In the far east of Nepal, bordering the Indian state of Sikkim, lies the world’s third-highest mountain, Kanchenjunga (8586m), standing in almost complete isolation from the other major peaks of the Himalayas. The restricted area has only been open for exploration since 1988, and the Kanchenjunga trek is now considered amongst the premier routes for those seeking a rarely traveled and highly challenging adventure through one of the last unspoiled wilderness regions of Nepal. During the Kanchenjunga trek, you will notice that it’s home to elusive snow leopards, the Himalayan black bear, and the Assamese macaque, as well as an unforgettable landscape of towering peaks, cascading waterfalls, and verdant forests of rhododendron and bamboo.
During the Kanchenjunga trek, you will notice the sparse population scattered throughout the mountains is made up of the warm-hearted Rai and Limbu people, with a culture that traces back to Tibetan origins and a unique belief system based on an amalgamation of Buddhist, Hindu and animist principles. Starting with a flight or drive to Bhadrapur/Suketar, the trek climbs through the scenic and cultivated foothills into the great mountain stronghold of peaks such as Rathong, Kumbhakarna, Jannu, and of course Kanchenjunga, offering some of the Himalaya’s most awe-inspiring and majestic scenery en route to South Base Camp (5143m). Until recently the trek was only possible through the considerable effort of carrying in all the necessities of life such as food and camping equipment, but with the advent of tea houses along the trail in response to its growing popularity, the logistics of the exercise have become considerably easier.
The Kanchenjunga trek is a journey for the trekker with a sense of adventure, a desire to explore trails less traveled, and the determination and conditioning to tackle the challenges of a physically demanding route through one of Nepal’s most remote regions.
A short flight past the Everest region takes us Bhadrapur, where we use local transport to transfer us to Birtamod for the night.
Terraced rice fields and tea plantations serve as a serene backdrop as we head out past Gumpas and prayer wheels on the long jeep drive to Taplejung.
Our trek starts today with a hike through layered landscapes and lush jungle fringed by distant views of the ever-present Himalayas, passing by the riverside village of Siwan and the suspension bridge that leads us across to Chirawa, the day’s destination.
With permits checked at the regional park office we head into the conservation area that protects the Kanchenjunga region and forge ahead over a bridge and through the scenic sub-tropical landscape until we reach Lelep.
A series of impressive suspension bridges leads us back and forth across the Ghunsa Khola to Jaubari, then across another bridge to the narrow trail leading up the steeply sided slopes to Amjilosa and its yak pasturelands.
Onwards and up through the thickly forested region of dense rhododendron and venerable oak trees, past myriad waterfalls and the scattered villages lying quietly below the mountains in their peaceful valley. Eagles soar lazily above us, yaks graze solemnly in green pastures, and occasional signs of wildlife come into view among the trees or high on the slopes as we slowly make our way towards Gyabla.
The morning is spent walking steadily to the Tibetan village of Phole, and then we make the steady climb to the picturesque town of Ghunsa and its superb view of the surrounding countryside.
Today is a designated rest day to help the body acclimate to the high altitude, and Ghunsa is perfectly suited to the task by virtue of its scenic alpine surroundings and points of cultural interest, including the local gompa.
Emerald green forests concede to the frost-browned vegetation of the alpine regions of the Kanchenjunga region as we climb steadily to the upper glacial valleys on our path, with mighty Jannu standing before us in all its glory as we trek through the scenic landscape towards Khambachen.
A day of astonishing views as we trek into the heartland of the towering Kanchenjunga massif, gradually ascending to the base of the mountain’s forbidding glacier and on past snow-fed waterfalls and occasional glimpses of highland wildlife such as blue sheep perched high on the slopes. If there’s snow about and we’re extremely fortunate we might even sight the light footprints of the region’s most mysterious creature, the enigmatic snow leopard.
The day’s first order of business is the steady climb to the lofty and isolated outpost of Pangpema, where we pause for lunch before heading out on the final push to the trek’s ultimate goal of Kanchenjunga Base Camp. The fluttering colors of the prayer flags eventually guide us into the site at the very threshold of the towering peak, with magnificent panoramas of the surrounding region’s snow-capped peaks providing the icing to the cake on the day’s journey.
Returning by the same route to Ghunsa, we gain a different and refreshing perspective of the region’s beautiful scenery.
A precipitous trail leads us through woodland towards a trailhead of striking mountain views, including mysterious Makalu sitting in isolation on the far horizon.
The trail takes us on a challenging roller coaster hike today, an undulating passage over two passes, firstly Sinion La (4646m) then Mirgin La (4470m). Everest and Makalu add to the extraordinary panorama before us as we hike through the region until the path gradually leads down to our rest stop at Cheram.
Our trail leads out through woodland until we clear the tree line and approach the moraine field of Yarlung Glacier, with Jannu, Kanchenjunga and other peaks in the area soaring high above us in the valley.
We descend markedly today, leaving behind the alpine regions and dropping down into the lush surrounds of the lower foothills with their dense forests of rhododendron and pine. The rushing waters of the Simbuwa Khola become our steady companion as we continue on down until we reach Tortong.
Another day of hiking on an undulating trail, our path taking us along tree-lined slopes and grass-green pastures hanging precariously to existence on the steep inclines. Our arrival at Yamphuding brings us back to the main road running through the region.
After the experience and thrill of the alpine heights the terraced fields, peaceful villages and vivid colors of the lower ranges make for a relaxing hike as we slowly wind our trek down to its conclusion.
Our last day of trekking as we hike through Limbu villages and a steady patchwork of farmland and pastures, with the smiling faces of the ever curious locals greeting us as we walk by. Our arrival in Kamdine gives us pause to relax and reflect on an amazing journey through one of Nepal’s most remote regions.
A long day sees us make the bumpy ride to the main road, then turn towards Birtamod.
A short drive takes us to Bhadrapur, where we pick up our return flight to Kathmandu in plenty of time to relax, unwind, and perhaps celebrate the trek with friends over dinner.
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