View of Himalayas including Kanchenjunga along the India-Nepal border. Photo credit: fabulousfabs via Flickr.
David Elliott wrote this post on trekking in the foothills of the Himalayas. He is a freelance writer who loves to travel, immersing himself in foreign cultures and lapping up the history of great cities.
For experienced and enthusiastic trekkers, the foothills of the Himalayas offer a breathtakingly beautiful landscape in which to practice their hobby. With lots of cheap flights to India on offer now there’s never been a better time to pack the kit and head on out there.
Darjeeling is by all accounts the spot where trekking first started to take off in India, and it’s easy to see why. It has some of the most spectacular scenery in the world, which was what must have attracted the Jesuit father Fr Macdonald here almost a century ago to set the trend, and Himalayan trekkers have never looked back.
The Singalila Trek is one of the most popular ones in these parts. There are two trekking seasons for this trail, the first one opening around March and closing in June, the second starting in September and closing in December. The expedition consists of a round trek from Darjeeling, lasting about six days and passing through Tonglu, Sandakphu, Phalut, Ramam and Rimbick before coming back to Darjeeling.
For those with a passion for high peaks and majestic scenery, trekking around the fabulous Mount Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world, is an absolute must if they’re in the Darjeeling area and up for a challenge. The 28-day circuit trek around the base of this monstrous shard takes you amongst some of the planet’s most untouched regions of valleys, crevasses and glacier-gouged landscape features, for a truly exhilarating experience.
Kanchenjunga itself is the most easterly of the Himalayan peaks, located on the border with Sikkim in Eastern Nepal, and has four entirely separate summits. It hasn’t been as thoroughly explored as Annapurna and Everest, either, which only adds to the excitement of trekking through this Ice Age landscape.
Treks around the base of Kanchenjunga take walkers not only past cascading waterfalls and breathtaking peaks that disappear into the upper clouds, but also through highland forest trails and vast fields of colorful rhododendrons. There are also plenty of villages scattered around the area, with hostelries where trekkers can take a break overnight and experience a warm, local welcome.
The starting point for a trek around Kanchenjunga is usually Suketar. Walkers then head for Mitlung and Ghunsa before climbing up to a base camp at Pangpema and then retracing the route back to Ghunsa and turning onto an established trail for the spectacular Yalung Glacier and Oktang. The Suketar airport at Taplejung has a history of frequent closures and is now practically non-operational, so treks here usually wind up at Thorpu and are followed by a drive to Birtamod and from there a flight to Kathmandu.
Trekkers around these areas have to pack clothes suitable for both high mountain ranges and lower tropical climes. The trails rise and dip over heights ranging from 1000m to 4000m, so as well as heavy sweaters and wind cheaters they’ll need light T-shirts, and a good raincoat because of the unpredictable weather. Sports shoes and sturdy boots are usually durable enough for a standard trek.
Mountain huts containing food and equipment for trekkers are situated about every 15km, and there’s little chance of getting lost or running out of chocolate.