Just like many travellers worldwide, the year 2020 was spent by at my home because of COVID-19 pandemic. Global and domestic travelling all came to a halt due to the fear of infection and novel disease. However, things are turning back to normality and both international and domestic tourism is picking slowly. Against all the odds, I was offered an opportunity to travel to Kanchenjunga in the new year eve which I accepted readily. You can imagine how I was excited about such a trip after one complete year of the homestay. Was it really important on the grounds of a pandemic? Well, my trip was worth taking the risk even though I was exposed to COVID. What could be more than spending a week with my friends on a holiday?
How my Kanchenjunga trip was planned?
I was invited to join my group of friends for a lifetime trip to Kanchenjunga’s Green Lakes. Kanchenjunga means ‘Five Treasures of the Snow’ and is the highest mountain peak in India and the third-highest worldwide. Like Everest belongs to Nepal, it belongs to Sikkim of India and shares the magnificent mountain borders of Nepal, Sikkim and Tibet soaring 23,000 ft.
After the domestic tourism was opened by the government of India in October 2020, I researched about tests related to COVID-19 and conditions required for travelling in trains and cars. I had to track down available facilities of COVID tests for me and my friends before and after I come from my trip and take critical decisions regarding self-isolation and home quarantine. Meanwhile, I also investigated about train and flight tickets along with trekking companies and stay. I must say, very few people showed braveness to battle the pandemic situation while travelling as tough protocols were levied by the government. Sadly, only 10 of us walked for the most beautiful treks in India and I was among the two only women in the entire trip. What a privilege!!
Entering Kanchenjunga and pandemic protocols
When we finally gathered for the trip, I checked COVID centres and hotels for travels information and affordable stay. We left for Gangtok and drove past beautiful farmlands, mini-settlements, cardamom valleys and slopes of high Teesta leading to Lachen beneath the Lama Angden Peaks. It was a 10 days trip and we decided to move west to northeast along the Zemu to envisage the spur of Kanchenjunga.
Due to the pandemic, at night roads were all empty including restaurants and bars as they were supposed to get closed before 9 each day. We had to wear masks and public gathering was limited. Every place we entered, our body temperature was checked and were examined for any COVID related symptoms. Luckily, we all went healthy and returned in the same way.
How Kanchenjunga trek became unforgettable for me?
Our destinations for the trip included Lachung, Pelling and Lachen beside Kanchenjunga National Park region. Starting with Zemu, our trek made a hilarious move when we were hit by a small landslide. Although landslides are common in that area, I was facing it for the first time in my entire life and it shocked me completely. Following us was our trek guide who showed us a boulder where we rested. After relaxing for some time, our journey started and I tripped.
Walking in the valley of Kanchenjunga mountains was like walking in a paradise. We came across many large tree’s, rare shrubs, bridges made of log, sparkling streams and soft mosses where I wished to walk barefooted. After a drastic year, the sight of nature proved more peaceful than any other thing in the world. Suddenly, a mishap took place when we found that one of our members was missing and everybody rushed to find him since it was getting darker.
Although we found our missing friend within an hour, he told us that he usually gets lost in treks as he is always curious to get deep into knowing new things. Our dinner was not as good as expected but we all ate out of hunger and day-long walk. Our trekking company provided us with warm foldable chairs which could be turned into a cosy bed. Although a few mishaps occurred, the trip became unforgettable and I enjoyed every second of it.
Travelling around Zemu Glacier?
We were warned about Zemu glacier mightiness and were told that Zemu glaciers must be visited during summers. The long glaciers are unsafe in winter especially for the novel travellers like me. Thus, we decided to follow its trails and did not go deep into it. After visiting Lachen, our Zemu glacier trek began. We visited many beautiful spots such as Kabi Longstok town, Phodong Monastery and Tashi Viewpoint. We took a short jeep ride to Zema from Lachen.
The main trek of ours began at Talem where we walked beside the Zemu river. It is at a height of 3,240. Travelling amidst the colourful terrains and forests, I almost forgot that the pandemic was still ongoing and I checked the temperature again.
If you ever visit Zemu trek, you will see many decent and ascents until you finally reach the Zemu glacier beside Yabuk. While moving away from Yabuk, one can see Mount Siniolchu beside Green Lake. This is the place where the majestic Zemu glacier can be spotted. Though, as told earlier, we did not go further and returned to our base camp.
Magnificent view of Pelling in Kanchenjunga
After we visited the green lake, the next destination was the town of Pelling. Pelling is popular for the beautiful views of snow-capped mountains of Kanchenjunga. The town is around 115 km away from Gangtok and 130 km from Siliguri. Unlike Zemu glacier, Pelling town is well connected with jeep and car services which provided us with a comfortable ride.
At Pelling, we were able to sightsee many mountain ranges including Kumbhakaran, Koktang and Siniolchu besides many others. Many good hotels were available for us with good budget and tastes. After having a good night sleep in the hotel, our trekking began. The first destination which we chose was Khecheopalri Lake. The lake is regarded as sacred in Sikkim and is hidden under a thick forest. The locals told us that the birds in the forest never allows a single leaf to float off the lake surface. The next two days, we visited Sangay Waterfall, Sanga Coeling Monastery, Rabdentse Ruins and Pemayangtse Monastery beside Pelling Valley.
Combatting the pandemic situation while travelling
Although I enjoyed the entire trip to its fullest, my biggest concern was what if I get sick or catch the infection. How would be my quarantine or hospital experience? This troubled me a lot so I decided to contact my family doctor before returning home. I carried travel insurance and other policy papers required for travellers travelling amidst pandemic. One of my insurance papers included coverage regarding cancellation, travel delay, interruption, emergency evacuation and medical expenses besides a few other nomenclatures. I did not hesitate once to spend money on insurance during the pandemic to ensure that my trip goes smoothly even if I contract COVID during the trip. Luckily, nothing went wrong and I was all set to return to my home after a wonderful journey.
Safety and home quarantine
After I came back home, my plan was to self-isolate for 14 days to avoid possibly infecting my family members. I planned ways of self-isolation with my doctor and after studying a guide, settled for a plan. A small get together was arranged by my family but I interacted with them from my room. The following week, I completed my work and other errands that were due because of my trip. I made a COVID test in spite no one asked me to do so and because I could come out of my cell as soon as possible. The test also reduced the risk of infection spread when I got back. After my COVID test came negative and I had completed my quarantine period for 8 days, I went to my doctor to ensure that everything was fine. After another four days of home quarantine, no symptoms were detected on either of my friends or I and we all came out happily out of self-isolation period.
Was the trip to Kanchenjunga worthwhile during the pandemic?
We all are now well-aware about COVID-19 symptoms and how transmissible it is. To be honest, I was very excited before, during and after my Kanchenjunga trip. At the same time, I was worried about the pandemic while travelling, in flight, in short road trips and while trekking in the mountains. However, when I travelled, I came across the issues faced by the hospitality industry and how they are coping with their past loses. Even though I risked my life, I was happy to see that their business was retrieving which was otherwise lost due to the pandemic. From an individual perspective, the trip was soothing for me and not tiresome at all. After being locked at home for almost a year, hanging around with friends was a great experience. I was able to educate myself about the disease and risk associated with it besides getting knowledge about how small-town people faced difficulties last year.
The best takeaway from my travelling experience was the research policies and insurance plans that covered risks associated with the travellers when travelling during a pandemic or any crises situation. My trip to Kanchenjunga was like a balm offered by the nature where I got a chance to report new places and do whatever I liked. Rather than relaxing, I evaluated and visited new places, explored them to the fullest and invested time and money to keep myself fit and healthy.