|1||Suketar- Lali Kharka||2:45||Desperate only|
|Lali Kharka – Simbu||1.45||Yes|
|Simbu – Kunjari||1:30||Yes|
|2||Kunjari – Khesewa||2:30||Yes|
|Khesewa – Phumphe||4:00||Yes|
|3||Phumphe – Mamangkhe||1:30||Yes|
|Mamangkhe – (junction)||1:00||No|
|(junction) – Yamphudin||2:30||Yes|
|4||Yamphudin – Dhupi Bhanjyang||2:15||No|
|Dhupi Bhanjyang – Lasiya Bhanjyang||3:30||Maybe|
|Lasiya Bhanjyang – Tortang||2:30||Yes|
|5||Tortang – Cheram||4:30||Yes|
|6||Cheram acclimatisation day|
|7||Cheram – Ramchaur||2:30||Yes|
|8||Ramchaur – Okhordung||1:30||No|
|Okhordung – Cheram||3:00||Yes|
|9||Cheram – Sele La||2:40||No|
|Sele La – Misisay La||1:00||No|
|Misisay La – Mirgin La||1:30||No|
|Mirgin La – Selele camp||1:00||Yes|
|10||Selele camp – Selele La||1:30||Yes|
|Selele La – Ghunsa||2:00||Yes|
|11||Ghunsa – Khangpachen||4:30||Yes|
|12||Khangpachen – Lhonak||4:00||Yes|
|13||Lhonak – Pang Pema||3:15||Maybe|
|Pang Pema – Lhonak||2:40||Yes|
|14||Lhonak – Khampachen||2:25||Yes|
|Khampachen – Ghunsa||3:45||Yes|
|15||Ghunsa – Gyabla||4:00||Yes|
|Gyabla – Amjilosa||3:30||Yes|
|16||Amjilosa – Sekathum||4:00||Yes|
|Sekathum – Thiwa||3:30||Yes|
|17||Thiwa – Lingkhim||3:30||Yes|
|18||Linghim – Suketar||5:00||Yes|
|(17)||Alternative 17 Thiwa – Mitlung||4:00||Yes|
|(18)||Alternative 18 Mitlung – Taplejung||3:00||Yes|
The notes below were provided by Sue and Howard Dengate (thanks!) and have been updated with info from Len Glassner and Jussi+Helena in 2014. Prices are listed as the room or bed price first, then db means dal bhat so (Rs300, dbRs500) means a Rs300 room and dal bhat is Rs500 (so a sort of “Big Mac” index for Nepal), and sections of this trek are very much a dal bhat trek. Between Yamphudin-Sherpagaon and Ghunsa, and north of Ghunsa, there are no permanent settlements, no villages, so in other words the places between are lodges only and hence sometimes higher prices and closing during low seasons.
Altitudes are from the Kanchenjunga trekking map, in metres. Height gain/loss per day is cumulative and rough, from a cheap altimeter but may help you know what is coming.
Do carry snacks and ask where you can get lunch, and which places are open and closed to avoid a nasty surprise. Not all places have a light in the bedroom, bring a good head torch.
Sue and Howard speak fluent Nepali and gave a positive tone on everything; updates will gradually muddy their delightful original text.
Please add any and all updates in the comments section at the bottom of the page.
There are two broad possibilities for the start of a Kangchenjunga South Base Camp trek, starting the trek from Taplejung, the district capital of the region, and the alternative, from Dahalgaon, and both require multiple hops from Kathmandu. See Getting to and from the Kanchenjunga Trek for details. This is no info yet for the Dahalgaon start.
2014 October: the Suketar airstrip is still being reworked and is not operational however the road to Taplejung is in reasonable condition. If flying to Bhadrapur then take a jeep to Ilam, stay the night and then the drive to Taplejung takes the morning, barring breakdowns. It is also possible to drive from Bhadrapur to Taplejung in around 9 hours although driving at night is less recommended.
1. Suketar to Kunjari 450m↑ 1200m↓ 5-6hrs
Walk east up the airstrip onto a disused tractor road to the right and continue up to Deurali with its tea shops (2578m, 1hr; Deurali Bhanjyang, deurali and bhanjyang both mean pass or saddle!). Take the right fork when a road veers left to the pilgrim-magnet Pathibhara Devi Temple (3794m), a day’s walk away. Stay on the rhododendron-covered ridge to Lali Kharka (2266m, 1:05hr) where excellent classic dalbhat may be obtained (or mediocre, depending on the cook, and the rooms here are filthy). The road now terminates here with tractor-trailers and maybe a jeep.
Descend and circle through scrubby forest to Tembewa (~1800m) after 1hr, then through Simbu (1700m, Simbuwa, 1:30hrs). The **Aadamba Hotel with 4 beds and more being added was welcoming (Rs300, db Rs300) and served an unusual breakfast khaja (khaana jaane) of barley pancake with omlet.
Alternatively continue down a hot steep path, cross the Phawa Khola (1430m) and up steeply to the scattered bamboo and bananas hamlet of Kunjari (1800m, 1:20hr from Simbu). The one lodge on the right at the entry to Kunjari is adding two rooms which will improve overnights. The village lights were like constellations over the silent hills at night but the roosters start at 3am.
Trails can be confusing around Kunjari and Khesuwa, ask locals where the lodge is, if you haven’t found it.
2. Kunjari to Phungphung Danda 750m↑ 700m↓ 7hrs
A steepish climb on steps to Gurung Kande Bhanjyang (2130m, Sinchebu, Sinchewa Bhanjyang) with a friendly 5-bed inn. Enjoy the views of Kangchenjunga and a forest walk on steps down through hot and steamy but very prosperous hamlets growing millet, maize and rice to Delok (upper) Khesewa (2125m) for lunch.
Drop steeply to a lovely waterfall (0:40hrs) under Khesewa and make a long climbing traverse, around a ridge and another long traverse lined with clear small waterfalls, to an endless flight of stairs and down to the neat houses of Phungphung Danda (1860m Pumphe, Pumphe Danda; and this may be via Phungphung Dar, 1680m with a homestay and teashops). Fresh red cardamom (elanchai) is harvested at this season from the ginger-like plants under shade trees, at the risk of snake-bite to the labourers. It is a settled and rich countryside that exudes contentment. We very much enjoyed the **Phumphe Danda Teahouse (Rs400, db Rs350) with 4 beds in 2 rooms +977 97426 25486, 024 680 504 run by Gopi Bhattarai and his wife. The golbheeda (tamarillo) pickle was a winner and the dahi (yoghurt) was excellent. There is another lodge lower down.
3. Phungphung Danda to Yamphudin 650m↑ 800m↓ 5-6hrs
Head down the stairs through a cardamom plantation to a high suspension bridge (0:35hrs) and then a gentle climb to the pretty and neat Limbu Mamangkhe (1780m, 1:05hrs) where there are several teahouses with beds. Tea with real milk but no coffee. There is one steep climb afterwards in hot steamy conditions with little shade but welcome small waterfalls. We found lunch in a farmhouse 2hrs after Mamankhe.
One hour after Mamankhe it is possible to turn left on a higher route to Sherpagoan (2000m, upper Yamphudin, **Arun Lodge bed 300Rs), avoiding the descent to Yamphudin and reducing the amount of climbing and descent the next day. This route is on small tracks and includes crossing a grassy cliff at length with an exposed narrow trail where a mis-step would be fatal (other people have taken a trail without this section). If this is a concern go via Yamphudin. See more details on days 15 and 16 of north-to-south.
Yamphudin (1692m) was smaller than expected but has several comfortable lodges – we stayed in the friendly and helpful **Yellow lodge (Rs200, db Rs150 with the tastiest bentah achar made of tamarillo, chilli, garlic, salt and ginger). There is a TIMS and KCAP permit check here, and a police checkpost too.
If you arrive early then it is around 1:20hrs to Sherpagoan from Yamphudin.
4. Yamphudin to Tortong 2100m↑ 800m↓8-9hrs
This can be a long day, and beginning from Sherpagoan makes good sense instead. It may be possible to overnight in the bhatti (teashop) on Lasiya Bhanjyang on benches around the walls of the single room, which is currently the poorest accommodation on the described trek, but the proprietor is cheerful and friendly and the location beautiful. Before leaving, check with your hotel whether the Lasiya Bhanjyang bhatti is open – if it is not, then you will need to continue down another 2:30hrs to Tortong.
An early start makes the first climb, some in shade, less hot. Cross the Amji Khola and climb north to Dhupi Bhanjyang (2540m) and enjoy the forest views. Drop through ancient rhododendrons on a muddy track (check for leeches!) to a new swing bridge across the Amji Khola at 2340m then up the true right to a closed bhatti and camping area at Omje Kharka. From here, it is an unrelenting but pretty climb on good steps past a wooden seat chautaara, where the track comes in from the left from Sherpagaon, then 20mins later through a pasture marked as Chitre (2925m). Pick up water here, it is scarce until the pass. Continue climbing on a stepped track in good condition through ancient rhododendrons to the welcome bhatti on Lasiya Bhanjyang (3415m; Lassi or Lamite Bhanjyang). If you choose to stay overnight here you can climb through silver pines up the hill behind the bhatti for extensive views of your onward route. We were in streaming cloud among the ancient rhododendrons and autumnal oaks the whole time when we stayed here in 2012.
Drop to the grassy pass overlooking an immense landslip with a view of Mt Jannu (7711m, Kumbakarna) to the northeast, then climb about 150m above it and descend on a muddy zigzag through lovely ancient forest with maples turning yellow and the deciduous larch, a feature of the Kanchenjunga area, starting to turn in late October to early November. Cross the Simbuwa Khola and make a short climb to Tortong (2980m, Torontan; 2:30hrs from Lasya) consisting of two good lodges with separate rooms (**Yak-snow Homestay; no toilet, Rs300 room, dbRs500), well-stocked shops with Snickers and Mars (the first since leaving Suketar) and even electricity. In common with most places on the south side of Kanchenjunga, the dalbhat was superb, albeit with unrequested lumps of fatty pork. These lodges may be open from September-November and often February then March-May inclusive although if demand increases so too may the length of the season.
5. Tortang to Cheram (Tseram) 900m↑ 4-5hrs
Most people can climb to 3000m without getting altitude sickness, but the altitude gain in these track notes above Tortang is triple the 300m per day suggested for safety. Watch for signs of altitude sickness and be prepared to rest or retreat if they emerge. Consider using Diamox (a drug that assists in acclimatization) and remember that there are no clinics or easy communications in case of trouble.
From here there is about 900m of ascent beside the river, a long way and tiring but one of the most beautiful walks we have seen in Nepal: the changing sounds of the river, moss- hung forests with huge pines and larches giving way to a huge range of rhododendrons, all mixed with various broadleafs turning with autumn. In warm sun with a following breeze there are few better places to be. Watch out for the grazing yaks, some are frisky.
About 1hr finds a yak kharka where you might get a meal or tea. We spent a memorable night among yaks there in 2013 as Tortong was closed for the season. After another 40mins there is a teashop (no rooms) at Anda Phedi (db Rs450), but closed in December 2013 and Oct 2014. Yaks from Yamphudin are taken for grazing by the track that heads up to Anda Pokhari from here. After 30mins there is a beflagged Buddhist and be-tridented Hindu shrine with a snake shape in the rock, north of which there is supposed to be a prohibition on the killing of animals but there was maasu (meat) on the menu in Cheram (3868m; Tseram), a crossroads for those coming over from the north side of Kanchenjunga. There are two lodges open with 6-7 rooms and (another big new lodge, construction stalled 2014), plus about 100 people in four separate tent encampments; in 2013 early December we were the sole inhabitants. In 2012 we chose the **Yalungkhang Guest House (now Rs300, db Rs400; rooms drafty). There is electricity and there are well-stocked shops. In 2013 late in the season we were grateful to find that Da Chiring (+977 993242131 in Yamphudin) had kept open his comfortable **Blue Sheep Guesthouse (Rs500, db Rs 350) with 8 beds in 4 rooms, open March-May and September- November inclusive.
The **Snow Lion Guesthouse as three nice rooms with mats (no shoes inside) and the kitchen is in a separate building, so quieter. Rs500, dbRs500.
In 2012 Cheram saw 250 teahouse trekkers; in 2013 400 teahouse trekkers total in both seasons.
6. Cheram acclimatisation day (5hrs)
We chose to take rest day in Cheram due to the altitude gain the previous day. We walked towards Ramchaur (see track notes for Day 7) to a lake with marvelous views and back again in an easy 5hrs and could easily have gone to Ramchaur. 16km on a rest day! You could also climb directly above Cheram, or just rest.
7. Cheram to Ramchaur 750m↑ 2-3hrs
Ramchaur (Ramche on some maps) is getting crowded in season and has only 3 rooms with 2 beds in each plus 10 on the floor in the dining room; ask ahead if you plan to stay but whatever you do don’t miss going up there, even for a round day walk which can be easily done in 5hrs.
Head up through moss-hung pines and rhododendrons with a small clear stream, climb and cross a large loose gully and climb again into the seasonal yak pasture (kharka) at Yalung (wrong 3900m on map, probably 4100m). The Decherol Monastery with 6 monks, mentioned by Chandra Das in 1881, was located here but no trace remains of it or the surrounding village although a shrine is rumoured above. There follows a beautiful series of open ablation valleys, juniper, cinnamon-scented dwarf rhododendrons and moraines and lakes with the Kabrus, Rathong and Kokthang hanging above. Care will be needed crossing the many frozen streams and seeps. Watch out for yaks, some are totally wild, and for herds of blue sheep.
The hidden stone lodge of Ramchaur (4610m; Ramche, 2:30hrs) is beautifully located and open March-May and September-November but ask in Cheram first at each end of these seasons. There is a reasonable shop (muesli, dried milk, Snickers/Mars). The food was excellent and the proprietor Pasang Sherpa very friendly (bed Rs600, db Rs800, black tea Rs100). Climb the nearby moraine wall for Yalung Glacier and mountain views and watch for snow pigeons. In 2012 a flock of 30 blue sheep came right to the kitchen that night for the salt found in urine from the ‘open toilet’ and the kitchen slops. It also snowed heavily, complete with thunder and lightning, and drifted into the room through the wooden shutters. The lodge was closed in early December 2013.
8. Ramchaur to Okhordung to Cheram 150m↑ 900m↓ 4-5hrs
Leave your rucksack behind but take a daypack with warm and windproof clothes for the upward leg, an easy gentle climb to a flagged cairn on a high moraine wall with views of the Yalung Glacier and the south face of Kangchenjunga, quite shapeless and foreshortened but undeniably massive. Okhordung (4740m, Oktang) is regarded as the base camp but the actual camp is another 2km/1hr/100m up on a track collapsing due to glacial retreat. We did not regard the extra views as worth the effort, but if you do add 2hrs to the day. Okhordung is certainly worth an hour or so soaking it up then it takes about 1hr back to Ramchaur. Pick up your bag and enjoy going downhill to civilization at Cheram again.
GHT Kang La start side trip
+1 Cheram to third Kharka 600m↑ 50m↓ 4-5hrs
The best and most practical start to the Great Himalaya Trail trek is up a side valley from Cheram to the border with India, the Kang La pass. Jussi and Helena trekked this in Oct 2014 and more detailed notes will follow sometime.
The first kharka at around 3860m is 35mins away, a further 1:05hrs leads to a second at 4110m with its stone hut and small bridge and then the third that is good for camping is another 1hrs up at 4410m.
+2 Third Kharka to Kang La to Cheram detour 600m↑ 1175m↓ 8+hrs
Heading up, there is a lake around 2:30hrs up at 4800m and then the pass is another 30mins on at 4975m according to Jussi’s altimeter. Moving quickly on the way back, they took around 5 hours to get back to Cheram. They are the first trekkers that I (Jamie McGuinness) know of who have reached that point, I am envious.
9. Cheram to Selele camp 1100m↑ 850m↓ 6-7hrs
This day and the next connect the south side of Kangchenjunga to the north side via a superb traverse smelling overwhelmingly, at altitude in autumn, of the honey-cinnamon of dwarf rhododendron. The traverse is remote and exposed to weather so consider a rest day in Cheram if the weather may spoil the views.
The 800m climb above Cheram has a reputation for steepness gained from those who have descended it. It is steep but firm underfoot and soon overcome. Climb to Sele La (4720m, not shown on map) in about 3hrs past two tarns (small lakes) and one large cairn without flags. Descend a little and traverse right, gently up and down in lovely high pastures and scree with views as far as Makalu and even Everest. After about 1hr, pass a left-descending track to the blue lakes Anda Pokhari and further down to Anda Phedi where there is now a lodge. Near here you can refill your waterbottle from the only flowing stream we saw. A short climb takes you to prayer flags and a stone heap on a distinct pass that people from Ghunsa call the Misisay La (4645m, Sinelapche Bhanjyang on map) after the death 20 years ago of a Tibetan and two yaks at this point.
Continue traversing, noting Lion Rock on the ridge above, and reach the windy and prayerflag-strewn notch Mirgin La (4645m) after about 1.5hrs, from which the views of Jannu are as good as any available, together with Makalu, the long ridge of Chamlang and even a glimpse of Everest. Drop steeply into a boulder-choked valley with underground flowing water, eventually arriving in a classic cwm with the Selele Khola flowing crystal clear though the middle. Selele camp (4130m, Mani Bhuk) (each bed Rs500, db Rs700, shop has biscuits, alcohol, no Snickers/Mars) is not shown on the map, but it is open from September to the end of November, has 4 rooms and 12 beds and good food. There is still no toilet so be careful of surprises behind the many rocks and not everyone rates this lodge highly. This is a profoundly beautiful place, particularly towards evening as the valley clouds rise from below. The camp may be closed near the start and end of each season. You can ring Dawa and Pasang Sherpa in Ghunsa +977 99 423 2334 and check and they may open it for a fee if closed. Usually it is open September-November and March-May inclusive.
The naming of passes on the traverse from the sides of Kangchenjunga appears to depend on whether people come from Yamphudin or Ghunsa, not helped by the fact the historical names were sometimes wildly applied to totally wrong places (eg Hooker referred to Mirgin La as Choonjerma Pass, which actually goes into Tibet above Olangchunggola). Note that la, deurali and bhanjyang all mean pass or saddle in broad terms.
10. Selele camp to Ghunsa 100m↑ 800m↓ 3-4hrs
The sun doesn’t arrive until 8am in late October, but it is short day (2:10hrs to Ghunsa) so a late start is not an issue. Continue the northern traverse on a narrow rocky track to Selele La (4200m) with cairns and flags, continue circling with views down the Selele Khola, up to rocky peaks and rockfalls, across to the Nango (Nangba) La (4795m) which can be used to access Olangchunggola. Eventually there is a chorten and prayer flags named Tama La locally that mark the start of a steeper descent through old-growth rhododendrons, silver birch, silver pine and larches below towards Ghunsa (3415m), a large clean village of traditional wooden houses set in larch and pine forest. In 2012 we chose **Peaceful Guesthouse (2012: Rs250 single, Rs500 double/triple, db Rs400) with a lovely family and a warm bucket shower. In 2013 we stayed at the **Kangchenjunga Guesthouse (Rs600, db Rs500) and were very comfortable with a good toilet, shower, food and family.
The Ghunsa houses are charming with rocks holding down shingles on roofs, dark weathered pine walls, a forest of prayer flags and juniper burning in the morning. Yaks, dogs, goats and chickens roam the main street. Fresh milk and dahi (yoghurt) may be obtained in season.
Ghunsa was busy with people coming and going all the time, but in the last 10 days of walking (2012) we met only 23 ‘teahouse trekkers’ in total, in 8 groups. There were also 6 large camping groups. In 2013, being later, we met only one German and 5 Russians.
In order from the bottom of Ghunsa, there is the new Snowline Lodge with budge pricing (Rs300, dbRs250, chapati Rs15, meat sherpa stew Rs250), Kangchenjunga Guest House, Selele Guest House, Sherpa Guest House, Ghunsa Guest House, Yak Hotel (left down lane), Peaceful Guesthouse, and another closed lodge. Most lodges now have a food menu and some have limited satellite TV too. There are well-stocked shops but there is no internet despite signs; the electricity is mostly on, similarly the landline phone system.
In 2012 we took a rest day here the next day to wash clothes, and by afternoon it was snowing.
Ghunsa is where the trek from the south crosses to the more popular north route, and it is also the first real village since Yamphudin. Most trekkers on the northern trek take a rest day here, and sleeping in since the sun arrives late and leaves early, so get your washing done early. In winter most of the villagers move down to a sunnier climes, the lower part of Phale.
11. Ghunsa to Khangpachen (Khambachen) 850m↑ 100m↓ 3-4hrs
Most people can climb to 3000m without getting altitude sickness, but the altitude gain this day is about 750m, double the 300m per day suggested for safety. Watch for signs of altitude sickness and be prepared to rest or retreat if they emerge. Consider using Diamox and remember that there are no clinics or easy communications in case of trouble.
Take the obvious track up through Ghunsa and cross a bridge, icy in the mornings. The autumn larches above are like sunlight along the Ghunsa Khola in October-November, one of the highlights of many visits to Nepal. Gentle pleasant walking through larch, rhododendron, silver pine and cedar forest, with yaks coming down loaded with potatoes and the valley ahead blocked by the huge Jannu terminal moraine. After 2.5-3hrs cross a cantilever bridge to the true right, circle two big slips with significant rockfall danger and striking views of Jannu (7711m, Kumbakarna) and climb steeply. Then stop and admire the best views of Jannu! Traverse and eventually cross a small stream into Khangpachen (4145m; Khambachen) with about 10 stone houses. The **Kangchenjunga White House run by welcoming Norbu Sherpa (Rs700 double, db Rs600) has now 7 rooms with 16 beds, excellent food and is open September-October and maybe November depending on season, and April-May and maybe March depending on season. Call Norbu at +977 99 324 2319 (Ghunsa) 99 324 4578 or 99 32 44579 (Khangpachen). Other places cater only to camping groups.
The valley northwest up the Nupcha Khola calls out for an afternoon ramble. In 2013 we were privileged to arrive 2hrs after the first Nepal capture and collaring of a snow leopard, just above the hotel, and two days later glimpsed a female snow leopard in the same place. The World Wildlife Fund scientists told us there are about 18 snow leopards in the valleys above Khangpachen, feeding on the numerous blue sheep.
If you take a rest day in Khangpachen, there is a lovely side trip closer to Jannu. Check in Khangpachen for the current location of a seasonal bridge over the Ghunsa Khola. Cross the meadow after the bridge and walk uphill on a trail to the northern side of the Kumbakharna (Jannu) Glacier. After about 2.5hrs reach a shrine (~4650m) marked by many prayer flags, bells, tridents, letters and other objects of worship. Rest and enjoy the view of Jannu and its neighbours. It is possible to continue for at least another hour is the snow leopard country but the ground is prone to landslides. Return to Khangpachen in about 2hrs. Elevation gain and loss is about 600m.
12. Khangpachen to Lhonak 750m↑ 100m↓ 3.5-5hrs
Again this is double the 300m per day altitude gain suggested for safety. Watch for signs of altitude sickness and be prepared to rest or retreat if they emerge.
Climb past the chortens above Khangpachen then steadily on the true right bank with beautiful icy rocky peaks all around, though big areas of sea-buckthorn that fruit prolifically in October but are not harvested locally. There are at least two large flocks of blue sheep. At times there may be avalanche snow across the track that can make crossing streams problematic and recent snow in 2013 made the going icy at the finish. The last 30mins traverses a loose and exposed gully wall at length, crosses a rude bridge and then a sandy plain to seven scattered huts of Lhonak (4792m). There are two basic lodges, one with a triple bed room, and two dark twin bed rooms (Rs1000, db Rs800) and the other a dormitory only (Rs550, dbRs750).
Lhonak is a very atmospheric place, mountains walls about a plain of yaks, particularly at night when you seek the ‘open toilet’ – be careful what you shelter behind! Walk up towards the Lhonak Glacier for the afternoon but take your warm clothes. Visitors in the days before us in 2012 reported -24°C and -17°C at Lhonak but they were in tents and we found the hut at -4°C warm enough. 2013 was also very cold. in November the sun briefly tricks, going behind Wedge peak again before finally bathing the place.
13. Lhonak to Pang Pema to Lhonak 350m↑ 350m↓ 6hrs
This day takes you deep into the Himalayan mountains with time to enjoy and acclimatize but glacial retreat is collapsing the moraine terrace, meaning that some sections require considerable care and there is an ever-present risk of stone fall. About two-thirds of the walk is on grassy terraces. The views of Kangchenjunga and the glacier are stupendous. We also saw Himalayan pika (rock rabbits), a big covey of chukar (Himalayan snow partridge), and more blue sheep.
There is a single hut in Pang Pema (5140m) which is open from September to sometimes mid-November and in April to May and sometimes March and serves noodles for lunch (Rs500). A limited number of people could sleep inside (Rs1000). We regret that we didn’t plan to spend a night here, although the altitude may make for a restless night. Pang Pema is generally regarded as the north base camp since it provides a complete view of the north face of Kangchenjunga, but it is possible to go further on deteriorating moraine walls – probably better to spend the time climbing the rocky ridge above Pang Pema for wider and wider views if you have the energy. Retrace your steps for a second night in Lhonak, usually into the up-valley wind after 10am.
14. Lhonak to Ghunsa 200m↑ 1600m↓7-8hrs
Very charming walk with full valley views of the golden larches in season. Retrace your steps down-valley to Khangpachen in 3-4hrs taking care on the icy bits. Lunch is available, then on to Ghunsa in another 3-4hrs, taking care on the two big slips which are now in the sun. The smell and sights of the forest are enchanting after the barren uplands. It is a 1600m descent today so watch your knees.
From Khangpachen it is also possible to cross the Ghunsa Khola and descend to Ghunsa entirely on the Ghunsa side of the river. The trail is thin and crosses one major side stream, pick your crossing point carefully.
15. Ghunsa to Amjilosa 400m↑ 1400m↓ 7-8hrs
Cross the Ghunsa Khola on a swing bridge near the Yak Hotel, turn left, pass the ancient Tashi Choding Gumba (which welcomes visitors but is usually locked) and climb to a memorial to the many wildlife people killed in an horrific helicopter crash near Ghunsa in 2006. Look up right at the next bridge to the route to a yak hut just under Nango La (4795m), by which it is possible to reach the ancient village of Olangchunggola (~3000m) in two days. This village is reputed to be the original village settled from Tibet more than 600 years ago but there is no accommodation at present. Descend through the Tibetan refugee village of Phale (3215m) after 1hr. This atmospheric village offers a glimpse of authentic Tibetan culture with two active gompas, carpet-weaving and traditional lifestyle. In 2013 coming up- valley we stayed at the friendly **Kangchenjunga Folay Hotel (Rs500, db Rs300) and there are at least two other good homestays with private rooms. People were very welcoming.
The lower part of Phale is Ghunsa’s winter village.
It is a pleasant day dominated by the awesome river and beautiful silver pines, blue spruce, rhododendrons and autumn larches. Two short steep climbs separated by a bridge bring you to Gyabla (2725m, Gyabru) for lunch. There’s a 9-bed expensive guesthouse (Rs800, dbRs500) and camping. Make a very messy steep descent into thick bamboo forest, dark as night but reputed to harbour red pandas. Black bears have been sighted in broad daylight across the river. The stony track goes up and down in bamboo until a small farmhouse at 1.5hrs where we got lovely fresh dahi (yoghurt) and boiled potatoes, followed by a steep 45mins climb and traverse on a narrow exposed track until finally Amjilosa (2400m) is sighted across a large slip. There’s a good **lodge (Rs800, db Rs300) with 12 beds in 3 rooms and claims to be open all year, and another (Rs400, dbRs400), and the lodges offer a wider choice than Gyabla. No Snickers/Mars, toilet paper, phone or electricity. A common vegetable on both sides of Kangchenjunga at this altitude is the tutsi karela, a sort of small bitter gourd that grows on vines and features in most meals.
16. Amjilosa to Thiwa 200m↑ 1400m↓ 7-8hrs
A beautiful day’s walking with many bridges. The track is close to the Ghunsa Khola and is being steadily improved with newly-laid slabs in good order. Cross a bridge to the true left and at a big cave look across the river to see monkeys. Shortly thereafter cross to the true right on a new bridge. Eventually cross a new bridge to the true left again, pass a slip and cross again to the true right. After 30mins reach pass one lodge then reach the basic Hotel Handurung (5-6 beds) just downriver from the invisible Sekathum (1650m) for lunch (db Rs200 but it took more than 2hrs), or climb 150m to Lelep (1650m) which is headquarters for the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area with a pleasant courtyard and excellent dalbhat at the Lelep Guesthouse.
There are a lot of child porters on this section, with some as young as 12 years old carrying up to 50kg. They are paid about Rs2000 per day and have expenses of about Rs600-700, so earn about Rs1400 in a region where a good daily wage is Rs400.
A long swing bridge crosses the Tamor Nadi which drains the valley that contains Olangchunggola and subsumes the Ghunsa Khola. The shortcut immediately left on leaving the bridge saves the climb through Lelep but is narrow and rough in places and climbs up to rejoin the main trail through Lelep. The cliffs across the valley have native honeycombs hanging in their sheltered places. Don’t cross the next swing bridge below on the left but climb up to regain the track through Lelep and continue on the true right for about 1hr. A broad stone path eventually drops to a flat and beautiful walk through rice, millet and buckwheat fields interspersed with cardamom plantations. Much of the track is in welcome shade. Cross to the true left at Tapethok (1322m) with a Kangchenjunga Conservation Area checkpost for those entering but not for those leaving the area. Turn right, sidle the river and eventually cross a landslip of truly immense boulders. In 30mins suddenly arrive in busy civilised Thiwa (1185m, Chiruwa ‘corner’) with pretty thatched houses, well-stocked shops and ISD/STD phones. **Hotel Tamang (Rs500, db Rs250) and **Hotel Kangchenjunga (Rs300) vie for your custom opposite each other, with verandahs overlooking the main track.
17. Thiwa to Lingkhim 300m↑ 3-4hrs
Our choice here was to take the upper trail towards Suketar rather than continue down the Tamor Nadi to Mitlung and climb up to Suketar. Either way would work and maybe the lower track is more straightforward and the guesthouse at Mitlung is one of the best on the entire trail (see north-to-south day 1)- an alternative exit to Taplejung described below takes advantage of that.
If you intend to exit via Basantpur or Tumlingtar then you would continue south on the river at this point.Walk south below Thiwa for 45mins to a swing bridge and immediately afterwards turn off the main trail and climb steeply for 30mins to a new tractor road. Follow this new road to the south, always looking for the shortcuts to cut off long zigzags. Lingkhim (1460m; Lingkham) is reached after only 3.5hrs but is easy to miss as it is a spread-out hamlet. A school above the road is the sign you have arrived, with the sole guest house a little further on. This is on the outside of a zigzag, so if you shortcut that particular zigzag then you will miss it. This is important because if you fail to find this accommodation there is no other between Lingkhim and Suketar at this stage, although building suggests the situation is changing rapidly.
18. Lingkhim to Suketar 950m↑ 5-6hrs
We actually walked all the way to Suketar on Day 17, which was rather long, because we missed the guesthouse! Note that the track shown on the map is not the new road route described here.
Follow the tractor road and arrive in Mayam (2000m) where you may score noodle soup. Afterwards, cross a swing bridge below the road and, taking numerous shortcuts steeply up to avoid zigzags, reach another new road and shops on a pass. From here, follow the road direct to Suketar (2420m) in about 2.5hrs, circling and descending in the last stages. You can see Taplejung ahead and below. A tractor-trailer (gharry) comes along this top road daily from Suketar and returns in the early evening but it is best not to rely on it. Treat it as a bonus if it happens and if you want a rough and dusty ride.
Getting out of the region is as big a challenge as getting there. Himal of Visit Himalaya Treks did a miracle cheap backloading to Biratnagar in 2012 on an English charter flight that arrived at Suketar the next day. In 2013, we used a jeep to Bhadrapur over 10hrs and then a flight to Kathmandu. Or walk to Basantpur and take a bus then flight.
Alternative 17. Thiwa to Mitlung, 200↑, 500↓ 4hrs
It is possible to walk to Taplejung in one day. But keep in mind that the trail to Mitlung is at low elevation (1200m to 900m), so the air is humid and the heat may be oppressive. The steep climb after Mitlung is sweaty even if starting early.
Climb steeply uphill, then continue up and down, up and down (this is Nepal!) until you descend to some fields and soon arrive at busy Sinwa (1055m) with three lodges (Tamor Khola, Paudel, Sinwa) after 2.5hrs. Climb again over a bluff, walk down on steps and follow a road for half an hour until you arrive in Mitlung, 1.5hrs from Sinwa. The comfortable **Mitlung Guest House is run by an experienced guide (Krishna Shrestha 98143 67998), at top of village on right (Rs500, db Rs300, although when he is not there, the experience may not be so smooth). Sleep well on white sheets to the sound of the Tamur Nadi.
Alternative 18. Mitlung to Taplejung, 950↑ 3hrs
Note that the track described here is not shown on the map.
Leave Mitlung downriver on the main trail. Bypass an old sign (Taplejung) on your left, stay on the main trail then go left and soon start to climb steeply. After some time traverse a suspension bridge and continue to climb steeply past some houses and terraced fields. To avoid zigzags the trail makes a lot of shortcuts. Get to a tractor road at ~ 1400m. The grade lessens and soon Asahangpati (~1600m, 2 hrs) is reached where Dirk had the best lunch on this trek opposite the health post. Continue on the tractor road, pass through cardamom plantations and arrive after another hour at Taplejung (1870m). Buses leave from the other end of town (15 mins).