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E-4 East of Kailash

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A trek to the Green Lake

- Maninder Kohli

When it comes to mountain literature I have been especially fascinated with the accounts written by early explorers of the Indian Himalaya. What has captivated me for several years and also seen a fair amount of activity from mountaineers and explorers is the Green Lake area. The focal point has always been Kanchenjunga, the 3rd highest mountain in the world. Another area of interest for explorers has been the passes in the area which, include the Zemu and the Nepal Gap leading to the circumnavigation of the Kanchenjunga Massif.


A view of the Kanchenjunga

While I have been holding on to a desire of heading to Green Lake the thought of moving ahead has been influenced negatively by accounts of earlier teams. The key issue which all the teams have faced has been a mutiny by porters from Lachen, the road head. When an option emerged of transporting porters from other areas of Sikkim, my dreams of exploring the Green Lake resurfaced. Getting the permits for the same is also a challenge. Lastly, reaching Lachen seemed ardous as the road from Mangan to Lachen is known to be very fragile at various stretches. Luckily for us we had a smooth sailing.


Based on my research I was aware of two additional obstacles which the previous teams have faced on the trek. The first was of looking for an alternative trail on day 1 as the trail along the Zemu Chu had been washed away. It was great to see a settled trail in place even though it had not been reinforced with stones and in places was like quicksand. But looking back the old trail was far more interesting and a lot more scenic and I was really pleased that we used it for our return. The second obstacle was of crossing the Lhonak Chu on day 2 which was a side stream merging with the Zemu Chu just ahead of Tallem. Many trekkers have previously employed teams to make a bridge but luckily for us a brand new bridge constructed by the forest authorities got us across.


After each trek when I make my notes I list the top 5 highlights. In regard to Green Lakes my high point was the unbelievable beauty of Siniolchu. When we had a clear show, I found it difficult to look away. The second enchantress was Kanchenjunga. I have previously seen the peak from the Singalilla Ridge from Goecha La. It is only from Green Lake where one can see the complete massif, awe-inspiring and majestic. The third thrilling feature of the trek was the forest walk on our way up. I don’t think I have ever walked through prettier stretches of wild woodlands. The fourth high spot was the grandeur and ruggedness of the Zemu Glacier. Last but not the least, the clean and well laid out trail was the focal point throughout.


A view of the Zemu Glacier

In terms of further exploration of the Green Lake, the area which looks most interesting is the Lhonak valley in North. The Tibet border is about 20kms North from the Green Lake. The maps reveal a possibility of a point between Yabuk and the Rest Camp which, leads to the Thangchung La, a 5000m pass. Most interestingly as soon as one crosses the pass towards the north the terrain looks very barren and a lot more flat which is in complete contrast to the green and steep nature of the terrain in the Green lake walk up. Apparently the Lhonak Valley falls under the rain shadow of Kanchenjunga and so seemingly does not receive any significant level of rain. From the Lhonak Valley one can cross the Thieu La and reach Thangu which is 34 km further north on the road from Lachen.


However what takes the cake and supercedes all the marvellous experiences was the amazing group of 14 who proved to be an incredible support system for each other for 12 days. This I believe is the most important ingredient in whipping up a sumptuous treat in the mountains. It was nice to see everyone pitch in during times of stress. A lot of effort was put into repairing Darshan’s shoes and looking after Aradhana who unknown to all of us had dengue. We spent a fair amount of time in the Dome, our dining tent, chatting in between sips of various liquids and spoons of rice and dal. The warmth kept us going despite the chill and challenges. I certainly look forward to being with the same team in the mountains very soon.

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