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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.