Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Source of the Teesta Trek in North Sikkim: Lachen to Cholamu

North Sikkim Plateau
Looking south from the high point of Dorji-La over the North Sikkim plateau
In the summer of 1987 I was extremely lucky to receive the hospitality of the Indian Army to trek from Lachen upto Cholamu Lake, the source of the river Teesta in North Sikkim. This road is now jeepable and the army uses the road for ferrying materials, supplies etc. to their higher camps. Travel companies from Gangtok also arrange permits for tourists and take them up from Lachen for the day upto Thangu and Gurudongmar Lake.  However, it is a bone-jarring ride and to enjoy the magnificent mountain scenery, the sweeping views across the North Sikkim plateau towards Tibet and the plethora of bird and animal life in the Trans Himalayan region, this trek is highly recommended but I am sure it is permit restricted at the moment.. The trek starts in the southern side of the Himalayas at Lachen and crossed the Himalayan watershed at Giagong where it enters the Trans Himalaya. The trail them travels along the North Sikkim plateau with the plains of Tibet to the north and the main Himalayan range to the south. On the way to Cholamu it passes the sacred lake of Gurdongmar which is a place of worship for the Sikhs.

I was able to climb upto the army high point at Dorji la, which is a peak about 5650 metres north east of Cholamu lake. It was mid June, the onset of the monsoon. To the north of Dorji la the plateau of Tibet stretches for miles as far as the eye can see a brown barren wasteland.  And to the south the high point looks down the Lachung valley   and in the distance, flickering flashes of lightning could be seen far below lighting up the valley in the midst of the inky night. It was a surreal experience as though one was seated at one of high points of the globe. 
 Acclimatization Day in Lachen 
It is necessary to stop for a day at Lachen for acclimatization before starting the trek. Day walks can be undertaken up the valley. Lachen has a number of carpet weaving centres in the main village and a visit to one of these is recommended. 

 Day 1: Lachen (2700 m) to Thangu (3900 m) (6-7 hours)
The road to from Lachen to Zema heads due north along the North Sikkim Highway and can be covered in a jeep/land rover and would take about half an hour. From Zema the road continues northwards along the right bank of the Teesta River.  The trail then ascends through a forest which has a large number of rhododendron trees which are in full bloom during April and May.  The road continues to climb gently up northeastwards the valley northeastwards following the river. About  four hours from Lachen the river is crossed at Tallum Samdong  and the road then begins to travel  eastwards through moorland country. The vegetation now begins to thin and dwarf juniper and scrub jungle cover the barren hillsides. The road then passes through some ascents and descents until it crosses the stony bed of the Phalong Chu, which is an hour from Thangu.
Thangu is a cold and austere valley partially covered with scrub, though near the river dwarf rhododendron trees can be seen. . From here a trail leads westwards over the Lhonak la pass into the Lhonak valley and the road northwards continues towards the North Sikkim plateau.  An acclimatization day is recommended in Thangu, which will greatly ease high altitude problems later on in the trek. Climb the hill behind the old Thangu dak bungalow built by the British and to the north east can be seen the fluted ice pillars of Kangchenjao peak (6900 metres).  It is also a good acclimatization walk. The climb up the hill in summer will reveal a host of beautiful wild flowers like primulas, blue poppies and blue gentians in the autumn.
Teesta and rhododendrons, Thangu
Rhododendrons in bloom along the Teesta river between Thangu and Giagong
 Day 2: Thangu (3900 m) to Giagong (4800 m) (5-6 hours)
The path to Giagong passes the Thangu dak bungalow and travels due north. To the west in the gorge below the fast flowing Teesta rushes through rocks and boulders on its way down the valley.   About an hour out of Thangu the river is crossed and then the path follows the right bank of the river. The terrain now resembles a rocky wilderness dominated by the spurs of the snow clad Kangchenjao to the east.  The going gets slower as oxygen becomes scarce and frequent rests are recommended. The path finally passes around a spur and then descends to the plain of Gaigong.

 Day 3: Giagong (4800 m) to Cholamu (5250 m) (5-6 hours)
The walk to Cholamu is now on the North Sikkim plateau, which is a mere continuation of the Tibetan plateau further to the north. The trail travels due east all the way to Cholamu following the Teesta river, which is now no more than a tiny stream. The walk is mostly level with gently gradients in a few places.   The plateau is rich is wildlife. The Tibetan wild ass or kiang can be seen in small herds galloping over plain.   Bharal or blue sheep and the Tibetan gazelle are often sighted on the trail. The area has a number of lakes and migratory birds, ducks and geese can often be spotted flying overhead. About three hours from Giagong the sacred lake of Gurdongmar is reached where the Sikhs have built a memorial and offerings are made at the lake. The mountain scenery is increasingly impressive with the peaks of Chomiomo (6829 metres) and Kanchenjao (6750 metres) to the south dominating the horizon.
Kangchenjao North Sikkim plateau
Kangchenjao as seen from Giagong
Day 4: Rest Day at Cholamu 
The day can be profitably spent gazing at the magnificent spectacle of peaks including the majestic Pauhunri (7125 metres) with the lake of Cholamu at its feet. The more intrepid can attempt part of the trail or the entire trail to the Donkya la pass which leads on into the Lachung valley. Donkya La pass was crossed by Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker in 1849 on his botanical journey in Sikkim.

 Day 5: Cholamu (5250 m) to Thangu (3900 m) (6-7 hours)
On the return journey it is possible to reach Thangu in one day as the path from Giagong is mainly downhill. Further, as you are losing around 1350 metres in altitude the air becomes much richer and walking is easier.

 Day 6: Thangu (3900 m)   to Lachen (2750 m) 4-5 hours
The way down from Thangu is swift and by lunchtime you would be at Lachen..

For more photographs of North Sikkim do visit http://www.sujoydas.com/Sikkim-Himalaya



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...