Tingchen Khang

AVM (Retd) Apurba K Bhattacharyya

In the autumn of 2003, an exploration cum reconnaissance trip to the Prek chu valley in West Sikkim was undertaken by members of the Himalayan Club from Kolkatta. Seven members visited Goecha la and reconnoitred the approach routes to the Forked Peak on the west bank and Tingchen Khang1 on the east bank of Prek chu. Tingchen Khang appeared the more challenging peak and so we decided to attempt it in the autumn of2004. The expedition was scheduled in late autumn, during this period, the weather generally remains clear though with the temperatures dropping to sub zero levels.

We reached Yoksum on 26 October 2004 in Sikkim to start our trek. It was crowded with foreign tourists. Most yaks, porters and were supplies were cornered by them and their agents and it was difficult to make arrangements.

By chance, the next morning, Debajyoti spotted our cook, Barbati, by name, who had accompanied us in 2003. Though it was just past 0700 hrs in the morning, the night before had obviously been a 'heavy' one for him, as by then he could hardly stand on his feet leave alone walk. He, however, did us a favour by at least recognising us! He was keen on joining our expedition as cook, a prospect with which I was not very comfortable, but with hardly any option available, I elected to take a chance with a 'known devil'.


  1. Note (Ed.)
    There is a confusion about correct spelling of name of this mountain. Various forms have been used. The official name is Tingchen Khang. Scholars were consulted in Darjeeling by Drorje Lhattoo, Hon. Local Secretary of the Himalayan Club. According to him this is the correct spelling with the following meaning: Ting- Iron Vase (kalash- in Hindi, which is generally on top of a temple). Chhengpo - big, vast, large.
    Ding - valley, depth (which is now pronounced as ting).
    Khang - snow.
    "High Snow of Deep Valley".

By afternoon we located a yak owner who agreed to hire his yaks, but at a much higher price than the rate approved by the Government of Sikkim. The local authorities informed us that the first suspension bridge on the way to Bakhim had been washed away in August and a longish detour has been carved out to connect to the main trail. The detour meant an extra four hours for the yaks. We, therefore, planned to camp at Sachen on the night of the 29th and to skip Bakhim on the following day and to camp instead at Tsoka.

Early on the 29th morning, we moved for Sachen, with Malabi and Jayanta sent ahead to occupy the only log cabin available before others could get to it. The plan was to have a hot lunch at Sachen and Debajyoti and I trailed Barbati and his help closely till the last hut of Yoksum, in the belief that he would not be able to get a drink en route with no liquor shop available between Yoksum and Bakhim! That was a wrong assumption as I soon realised. After about an hour's trek, we came to the diversion from where the track became slushy and slippery all the way down to the riverbed and thereafter led to a steep climb on a similar muddy trail. The yaks find it difficult to negotiate such slippery tracks and are at times casualties of slips and falls. The yak men show very little concern, maybe because the yaks don't complain!

Clearly Barbati turned out to be smarter than us in alcohol management or maybe the other way around with alcohol managing him. He had gone back to Yoksum to have a drink and was now lying in mud. We sent the yak man and the kitchen help to retrieve Barbati. It was twilight when they arrived and the campsite dark. Barbati was stinking of rakshi, but the devil that he was, with his twinkling eyes, he somehow managed to start the kitchen. Within an hour he produced for us a good hot meal which we ravenously ate as both lunch and dinner! Strangely Barbati apologised to the members after dinner for his lapses and assured that such a thing would not be repeated during the expedition. I hardly believed him since he was still under the influence, but such is the nature of an alcoholic that he sounded sincere in his remorse.

On 30th morning we decided to camp at Tsoka. The team carried packed lunch and moved to Tsoka after a short stop over at Bakhim. That stretch was an enjoyable trek through a deciduous forest and its sylvan environment. One could get the glimpse of cherry trees about to blossom. There were yellow patches on the hill slopes where trees like maples were ready to shed their leaves. Sadly amidst these beautiful scenes there was also litter strewn along the track on either side of the two suspension bridges where travellers stop for refreshment. They leave behind non bio-degradable plastics, cans, silver foils, tetra foils, chocolate wrappers and used tissues. This happens despite the painted instructions on rocks and boulders along the track to keep the mountains clean! The tourist hut at Tsoka was packed with travellers, porters and baggage and the noise level tested our patience. There were a numbers of tents pitched around the tourist hut. Tsoka has become an important tourist stop-over with a number of guest houses sprouting on the slopes. A number of shops and restaurants have also come up to support the guest houses. One could smell chang and rakshi in the air. My concern was to keep Barbati distant from its lure, which meant a semi-sleepless night.

From Tsoka, Tingchen Khang and Jobonu are clearly visible and both these peaks looked beautiful and formidable. I could see the beautiful Tsoka lake reflecting the colourful monastery situated on the small hump adjoining it. A small bamboo bridge spans the lake for people to reach the monastery. Cluster of huts are scattered on the slope in an unplanned way. Once a sleepy hamlet with a couple of cowsheds, Tsoka has now been transformed into a bustling village. People from Gangtok and Darjeeling have settled here with their shops. The famous bamboo ringhals of Tsoka were conspicuous by their absence. The red pandas of Sikkim used to thrive on the shoots of the bamboo ringhals. Small wonder the red Pandas are not to be seen and are gradually disappearing as an endangered species . Here the green and dense deciduous forest gives way to rhododendron and conifers and a trek through this forest is a refreshing experience. Some patches of this trail were snowbound due to the previous week's snowfall. By the time we reached Deorali, the area was covered with misty stratus cloud and we missed the view of the grand Kangchenjunga massif which is otherwise visible from here. By afternoon we camped at Dzongri. The night was clear but cold. With no chang shop around, the night was silent and we felt comparatively safe about Barbati.

Next morning, the Dzongri camp site and the nearby slopes were covered with frost and Kabru South was glistening in the morning sun. The silhouette of the holy rock peak of Kabur stood in front against the backdrop of the shinning Kabru massif. It was a beautiful sight but the temperature was —5°C. If one moves to the west from Dzongri keeping Kabur rock to the right, one would reach Chowrikhang at the snout of the East Rathong glacier which is the location of Himalayan Mountaineering Institutes's training site. This location has produced a large number of eminent mountaineers who have achieved milestones in the history of Indian mountaineering.

Reverting back to our trail, we could see the entire Pandim range across the Prek chu valley. A large number of tourists come as far as this viewpoint to marvel at the majestic view of the Kabru massif to the northwest, Kangchenjunga to the north and the Pandim range to the northeast. After traversing the slope for about 45 minutes, the descent starts for Kokchurang campsite. It is a steep descent through a rhododendron forest all the way up to Prek chu. The track was covered with snow. In spring time, this stretch of trail is a trekkers' delight with the entire slope covered in multi-coloured rhododendron flowers.

After an hour's descent, we reached Kokchurang where a big log cabin is available for tourists to spend the night. The log cabin is located on the west bank of Prek chu and right across the river stands the mighty Pandim. The hut has two long dormitory halls with a central hall used as a kitchen by various groups. Each dormitory can accommodate about 20 people. While the packed dormitory helps in keeping the cabin warm, the stinking odour of socks and stockings laced with lingering bidi (strong Indian cigarette) smoke makes it difficult to stay indoors for long without venturing out for fresh air. However, a tired body perhaps ignores these discomforts and retires to deep slumber. But we stopped only for half an hour for lunch and moved on towards Lamony. Prek chu valley at Kokchurang is narrow and the sun disappears over the western ridge by mid-day at this time of the year. With the sun going beyond the ridge, the breeze along the river brings the temperature down substantially. While we crossed the river over the wooden bridge, the yaks waded through the shallow of the river and reached the east bank. Thereafter, it is a traverse along the east bank and a shallow climb up to Thansing and beyond.

Thansing camping ground was full of colourful tents of various sizes and utility, starting from single tent to mess tent, kitchen tent and even toilet tents. The camp site at Thansing is gradually expanding as junipers and rhododendron bushes get systematically chopped for fuel, mainly by the porters accompanying the trekkers and expeditions, an example of slow ecological degradation. The valley opens up from Thansing and the trek is virtually on an easy terrain with Prek chu flowing along the western edge of the valley. By the time the last team member reached Lamony, it was an hour and a half after sunset. It was pitch dark all around, the only visible lights being those of the twinkling stars in a clear sky.

View of Tingchen Khang

22. View of Tingchen Khang

As I peeped through the tent fly, I was greeted by the beautiful sight of imposing Tingchen Khang peak to the south, with the first ray of the morning sun scattering itself over the shoulder of the mountain. Far off to the north was the south face of the mighty Kangchenjunga massif already soaking in the morning sunlight. To the west lay the Forked Peak range across Prek chu and you have to look vertically up the formidable rock face of Pandim to the east. It was at the base of this rock wall of Pandim that we set our base camp on 2 November. I had with me exactly seven days to attempt the peak and return to base camp.

We sorted stores and by 0930 hrs, Gautam, Debajyoti, Subrata, Jayanta, Malabi and Pasang were ready to move for a load ferry to C1. The yak man, also named Pasang, who stayed back as kitchen help volunteered to ferry load, along with Barbati. Domo, Bijan and I stayed back at the base camp and sorted out rations for the return journey. We agreed that Domo and Bijan would stay at base camp with the yak man Pasang looking after the kitchen, whereas Barbati would move up with rest of the members to C1 on 3 November. Debajyoti had to return from halfway bare footed due to a tight pair of boots. He was in pain and worried about the prospect of climbing thereafter. Camp 1 was set at 500 m north of the rock buttress, which splits the glacier in two directions, at the snout of the north Tingchen Khang glacier.

The 4th morning rest of us moved up slowly along the slippery moraine slope to join others at C1. By the time we were half way through, Pasang the yak man, shouted from the lateral moraine of the north glacier and informed us that Barbati was on his way to show us a better route. Barbati led us along a dry rocky patch to the camp site. We reached C1 by 1500 hrs when we saw the team members returning from the glacier after opening the route ahead. The glacial route was safe although there were crevasses en route.

In the evening, I announced that the first summit team would comprise Gautam, Subrata and Pasang, who would move to the summit camp on the 5th and after opening a route on the rock band, attempt the summit on 6 November. The support team, of Jayanta and Malabi would ferry loads on the 5th and move up on the 6th for a second attempt thereafter.

On the 5th, the first team moved to occupy the summit camp. Jayanta and Malabi left with the summit tent, rope and kitchen items. Their progress was somewhat slow on the glacier. Both returned to C1 in the evening after setting up summit camp. Jayanta informed that Subrata and Pasang had moved towards the rock band to open the route and carry out recce for tomorrow.

The following day, the 6th, Barbati served bed tea by 0630 hrs when C1 woke up to clear weather. The cold breeze sweeping the campsite brought the temperature down to - 15° C. Barbati had started taking keen interest in the proceedings of the expedition now and he went up the terminal moraine to witness progress of the summit team. At about 0730 hrs he shouted from the moraine top to say that he could clearly see the trail on the slope and two tiny figures slowly moving up towards the rock band. I asked myself why only two members? What happened to the third member? After a while both the figures were visible from C1 itself. From the pace and the rhythm of movement, I knew they were Subrata and Pasang. Fifteen minutes later the third member appeared on the snow slope only to return towards the summit camp. Could that be Gautam? Why did he return?

By 0745 hrs the two figures merged with the dark background of the rock band. We were perched on the boulders of the moraine with eyes glued to the rock band and the ice slope beyond. Barbati, after serving us breakfast, went further up the moraine to monitor the progress of the climb and provide us with feed back. At about 0900 hrs one dark speck appeared on the ice slope beyond the rock band. I waited for a while to make sure that it was actually a moving object. When the object started moving to the right, I was sure that one member had been able to cross the rock band. I could not be happier since this patch of rock band was the main hurdle for the expedition. But thereafter a long wait of nearly two hours had to be endured before the second person appeared beyond the rock band. By this time the lead climber was approaching the first ice hump of the main slope of Tingchen Khang.

From the first hump the distance to the summit was approximately 800 m with about 300 m more to climb. When I could not spot them returning by 1230 hrs, I felt that these two members might be attempting the summit today itself. What happened between the 1st hump and the summit slope was narrated later by Subrata (and Pasang).

'We did not have to fix any rope and moved in tandem belaying each other alternately avoiding a number of crevasses en route. The condition of snow was gradually deteriorating and becoming soft. Thus the earlier fast movement got bogged down to a slow trudge through thigh deep snow. We crossed two ice slopes before reaching the base of the west ridge where a bergschrund had to be negotiated. Pasang was hesitant to cross it and wanted to skirt around the crevasse to reach the west ridge. I, however, felt that I could cross the crevasse by leaping over it and save time. While Pasang anchored at the belay, I jumped and missed the other end of the crevasse and fell into the gap. The fall was promptly arrested by an agile Pasang. I carefully "tip-toed" my way up the other end of the crevasse using front points of my crampons. Thereafter we reached the west ridge by 1300hrs and turned left towards the summit. The summit slope with a gradient of 30° did not pose us any further problem'.

Meanwhile, I sent Barbati to base camp to fetch more provisions and spares for the small stove to meet any contingency. Soon, altostratus cloud covered the valley and the base camp area. In the upper region, cirrus and cirrocumulus clouds started moving in from the west. Within half an hour the slope of Tingchen Khang and C1 were completely covered under a blanket of cloud. When at about 1330 hrs the cloud partially cleared up from the Tingchen Khang slope I saw two climbers on the final slope of the Tingchen Khang summit and barely 15 minutes away on an easy gradient. Slowly but steadily, the climbers moved up and at 1345 hrs the first person was on top of Tingchen Khang followed by the second climber shortly afterwards. As the two members reached the summit the mountain was again covered with cloud and we could not monitor their return journey. Barbati returned from base camp late in the evening with the provisions. He was elated at the news and wanted to celebrate this occasion with a full bottle of rakshi! Happily there was none at hand.

The next morning was clear but there was no movement visible either towards the rock band or on the glacier. With fast moving cirrus cloud from the west, it was unlikely that the weather would hold for long. When no movement was seen towards the rock band till 1000 hrs, I knew that the second team wasn't moving up. If that was the case then the team should have started to return to C1. At 1030 hrs, as I was contemplating to move up the glacier along with Debajyoti to ascertain the cause of the delay, Barbati suddenly yelled and said that he could see one member carrying another member on his back and coming down the glacier. Did Barbati see correctly? Was somebody injured? Was that the reason for the delay? All these questions flashed across my mind and we went up the moraine to get a clearer view. After about half an hour we could count all five heads moving down the glacier apparently with full load after winding up the summit camp.

By 1230 hrs all the members were at C1 and we greeted them with open arms. It was at lunch that Gautam informed us that he withdrew from the summit team as he had developed a chilled toe and was finding it difficult to move. He also decided against the second attempt on the summit due to weather conditions. I appreciated Gautam's decision.

The sky was clear on the 8th morning and the campsite was covered with a thin film of snow and sleet. By evening we were all gathered at the base camp. The evening was spent in a light mood when Jayanta entertained us with songs and jokes. The yaks arrived at base camp by late afternoon with a new yak boy. On the 9th morning load was distributed and we left for Kokchurang, stopping at Thansing for a while. On 11th morning, Domo and Bijan surprised me with a bouquet of wild flowers and a chocolate just to remind me of my birthday. To celebrate we rushed to Yoksum in a long day.

As we approached Yoksum, there was Barbati with his smiling face welcoming us to his small hut. His wife prepared hot tea. From the hut his little 3-year old cute and shy daughter emerged and had to be coaxed to accept toffees. She was accompanied by the blind dog the family had adopted. Barbati's hut was a small one with a thatched roof. A dimly lit lantern was flickering inside. We decided to sit outside and appreciate the little garden that the family has nurtured. There were plenty of marigolds, cosmos and cockscomb. There was a creeper in the vegetable garden with plenty of an edible vegetable locally called ishkush hanging from the creeper. Barbati's home and the family is all peace as long as he remains sober. But having reached Yoksum, I knew that he would not be able to resist the chang shop. Sadly that will remain the way with him.

The Yoksum village was beautifully lit with oil lamps. As we approached nearer, we noticed the festive mood of the village where each hut/house was draped in strings of bright marigold flowers besides the illumination. The humming of Deo Sheere, the local festival song filled the air. The Deo Shee festival is observed one night after Diwali (Hindu New Year) when Nepalese men, old and young, go from house to house and seek blessings by singing Deo Sheere songs. These songs are accompanied by Madal (drum ) and percussion. In the early days, people used to offer small cash gifts to the Deo Sheere singers and there was no coercion. However these days, Deo Sheere singers are happier with a bottle of liquor or its equivalent in cash. Apparently the Deo Shee festival has become toxic, or so it appears. I knew that neither Barbati would reach home that night nor would anyone from his home go out to fetch him.

12 November, was 'administrative day' when a boy walked in claiming to be the representative of the Government of Sikkim and a friend of the liaison officer whom we never saw during the entire expedition. I handed him a copy of a one-page report that I had prepared and he disappeared apparently performing his duty for the day. It was quite obvious that the Government of Sikkim was interested only in scooping revenue from the tourists or climbers by insisting on liaison officers attached to their parties, even to those who are of Indian nationality. They show the least concern about the needs of the people who are their guests, leave alone the environment that they are obliged to protect. Ignorance, lack of awareness and corruption are sadly the new attributes of these officials. Indian tourists and climbers are consciously discriminated against by most people in West Sikkim and unless this trend is checked, Indians may find it difficult to visit these places in future.

We left Yoksum on 13 November and Barbati came to say goodbye to us. As usual he was already drunk by 0730 hrs that morning. As our vehicle left Yoksum, I looked at him through the rear view mirror and he gave a blank look standing on his unsteady legs, but managed to wave his hand. As Barbati went out of sight with the vehicle turning the bend, I wondered if I would ever see him again.

Like Tingchen Khang he too will remain in our memories.


The ascent of Tingchen Khang (6010 m), Prek chu valley, West Sikkim. The summit was reached by Subrata Chakraborty and Pasang Sherpa on 6 November 2004.

Dates: 25 October to 14 November 2004.

Members: AVM (Retd) A. K. Bhattacharyya (leader), Debajyoti Bhattacharya, Gautam Ghosh, Ms. Malabi Das, Subrata Chakraborty, Jayanta Chattopadhyay, Bijan Kumar Mandal and Chandra Sekhar Ghosh.

The expedition was organised by The Himalayan Club (Kolkatta Section).

Refer to Note 1 'Alpine Summit in West Sikkim', by Roger Payne in this volume, for an alpine-style ascent of this peak.


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