“Kangchenjunga embodies much of the unknown history of Himalayan climbing: the undeclared, but clearly politically motivated race between the British and the Germans to become the first nation to conquer an 8,000 m peak. While the British made one failed attempt after another to summit Everest, the Germans split their equally unsuccessful efforts between Kangchenjunga (in Nepal) and Nanga Parbat in Pakistan. The Germans’ ability to stay confident under the most adverse conditions even surpassed the British ‘gentle art of suffering’.”So writes Jon Gangadal in his 274-page magnum opus, “Five Treasures of Great Snow—The Story of Kangchenjunga.” He was writing about the post World War I years when Germany, under Adolf Hitler, was trying to rise from the ashes, and one sure-fire way would be to conquer the lofty Himalayas, especially Kangchenjunga, the world’s third highest peak and one of the most difficult peaks to climb for any climber.
This challenging 8,586 m mountain is located on the Nepal-Sikkim border. For trekkers with ample time at their disposal, a trek to the Kangchenjunga Base Camp is well worth the effort, as they get to venture into Nepal’s more remote regions. March–June and October–November are the best times to go trekking here. The trek will take you through varying and fascinating landscapes. The route ambles along besides the gushing Tamur River and on the way, you get ample opportunity to meet and talk with the locals. These include people of Limbu ethnicity, a clan that is well represented in Gurkha battalions everywhere and who have earned quite a few laurels in wars all over the world. However, back in their own homeland, they are far from the fierce soldiers that they personify; more likely, they will welcome you to their homes and offer you their favorite drink, tongba (millet brew).
In other villages, like Ghunsa for example, which has been inhabited by Tibetans since the past three decades, you will be enchanted by the sight of small wooden house adorned with gaily fluttering multi-colored prayer flags. Diversity is a given in this region. As for the surroundings, you will be walking through rich rhododendron forests that gradually give way to barren hillsides. You will certainly come across herds of yaks and blue sheep (bharal) grazing on the sparse vegetation. One thing you will notice about this route is that, even though you’ll be hiking close to the mountains, you’ll have a view of Kangchenjunga only when you are almost at the base camp at Pang Pema. From here, of course, the magnificent mountain seems to be close enough to touch!
Having said all this, you might be raring to go, but you could also be thinking about how to get to the region from Kathmandu in the first place. Well, first you catch a plane to Biratnagar in eastern Nepal, the country’s second largest city after Kathmandu. The flight is about 45 minutes long. You spend a night there: good hotels, good food. The next day, you take a four-wheel drive to Phidim (1,311 m). It’s about an eight-hour journey. Spend the night here, relax; feast your eyes on the rolling tea plantations around. Next morning, you start trekking to Taplejung (1,798 m); might take you around five hours to get there. Now, the trail goes downwards to meet the Tamur River at Dobhan (850 m); another three hours. You get to cross a couple of swinging suspension bridges that connect several villages, and get fantastic shots of the same for showing off back home.
You are now in a lovely valley populated mostly by the above-mentioned Limbus. However, soon enough, the trail goes through a village called Amjilassa (2,240 m) which is inhabited by mostly Tibetans. The hike is exhilarating; the culture you are getting firsthand experience of now, is interesting. The route passes through lush oak, bamboo, and rhododendron forests as well as past some beautiful waterfalls. Nang Mo mountain now comes into view as well. You keep on climbing ever upwards, and soon, as you ascend Ghunsa Khola, you’ll come across a lot of small gompas, chortens, and mani stone walls, heralding the Sherpa and Tibetan settlements up ahead. One of the most remote villages inhabited by Sherpas is Ghunsa (3,460 m) from where you can see the 7,710 m Jannu peak. As you climb higher, above Kambachen (4,110 m), the terrain looks pretty bleak and desolate. However, while crossing moraine, the terrific views of the Kangchenjunga glacier at Lhonak (4,720 m) will surely uplift your tired spirits and give fresh wings to your straggling heels.
But, hold on, that’s not the end of it. Not by a long shot. Some way up ahead at the Kangchenjunga Base Camp at Pang Pema (5,100 m), there’s a greater reward awaiting you. This is where you will truly appreciate the meaning of the phrase, ‘glorious panorama’. The panoramic scenery is, in other words, spectacular. The return trip is made all the more interesting because you’ll be trekking on an alternate route that will give you the chance to see different scenery including some lofty high passes and tranquil mountain lakes.