Kanchenjunga - Third Highest Mountain in the World

by Kshaunish Jaini

The majestic Himalayas have been a source of awe, grandeur and mystery for explorers since time immemorial. Stretching across the borders of India, Pakistan, China, Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan, this humongous mountain range is one of the most serene, scenic and spiritual spots in the world. While we are quite used to look at these snow clad peaks as images on our laptops, it is only when you are facing them that you truly realize how overwhelming they can be. For many, even a visit or two is enough to turn them into mountain geeks, saving up for their next adventure into even more remote parts of the ranges.

Due to their unique geographical terrain and geological properties, the Himalayas are home to many different ecosystems - from vast deodar forests to snow deserts to clear water lakes, among others. Naturally, the animal life here is also something that you will not get to observe anywhere else in the world, with beautiful species like the snow leopard, musk deer and the Himalayan black bear calling it their abode. Although the ranges themselves are so extensive that it would take a lifetime to explore them all, certain spots stand out due to their sheer natural beauty and historic importance. One such place is the great Kanchenjunga - officially the tallest peak in India and the third tallest in the world.

Kanchenjunga History

Standing at an imposing height of 8586 meters, Kanchenjunga was thought to be the world’s tallest mountain until 1852, when the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India declared Mount Everest, which was known until then as Peak XV, as officially the tallest in the world. The mountain remained unconquered for more than a hundred years after this. Finally, on 25th May 1955, climbers George Band and Joe Brown reached within summit distance. Interestingly, they stopped short of the summit, in accordance to the promise they had given to the Chogyal or the monarch of Sikkim, to keep the summit inviolate. Kanchenjunga is one of the holiest mountains in the world, revered by the people of Sikkim and Nepal - and for that matter, anyone who sets eyes on it.

On the trek to Kanchenjunga's base

On the trek to Kanchenjunga's base. Photo by Abagus

Contrary to the popular belief, the word Kanchenjunga has nothing to do with the Sanskrit word for gold, which is Kanchan. Khangchendzonga in Tibetan translates as ‘five treasures of the high snow’, for its five peaks.

Where is Kanchenjunga

The Kanchenjunga Himal section of the Himalayas actually lies between the states of India and Nepal. It has 16 peaks which are more than 7000 meters high. The massif itself is divided into five parts by geographers -

A network of rivers flows through this five pronged massif, including tributaries of both the Brahmaputra and the Ganges. The Teesta river borders on the south-east while the Koshi, which is a major tributary of the Ganges, flanks the north-west region of the massif. There are four main glaciers that are also a part of the massif - the mammoth Zemu glacier in the north-east, Talung glacier in the south-east, Yalung glacier in the south-west and Kangchen glacier in the north-west. The 849.5 square kilometer area around the massif is known as the Khangchendzonga National Park or Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve, and is one of the newest additions to the UNESCO World Heritage sites list.

How to Get to Kanchenjunga

Kanchenjunga seen from the airplane

Kanchenjunga seen from the airplane. Photo by John

Kanchenjunga by Air

To get close to Kanchenjunga, the best option is to get to Sikkim. There are many ways to get to Sikkim. The closest airport is the Bagdogra Airport near Siliguri in West Bengal. From here, regular helicopter services, buses and taxis will take you to Gangtok, the capital city of Sikkim.

Kanchenjunga by Train

A unique way to enter the enchanting Himalayas is by the toy train. Officially known as the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, the steam powered narrow gauge train takes you from Darjeeling to New Jalpaiguri - the closest train station to Sikkim. From here, Gangtok is 148 km away, and state run buses are frequently available.


Buses to Gangtok are available from places in West Bengal like Calcutta, Darjeeling and Siliguri. Alternatively, you can book a cab or self drive through West Bengal into Sikkim.

Kanchenjunga National Park

The Kanchenjunga National Park is located in the districts of North and West Sikkim. With an elevation ranging from 1829 meters to 8550 meters, it is one of the highest National Parks in the world. As a result, it is home to some of the most exotic flora and fauna found on the face of the earth, including the snow leopard, the Himalayan black bear, the Tibetan wild ass, musk deer, wild dog, red panda, Himalayan blue sheep, serow, goral and takin.

The vegetation in the park includes dense forests of oak, fir, birch, maple, willow, etc. Trekkers are advised to carry their own tents, sleeping bags, food and other equipment since there are no lodging options within the park except for the Range Office in Yaksom in West Sikkim.

Climbing Kanchenjunga has been banned by the Indian government from the year 2000. But treks to the Kanchenjunga base camp are organized between the months of April and May. Monsoon showers occur from mid-May to October, and the snowfall is heavy during the winter months.

Kanchenjunga in the morning light

Kanchenjunga in the morning light. Photo by Ashok

Kanchenjunga Views

Although the great mountain is visible from the capital city of Gangtok, certain spots are known for their panoramic view of the five peaks of Kanchenjunga. Some of the best places to see Kanchenjunga from are the Darjeeling War Memorial in Darjeeling and the Antu Dada of Ilam, Nepal. The Goeche La trek which goes through the Goeche La pass located in front of the southeastern face of Kanchenjunga is a great way to see the mountain up close. The trek starts from Dzongri and goes through Thangshing and Samuteng to reach the Goeche La Pass. Alternatively, trekking routes to the Green Lake basin along the Zemu Glacier has also been open recently.

Related Blogs to Read:

  1. Kilimanjaro vs Everest Trek- Which is Harder?
  2. Mount Everest Climbing Routes - conditions on the trail
  3. Himalayas - Tea House trekking experience
  4. The Everest Base Camp trek
  5. Alternate EBC routes
  6. Annapurna circuit vs Annapurna base camp

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