Note: As of February 2020 there is road construction taking place at the beginning of the clockwise Kanchenjunga circuit itinerary. This means you can now, in the dry season, drive up to Tapethok which shortens the trek by 3 days. The trek itself starts from Taplejung.
Although I did the whole circuit starting from Taplejung and finishing in Khamdime here is the recommended day by day itinerary which skips the road part.
Day 01 Kathmandu to Bhadrapur Flight and Drive to Ilam
Since Bhadrapur is only 91 m above sea level, in the flatlands of Nepal, it is hot and humid there. And probably not a place you want to spend a lot of time in. So the best idea is to take the earliest possible morning flight from Kathmandu to Bhadrapur. The flight is around 50 minutes.
On arrival in Bhadrapur there is a 4 to 5 hour drive to Ilam. Despite it being only around 100km away! Ilam is the heart of the tea plantation area of Nepal (Darjeeling in India is a stones throw away). At 2,000 m it has a pleasant climate and relatively good lodge accommodation.
Note: There are weekly flights scheduled from Kathmandu to Suketar Airport, which may look tempting as it cuts out the road travel. But these flights are often cancelled at the last minute due to bad weather conditions. So I highly recommend you take the flight to Bhadrapur.
Day 02 Ilam to Taplejung and Taplejung to Tapethok Drive
It’s a long day of driving but the road from Ilam to Taplejung (4 to 5 hrs) is black topped (tarmac) and although it is a windy mountain road, the going is smooth.
From Taplejung to Tapethok there is a dirt road subject to seasonal weather conditions. This is approximately 3 hour drive from Taplejung.
Local jeeps are available running from Taplejung to Tapethok. Tapethok itself is a tiny settlement with a few basic lodges for accommodation. I suggest you leave as early in the morning as possible your lodge in Ilam should be able to point you in the right direction for transport.
Day 03 Tapethok to Sekathum
At Tapethok there is the first of many checkpoints where they will check to ensure you have the correct trekking permits. Make sure you do! Then it’s a gentle 5 hour walk to Sekathum, including time to stop for lunch.
At Sekathum, which is even smaller than Tapethok, you are at 1,576 m, only 200 m higher than Tapethok.
I should point out here that Kanchenjunga is a trek that offers great acclimatization and so there is less risk of altitude related problems.
Day 04 Sekathum to Amjilosa
The trek today will take you around 6 hours, including a break for lunch. Remember there is only one tiny tea shop at Jaubari and no other place to eat in between Sekathum and Amjilosa so don’t forget to have something at Jaubari!
Right after you cross Ghunsa Khola it is uphill climb to Amjilosa. This is the most difficult part of the day and takes about 4 hours. Now you will appreciate you had at least a cup of tea and snacks at Jaubari! Also remember to carry enough water for the whole day as you may not be able to get any on this route.
Amjilosa is approximately 700 m higher than Sekathum and has only two small teahouses at the time of writing this.
Day 05 Amjilosa to Gyabla
Today is relatively easy and involves only 4 hours of walking.
Gyabla is at 2,730 m (400 m higher than Amjilosa). When you arrive you may think this village is a tiny one, but in actual fact the main village is hidden by the ridge to the west of a lodge on the main trail.
Day 06 Gyabla to Ghunsa
Ghunsa is the biggest settlement on the northern part of Kanchenjunga and has many facilities including good teahouses. At 3,500 m it’s a recommended place to stop to acclimatize to the higher elevations to come. I spend two nights here acclimatizing. Which I suggest you do to follow the rules on how to avoid altitude sickness.
On the route between Gyabla and Ghunsa you will come to a small winter settlement called Phole. Here you can buy local handmade souvenirs. So remember to leave space in your kit!
Day 07 Acclimatization Day in Ghunsa
So, what can you do on this acclimatization day? It is always said ‘trek high, sleep low’. So here you can trek to the viewpoint west of Ghunsa which is at almost 4,000 m. This is a 4 or 5 hour round trip but here is a great aerial view of Ghunsa and Phole. You can also see the trail towards Sele Pass and Pang Pema. The other reason for trekking up to the viewpoint is that the best way to acclimatize is to follow that rule of trekking high, sleeping low so by going up and coming back down to sleep in Ghunsa, your body is getting used to higher altitudes.
Day 08 Ghunsa to Kambachen
Kambachen is a beautiful small settlement north of Ghunsa. Although the trail itself is relatively easy and takes around 5 hours, the altitude makes it harder and take longer than if you were walking at low altitude. Remember, at altitude, particularly in the Nepal Himalaya, everything is further than it looks! Also, since Kambachen is 600m higher than Ghunsa it’s recommended to take another acclimatization day here.
In Kambachen I stayed in the White Horse Lodge. I can recommend this as the room was warm and cosy and the owner, Nupu, was one of the best cooks on the trail!
Note: A small section in between Ghunsa to Kambachen is exposed and subject to occasional rockfall. So be careful when crossing this section and cross it as quickly as possible.
Day 09 Acclimatization Day in Kambachen
The best way to utilize this acclimatization day is to make a trip to Janu Peak Base Camp. Janu is also called Khumbakarna in the Nepali language.
You will need to cross a river to reach the trail for the base camp. If you ask Nupu he will make sure to tell you the location of the bridge, as it keeps changing!
Another option today is to relax and explore Kambachen.
Day 10 Kambachen to Lhonak
It’s a short walk of about 3 to 4 hours today to what is probably the last overnight stop you will have on the north side of Kanchenjunga. It is also the highest place you will overnight, at 4,800 m. There are yak and sheep pastures to explore in the afternoon around Lhonak.
On the down side, there are only two or three tiny guesthouses here and none of them have toilets! I stayed at the Lhonak Guest House which is the best you can get there.
Day 11 Day Trip to Pang Pema
Pang Pema is located at 5,200 m and the highest point of this trek. It takes 4 hours to get there and about 3 hours to return. With only a seasonable teashop in Pang Pema you may have to take your own lunch with you. Check with the teahouse in Kambachen whether the teashop in Pang Pema is open or not. If not, take your own lunch. You will want it!
Day 12 Lhonak to Ghunsa
While you can do this part of the trek over two days, I recommend you push on to reach Ghunsa. This will take you between 7 to 8 hours. But with the lower elevation you will descend around 1,300 m it is doable.
One of the reasons for pushing on to Ghunsa is it has better accommodation. I stayed in the Peaceful Guest House, which has a good shower and good food. There is a dining room but I recommend you have your meal in the family kitchen instead enjoying the warm fire and family atmosphere.
Day 13 Ghunsa to Sele Le Pass Camp
If you are one of these super fit and experienced trekkers, you can go from Ghunsa to Cheram in one day. But to make it more enjoyable, or if you are less superhuman, I suggest breaking the journey at Sele Le Pass Camp.
It takes about 5 hours of uphill to reach Sele Le Pass (4,200 m) Camp from Ghunsa. There is only one teahouse here and it also has not toilet. But after Lhonak, I was used to it!
Day 14 Sele Le Pass Camp to Cheram
The highest pass on the Kanchenjunga circuit trek is Sinion La at 4,700 m. I should say that normally on treks in Nepal the highest points are the passes, but on this trek it is Pang Pema (5,200 m) that is the highest point.
The trail goes up and down today until the steep descent to Cheram which is at 3,800 m. The trail is rocky and will take 6 to 7 hours. Don’t be fooled when you see Cheram on your descent (at the point you are near a small pond). It’s definitely further away than it looks and it will take you another 1.5 hrs to reach!
I stayed at Yalung Khang Guest House in Cheram and I can highly recommend it.
Day 15 Day Trip to Kanchenjunga South Base Camp
Once again looks are deceptive. When you look at the map, you will see that South Base Camp looks pretty far from the settlement of Ramche (4,500 m) and you may be tempted to overnight there. But in reality base camp is only 40 minutes walk from Ramche. So keep going … It will take you around 7 hours round trip. And it’s mainly a gentle uphill hike, not too strenuous.
Day 16 Cheram to Torongding
Also known as Tortong, Torongding is a small teahouse area on a gorge.
The trail follows a gentle slope down from Cheram. In fact, you lose about 1,000 m in elevation. It shouldn’t take you more than 3, or 4 hours max to cover this ground. It’s recommended you stay the night here as there is no settlement now until Yamphuding and that trail is treacherous and long.
Day 17 Torongding to Yamphuding
A long steep uphill trek, followed by walking over a short landslide section, then make a long steep downhill to Yamphuding. This is how I would describe the day!
This is the reason you are doing the circuit clockwise, plus there is no teahouse between these two settlements. Having said that, you may get lucky as there is one tea hut that sometimes is open at Lasiya Bhanjyang, but don’t count on it. The only good thing about this part of the trail is that the route goes through dense jungle so it is cooler.
It’s unlikely you will meet anyone on the trail, except maybe some local shepherds. I would advise you to start early in the morning, take a packed lunch and plenty of water. Taking it slow and steady is the best way to get through this long, 7 hour, day!
Day 18 Yamphuding to Khamdime
On the old Kanchenjunga circuit route you would be hiking all the way to Taplejung. But now with the road stretching from Khamdime to Bhadrapur you have the option of going by jeep and bus.
In total of eight hours walk, mix of up and down will take you to the town of Khamdime. From Khamdime there are a buses and jeep departing to Bhadrapur every morning.
Day 19 Khamdime to Bhadrapur Drive
A long drive starting around 4:00 am in the morning yes you read that correctly, 4 am! This is because it is a long 12 hour road journey. You should reach Bhadrapur between 5 and 6 pm. Luckily there will be a lunch break and some toilet breaks on the way!
Back in Bhadrapur you can relax in a nice hotel before your flight back to Kathmandu.
Day 20 Bhadrapur to Kathmandu Flight
There are a number of daily flights back to Kathmandu. If you take an earlier one you will be back in the capital by noon. Or take a slightly later flight and enjoy sleeping late in a comfortable bed! No need to spend time exploring the town, it’s mainly a jumping off spot for those heading to the mountains or to the land border with India, a few kilometers away.
This is the end of your Kanchenjunga circuit trek. What’s next?