26/03 : Kolkata Station (1930 Hrs)
27/03 : NJP ( > Dhotrey (By reserved vehicle - Rs 4000) > Tonglu > Tumling > Gairibas (Trekking – 15 Km) - Sleep at Gairibas
28/03 : Gairibas > Sandakphu (Trekking 12 Km) - sleep at Sandakphu
29/03 : Sandakphu > Srikhola (Trekking 16 Km) - sleep at Srikhola
30/03 : Srikhola > Siliguri (By shared vehicle – Rs 2400)
We (Barun and I) left for Kolkata Station to catch Guwahati Special at 21.40 hrs. We paid Rs 336 to Uber to reach the station from Deshapriya Park. Due to covid normal trains to Siliguri are not available.
We reached NJP at 9.40 hrs – almost 2 hours late. Anindya and Suman picked us from NJP station and left for Dhotrey without any delay. We had our breakfast of Chire and Yoghurt near Dudhia. We reached Dhotrey (paid Rs 4,000 for the reserved car) at 1315 hrs and hired a porter for Rs 1200 per day. Since Suman knows Nepali, it helped ( I have heard the normal porter rate is Rs 2,000 per day). People start for Sandakphu trek either from Dhotrey or from Maney-bhanjan. One can hire a porter either at Mane-bhanjan or at Dhotrey. Suman brought a big rucksack (which is a bigger version of backpack) and we poured our belonging into that rucksack and gave it to the porter. We left for Tonglu at 2 pm, after having a cup of tea at Dhotrey.
Source : this wonderful map was made by blogger, Purnendu Fadikar.
Before reaching Tonglu we had a cup of Makaibari tea in one of the flat lands which falls on the way.
Tonglu is located at slightly more than 10,000 feet. Tonglu actually is one of the high peaks of the Singa-lila Ridge, noted for its own sunrise spectacle over the Kanchenjunga. The hill top is a small piece of flat land where the GTA (Gorkhaland Territorial Administration), which has the administrative authority of the area, has set up a Trekker’s Hut, as also at other places in the trail. A DM’s bungalow and very few private lodges are all you can find in Tonglu. On a clear day, Darjeeling can be seen from Tonglu. Unfortunately luck was not in our favour. Tumling is a better place for halt than Tonglu. It gets quite windy and chilly at nights in Tonglu, even in the peak summer months. Without halting at Tonglu, we left for Tumling straight away.
(Alternatively from Mane-bhanjan, the trail at its beginning is quite steep till the quaint little settlement of Chitre, approx 4 Km from Mane-Bhanjan. Thankfully the accent eases up after Chitre - 5 KMs further up from here lies Meghma on the borders of India and Nepal. Incredibly, from here onwards, you would be practically hopping across the borders of Nepal and India many times over.
There are no restrictions or any requirement for paperwork for this route. Meghma, as the name suggests, is often shrouded in clouds. The trail bifurcates from here. The straight one goes within Nepal to Tumling, while the one on the right, remains in India, to reach the Tonglu.)
Tumling ------ Gairibas
Geographically situated in the Ilam district of Nepal, Tumling (9600 feet) is about a 2 kilometers downhill from Tonglu. It has better private stay options than Tonglu. Now that the road has been paved, it won’t be surprising to see places like Tonglu and Tumling get even more popular with the mainstream leisure tourists. The Sandakphu peak can also be visible if the weather is good.
Few provision stores, most of them extended out portions of homes, sell tea, Maggi, Momo. Tumling was the last place on the trail to have got conventional electricity. When we reached Tumling it is already 5 pm. We had some Momo. The trail continues gradually downhill from Tumling all the way till Gairibas (8700 feet).
Since we were late for Gairibas trek, because of our train, we decided a hire an SUV for Rs 1,000 from Tumling to reach Gairibas. The best thing about this trek is, even if you are late for a destination , you can hire a car to reach that place, since trekking route and concrete/boulder road runs parallel. Old Land Rovers from the colonial days plies along this route ! Many a time you have a wait for the car to move ahead ! The forested paths also exist, which is a portion of the trek-only circuit made by the Authorities.
An arched gate which reads “Singalila National Park” welcomes you.
The army barrack (SSB – Seema Suraksha Bal mans Nepal and Bhutan Border instead of BSF) is there at Gairibas, just beside our homestay. We stayed at a nice homestay in Gairibas (Magnolia lodge). Our mobile was showing Nepal tower ! So it is difficult to get any connected here.
The national park officially starts from here. They had some local beer - Tongba at the homestay. The standard rate of food all along this route is vegetable+ rice Rs 200 and Chicken+ Rice Rs 300.
The entry permits can be obtained from here too, if you have missed acquiring it from Mane-Bhanjan. Notably, for Tonglu or for that matter any place till Tumling, no permits or guides are required. It is only upon entering the Singalila National Park, that permits become necessary.
After Gairibas there is a small hamlet called Kaiya-katta, where we had a cup of tea. Then we left for Kalipokhri which is 6 km from Gairibas. The height of Kalipokhari or Kalpokhri is 10,400 feet. As the name indicates, the greatest feature of the place is a small lake (lake means Pokhri) containing black water. The locals say the water never freezes too.
Buddhist prayer flags run crisscrossing over the lake, which appears as the first prominent landmark of the place, with the tin-roofed houses a little further. Some concrete sitting benches adorn the shores just by the side of the trail. Kalipokhri is located almost equidistant from both Gairibas and Sandakphu, which makes it the most opted halt for the second night for trekkers. There is no trekker’s hut here, however, the private lodges do the job offering similar services. The accommodation at Kalipokhri is perhaps the most basic one will find on the route. If the day is clear, one can spot the famed Sherpa Chalet of Sandakphu from Kalipokhri.
We had our lunch at Kalipokhri. For non-trekkers, Kalipokhri is just a stopover. They would ideally drive on till Sandakphu from Manebhanjan/Dhotre.
The trek from Kalipokhari to Sandakphu may only be 6 KMs, but undisputedly the most excruciating of the entire stretch. Trekking over the altitude of 10,000 feet is never easy. The air gets thinner which exhausts the hiker’s stamina easily, making it all the more difficult.
Out of Kalipokhari, the trail initially accents gradually for the first 2 KMs till Bikheybhanjan, which is another tiny settlement of few huts and an SSB check post. One can stop and rest here briefly over a cup of tea before proceeding towards the steepest 4 KMs till Sandakphu. Unfortunately due to lack of time, we did not have the luxury to have a cup of tea at Bikey-bhanjan.
Sandakphu: The Final Accent
The gradient of this final section is almost 60 degree. It is advisable to take small steps and frequent breaks. The last 4 Kms could easily take more than 2 hours to conquer. On the last bend before Sandakphu, a milestone reads, ‘Sandakphu 0 Km, Phalut 21 Km’, when it is still another 400+ meters of a steep uphill walk from this point to the top.
All the pain, all the exhaustion, will wither away once you reach Sandakphu, more so, if the view is clear by the time you reach. The graceful Sleeping Buddha will welcome you with a smile. We were not so lucky, since it was very cloudy.
Beside the invigorating view, Sandakphu is magnificent in itself, dotted with the tall standing evergreen pine, conifers. We stayed at a home stay in Sandakphu. Before dinner my friends had a glass of beer at one of the popular bars in Sandakphu. There was almost no mobile connectivity in this region. Only mobile towers from Nepal were showing here. So you won’t be able to communicate with the world, except certain spots in Sandakphu, unless you have a Nepali Sim. There is no electricity in our home stay. It is run by solar power.
Sandakphu or Sandakpur (3636 m or 11,930 ft) is a mountain peak in the Singa-lila Ridge on the border between India and Nepal. It is the highest point of the ridge in West Bengal. The peak is located at the edge of the Singa-lila National Park and has a small village on the summit with a few hotels.
Sandakphu literally means ‘Peak of the poison plants’. The nomenclature can be accredited to the bloom of some poisonous genus of plants nearby. One is the ‘Aconitus’, a perennial shrub, the roots of which have been used as medicine since time immemorial while its bright purplish-blue flowers and leaves can be lethally toxic if consumed imprudently. Another is the ‘Himalayan Cobra Lilies’ which also abound the area.
Four of the five highest peaks in the, world, Everest, Kanchenjunga, Lhotse and Makalu can be seen from Sandakphu.
Slightly right from the Sleeping Buddha, other prominent peaks of Sikkim like Kabru, Kumbhakarna, Simvo, Goeche, and Pandim are visible. Gaze rightward and even the distant Joguno and Narsing massifs of Tibet make an appearance.
After dinner I felt slightly dizzy and my heart started pouncing. I had to take a medicine to recover (thankfully there was a doctor). I had a disturbed sleep in the night. This happened probably because, we covered everything in 2 days which is normally covered in 3 days. More so, since I am not fit because of Ankyspon. We saw Bamboo trees, Pine, Orchid, Mangnolia, besides colorful blooms of rhododendrons throughout out our trekking route.
If we trekked after 1 month, the rhododendrons would have been even more numerous. Rhododendron is a very large genus of 1,024 species of woody plants. The variety of colour is mind boggling. We also saw many Magnolias - white and pink in colour.
Magnolia is a remarkably diverse genus of plants that includes many species suitable for colder climates. Magnolias are generally known for having large leaves and impressive white or pink flowers that appear very early in spring. Magnolias can be evergreen or deciduous, depending on where they are growing. Trees of Evergreen forests shed their leaves at different times of the year . In case of deciduous forests they have a particular time for their leaves to shed.
However we hardly saw any bird. Neither did we see any wild life.
Today I took no chance and reserved a car to go to Manebhanjan and then took a share auto to go to Sukhiapokhri. Since 29th was Holi, it was difficult to get a shared car. Anyhow I took another shared car to reach Ghoom and finally took a State Govt bus (fare Rs 140) to reach Siliguri and stayed at Tukuda’s (I used to stay in his house when I was posted in Siliguri in 2005) house.
Sandakphu – Srikhola
From Sandakphu, the return has many options. The obvious one will be retracing the same way that took you up (i.e. Sandakphu-Kalipokhari-Gairibas-Tumling –Manebhanjan – however you have to reserve a car ). But this one is rarely opted by trekkers while coming down. Though if you wish to be driven down from Sandakphu, this will be the only option.
The most opted, one would be a 16 KM downhill trek from Sandakphu to Sri-khola via Gurdum. Its 10 Kms from Sandakphu to Gurdum and a further 6 KMs to Srikhola, which takes 5 hours and 3 hours respectively. This trail is a pure trekking path through dense forests of the Singalila.
Gurdum is an outlandishly picturesque little village with 7-8 houses. The surroundings are like right out of a postcard. An admirable family-run private lodge named ‘Himalayan Sherpa’ provides lodging facilities. It might just be that upon arrival to this place, one might feel inclined to spend a night there attributing just to its remarkable location. From Gurdum, initially the path descends rapidly till the gushing sounds of the Srikhola river can be heard below.
Some accommodations have come up near this place (called upper-Srikhola) where the night can be spent or another 1.5-2 KMs of walk will take you to the main Srikhola village. Srikhola is another charming little hamlet with a pleasant wooden bridge over the charming ‘khola’ (meaning a small stream).
Trekking downhill may not be as exhausting but it takes a toll on the knees and muscles of the lower leg. There may come a time in the course where the lower limbs may become somewhat numb and slightly difficult to have complete control over.
Rest of my group members left for Sri-khola and stayed at a famous resort, owned by the only Bengali couple (Mr Sen Gupta) in Darjeeling for last 16 years.
My friends had sprain in their knees, I was
told and tripped more than once.
A shared jeep leaves Srikhola at 7:30 in the morning for Darjeeling going via Rimbick, Dhotrey, Mane-bhanjan, and Ghoom. Another leaves at 11:30 for the same destination but through a very less taken and a tad more time-taking route via Bijanbari.
If you have the return train/flight on the same day from Siliguri, book your spots on the morning vehicle through the lodge owner, the previous night. Our friends booked a shared vehicle to reach Darjeeling More at Siliguri by paying Rs 2400.
A Snippet on Singalila National Park
The national park boasts of rare flora and fauna. Eastern Himalayan, sub-alpine-sub-tropical pines and conifers constitute the basic biome of the region. The entire trail passes through ageless Oak, Pine and several variants of Bamboo trees, besides more than 500 kinds of orchids, several variants of Rhododendrons.
I took Indigo flight at 1230 hrs to reach my office direct from airport. From Hakimpara to Airport, I paid Rs 400 to an auto. If you take a car, they will charge Rs 600 approximately. Barun came back by evening train at 1800 hrs and reached Kolkata on 31.03.2021.
1. Take a walking stick or convert bamboos found on the way into a stick
2. Take a sleeping bag for Sandakphu, since it was quite cold
3. Take a rain coat
4. Carry a can of pain relief spray
For trekking one may contact - www.ridingsolo.in, though I am not vouching for them.
https://devilonwheels.com/sandakphu-travel-guide/ - This is a very good blog. Most part of my blog has been taken from it. Sometimes exact copy.
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