A Guide to the Sandakphu Trek
There is a saying “Somewhere between the bottom of the climb and the summit is the answer to the mystery why we climb” and you get to know how apt the quote is once you trek through the beautiful Singalila National Park of the Himalayan range to reach Sandakphu. The park which lies in the Darjeeling district of the Indian state of West Bengal is bordered by Sikkim in the North and by Nepal in the West. It is the house to wide varieties of flora and fauna. The chirpings of various species of bird create a stress relieving ambience and one can easily get unified with the lush green nature.
Sandakphu – Trekkers’ Paradise
Singalila National Park doesn’t have any major human settlements, although, small settlements can be found at some places of the trekking routes which lead to a small picturesque village called Sandakphu. Often coined with the terms “Trekkers’ Paradise” and “Trekkers’ Wonderland”, Sandakphu is situated at an altitude of 11,941 ft (3636 m) thereby making it the highest peak of the Indian state of West Bengal. Other than the trekking route one can also reach the place in motor vehicles leaving from Maneybhanjang, The journey which traverses through the bumpy roads is not quite smooth and is highly uncomfortable. I personally prefer travelling on foot to reach Sandakphu. I will also advise my readers to do so if you have the strength and stamina to undergo a moderately difficult trekking.
Sandakphu has much more to offer. It is packed with some awesome gift stuffs that will leave you spellbound. It brings before nature lovers breathtaking panoramic views of snow clad Himalayan peaks. Four of the five highest peaks of the world, Mount Everest, Mount Kanchendzonga, Mount Makalu, Mount Lhotse can be seen from its summit. One can also witness a sea of absolute still clouds below. The ascent and descent of Sun showering its aura all around brings a heavenly touch to the place. From Sandakphu, one of the best view of the Kanchendzonga range known as “Sleeping Buddha” can be seen. The range resembles the posture of a Reclining Buddha and is also one of the most iconographic pattern of Buddhism.
Mount Everest, Mount Lhotse and Mount Makalu (Popularly known as Everest Family) as seen from Sandakphu
First sunrays falling on the Kanchendzonga range (resembling Sleeping Buddha)
The majestic view of the snow covered Himalayan peaks can be seen from almost all the windows of several trekkers’ huts of Sandakphu
There are two trekking routes which can lead one to Sandakphu. Dhotrey and Maneybhanjang are the respective starting point for the two routes. I will give details related to the trekking route that starts from Dhotrey.
Trekking routes to Sandakphu
Trekking Route from Dhotrey
The Village of Dhotrey located at an altitude of 8500 ft
Day 1 (Dhotrey to Tumling/Tonglu)
The trail from Dhotrey to Tumling or Tonglu is roughly 6-7 kms and one can comfortably cover the distance in 2-3 hrs. I stay at Tumling, although, trekkers can also stay at Tonglu. Tumling houses a small village with a population less than 20. Villagers who mostly belong to the Gurung community use their houses as trekkers’ hut/hostel to accommodate visitors. The village which lies in Nepal offers majestic views of Kanchendzonga.
The Sun descending amidst the ocean of clouds
Day 2 (Tumling/Tonglu to Kalapokhri)
The trail from Tumling/Tonglu to Kalapokhri spans over a distance close to 13 km. So after enjoying the view of rising sun basking the snow clad mountain peaks and the villages with its rays start marching head. Entry permits has to be done at the entrance of the Singalila National Park. Guides will assist you in getting the permits done without any hassle. There is a small settlement at Joubari which falls between Tumling and Gairibas. A downhill walk from Joubari leads to Gairibas which has a military base, while a tough uphill trail via Kaiyakatta extends to Kalapokhri. Try reaching the destination early so that you can see the sunset.
The place got its name from a black coloured lake situated at the entrance of Kalapokhri. Buddhism is practised by all the villagers residing here and the lake is of religious importance to them. According to tem, the waters of the lake have medicinal value and it never freezes.
Sunrise as seen from Tumling
The village of Tumling during sunrise
A Land Rover of the eighties spotted in Tumling
Entrance point of Singalila National Park
A trail of Singalila National Park on the way to Gairibas
Day 3 (Kalapokhri to Sandakphu)
The trail from Kalapokhri to Sandakphu which is about 10 kms long is perhaps the most difficult and exhaustive trek with a steep climb. The last 5 kms from Bikeybhanjan is the steepest. This trail, however, offers the most majestic views of the snow clad mountains throughout the route and all the troubles that you take are worthy. Weather in Sandakphu is windy most of the time which further brings down the temperature in the region creating a chilling experience through the bones.
Sunrise at Kalapokhri
A kitchen at Bikeybhanjan, kitchens in this part of the country mostly serve as fireplaces
Hard blue ice on our way to Sandakphu
Day 4 (Sandakphu to Srikhola)
This trail of about 16 kms via Gurdum will take you down through some dense forests of rhododendrons, oaks, magnolia etc. There is a river which passes through the village settlement of Srikhola and after which the name of the village has been kept. Srikhola is located in the lap of dense Himalayan forests. The sound of variety of species of birds, animals and the burble of water flowing through the rocks and woods of the forests create a serene atmosphere. According to the locals of the region, Srikhola is home to some rare red faced pandas. So, if you are lucky enough you may spot one. There is also a hanging bridge above the Srikhola river which sways with winds.
Sunrise at Sandakphu
Srikhola, a small village got its name after a river
Srikhola passing through the rocks and woods taking the shape of a small waterfall
Day 5 (Srikhola to Rimbik)
This trek route is roughly 7 kms long without any major ascent or descent. Rimbik which is located at an altitude of 6500 ft has a fairly good human settlement and you may stay here for a day if you wish. You can get shared jeeps for Darjeeling or Siliguri from Rimbik.
How to reach Maneybhanjang/Dhotrey
Siliguri Junction or New Jalpaiguri is very well connected with rail links from almost all part of the country. If you plan to take the aerial route, then, Bagdogra is the nearest airport (about 14 kms from Siliguri). You may hire a jeep from the taxi stands of the city (Near NJP station or Tenzing Norgay Bus Stand) for Maneybhanjang/Dhotrey. You may also cover the distance in shared jeeps. However, there are very less number of shared vehicle services which will take you to either of the destinations from Siliguri. In case you fail, you may reach Darjeeling at the earliest (preferably before 12 noon) either by bus or jeeps and then take a shared jeep which will take you to Maneybhanjang/Dhotrey.
Best times to undertake the Sandakphu Trek
One can trek to Sandakphu at any time of the year and there are absolutely no restrictions. However, Sandakphu trek should be avoided in the monsoons. During Spring (April-May), the full bloomed rhododendrons will greet you with fantastic views. In the winter seasons, weather remains clear and if you are lucky you may expect snowfall. I personally prefer to visit Sandakphu during winter.
Places to stay
Shikhar Lodge (Keshav Gurung: +91-9564797551)
Siddharth Lodge (+91-9433265806)
Pandim Lodge (+91-9735916541, +91-9742666243, +91-9734043453)
Hotel Sherpa Chalet (+91-9332599261, +91-9933488159, +91-7407276989)
Hotel Shovraj (+91-9933488243, +91-9932216197, +91-9832375546, +91-7797989938)
Goparma Lodge (+91-9733261799)