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Olangchung Gola Trek

Abhishek Subedi August 1, 2020

Olangchung Gola Trek is a camping trek to one of the most remote areas of Nepal. The stunning mountain views of Kanchenjunga and Makalu, along with many others in Olangchung Gola Trek will completely mesmerize you. There is a large and lavishly furnished gompa (monastery) and the village is studded with chorten (stupa), mani walls and prayer wheels. The Bhutias of Upper Tamur practice a much more orthodox pattern of Buddhist culture than any of the Limbu community of the Arun valley. The people of Olangchung have been far more impacted by the Tibetan culture from across the border than other areas and this is displayed throughout their daily lives and activities.This is a long and adventurous trek to a remote part of Nepal, a region which sees far fewer trekkers than other areas because of its remoteness.

Olangchung Gola Trek

About the Olangchung Gola Trek

It is a fantastic trip where you’ll see a lot fewer people than on many of the other trekking routes in Nepal. The trail explores the area around Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world. Trekking in the Kanchenjunga region is relatively strenuous since the region is regarded as the most remote place of Nepal. The region offers an infinite variety of landscapes, cultures and panoramic views of the Himalayas. Walking on the low-lands of Nepal passing terraced fields, colorful villages, green forests, this trek enters into a ridge line of rhododendron and gains altitude as we reach Olangchung Gola(Walungchung Gola). Easily one of the best places in this region – Olangchung Gola is a fantastic alpine valley that is stunning both in scenery and culture.

From Olangchung Gola, we hike up the remote northern valley towards Tibet. After crossing the Nango La to Ghunsa, we trek up north along the Kanchenjunga glacier to pay a visit to the North base camp at Pang Pema. From there, our trail leads us across the village-laden middle hills of eastern Nepal before it comes to an end in Taplejung.  

Day 1 Fly to Tumlingtar. Drive to Chainpur 1260m

You will head to the airport after breakfast for your scenic, hour-long flight over green, terraced rice fields, high ridges and past Himalayan peaks to Tumlingtar in far eastern Nepal, a village of Rai, Lhomi and other Nepali hill people who carry their loads with traditional Nepali dokas, or baskets. Tumlingtar is the starting point of your trek to Everest via the Arun valley and also east to the remote, Tibetan Kanchenjunga region.Enjoy the lower altitudes and take a stroll into rural Chainpur to watch Nepali life go by at the local temple.

Day 2 Trek Nundhaki

The next few days until Chirwa and Sukethum are classic trekking through Nepal’s lush, green and diverse ‘middle hills’ following shimmering rivers and contouring around precipitous ridge lines. The villages you will pass through are both Hindu and Buddhist, and the architecture traditional mud-brick dwellings, rice paddies, terraced fields and fruit trees. If you are lucky you will pass through villages celebrating some of the numerous Nepali festivals, very colorful and lively.

As you will trek east following a deep valley, with forested, steep hillsides to your right and terraced, sculpted hillsides peppered with villages to your left, you will pass the hamlets of Lamichaur and Siddhipur, followed by the village of Siddhakali where a colorful fair called the Bala Chaturdashi takes place at the temple grounds every year. Soon afterwards you will reach the temple at Pokhari. We pass the trail leading to Milke Danda on our left, and an hour later reach the hamlet of Chitlang, from where we begin our descent to where the Piluwa Khola intersects several smaller streams. Crossing the bridge over the Piluwa Khola, we soon reach Nundaki, which has a post office and a weekly market on Thursday (which we will probably miss unfortunately). 

Day 3 Trek Samgu

Continuing on the colorful GHT cultural trail heading northeast, we pass the trail leading east to Gupta Bazaar on our right and continue to climb past a chorten through a densely forested and hilly section. It will be a more strenuous trekking day today as we climb and descend to our campsite at Samgu, a village with a post office, a few small hotels and a checkpost. 

Day 4 Trek Dobhan 

Contouring around hillsides as we trek, we pass the small hamlet of Lekuwa, from where we climb for a bit to reach the larger village of Tembe, which has a few small hotels. From Tembe we descend to Dhunge Raghu and continue our undulating and hot trek through terraced villages to Dhoban, where we stop for the night. Dhoban is at the intersection of a trail coming north from Basantapur and the GHT trail coming east from Chainpur and west to Taplejung, so a lively market hub albeit on the grubby side. Poor Tibetan living in simple, bamboo dwellings sell tongba in the market. 

Day 5 Trek Siwan 

Following the large Tamor Nadi (river) on a high, rough trail it’s a busy day of hill-trekking as we pass through numerous Rai and Hindu villages, surrounded by a patchwork of terraced fields. The middle hills continue to be challenging trekking as we have numerous ascents and descent, always rewarded by hazy views of the surrounding terraced hill villages.

After crossing the suspension bridge past Dhoban, we continue to trek along the east banks of Tamor Nadi to Khamlung at the intersection of the Mewa Khola, and after a few hours over another suspension bridge before taking a large detour east, reaching the alternative trail north from Taplejung via Asahanpati village. We soon pass the Chettri bazaar at Mitlung (880m), a village with a few small teahouses, and continue along the riverside trail over another suspension bridge spanning the Sisne Khola on to the village of Siwan, also called Sinwa, with a few bhattis (Nepali tea shops) and a police post.

Day 6 Trek Chirwa 

We continue to follow the Tamor Nadi on a rough trail past the settlement of Pithun at the Ima Khola and the intersection of the GHT trail to Tokpegola in the Makalu region. Similarly, we are parallelling the high trail to our (trekker’s) right that we will take on the return trip back to Taplejung. We pass the remnants of old, boulder-strewn slides and debri as the trail worses and the valley narrows, and after more undulating trekking we reach the intersection of the Nuwa Khola and the small hamlet of Chirwa where our staff has set up camp for the night. Chirwa is a lively bazaar village of bamboo houses built in a boulder-strewn plateau with a small Nepali bazaar. Camp should be about a quarter of an hour past the village, at a nice campsite. 

Day 7 Trek Sukethum 

Continuing to follow the Tamor Nadi, we hike along the east bank of the river for five-six hours as we head along the classic Kanchenjunga Base Camp route. En route, we pass the Chhetri village of Tapletok (1380m) where there is a Kanchenjunga Conservation Area check post and a few small teahouses for a cup of chai. At Timawa (1560m) we take the bridge across the river and soon reach Lelep (1750m), the headquarters of the KCA, which was created in 1998 ‘to preserve 2035 sq km of sub-tropical evergreen forest, temperate forests, sub-alpine pine forests and high alpine meadows. The preserve provides a haven for many rare Himalayan species, including snow leopards, red pandas, and bharals. The park is also home to 250 species of birds, and more than 3000 species of plants.’ – Lonely Planet Trekking the Nepal Himalaya.

Olangchung Gola Trek

We descend to the Tamor River and cross on a new suspension bridge a bit before the confluence of the Ghunsa Khola to reach our camp at Sukethum, a Tibetan village with a helipad and a few small bhattis. We may get lucky and see our first glimpse of Jannu (7710m) if the skies are clear.

Day 8 Trek Amjilosa 

From Sukethum we trek northeast for 4-5 hours along the Ghunsa Khola (river), gaining altitude as we head towards Kanchenjunga North Base camp and the remote Tibetan villages of the Kanchenjunga region. Contouring around the high ridges, we’ll have fantastic views on our route north and possibly pass mule caravans transporting the locally grown cardamoms to markets further south. Taking either the small trail on the northern banks of the river or the trail on the southern banks, we reach Jongim where we climb on steep stone steps to a waterfall and the small hamlet of Ghaiyabari (2150m). From here we continue to ascend gradually on a slightly exposed trail, soon reaching a grassy saddle at 2530m from where we drop down to the Tibetan settlement of Amijlosa .

Day 9 Trek Kyapra 

Gaining altitude as we trek along the Ghunsa Khola, we have another short-ish day as we trek through a bamboo, oak and rhododendron forest past waterfalls and pasturelands, followed by a steep and strenuous climb to the beautiful Sherpa village of Kyapra, also called Gyabla, with an old monastery and ancient Buddhist chortens. Camp has been set up at a lovely green campsite and we’ll take the afternoon to explore the village looking for a cup of salt-butter tea.

Day 10 Trek Phale 

A lovely day of trekking through the forested river valley, with groves of bamboo, fir and rhododendron, where Himalayan black bears are said to live. We descend steeply into a deep, narrow gorge and follow the river valley for several hours to the Tibetan village of Phale, with an ancient (and active) gompa filled with colorful thangkas and statues. Phale is located on a historic trade route with Tibet so has been an important stop for traders transporting their goods by yak and horse between Tibet and Nepal. 

Day 11 Phale

We’ve got a rest and exploration day in this wonderful, traditional Tibetan village, with yaks grazing in the green pastures and checkered with potato fields. 

Day 12 Trek Ghunsa

We have a short day today, trekking on a good trail through a wide valley, past the intersection of the Yangma Samba Khola, through forests of larch. We soon drop to the square chorten marking the start of the Tibetan village of Ghunsa, fluttering with prayer flags, situated in a deep valley of forested hillsides. Take advantage of this day to acclimatize and get out to explore the lively Tibetan village of Ghunsa, translated as ‘winter settlement’ although it is occupied throughout the year. Gunsa was one of Joel’s favorite villages in the Kanchenjunga region; he would pick up a variety of Tibetan treasures including leather belts with silver medallions along the belt, silver spoons which Tibetan women hang from their belts and bamboo tongba pots.

Ghunsa was severely damaged in the 2011 earthquake which had its epicenter in Sikkim so will still be in the process of rebuilding. Ghunsa is a typical Tibetan village with a few Sherpa families residing there, five-colored prayer flags on tall wooden poles and wooden houses with flat, slate roofs. There are two gompas on either side of the trail, a police check post, and a few lodges and shops in Ghunsa where it’s possible to get a hot shower, make a phone call, and stock up on a few cold beers. Don’t miss the opportunity to sample the local tongba, a traditional Tibetan fermented beer which is found all over the mountain regions of Nepal but is a specialty of the Kanchenjunga region. Tongba is fermented millet filled with hot water, drunk from a straw out of a bamboo container, and refilled at leisure. Be careful, one is plenty!

Day 13 Trek Kambachen 

Heading north along the east banks of the Ghunsa Khola on the GHT high route, we have a 5-6 hour day of altitude gain, cresting the 4000-meter threshold as we ascend through more larch forests, now sprinkled with juniper bushes that are ground and used as incense. We cross a wide, rocky floodplain and then a shaky wood and slab bridge to the north banks of the river at Rampuk Kharka at 3720 meters (kharka means grazing plateau in Nepali; the Tibetan word is doksa). The trail deteriorates as we ascend, passing a small waterfall, and hiking carefully high above the river below us. Another climb and we descend to Kambachen at the confluence of the Nupchu Khola, a remote Tibetan outpost of stone huts where the inhabitants exist on a simple diet of potatoes and rice, supplemented by chang and rakshi (distilled vodka-like alcohol). 

Day 14 Kambachen 

Take advantage of this acclimatization day to make the round-trip climb to the sublime Jannu viewpoint, to the east of camp along the northern ridges of the Kumbhakarna Glacier. Jannu, also called Kumbhakarna and a formidable climbing peak, is the 32nd highest mountain in the world, a Western part of the Kanchenjunga massif. ‘ It is called Phoktanglungma in native Limbu language, (Phoktang means shoulder and Lungma means mountain), literally ‘mountain with shoulder’ and it is sacred in Kirant religion.’

Kambachen

We’ll climb the ridge to the north of the village for breathtaking views of Khabur (6332m), Phole (6645m) and Jannu at the end of the long valley to the east. Kanchenjunga Glacier, backed by snowpeaks, is to the north of us.

Day 15 Trek Lhonak

 We trek further north along the Ghunsa Chu, fed by the Kanchenjunga Glacier, and enter a glacial environment as we gain altitude and get closer to the border of Tibet. We’ll pass the high grazing pastures (doksa) of Ramtang (4370m) and then stay on the left side of the lateral moraine of the Kanchenjunga Glacier as we approach the source of the Ghunsa Khola. We continue hiking along a high, tundra-like plateau strewn with boulders, past the intersecting Lhonak Glacier to our left, to reach the high, flat campsite at the seasonal village of sHlonak. Bharal (blue sheep) roam this plateau so keep your eyes open for grey spots on the hillsides, often peering down from rocky ledges with their distinct horns silhouetted against the blue Tibetan skies. It will be a cold campsite, but the views are fantastic, surrounded by some of the highest snow-peaks on the planet.

Day 16 Trek Pang Pema 

This morning we head directly east for approximately ten kilometers, following the lateral moraine of the Kanchenjunga Glacier on the northern ridges to our sublime campsite at the north base camp of Kanchenjunga, also called Pang Pema. This is one of the highlights of the trek, a spectacular setting, worth having an evening climb to get a bit higher, gaze at the Northwest face of Kanchenjunga and its surrounded peaks shrouded in the pink alpenglow .

Day 17 Trek Kambachen

We’ll stay for some views in the morning from the north ridge of Pang Pema, hiking up 300 meters to a viewpoint. The peaks are Kanchenjunga, Taple Shikhar (6510m) and Gimmigela Chuli (The Twins, 7350m). To the east from the border of Sikkim rise Pathibhara Khas (Pyramid Peak, 7168m) and Kirat Chuli (Tent Peak, 7365m). To the west, Chang Himal with its knife-edged ridge looms over Kanchenjunga Glacier. 

Day 18 Trek Ghunsa

Back to Ghunsa along the same route, with the afternoon again in Ghunsa to relax. Take a look at Tashi Choding Gompa if you didn’t have a chance to on our first visit.

Day 19 Trek Kharka 

From the gompa, we head back south along the northern banks of the river until reaching the sumdo of the Yangma Samba Khola. From here, we turn right, heading northwest as we contour up this narrow valley. We have about 600 meters of steep climbing to reach our campsite at the local kharka, or seasonal settlement of the Ghunsa villagers.

Day 20 Thasa/Yangma Khola Camp 

Our first pass day, so we’re up early with a mug of steaming coffee before trekking north towards the Nango La (4775m). From the narrow crest we’ll be treated to a panorama of Himalayan peaks before we head steeply down the pass. We’ll pass the small dharamsala (rest house) from where we turn left (west) and follow the Thasa Khola valley to our camp at the intersection of this small river and the Yangma Khola.

Day 21 Trek Olangchung Gola 

Staying on the west of the Yangma Khola, we trek down a valley surrounded by steep valley walls until we reach the sumdo (intersection) of the Tamor River (which you will remember from the earlier days of the trek). From the intersection at Ramite, we trek northwest along this river to the sprawling village of Olangchung Gola (Walunchung Gola), peppered with chortens, mani walls and white-washed stupas, one of the most remote Tibetan villages in the Kanchenjunga region. 

Day 22 Olangchung Gola

Olanchung Gola is ‘the largest village of the Walung people, who speak a language derived from Tibetan and share many cultural similarities with the Sherpas’ – Lonely Planet Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya. We have a free day to wander through this remote village, once restricted to tourism, do some shopping, take photos or perhaps wander further west up the Tamor River along the GHT high route leading back to the Makalu region via the Lumbha Sambha pass (5160m). 

Olangchung Gola

Day 23 Trek Magawa 

Returning to the river sumdo at Ramite, we turn right and head south along the Tamor River past the settlements of Jongin, Sera, and Tarton on the opposite bank of the river, followed soon afterwards by our campsite at Magawa. It will be much warmer as we’re well below 3000 meters again.

Day 24 Trek Sukethum

More villages await us as we trek back into Nepal’s vivid middle hills, past clusters of traditional Rai villages. The first village is Sukepani, followed by Tartong, Kisongma, Iladanda and Kasturi, just past where a small trail leads west along the Sotare Danda and winds its way south to Chiruwa. Here we cross the Kasturi Khola on a bridge, staying on the western bank of the Yangma Khola. Other smaller village trails weave their way through the terraced villages above us as we trek closer to the riverside, passing Inlagaon above us and another trail just south of this village intersecting the Chiruwa sub-trail. The next small hillside hamlet is Gowater, followed by a larger village called Lungthung which has a police check post and a hotel. 

Day 25 Trek Chirwa

Returning to Chirwa, we might take the alternative route back down south, and we may even continue a bit further to a campsite on the middle route at Tawa village. We’ll check the trail conditions at Sukethum.

Day 26 Trek Phurumbu

More idyllic (and hilly) middle hills trekking awaits us today as we take a new route, heading directly south and following high ridge lines past the sprawling village of Linkhim and then Kheban, where our trail intersects with a sweeping southeastern loop trail which leads to Suketar via Pathibhara Devi Temple. We’ll stay on the middle trail, crossing a bridge over the Sisne Khola past Baishakhe and Talelum to our camp at Phurumbu.

Day 27 Trek Taplejung

Staying high and continuing to contour around ridge after ridge, with wonderful views throughout, we pass the large village of Gadidanda (1890m) and then Lapsibote, eventually reach the large town of Taplejung, which translates as fort of King Taple, an ancient Limbu king. Taplejung is the district headquarters of the district of the same name, a town which connects the high mountain regions of Kanchenjunga with the populous Terai further south. It is known for the Pathibhara Devi Temple, visited by Nepalis from all over the country on pilgrimage. 

Day 28 Drive Ilam & Bhadrapur

We (inshallah) jump into awaiting jeeps for the long, winding but incredibly scenic drive to one of Nepal’s top tea-producing towns, Ilam. ‘Tea production in Ilam (as Nepal tea) started as early as 1863, when the Chinese government offered then Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana tea saplings that were then planted in Ilam. In 1868, the Ilam tea factory was established, and tea plantations covered over 135 acres of land. 

Olangchung Gola Trek

Day 29 Fly Kathmandu

Our trek in the wonderful Kanchenjunga region has ended. In the morning we’ll board the quite reliable flight from Bhadrapur in the hot plains back to the Kathmandu valley.

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