Located in the Singalila National Park, Sandakphu (3636 Mtrs) is the highest point of West Bengal. The Sanctuary is home to Himalayan red panda, barking deer, black bear and leopards. Apart from several varieties of trees there are rare orchids which embellish this sanctuary. From Sandakphu, you see a 360 degree view of Himalayan Range which includes four of five highest peaks in the world- Kanchendzonga, Everest, Lhotse and Makalu. The trek is ideal for a first timer as it has well defined trails and enough lodges with good food on the way. Best time for this trek is from October to January in winters and from March to June in summer. The Park is closed from June 16 to September 15 for the tourists.
The most conventional route to Sandakphu usually starts from Maneybhanjan through Chitrey and Meghma. However, we chose the rhododendron forest laden route of 6 km from Dhotre to Tumling (2970 Mtrs).
We reached New Jalpaiguri Station on a foggy winter morning. Unfortunately since it was transport strike in the area we retired for the day at a hotel.
Next day we started as early as 05:00. Watching a fascinating sunrise on the way,we reached Dhotre after 6 hours drive from Siliguri via Mirik. It is mandatory to hire at least one guide from Dhotre for the trek. In April-May; the forests on the way from Dhotre to Tumling gets colourful as rhododendron flowers are seen in full bloom. On a clear day, you get to see Kanchenjunga on your right on the way to Tumling.
Walking through the jungle pathway laden with dried leaves we reached Tumling at 16:00. Dusk was just setting in. At the entrance of this settlement, there is a signpost of the West Bengal government. A little further on the right, another post says: “Welcome to Nepal”. Walking straight down, you actually are in Nepal. We turned left and reached the gates of the Shikhar Lodge, our stopover for the night.
The Kitchen of Shikhar lodge felt heavenly. It was extremely cold outside and the kitchen was the only place which kept was somewhat warm. While Roti was being made in a coal fire, we were provided a Sigri to keep our hands and feet warm. After a sumptuous dinner, we retired to our rooms.
Next day before sunrise, we went back near the first signpost. On our right a spectacular sunrise was about to begin; on our left was the mighty Kanchendzonga. As the sun steadily crept up, its rays fell on the snow-clad Kanchendzonga range, which was shining like molten gold.
Post breakfast we started our second day’s trek around 9:15. After paying the entry fees for permits at the office of Singalila National Park, we continued our trek on the stone-paved paths. The 1964-built Land Rover is the only vehicle which could negotiate these stone studded routes. From the village of Joebari we took a right turn and started our descent through a zig zag down hill pathway having loose earth. After a downhill walk of 75 minutes we reached Gauribas which has a military base. Now was the tough part – to trek uphill 1500 feet to Kalipokhri via Kayakatta.
At Kayakatta, some of our group members were panting. We decided to take a break and treat us to some local Gundruk soup for instant energy. The sun had just set in as we reached the lake of Kalapokhri (3010 Mtrs). We settled down to our rooms at Chawang Lodge. There was a sudden drop in temperature. Despite having laden with enough warm clothes we only felt relieved after having some Sikkim Rum.
Early next morning we went for a stroll near the Kalapokhri Lake. It is said that due to some medicinal quality, the water of this lake does not get frozen. At present the water do get frozen sometimes during the months of December and January.
After viewing a fascinating sunrise, post breakfast we started our uphill journey of 6 km to Sandkaphu. Negotiating a huge ice patch right on our path near Bikeybhanjan, we reached Sandakphu at around 14:46. At Sandakphu, a steep turn to your left brings you to a signboard which says “Singalila National Park”. Leave nothing but foot prints and take nothing but memories.” We settled down in front of fireplace at the Sherpa Chalet Lodge.
Next morning, we were treated to a spectacular view. Here snow laden peaks create a shape like a man sleeping on his back. This shape is popularly known as “Sleeping Budhha”. The peaks which form this shape are namely Janno, Koktang, Ratong, Kabru (North and South), Mt Kanchendzonga, Simvo, Japuno and Pandim (From left to right). The sunrise was special as the sun came out over a huge mass of clouds, pretty much like you see from the window of an airplane. The sun rays falling on the “Sleeping Buddha” with clouds covering 42 km in front of it made the place look like paradise. By now we could see the Everest Range on our extreme left which comprised of Everest, Lhotse and Makalu.
Normally people walk downhill from Sandakphu and reach Sirikhola via Gurdung for the night’s stay. Others move to Rimbick and end the trek that very day. We took it easy and stayed an extra day at Gurdung too. Gurdung is a small little picturesque hamlet which people use a stopover for lunch on way to Rimbick. However, we settled down at the nice wooden rooms offered there. With moonlight around in the valley, we had a nice song session at night – indoors!
Sirikhola is another beautiful settlement with the beautiful Siri River flowing by. We had a nice slow shutter photography session there and in the night we had delicious Chilli Yak as a surprise!
All good stories come to an end. In our last day we reached Rimbick (2286 Mtrs) in two and half hours walk from Sirikhola. In the night our hosts at Hotel Sherpa made a bonfire in the lawn where we joined in. Listening to local song “Bir Gorkahli” accompanied by Guitar, we were reminiscent of our memorable trek to Sandakphu.
2.What to wear
Carry enough warm clothes specially woolycots, Hollowfill or Feather Jackets.Wear good trekking shoes which are light with good grip
3. Walking tips
While going uphill take ten steps stop a bit till your breath is normal and then take another ten steps.