Saturday, May 17, 2014

Yuksom, The End of the Road

My time in Yuksom was magical.  There's something about the alpine quality of fresh, clean, crisp air and views to the high peaks that put me in that mood.  People there were delightful as well and as I mentioned in the last post always seemed to be singing.

My $25 room at the Tashi Gang Hotel was the most comfortable of the trip so I decided to stay awhile.  When you have a nice room with locally made carpets and wall hangings and a balcony from which to watch dramatic thunder storms you naturally want to linger (at least I do).

Yuksom is the starting point for a very famous 8-day trek up to a viewpoint pass called Goecha La at 16,000 ft. (5000m).  The trekkers I talked to said this is one of the more difficult climbs but exceptionally rewarding in beauty and views.  Hikers must spend a rest day at 14,000 ft. to acclimatize to the altitude, so it takes 5 days up and 3 days to return to a hot shower and a nice dinner in the hotel restaurant.

In my days of hiking in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California it was assumed you would carry a heavy backpack with everything needed for several days.  Of course there were the pack trains that used horses, but I was never one of the fortunate ones who could afford such luxury.

What I found out here in the Himalayas is that yak or pony trains carry all your stuff and you are not limited to what you can take.  (I remember cutting off the handle of my toothbrush to reduce the weight of my pack)  With a group of 4 trekkers a typical outfit would have 6 yaks carrying all the food, camping gear, tents, pots and pans and personal gear for the trekkers.  The trekkers would wear a small day pack with water, camera and maybe some snacks..... that's all!  While the yak tenders trudged up the trail (in gum boots no less), the trekkers wander up the trail rather aimlessly snapping photos
and looking at butterflys.  Trekkers don't stay with the pack train.  When camp is reached by the pack train, the tenders unpack, set up camp, tents, and begin to cook dinner.  When the trekkers arrive in camp, which could be before or after the pack train, they just kick off their boots, relax in camp chairs and wait for dinner to be served.  This wonderful service comes at a price of only about $55 per person per day.  A real bargain in my book!  Unfortunately I never saw a person riding either a yak or a pony, which would have to be my mode of transportation at this altitude.

During my stay in Yuksom I saw 4 groups depart for the high country.  One family on school holiday from Spain consisted of mom, dad, and 2 girls aged about 13 and 14.  It was the older sibling's birthday present to do this trek.  They all wore tennis shoes!
Treks from here ascend this steep valley and after 4 days of uphill climb the reward is a very close view of this peak, the third highest mountain in the world called Khangchendzonga which is 8,600 meters high.

The yak and pony pack trains know the trail very well and do not need anyone to tell them where to go.  Their tenders just follow.

It was a pleasure to walk the neighborhood in little gem of a town where everyone seemed to be going about their business singing.  Even the young kids sang while playing.  The population here is heavily influenced by Tibetan and Nepalese cultures.  The greeting here is "namaste" and I read that there are 11 languages spoken here, none of which is Hindi.

While the electricity went out fairly often, the kitchen could cook on gas and use candles for lighting so guests never went hungry.  In such a laid-back part of the country electricity is a luxury and residents just don't make a habit of depending on it.  It was mainly the ferocious lightning and thunder storms that came up each evening that caused the outages.

With my motorcycle rental period coming to an end I had to leave this idyllic Shangrila and venture back towards Darjeeling.  I wanted to see the only tea plantation in Sikkim, so I asked the desk clerk to make me a reservation at a hotel there.  It was said to be a 2 hour drive to reach, but without road names or numbers (or road signs) I got irreversibly lost and after 6 hours driving just switched off the motorcycle and stayed in a nondescript town where I just bought the tea from the plantation I had missed.

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