Treks are sometimes a way of life for me. For an amateur trekker like me, the pleasure of being in the mountains and gazing upon the vistas is what drives me to undertake the treks focusing in India. Very few spots in the world can give you views of eight-thousander peaks like what a Sandakphu Trek can.In this blog post i will be speaking about the Guide to Sandakphu trekking.
Sandakphu Trek is one of the most unassuming treks in Eastern India. Highly popular and in fact, one of the MUST DO treks in this region. Below is my brief account of undertaking this Trek in Feb 20 which can also serve as a Guide to Sandakphu Trekking.
In case you do love treks like the way I do , would love to read some of your experiences. Meanwhile you can read here about the Trek to Nandikund, a high altitude lake in Uttarakhand out on this link.
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Introduction to Sandakphu Trek
The Sandakphu Trek comprises a gradual but continuous climb along the shared border between India and Nepal heading through the Singhlila National Park. This is one of the only few authentic tea house treks in India. A tea house trek implies that the trekker sleeps and rests in local lodges during the Trek and this is quite popular in Nepal.
The Sandakphu Trek is a long ridge walk as stated, spread over a few days. As one climbs higher, one is exposed to the Himalayan Ranges seen in the far distance. One will generally always find a bank of clouds accompanying. The sunset/sunrise is quite spectacular and dramatic, owing to these cloud formations. In fact, I was enthralled by the sunset at many locations, and sunrise was always dramatic.
The Trek along this mountain is one of its kind with unhindered views of the magnificent Kanchenjunga Range. Once we reach the tip of Sandakphu, we can see two unique vistas. One would be the magnificent Kanchenjunga range about which I would be explaining a bit later.
The other would be the view of the four of the five highest peaks, The Everest band of brothers – Everest, Kanchenjunga, Lhotse and Makalu.
Guide to Sandakphu Trekking
Summary of the Sandakphu Trek Route
The trek route is as follows
From Darjeeling, one needs to drive up to Dhotre. It is a small hamlet nestled in the foothills of sharp mountain ranges. The Trek begins from Dhotre and is a gradual climb through dense vegetation all the way till the first stop being Tumling. From Tumling, one walks a bit ahead and reaches Tonglu. It is while one is getting to Tumling that one cuts across the Jeepable track that has been built to access Sandakphu as an alternate option to trekking.
Tumling is where one comes across some magnificent views of the Kanchenjunga range. A sunrise out here is worth every trekker’s dream. From the Tonglu one needs to trek into the Singhalila National Park thereby entering the Nepal side of real estate and post walking through undulating hills one would reach Joebari in Elam distt.
Guide to Sandakphu Trekking contd…
It is after Joebari that the Trek becomes a bit strenuous and there is some significant steep climb up ahead which set the tone for gaining elevation rapidly till one reaches Gairibas followed by Kaiyakata. The highlight of the day is reaching Kalaphokri, where I had the good fortune to witness some amazing sunsets as well as sunrises. It is truly a magical location to be in if the weather favours the fortunate.
Beyond this is Beekaybhanjan then comes Sandakphu . After a steep climb that takes the breath out of the majority of the trekkers. The section from Beekay Bhanjan till Sandakphu is all on the Jeepable path, and hence it is laborious to walk on a track which twists and turns as it gains altitude. But then there is no Safe alternate to the route.
On the return leg, I Trekked steep down towards Gurudum followed by Sirikhola directly. The sector immediately after Sandakphu is all steep and through vegetation hillside which severely impacts the knees on account of lack of soil grip as there is snow all over which is loose and slush. One also passes through thick bamboo forests that are indeed a unique sight and demand attention.
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Guide to Sandakphu Trekking
My thoughts on the trek route
The trek route starts from Dhotre. Dhotre is located in the Tanglu forest range. It can be reached the same day from Darjeeling, and it takes around 3 hours. There are 3-4 homestays and cater to trekkers who decide to use this route to Sandakphu. I reached here in the evening, with the mist descending into the valley.
To the prayer chants from somewhere in the hamlet, I went on a short walk into the surrounding woods to align myself to the thought that the Trek to Sandakphu has started. This was my first Trek in the Eastern Part of the country, so in retrospection a momentous occasion. The homestay was basic yet comfortable with lunch with the host owing to hardly another other occupancies.
Over some hot dinner, we bonded on trek tales narrated by the experienced individuals in the gathering. Tomorrow we would be moving ahead towards our objective of Tumling.
From Dhotre, it is a hike through dense pine forests for the better part of an hour as the trail keeps climbing slowly. The Trek is gentle, and the views do not open out as we made our way through the wooded areas. In between, there are rest points where we could catch a breather. The snow was all over the trail, a reminder of what was ahead.
After around 3 hours we reached the meadow from where one could proceed to the famous Tonglu, which is the scene for some impeccable pics of the Kanchenjunga range or turn left and move ahead towards Tumling which was my destination for the day.
- The Kanchenjung Range
- The morning view from Tonglu
At tumling, we were staying at Shikar Lodge, which was a pretty well done up a place to rest the tired legs and thighs. With an extensive kitchen and some lovely rooms … it was the perfect place to stay and spend the night.
Guide to Sandakphu Trekking contd..
All through the night, the temperature kept falling, and the heavy mist & cloud kept rolling and swirling all around. This was giving me significant worries as photography is a significant aspect of my treks. I wanted to frame some of the vistas all around. Sunrise was something that I wanted to frame from Tonglu which was around km away.
In this Trek, I was looking at framing the cliché frames that I had seen so many times. Through the dead of the night, I kept glancing out the window, trying to see if the stars are visible or not that would give me an indication of the weather. My hopes were definitely low seeing the swirling snowfall outside all through the night.
Morning predawn saw me rushing through the darkness towards Tonglu. My heart was in my mouth as I struggled in the darkness to hurry as fast as I could to reach someplace where I could maybe frame the opening dawn. The pics well they will speak of the outcome of this early morning dash.
Long day today as we entered Singhalila National Park just immediately after leaving Tumling. But yes before that, as we were walking, I was pointed to a distant mountain range in the horizon and was informed that it was Everest. So yea my very first-ever view of Everest through my eyes. Quite a poignant moment that was.
So the permits done at the check post. Point to note is make sure that the permits are stamped else there is trouble ahead. We were inside Nepal now, going towards the town of Joebari in Elam distt of Nepal. The weather was starting to turn now. The cloud bank could be seen swirling in the distance as we continued our hike towards Gairibas. This section is a bit tiring as it is a series of ups and downright from Tumling.
- the snowed trail towards Kalopokhri
- the Jeeps of Sandakphu
- The trail to Joebari
- lets trek to Sandakphu
- at Joebari
- the lovely vistas
Post-Gairibas, we went up the hills towards Kaiyakata, which is the last ay point before reaching Kalopokhri. The entire mid-morning and afternoon was trekked along snowy paths through the vegetation on the hill slopes while the fog and clouds swirled all around. The climatic condition in this part of the region is clouds mist with snow and rains for the most part of the year.
Kalpokri, which means a black pond is a mystical pond worshipped by the local people and claimed to have mystical properties. The pond was shrouded in mist and prayer flags fluttered all over as we reached herein the evening. Tired from the entire day hike but having made good progress. There were hopes that we would get to see the sunset, but the temperature was hovering at freezing point, and the darkness was coming on quickly.
I had one of the best dawn moments of the Trek at Kalapokhri. The Trek from Kalapokhri moves towards a waypoint known as Beekaybhanjan ( Land of poisonous plants ). The entire ascent from Beekaybhanjan is along the jeepable track and is a steep ascent with gain in elevation all throughout. Sandakphu is right at the very top of the climb, and it did take some fair amount of time to reach the place.
My stay at Sandakphu was at the Hotel Sherpa Chalet, which did have a spectacular unhindered view of the entire Kanchenjunga range as well as the Everest Range to the extreme left. The stay was comfortable considering that we were on a trek, and this was essentially a basic trekking stop. Sandakphu or Santapur meaning “place of saints “is the highest point in West Bengal at 3636 mts and commands an inexplicable unhindered view of Mt Kanchenjunga (8586 mts).
- The Eastern Himalaya
- the sleeping buddha
- trail to Sandakphu
The two days spent out here were a mix of closed weather throughout the day with clear nights and dawns allowing one to capture the glory of the Himalayan sunrise over some of the highest peaks in the world. I also trekked halfway to Phalut but then gave up as the quantum of snow was immense, and with closed down weather, it did not make sense in any case.
Coming to the Mountain peaks
Kanchenjunga range: The Sleeping Buddha- Mt. Kumbhakarna in Nepal forms the head of the Buddha, complete with a nose and chin. The belly is created by the mighty Kanchenjunga, Yalungkhang with its summit around the Buddha’s navel, and the feet are formed by Mt. Pandim in Sikkim.
Everest range : Chamlang Trio > Baruntse > Nuptse > Lohtse > Everest > Makalu > Chomolonze.
Depart from Sandakphu
We started real early, trekked downhill non-stop on steep snow-covered trails on the slopes of the mountainside through dense bamboo forests till we reached Gurudum village after around 5 hours. After a quick lunch, we were off and pushed ourselves to descend further till the road head at Sirikhola. This marks the completion of the Trek. From here a jeep picked us up for the final journey to Darjeeling which was 3.5 hours away.
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- Morning Glory
- Looking at Mt Kanchenjunga
- the Sleeping Buddha
- Dawn moments
My inputs on this post- Guide to Sandakphu Trekking
- Dramatic Sunrises & Sunsets with rolling clouds & mist.
- An opportunity to see with naked eyes some of the Top 10 peaks of the world in a SAFE environment.
- The stay options are comfortable bordering on basic washroom facilities
- Opportunity to see rhododendron flowers in their brilliance against a backdrop of snow clad peaks.
- If one treks in peak winter , there is massive amount of snow to satisfy the craving of a white wonderland.
- Trek to Phalut for some amazing landscape photography.
- This trek is a photographer’s dream come true given the right weather conditions .
- A moderate trek , just have clarity on distance to be covered each day as day ends early in these parts .
- Best season to see the mountain ranges would be Nov-Dec.
- Patchy mobile network but international charges will apply as one enters Nepal.
- Dhotre is a good start point for the trek, just tie up with your guide for the same.
- It gets super cold if one is trekking in February like i did. One needs layered clothing including a heavy down jacket which is a MUST.
- In case you are interested in knowing about LAYERING, read this article for a quick info on the same.
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