Mount Kanchenjunga

KANCHENJUNGA, a name that originates from Tibetan, means the FIVE TREASURES OF SNOW and corresponds to the “massif’s” five distinct peaks.  If you ask anyone to name the three highest mountains in the world, few get past Mount Everest and K2.  At 8,586m, Kanchenjunga is only about 300m lower than Everest, but for all intents and purposes, the world’s 3rd highest peak has been forgotten, and is also known as the “forgotten mountain”.

Lying on the border between Eastern Nepal and Sikkim ———- Kanchenjunga is worshipped as a TUTELARY SPIRIT by the people of Sikkim.  The mountain was first successfully tackled by British climbers in 1955, but they, like all who came after them, stopped just short of the summit out of respect for the locals’ belief that the mountain top is sacred.


Like many mountains, in Nepal, offers “world-class” trekking.  But unlike some of the country’s more popular routes, which can be overrun in the prime, autumn and spring hiking seasons, the trail to and around Kanchenjunga’s 2 basecamps remain free of foreign visitors —– likely due to the difficulty and expense of reaching the area.  Kanchenjunga is well off the established tourist trail and reaching a trailhead requires several days of road travel or a costly flight.  In addition, trekkers must have  proper permits and be accompanied by a recognized guide company, generally arranged in Kathmandu.

Nepal, Taplejung District

Trekkers can choose one of two routes : to the south or north basecamp. The trek to the 5,140m high north basecamp is longer, but offers more time in the high mountains.   It is also possible, over the course of roughly 25 days, to link the two routes via a couple of high passes.  The 4,730m south basecamp starts in the small market town of TAPLEJUNG, which is located  at a two-day drive from Kathmandu.
In the beginning, the trail courses through small villages, patches of tropical forest and terraced fields.  Crops vary depending on the altitude, with rice grown at lower levels and barley higher up.  The “big cash crop” is CARDAMOM.

Kanchenjunga teahouses

Most people travel with porters and camping gear, but you can also stay in “teahouses”.  In popular trekking areas such as Annapurna, Everest and Langtang, teahouses cater almost exclusively to foreign trekkers and are very sophisticated, sometimes even offering hot showers and Wi-Fi. In the Kanchenjunga region, however, the teahouses are used mainly by local shepherds, traders and porters, and are simple villagers’ homes with a room or two for rent.  Conditions can be basic —– you’ll get a bed and shared toilet —– but staying in them allows visitors the chance to get to know locals in a way that’s rarely possible on more popular routes.

Teahouse décor has its own distinctive style.  Newspaper is commonly used as wallpaper, and homes are further adorned with posters of Fantasy American homes, fast cars or, images of Indian and Nepalese film and pop stars.

Kangchenjunga Bridge between Mamankhe and Pumpe

While still difficult to reach, this remote region is becoming increasingly accessible.  As such, many villages have at best one tiny shop selling a few basic provisions, including biscuits and sweets.  In YAMPHUDIN, the final village en route to the south basecamp, a man and his son who spent a night in a remote shepherd’s hut, discovered giant footsteps, in the snow circling the hut and disappearing into the forest.  He and the boy were too scared to follow the tracks, he said, as both believed they were the footprints of a YETI.  Many villagers, in fact, believe that “yetis” exist in the region.

Beyond the YAMPHUDIN, the trail enters pine forests where rhododendrons blister with red, pink and white flowers.  Almost every tree is covered in moss, which hangs from the branches like an old man’s beard.  A dense cloudy mist fills the air at all times, obscuring the mountain vistas and lending a silent, spooky feel to the forests.

Kangchenjunga North Face

The trail then climbs sharply for a couple of hours , crosses a 2,540m pass and descends through tangled pine and rhododendron forests, where red pandas and pheasants reside.  Then you come to a  modern “suspension bridge”, spanning a river.  These kinds of bridges have appeared only in the past couple of years.  Prior to that, shepherds crossed the rivers on flimsy log bridges.

In the summer (June to August), shepherds live with their yaks ——— symbols of the Himalaya ——- in high pastures located up to and above 5,000m.  As autumn approaches, the shepherds and their animals slowly descend from the mountains, seeking milder weather.  More often than not, these yaks are actually a much stronger cross-breed of yaks and cows, pure-bred yaks are quite rare in Nepal.  Locals often make cheese from the animal’s milk and yak-meat is eaten in much of Nepal.   RAMCHE is the highest night-stop on the trek at 4,580m.
The trekking route to the south basecamp ends at OKTANG, where a mixed Buddhist/Hindu shrine overlooks both the basecamp and the upper part of the YALUNG GLACIER.  Continuing any further requires mountaineering experience and equipment.  Unless you are prepared to reach the high passes to get to the north basecamp route, you have little option but to spin around and retrace your steps back to where you started.
KANCHENJUNGA is a “forgotten mountain” and opens up to every visitor an “incredible world of frozen glaciers, misty forests and villagers who open their homes and speak, with passion, about yetis”.
——– Stuart Butler for BBC.

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