Friday, December 13, 2019

Kangchenjunga North Base Camp Pangpema Trek | Route and Timings Part I

A South Col Team trekked the North Pangpema Base Camp of Kangchenjunga in November 2019. The details of the trek with day wise itinerary and timings are below.

  • The start of both the north base camp trek and south base camp trek had rough jeepable roads for fair weather use. For our detailed post of these roads do visit
  • Lodges are available on the trek but these are basic below Ghunsa and also have few beds. In case you are a large group (8-10 persons) during season time April and October  you may be better off camping. Above Ghunsa the quality of the lodges improve dramatically and is some of them you can get attached toilets. There are also many more lodges.
  • Phone connectivity is there in some of the locations – only Nepal Telecom not Ncell.
  • There is no wifi available on the route excepting at Ghunsa Hospital.
  • The trekking numbers are also  low – from the Kangchenjunga Conservation Area Project records for 2019 I found that the spring season March to May 2019 had 202 trekkers while the autumn season September until 20th November 2019 had 634 trekkers out of which October alone had 407 trekkers. In comparison the Everest route has around 45,000-50,000 trekkers in a year!
  • The approach from Kathmandu is usually through Bhadrapur airport a 45 min flight and then a long drive from Bhadrapur to Taplejung. There is an airport at Suketar but the thrice a week Nepal Airlines flight is not very regular and is often cancelled.
  • There has been a lot of changes in the routes mentioned in the guide books some due to landslides and some new trails being developed and the guide books need updation e.g. Lelep often mentioned as a night stop is not required to be visited any more there is a direct trail now to Sekathum so do not follow the guide books blindly.

 November 9 2019 Kathmandu to Bhadrapur airport to Ilam
We left Kathmandu on a bright November morning on a 45 minute flight to Bhadrapur airport altitude 91 metres. The flight was delayed by about 45 minutes due to air traffic congestion at Kathmandu airport - we finally left after 10 am. The ATR aircraft flies around 4500 metres and so offers an excellent view of all the peaks. We saw the entire Himalayan range soon after take off right through the 45 minutes including the Langtang group, Gourishankar, Numbur, Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and at the end the enormous Kangchenjunga massif standing alone over the plains of Bhadrapur.

We had a Mahindra Scorpio waiting for our team of seven four clients, one guide and two porters. The road started up immediately travelling due north heading into the mountains. For 30 minutes it passed fields on both sides with paddy in rust and yellow ready for harvesting.  It then started to climb rapidly out of the plains and in about an hour reached Fikkal and followed a ridge attaining an altitude of around 1700 metres.  Kangchenjunga was visible from this ridge. The drive reminded me a lot of the Darjeeling hills especially around the Kuresong area but neither crowded nor built up with verdant green hillsides falling away to the valley below. On some turns you could suddenly see the plains far below which we had left behind shimmering in the morning haze.  The road then proceeded to lose altitude rapidly in the next 45 minutes until it dropped to 460 metres at the Mahikhola river bridge. The bridge is crossed in about two hours and then a 30 minute climb brings one to the town  of Ilam with numerous tea gardens some within the town  itself. 

 We checked in to the Summit hotel which had newly painted rooms and clean toilets with hot water and wifi connectivity.  Ncell and Nepal Telecom communications were available all the way from  Bhadrapur to Ilam.  Vegetable thali at Summit was Rs 250. Omelette Rs 80.
Kathmandu to Bhadrapur flight 45 minutes; Bhadrapur to Ilam by jeep 2 hrs 30 minutes without stops. Ilam 1220 metres 26 54 41 N 87 55 48E

November 10 2019 Ilam to Taplejung to Taplethok  by jeep
We started out from the Summit Hotel Ilam around 7.10 am. it was a sunny and clear morning and the road immediately began to climb out of the town. In about one hour it reached the village of Ranka and then climbed further onto a high ridge around  2485 metres 27 4 9 N  87 48 4 E with excellent views of the Kangchenjunga group on one side and Everest Lhotse Makalu and Chamlang. This was in fact extremely similar to the view from the Singalila ridge of Sandakphu near Darjeeling. The road then dropped again into the valley and in about 2 hours reached the town of Phidim where we stopped for a puri- alu breakfast. From Phidim the road dropped further into the valley and in 25 minutes crossed a bridge over the Hem Khola at 588 metres. It then started climbing up again to around 1200 metres before again descending to another river at around 533 metres. From this point it was a steady uphill climb to Taplejung.
Ilam to Phidim  1158 metres 27 8 46 N 87 45 58 E - 2 hours  Phidim to Taplejung  1808 metres 27 21 19 N 87 40 13 E - 2 hours 30 min.  Both Ncell and Nepal Telecom working at Taplejung and Suketar.

We reached Taplejung before noon and had to change into a four wheel drive vehicle. We also had to stop for lunch.  We saw the peaks of Sharpu II and III from Taplejung.  From Taplejung we climbed uphill to the airstrip of Suketar 2400 metres  which took around 30 minutes where there were a number of nice lodges and we stopped at the Everest lodge for lunch.  Suketar is the base for the Pathibara temple pilgrimage and revives a lot of local visitors including tourists from Darjeeling and Sikkim. There is a  scheduled flight from Kathmandu by Nepal Airlines thrice a week to Suketar but mostly cancelled.
From Suketar we started around 2 pm and proceeded directly north. The road was now no more than a dirt track with rocks, boulders and rushing streams all of which had to very skillfully  navigated.  It was one of the most bone rattling drives and you need to hold on for dear life to avoid being flung out of your seat! The road  started losing altitude immediately from 2400 metres and in 45 minutes reached the village of Gadee. It continued to drop into the valley and then passed through the village of Phurumba. In about an hour and 20 minutes cross the Yafre Khola bridge over the river. Soon after reach the road reaches the village of Linkhim. From Linkhim it is a long haul to Chiruwa which we  reached around 5 pm and then another 30 minutes to the check post of Taplethok where there is a new lodge Hotel Tamar with three rooms which we occupied. 

The jeepable road which we used and saved 1.5 days walking is not the same track as the walking trail. In case you are walking from Taplejung you should go down to Mitlung in about 2-3 hours and the next day walk from Mitlung to Chiruwa.  The road also would remain operational during the dry season only mid October to possibly mid May - the onset of the rains would bring with it landslides and mud rendering the road inoperable.   Our permits were checked at the Taplethok  KNP check post and we also got the Kangchenjunga National Park permits here (Rs 2000 for foreigners and Rs 500 for Indians ). Dal Bhat veg 300 Omelette 100 Black Tea 25 Nepal Telecom fully working at Taplethok.
Taplejung  1808 metres  27 21 19N  87 40 13E to Suketar 2400 metres 20-30 min; Suketar to Chiruwa 3 hours Chiruwa to Taplethok  1362 metres 27 28 10 N 87 44 7 E 30 min.

November 11 2019 Taplethok to Sukethum 7.5 km
It rained in the night but the weather cleared up n the morning and it was sunny and pleasant. We started around 8.15 am and immediately crossed the bridge across the Tamur Khola. We then started walking along the left bank of the river on flagstones amidst beautiful cardamom plantations.

 The trail followed the river gaining altitude very gently. After about 45 minutes there was a steep climb of around 20 minutes to a tea shop at Phembu Pipalpani at 1500 metres. We stopped for a cup of tea and then started off again. The trail again continued to meander up the hill side with gentle ups and downs. In about 45 minutes from Phembu the trail bifurcates -there is a sign here indicating the way to KBC (Kangchenjunga Base Camp).  In about another 10 minutes there is another trail junction marked in four directions (see photo) - take the arrow northwards for KBC. 

The trail then joins what looks like a rough jeepable road heading up the valley. In about another 20 minutes the trail reaches a suspension bridge with a sign marked KBC again. We crossed  the bridge and came to  a tea house with a Welcome to Sekathum sign - Sekathum lodges are still 10 minutes up the hill. Climbing the 10 minutes to Sekathum you can get the first view of the tip of Jannu at the head of the valley. We checked in to the newish Panda Guest house with a beautiful sunny garden and had the afternoon off  to rest and relax. 

Please not that though some of the old routes and guide books mention Lelep, it is not necessary to go to Lelep.  With the proper signposting mentioned above it is now easily possible to go to Sekathum directly bypassing the climb to Lelep.  Dal Bhat   370  Black Tea 50 Nepal Telecom is working 2 bars in select locations in the garden of the Panda Guest House.
Taplethok to Phembu Pipalpani 1 hr to 1 hr 10 min;  Phembu  to Sukethum 1586 metres 27 32 0 N 87 48 13 E  1 hr  30 min to 1 hr 45 min.

November 12 2019 Sekathum to Amjilosa 10.5 km
It was once again a clear sunny morning with the tip of Jannu visible up the valley. The trail passed the Sukethum Guest House and then climbed for a while before descending to a bridge across the Ghunsa Khola in about 20 minutes. There is another lodge next to the bridge which has a nice garden. The trail on the right bank crossed another bridge after another 15 minutes and returned to the left bank. The trail continued to meander up and down the gaining altitude steadily. It then entered a landslide area with a large waterfall on top and in about 2 hours from Sukethum crossed the third bridge. Cardamom plantations continued on both sides of the river with a large number of ferns and creepers.  The forest was extremely lush. The trail then climbed some difficult sections near the river before reaching Lametar in about 45 minutes from the third bridge.

 The Tashi Deley lodge in Lamatar was closed and just above it was another tea shop with no name where we managed to get a cup of tea. The sun takes a long time to reach the trail and it was at Lametar around 10 15 am that we got the first rays of the sun.  The trail after Lametar crossed some rocks and boulders including a landslide section and in another  15 minutes from Lametar crossed a fourth bridge with a waterfall behind. In another 20 minutes or so the fifth bridge was reached at 1981 metres and we again crossed back to the left bank.  From this bridge starts the steep 400 metre final climb to Amjilosa which is difficult with a lot of loose boulders.

The path initially  climbed very steeply gaining 150 metres in just about 20 minutes. The river presented a grand spectacle thundering down through the rocks at a steep angle. After this 150 metre push the trail leveled out for some time skirting a ridge and crossing a sixth box  bridge (there was no river below) at around 2250 metres. From here the trail took a last steep upward climb for around 40 minutes before reaching the ridge of Amjilosa which was marked with a sign. The last 90 minutes from the 5th bridge was definitely a steep push given that it was only the second day of our trek. We stayed at the Chiring Kipa lodge which had five rooms - there was no menu  (we made one see below)  but  the basics were all available. Dal Bhat Rs 400 Black Tea Rs 60. Nepal Telecom signal was working with 2-3 bars in some locations at Amjilosa.

Sukethum to 1st bridge 20 min; 1st bridge to 2nd bridge 15 min; 2nd Bridge to 3rd bridge 1.5 hours; 3rd bridge to Lametar 35-45 min; Lametar 1883 metres 27 33 12 N  87 50 28 E to Amjilosa  2405 metres 27 34 1 N 87 51 26 E 2 hr 30 min.

November 13 2019 Amjilosa to Gyabla 10 km
We started out at 7 40 am and followed the trail which is visible from Amjilosa. It climbed gently leaving Amjilosa behind - the immediate objective was a tea shop visible on the hill from Amjilosa.  In 35-40 minutes we  reached the small tea shop which had the name Kabita Tea Shop written on the side. There was a sign here to  Dhangyam  2 hours.

 Interestingly the tea shop  location had a full Namaste (Nepal Telecom) five bar signal. From here the trail went through the forest both ups and downs with rocks, ferns and mossy outcrops. The Ghunsa Khola roared through the gorge all the way. 

The last thirty minutes was a steep down and naturally on the way back would be a steep up.  In about an hour and 45 minutes a waterfall was reached and across a small wooden bridge we came to the tea shop of Dhangyam which had a sign to Gyabla 2.5 hours. We stopped for tea for 15 minutes - there is a new KCAP building with a blue roof  under construction - we are not sure if it is a lodge or office.

We left Dhangyam at 11 05 am and followed the Ghunsa Khola again upriver through the forest. In 15 minutes we came to a small waterfall and a box bridge with a signpost KBC long route and KBC - do take the KBC route as the other one is overgrown.  The path continues through the forest and in another 25 minutes comes to a small clearing with another signpost KBC and the up route to Lose. In 30 minutes from here there is another waterfall and  a wooden bridge to cross. The trail then climbs up for a bit and in 15 minutes crossed a box bridge and a waterfall. Finally after 30 minutes a suspension bridge is reached. From here the path begins a steep climb to Gyabla through a muddy gully with water flowing over the rocks. Gyabla is reached in 35-40 minutes from here. There are three lodges in Gyabla we stayed at the biggest one Hotel Shinji Namjong which is a large concrete construction with large clean rooms, a proper dining area and a lodge menu. Dal Bhat veg 300 Black Tea 70.  The Nepal Telecom signal works in a few locations at Gyabla but the Ghunsa tower was down the day we were there and so we did not get a signal.
Amjilosa to Kabita Tea Shop 2550 metres 35-40 minutes Kabita Tea Shop to Dhangyam 2385 metres 27 35 6 N 87 52 17E  1 hr 45 min to 2 hr Dhangyam to Gyabla  2 hr 15 to 2 hr 30 min 2725 metres 27 36 51N 87 52 25E

November 14 2019 Gyabla to Ghunsa 11.7 km
We left Gyabla around 7 35 am on a clear sunny morning. The trail climbed for about ten minutes before plunging down for another 15 minutes to a box bridge - there is a sign mentioning red panda area and not to harm them.  The trail then entered the forest once again and continued it journey ups and downs - in about an hour and 40 minutes from Gyabla it crossed a small wooden bridge over a waterfall. It then passed a landslide area near the river - soon after in ten minutes a stone clearing appears which makes a good stop. The clearing is surrounded by rhododendron bushes which would be a treat for the eyes in the spring season. In 30 minutes cross another landslide area and then come to a rocky beach near the river - there is a sign here saying Phale 1 hr optimistic  - it is around 1.5 hours from here. 

Climb steeply for 45 minutes from here to reach an entrance with multicolored  Khadas. The steep climb now ends and for the next 30-40 minutes’ walk along grassy flats with shepherds huts to the lodges of Phale which makes a good lunch stop.

After lunch we left Phale at 1 pm. This was in fact the best walk since we started the Kangchenjunga trek. The trail meandered up the valley gently gaining altitude again surrounded by rhododendron bushes and small trees on both sides. The Ghunsa Khola roared through the gorge below while above was Khabur peak and to the right the Ghunsa peak both above 6000 metres. In 35-40 minutes we crossed a suspension bridge - there is a sign here Ghunsa 1 hour but it is nearer 1.5  given the stops for the amazing views on the way. Ten minutes from the suspension bridge is a sign for Lumba Sumba and a small chorten with a memorial remembers those lost in the horrific Ghunsa air crash in 2006. 

We soon passed a large Om mane Peme hum wall by the side of the trail and in another 30 -40 minutes we cross the last suspension bridge - the village of Ghunsa is on the other side. Ghunsa has a large number of lodges we stayed at The Peaceful which had new rooms in small cottages with attached toilets. There is a Nepal Telecom tower at Ghunsa which was working with all five bars. Dal Bhat  veg Rs 450 Black Tea Rs 70,
Gyabla  2725 metres to Phale 3.5 to 4 hours Phale 3220 metres 27 38 29 N 87 55 4 E to Ghunsa  3412 metres 27 39 37 N 87 56 10 E 1.5 to 2 hours

November 15 2019 Rest Day at Ghunsa
The night at Ghunsa was terribly cold for all of us despite the fact that the altitude was only 3415 metres. Water had frozen in the taps so the temperatures must have been well below zero. I had to use a quilt on top of my  down sleeping bag which was unusual. The morning dawned clear but interestingly the sun hit the village only at 10 am unusually late. Until that time we lay in our beds until 8 am and then rushed into the dining room for breakfast. 

Hotel Peaceful Ghunsa
Ghunsa has a number of lodges out of which Peaceful, Kangchenjunga Guest House, Ghunsa Guest House and Sele La Guest House are the most popular. There is also a very nice bakery called Dzomsa the red building run by Tashi Chiring whose brother Nupu runs the Kangchenjunga White House in Kangbachen. We spent the rest day in the sun washing some clothes for the return journey.  We did a short 90 minute walk up valley for some acclimatization. The hospital at Ghunsa provides wifi connectivity @ Rs 500 for one hour and Rs 300 for half hour. There is a Police Check Post at Ghunsa where permits are checked and entered. Hotel Peaceful also enters all the Trekkers details under the Kangchenjunga Conservation Area Project.

........To be continued in our next blog post Kangchenjunga  Part II on December 23rd 2019 

For more photographs from the Kangchenjunga region please do visit

For more information on our treks and photo workshops do visit 

For photographs from the Himalaya do visit



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