If you have travelled or trekked in Nepal, or even if you have researched trekking there you could easily overlook the Kanchenjunga circuit trek. Why? Because there are some great, iconic, and well know trekking routes that dominate the market and the review section of any travel site. You have heard of Everest base camp right? And the Annapurna circuit? Yes, you and thousands of others have heard of or trekked these great trails. But why have you not heard of the Kanchenjunga circuit?
The Nepal Mountains
The Kanchenjunga circuit trek borders Sikkim (India) and Tibet in the eastern part of Nepal. That means it’s both remote and overflowing with Buddhist culture. And yet it is not among the most popular treks in Nepal. The reason being the very fact that it is remote and is a relatively long trek (Three weeks). Also, or because of this, there is limited information on the internet about this trek.
Which brings me to this blog. Here is everything you need to know about trekking the Kanchenjunga circuit!
- Number of days: 20 to 22 days
- Distance hiked: Approx 210 km
- Highest point: 5143 m
- Difficulty: Demanding
- Required permits: Two
- Average cost: USD 90 – 110 per day
- Accommodation: Teahouse
- Highlights: Kanchenjunga North and South Base Camp, Sele Le Pass
What To Expect From The Kanchenjunga Trek
First off, stunning mountain views, particularly of Kanchenjunga from the north and south base camps, and amazing landscapes.
It’s a remote area with few, often no other, trekkers on the trail you feel like the world is yours!
Accommodation reflects the simplicity of the villages and culture of the area basic. But meals are all freshly cooked using mainly organic products from the region.
When To Trek Kanchenjunga
The time of year that you trek will have a huge influence on your hike. Here are the details.
October and November: This is the best time. It’s not too hot at lower altitudes and not too cold at higher altitudes. The mountains are clear and it is my favourite time to trek there.
April to May: This can be considered the second best time to visit. The rhododendrons are in bloom on the lower part of the trail. It might be hot and humid at lower altitudes. But with the same great views as you get in October and November, mountain scenery makes up for a few days of sweatiness!
June to September: I recommend you do not trek at this time of year. It’s raining and there are chances of landslides on the lower parts of the trail. It’s likely be cloudy most of the time. And let’s not even think about those leeches!
December to March: This is the winter season. The Sele Le Pass will be blocked because of snow. Teahouses on the northern and southern base camps are closed. I strongly dissuade you coming in the winter.
How The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek Compares To Others
In a nutshell it’s isolated, the scenery is diverse, the mountains are stunning, you feel you’re on some expedition trek from decades past. On the other hand, it’s a long trek compared to the more popular ones, and the starting point is far from Kathmandu. But these two points are not necessarily negatives!
What I love is the dramatic change in culture and scenery. From the paddy fields and subtropical forests of the lower parts of the trek, to the high mountain passes, it’s hard to put your camera down. Then naturally I love the mountains! Some of those you will see are Jannu Peak, Wedge Peak, Rathong, Kanchenjunga, Dhormo Ri.
It is a demanding trek, particularly crossing the Sele Le Pass but with the mountain views and feeling of achievement, crossing this pass will be something you will remember for the rest of your life!
For those who love culture, there is plenty to see. For many trekkers, a large part of the experience is witnessing Tibetan Buddhist culture. Visit gompas (Buddhist temples), spin prayer wheels, add your own prayer flags to the myriad of colourful prayer flags fluttering in the wind live changing for some.
Kanchenjunga Trekking Permits And Cost
In total you will need to spend USD 60 per person on permits as shown below.
To trek the Kanchenjunga circuit for 18 – 22 days, a Restricted Area Permit (Kanchenjunga RAP) valid for 2 weeks is required. At USD 20 per week that is USD 40 for the 2 week pass.
A Kanchenjunga Conservation Area Project (KCAP) Entry Permit will cost you USD 20 for the whole period.
Getting To The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek
Like anything truly worthwhile, it’s not the easiest journey to reach the starting point!
I’ll explain a few options.
The starting point of the trek is at Taplejung (Near the Suketar airport). So you can either fly directly from Kathmandu to Suketar (Check as flights do not run daily) or flight from Kathmandu to Bhadrapur (Daily flights) and then drive to Taplejung.
One thing to keep in mind is that Suketar is a tiny airport in the mountains and flights are frequently cancelled due to weather conditions.
Therefore, my recommendation is to fly to Bhadrapur and drive to Taplejung. Particularly if you are on a tight schedule.
If you opt to fly and drive you can find local buses or hire a private jeep in Bhadrapur.
My Suggested Best Option
Take the approx 45 minute flight from Kathmandu to Bhadrapur. Make sure you take a morning flight as it is then a 4 to 5 hour drive from Bhadrapur to Ilam.
Overnight in Ilam. This is a tea plantation area so if you have time you can explore the town and surrounding area.
The next day drive from Ilam to Taplejung. 4 to 5 hours
Now that the road has been extended north of Taplejung, in the dry season you could drive further north, reducing your trekking days by one or two. Perhaps something to consider on the return journey.
How To Hike The Kanchenjunga Circuit
You are entering a restricted area! While this means adventure and going where few other trekkers go it also means you cannot go alone! There is no choice but to go with a trekking company on an organized trek.
Whether you are trekking the Kanchenjunga Circuit for 18 or 22 days or somewhere in between, you have to go with a trekking company on an organized trek. My own trek was 20 days and you can access my itinerary for Kanchenjunga trek to see if this option is good for you.
Organized Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek
With dozens, if not hundreds of trekking companies out there, how do you know which one to choose?
How do I Select my Trekking Company?
You need to think about safety, always a priority. Your budget. Level of facilities they offer, i.e. accommodation standard.
Language – does your guide speak your language?
Experience – is both the company and the guide experienced enough for this remote area?
Before booking, you should ask any potential trekking company a number of questions. Here are some pointers below:
Will the guide carry a GPS tracker? Has your guide had training in emergency situations such as helicopter rescue?
Registration and license
Is the trekking company actually properly registered and licensed? Don’t just take them at their word, check the listing on Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal (TAAN).
Testimonials of others
Check their reviews on their own site and also on sites like Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor.
Length and breadth of experience
How many years have they been operating? Which areas do they specialised in, if any? How long have their guides worked with them, or with other companies?
What do you get for your money? If the price appears very inexpensive, the service might be cheap too! You can ask does the price include airport pick up and drop. Will you get transported on a private vehicle or a local bus?
Check in the reviews how the company treats its porters. A good company will treat all staff equally and well.
Meet your guide as soon as you can when you arrive in the country!
How Much does it Cost?
The price of your trek includes three areas.
The amount you pay the trekking company. This includes for transport, accommodation, food, guide fees, and porter fees.
The amount you pay for the trekking permits. A mandatory charge payable to the Government of Nepal.
Miscellaneous personal costs. Beer, cold drinks, snacks, hot showers, recharging your phone or camera, tipping the guide and porter, etc.
The complete, all inclusive package rate for the Kanchenjunga circuit trek costs from USD 1600 to USD 3200. The cost will reflect the experience of the company as well as the transport and the accommodation they will provide.
Accommodation is relatively the same on this trek. No luxury lodges. So why pay more when there is nothing extra to get? Don’t forget expensive doesn’t always mean best. Check, check, check, the reviews!
Drinking at altitude is a bad idea! But let’s face it, you are going to drink one or two beers, right? Drinking water is not included so budget for that unless you have your own method of sterilizing the water. Hot showers and battery charging are not included. Snacks such as chocolate and muesli bars are not included so buy them before you hit the trail!
It’s always good to have a bit of extra cash for emergencies.
What is the Food Like on the Trek?
Bad food can spoil any day out. Bad food on a trek can spoil a good few days out! In the remote areas, such as Kanchenjunga you are at the mercy of the teahouses’ family when it comes to cooking! However, almost everyone in Nepal can make a great dal bhat (Curry and rice). This can become very tedious after the first day or two. Thankfully, most teahouses have seen enough trekkers to know we like to have a good variety of food. So I have listed out a few items you can expect to see on your trek.
What to Expect at Mealtimes
Eggs and toast or chapattis, and Tibetan bread are pretty guaranteed. Porridge and pancakes may be also on the menu.
Lunch will be on the trail itself as you move between overnight stops and most definitely dal bhat!
Probably dal bhat, you will be hungry enough to enjoy it! You can also expect to see noodles, egg curry, fried rice, fried potatoes, and momo (Delicious packets of meat or vegetables) on the menu.
Tea is the thing n the trails! Great first thing in the morning and last thing at night and in between too! Instant coffee is also available as is hot lemon. Soft drinks such as coke and fanta are often available. Bottled water may be available in some teahouses. Or they will boil water for you at a cost. Beer and Tumba (Fermented millet local hot drink) are on the bar list!
You will need insurance coverage from your home country ensure it is valid for high altitude trekking and helicopter rescue.
The guide and porter will expect a tip. This can reflect your overall satisfaction but it should be in the region of USD 200 for the guide, USD 150 for a porter. This amount is shared between the trekkers in your group.
A first aid kit will be carried by the guide but you should also bring your own small one. Most common injuries on a trek are sprained ankles and sunburn! Pack your first aid kit accordingly. If you have medicine you take, bring an extra supply in case of delays. Another thing to consider is altitude sickness.
You will find plenty of information on the internet about altitude sickness. Note we cannot predict who will suffer and who will not. It has nothing to do with age or fitness level but going too fast, or climbing too high too fast can result in problems.
What You Need To Know
AMS or Acute Mountain Sickness occurs when we ascend too quickly. Normally at altitudes 3000m or 9840 ft or over.
What does it feel like? Headache, shortness of breath and light headedness. These are also related to being dehydrated. So drinking plenty of water is the key. Stay hydrated and your body will most likely adjust to the altitude itself.
What if it gets worse? If the symptoms continue, tell your guide. Look out for the following symptoms:
- Sleeping difficulties
- Requiring to sleep more than would be expected
- Loss of appetite
- Vivid dreams
- The need to rest, catch your breath frequently, especially above 3500 m.
- Runny nose
- Need to urinate more
Altitude sickness can vary between mild symptoms and the more serious. Mild symptoms should clear up themselves by drinking lots of water, walking slowly and taking rest. More severe symptoms are a sign you must descend immediately. This is explained by CIWEC Clinic in Kathmandu.
What Should I Take on my Trek?
Here are some tips as to why you should pack for your trek. And do you need to bring everything from home?
Buy it or Hire it?
If you think you are going to trek regularly, buy your own gear. If you are not going to be using very often you might want to think about hiring some of the items.
I highly recommend you buy your own trekking boots at home. Wear them in for as long as you can before you arrive in Nepal. These are the ONE thing that can really make or break your trek. Make sure they are the right size with wiggle room and remember you will be wearing thick socks. The right grip and a good sole for rocky trails.
Waterproof. Need I say more? Good quality. In this instance cheap is definitely not recommended.
Layers are best. The Kanchenjunga area is warm at lower altitudes but cold further up. So you need good thermal underwear. The stuff that will draw the sweat away from your skin.
Clothing that insulates your body such as a fleece. Outer clothing that will keep you dry and keep out the wind.
These can include:
- Cotton and either woollen socks or hiking socks
- Trekking pants, the quick dry variety
- Trekking shirt also the quick dry variety
- Fleece vest
- Fleece jacket
- Hat, one warm and one to keep off the sun
- Down jacket
- Rain poncho
- Maybe water proof pants also depending on the time of year
- Good sunglasses
Sleeping bag is not an absolute necessity as teahouses will provide blankets. But I like to take my own. Bring from home or rent in Thamel, Kathmandu.
The majority of these items can be bought or hired in Thamel. I do not recommend hiring clothing in general. Except for a down jacket which you might never wear again after your trek.
First Aid Kit
In addition to the one your guide will carry, I suggest you bring:
- All purpose pain killers like paracetamol
- Imodium for upset stomachs
- Rehydration salts
- Handiplast/ elastoplast
- Antiseptic cream or iodine
- Any medicines you normally use. Plus some extras
See You On The Trail
One day I hope our paths will cross perhaps on the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek!