"Soon the shadows deepened; the light faded from the sky; the cold became intense. planets brighter and nearer, the thin air vibrated with the faint light of far-off suns. We seemed to stand on the verge of interplanetary space in a region where organic life had ceased and there was no room for death, where the only existence outside our own was that of the Universe" - Douglas Freshfield in 'Round Kangchenjunga'
The Sun, moon and Kangchenjunga
Day 3: Jakthang to Yabuk(4040m). 12 Kms. Approx. 5 hrs
Rufous-vented Tit (Periparus Rubidiventris)
The day started with bit of bird watching and soon was on track after breakfast around 0800 hrs. The path along the river took a turn towards right and started climbing up through thick rhododendron trees having paper-barked trunks and full of pink, orange, cream and white flowers. Soon had to cross a small wooden bridge over Thombak chu which originates from Lhonak valley.
Himalayan Weasel (Mustela Sibirica)
All of a sudden a Himalayan weasel emerged from the forest looking surprised at me. HE posed for few shots before vanishing into the woods. It was a long journey indeed among the dark jagged rocks and snow-capped mountains. The last section of the climb seemed very tiring and finally towards the end I could spot a Pika poking out of its burrow giving a mysterious look. He/She posed for my camera for a long time and that was the much needed break from the steep climb I was looking for!
Yabuk Campsite, surrounded by Rhododendron Falconeri
Finally we reached Yabuk, a world of cream rhododendrons and primula. The height of rhododendron trees have reduced considerably and only the cream colour one seemed growing at that altitude. There was an old ramshackle hut which again was occupied by the cooking team. We found a dry grassy patch on the other side of the stream away from the hustle bustle to set up our tent. It was scary to spot couple of ticks trying to crawl inside the tent.
Yabuk Camp Site and the Hut
We again tried to take a late afternoon stroll but soon dark fog started rolling from higher up forcing us to return. We all felt slight trembling of earth which later confirmed as the aftershocks of the violent Nepal earthquake happened on 25th April. As usual, we spent the evening with the Gills with soup and hot pakkodas. Sitting on a rock I loved hearing their climbing stories all over the world and they were the best trekking buddies we could have asked for. A light rain followed and I had to escape into their tent tarp.
The intermittent drizzle continued through the evening and the discomfort was complete with a poorly cooked dinner.
Ahead of Yabuk
Day 4: Yabuk to Rest camp (4725m), 12 Kms
It was a misty morning but the appearance of some beautiful Himalayan residents including blood pheasants wiped off the bad feelings of the previous evening.
Blood Pheasants (Ithaginis Cruentus) – State bird of Sikkim
Simpock Khola (Ixias Pyrene)
Little ahead of Yabuk Camp
Start of the trail marks the end of tree line
Terminal Moraine of Zemu glacier
Zemu glacier and Mt. Siniolchu (6888m)
Much of the trail today was through the moraine field of Zemu glacier, the largest glacier (26km) of Eastern Himalaya which drains the east side of Kangchenjunga and its glacial melt feeds a youthful violent river, Zemu Chu, one of the major tributaries of Teesta river.
Sharp Spire of Siniolchu
The first view of Mt Siniolchu was granted to us from the barren rocky slope above. Douglas Freshfield described this mountain as “the most superb triumph of mountain architecture and the most beautiful snow mountain in the world”. From the hill top we got a good view of Zemu glacier covered in moraine debris. Another few steps, we stopped to watch Zemu Chu emerging out of the Glacier Terminus.
Zemu Chu emerging from the glacier
The trail vanished into Slippery Snow
Soon the trail vanished into thick steep snow field and we tried to wade through it for some time. It was getting more difficult with each step because of the deep soft snow and it was decided to slide down the slope to the edge of the stream below. That looked dangerous to me as there were lot of dark rocks protruding out of the white and the stream down too full of poky sharp stones. Two members slid down safely and they tried telling me it is better than slipping and falling as I could control the fall if I did it consciously!!!
Escaping the ultimate fate on the snow field
I sat down on the snow and tried to move slowly on my heels and hands, one step at a time. Suddenly I gathered momentum as if somebody pushed me from behind. My body was fast moving down and somehow it turned to 45 degree angle facing towards Kangchenjunga. I had noticed a conical black rock coming out of the snow when I decided to go for this adventure and that was the only thing came to my mind. Luckily out of the corner of my eye noticed Harpal running up to break my fall which he managed to do exactly close to that dangerous rock. From then I started calling him ‘Har’ ‘Pal’ meaning ‘Every Moment’. A true buddy, he always was there to assist me providing water, biscuits, juice, chocolates, dry fruits etc. from day one during the walk. He always held my camera lenses or daypack when I was busy chasing the birds or clouds. And now he almost saved me from crashing onto that Rock. Thank you ‘Har Pal’, one day soon I am going to give you a surprise visit at Gurdaspur!!
Looking back at the Snow 'Falling'
We crossed the stream and started breaking a trail. The path became less steep and we started following the stream up the valley. As we gained in altitude, the rhododendrons were morphed into its dwarfed reincarnations with small little pink flowers along with juniper bushes.
Indian Tortoiseshell (Aglais kaschmirensis)
Dwarfed Rhododendron bushes with velvety dark leaves
Soon we reached a huge riverbed with beautiful polished stones and could see the panorama of enormous mountain range at the other end. Unfortunately, thick clouds were forming and moving towards us slowly hiding the peaks from the view.
A Lone Primula admiring Siniolchu
Walk on the pebbles
Looking back at the 'pebble walk'
"We know of no mountain that can equal Siniolchu in beauty and boldness of feature. Its ridges are as sharp as a knife-edge, its flanks, though incredibly steep, are mostly covered with ice and snow, furrowed with the ice-flutings (Firnrillen) so typical of the Himalaya. The crest of the cornice- crowned summit stands up like a thorn." - Dr. Karl Wien who scaled Siniolchu first in 1936
Siniolchu and Kangchenjunga
It was an immense joy walking on those pebbles watching the most beautiful mountain and the giants of the Himalaya in that high altitude country. We walked another two kilometres ahead of Rest Camp and set up our camp with my tent flap opening to the glorious view of Mt Siniolchu. After the hot ‘2 minutes noodles’ for lunch we started walking towards Green Lake, but soon had to retreat as the weather was getting packed and all of us started feeling the lack of air in the atmosphere. I still wished to climb over the lateral moraine of Zemu glacier to get a complete view of the glacier and all the peaks emerging out of its far edge. But decided against it as the last vestiges of visibility were fading with each moment and the sheer exhaustion it can cause at that altitude.
Morning view from the Tent
Zemu Glacier and the lateral moraine
By 1600 hrs it was completely dark, the feathery flakes of snow drifted in the air started thickening. SD started having some breathing issues and I had to run out in the dark to the nearest tent to get Pulse Oxymeter and oxygen cylinder. His oxygen saturation level was normal and felt fine after few minutes of inhaling artificial oxygen. We also heard that a couple of porters were having trouble and one of them had severe headache and kept throwing up. We all felt that we should have stayed at Yabuk for one extra day for acclimatization.
Getting dark in the afternoon
Day 5: To Green Lake (5050m)
Peaks Vanishing into Fog
Northern face of Little Siniolchu rising above Zemu Glacier
Small 'Green Lake' on Zemu glacier
The day dawned dim and dreary. Our trekking poles were buried under snow. The sick porters had already left for lower altitude towards Yabuk. We started off by 0730 hrs first across the juniper-covered rock jumbles and then on the flat river bed covered with small shiny rocks. In the distance we could see snow Pigeons and Himalayan Ravens, also found skull of a mountain goat with its antlers on the river bed. We climbed up the rugged lateral moraine of Zemu glacier and could get a good amphitheatrical view of peaks including Siniolchu(6888m), Little Siniolchu(6538m), Simvo Massif(6812m), Kangchenjunga, Gimmigela Chuli(Twin peaks,7350m) and Kirat Chuli (Tent peak,7365m). There were several supraglacial lakes and pools of different shades of green on Zemu glacier.
View from a high point, Kangchenjunga on the left
We couldn’t stop ourselves from climbing on an aesthetically appealing hill and got an even better look at the huge glacier and the peaks. Kangchenjunga was dominating the skyline, one of the most difficult and exposed giants of the Himalaya. But thick clouds started hovering around the peaks and above the glacier and soon wiped away all the peaks from our sight, yet the main peak of Kangchenjunga emerged and stood above the clouds. We hurriedly came down from the hill but by then everything around us vanished into thick fog. Couple of trekkers from the organising party had gone ahead and they radioed from Green Lake of poor visibility and beginning of snowfall. With no signs of weather clearing up, everyone decided to turn back. We walked like shadows of ghosts moving in silence with far cries of Himalayan Ravens in the background. Sunlight felt like a distant memory on that day and even the hope for reaching Green Lake seemed damp and drifting in a world of grey. The heavy snowfall continued through the night.
Main Peak of Kangchenjunga standing above the dark Clouds
Day 6 : Green Lake
Sunrise on Gimmigela Chuli and Kirat Chuli Peaks
I woke up at 0340 hrs, and in a hurry opened the tent flap and crawled out peeping outside looking at the direction of Kangchenjunga on my right. A complete darkness and I wondered what I was expecting, luckily it wasn’t snowing. I stayed in that position for few minutes and looked again towards Kangchenjunga. There, a reddish golden tinge above the peak….I could be imagining. Few minutes passed before I realized that the lenticular clouds above the Highest peak in the country was reflecting the sunrise colours. Woke up others and slipped into the boots in a hurry and stood watching the most beautiful sunrise ever granted to me…It was a profoundly moving experience and I stood watching for almost two hours as the sunrays painted Kangchenjunga and slowly adorned Mt Siniolchu and other peaks in its reddish golden attire.
Kangchenjunga in the morning light
Siniolchu, Kangchenjunga and other Peaks in the morning
Snow Covered Trail Towards Green Lake
Three of us started walking towards Green Lake at around 0600 hrs itself as we had to return to Yabuk on the same day. Juniper bushes, rocks and the trail were blanketed in fresh snow and we trudged through them till we reached a high point before a slight descend to Green Lake campsite.
Gimmigela chuli Peaks
'The Five Treasures of Eternal Snow'
Other two were moving ahead but I stopped and stared at the huge white forms in extreme wonder and awe. Without taking my eyes off from the splendour, I sat on a huge boulder. For me it was enough to sit there in that intense stillness simply contemplating the magnificent symbol of divine architecture. We were at the sanctum sanctorum of the sacred space of Kangchenjunga. I could almost touch the Goddess Mountain, silently, watching in amazement … My eyes were glued on to eternity and they were full of tears. That was the moment I was waiting for… a moment of sheer joy, a feeling of extreme peace, love, light and life. A moment in which every disappointment of the past and all cares for the future drowned in the intense feeling of being alive. The reflections of Kangchenjunga sparkled in my tears before it started rolling down my cheeks…. In that very moment, I touched the feet of the Goddess Mountain in my heart and I felt being blessed…
'For Once I stood in the white windy presence of Eternity'
Kangchenjunga Towering high above everything else in the country
And I remembered with gratitude the five great people (SD, GS, RB, VB and GD) who made this journey possible for me. Like the five peaks of Kangchenjunga their friendship and blessing has become my most valued treasure. A big salute to all of you from the bottom of my heart and thanks for being the very best!
Kangchenjunga rising above Zemu Glacier
Zemu Valley East side
Soon we were back at the camp and started winding up. A sudden deep rumbling sound got our attention and we were watching an avalanche breaking off from the lower slopes of Mt Siniolchu. It seemed the mountains were not happy that we were leaving.
Avalanche breaking off from the lower slopes of Siniolchu
Day 6-8 : Back to Yabuk, Jakthang and Lachen
Goodbye from Mt Siniolchu
Mt Kangchenjunga still watching over our steps
Common Blue Poppy (Meconopsis Simplicifolia)
It was a long day but we were back at Yabuk well in time. Kamalpreet got me a bucket of warm water and I felt fresh after a quick wash. Followed the same route back to Jakthang the next day and were treated with blue poppies on the way.
Birding at Jakthang
Primula and Rhododendron colours from the wild
Fiddlehead Fern Fronds
Dead Tibetan sand fox (Vulpes Ferrilata) inside a rock cave
View from Jakthang Tent
New log bridge over Lhonak Chu
The Porter explaining how he rescued the boy from this spot
We spent the afternoon trying to follow the twittering of birds and counting the rhododendron colours. It was amazing to watch the fiddlehead fern fronds of different colours and sizes. The last day of the journey to Tallem and Zema took long as we had to make new trail due to fresh landslides. The bridge over Lhonak chu had been rebuilt with wooden planks, more strong and wide in those few days. The porter who saved the boy from Lhonak Chu took us to the spot and explained how he retrieved him from the river. We reached Lachen by evening with memories of Kangchenjunga looming over our hearts.
Amphitheatre mountain view between Rest Camp and Green Lake
Panoramic View of the Sunrise on Siniolchu and Kangchenjunga
Green Lake remains a very special journey for me in which Kangchenjunga, the Goddess let me walk into the very heart of her divine world where only few mortals are invited to. A spiritual journey where many lessons learned, many dreams born, many friendships gifted and many blessings earned. And to live those blessings in every moment, to feel as free as the wind blowing in the high mountains; to live as simple as a dew-drop caught in the curve of a flower; and to experience each sunrise and sunset ever granted to me...... that is my Vish.