour we reached another kharka. From here, there was a trail towards south to Laxmi Pokhari but we followed the east one to reach the top of the ridge. We were charmed to find the south east face of Kangchenjunga, Talung, Kabru, Pandim and many other peaks; including some snow ridges at northeast and also Kang La, Chongpa La, Chourikhiang, Dzongri. We wrongly claimed this top as Daiu Pass/Jamle Pass (4636 m) which is actually towards south of it. As per direction of Dorje we traversed right i.e. towards south and at Gopethang Kharka we were confused to see that there are five trails and soon there was a white out. We searched for some human figure to give further directions and luckily got two but they did not know the trail to Rimbi. As per their version our intended trail might lead us towards Nepal.

At this confusing stage, we followed them along a downward trail from Gopethang Kharka along a stream in a dense foggy weather before reaching the actual Daiu La/Jamle Pass. But the Daiu La/Jamle pass from where we should descend is situated towards further south. After crossing that ridge, the correct trail is down from Rampung Kharka to Rimbi Chu at Yampung Kharka (3735 m) and along its flow it continues to Rimbi via 'Chauri Goth'. This was where we deviated from the actual route. We spent the night in a 'kharka'. As there was no mark of a trail we moved down along a stream and next day reached at the right bank of a river. In this dense forest with a foggy weather, we lost the link with the local fellows. We identified this as Rimbi Chu but actually it is Rathong Chu. Owing to non-approachable dense forest, deep gorges and having very little food we could not move fast. In this hazardous condition with our own efforts, especially, with the help of Yaksam villagers we all were finally able to reach Yaksam (1780 m) on16th November, 1991. Nevertheless, we survived the mercy of Almighty God and our eternal love for the Himalaya, successfully completing the round trip to the mighty Kanchenjunga without any loss of life.

Kangchenjunga massif from Pangpema

Kangchenjunga massif from Pangpema

Summary

The objective of the expedition was to circle around and explore the passes around Mt. Kanchenjunga. The author, Ratan Lal Biswas and his team followed the trail route as described by the explorers Sarat Chandra Das and Douglas William Freshfield in their memories.

Team Members: Ratan Lal Biswas, Subhomoy Mitra, Alok and Nirmal
Date of Commencement: October, 5, 1991
Starting location: Birthamore, Nepal
Ending location: Yuksom, Sikkim, India
The Trail Route: Phidim - Jorshale - Hoda Village - Tapeljung - Sinwa - Taplothok - Sakathum -- Sakathun Gyabla Village - Ghunsa Village - Kangbachen - Ramtang - Lonak - Pangpemo (South West Base camp of Mt. Kanchenjunga) - Back to Ghunsa - Lambasamba (Base camp of Lapsang) - Lapsang La - Ramser Lake - Okthang - Yalung Valley - Namgasal Valley - Luma (Base camp of Chopang La) - Chongpa La - Rimbi - Yuksam
Duration of the trek: About a month
Major passes: Lapsang La (5200m) and Chopang La

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