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Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Sandakphu trekking

  I am Snehadri Shekhar Meur, trek to Sandakphu three times 2006 May, 2009 May & 2012 January. I want to share my experience with all traveler & trekkers. If anyone wants to go their,  please see my blog. It can help you a lot about this trekking.
                                                                                                
Team 2009
 Sandakphu (3636 m; 12,400 ft) is the highest peak in the state of West Bengal, India. It is situated at the edge of the Singalila National Park in Darjeeling district on the West Bengal-Sikkim border, and is the highest point of the Singalila Ridge. Sandakphu has a small village on the peak with few hostels. Four of the five highest peaks in the world, Everest, Kanchendzonga, Lhotse and Makalu can be seen from its summit. From Sandakphu the best view of the mountain Kanchendzonga is possible, which is known as the sleeping Buddha or the sleeping Shiva.


How you reach at Sandakphu:
Sandakphu can be reached in two different ways, either by car or by trekking . The trekking starts from Maneybhanjang via Chitirey, Meghma, Tonglu, Tumling, Gairibas, KalaPokhri, Bekhey to Sandakphu. From Maneybhanjang one can hire 1950's made Land Rovers which climbs up to Sandakphu and Phalut. The journey on Land Rover is not quite smooth on the rough mountain roads.
Nearest airport: Bagdogra Airport, West Bengal. Nearest railhead: narrow gauge: Ghum, West Bengal. Standard Gauge: New Jalpaiguri, West Bengal. Nearest highway: NH 31A (Sivok-Gangtok) passes through Darjeeling (which is 1.5 hours by car from Manebhanjan).    Nearest town: Manebhanjan - the access point for Rimbik and Tumling, the gateways to the park. Nearest city: Darjeeling.
                                                                                     
Ghum Railway station
      
Summery view of this trek:
The trek along the Singalila Ridge to Sandakphu and Phalut is one of the most popular ones in the Eastern Himalayas due to the grand vistas of the Kanchenjunga range and the Everest range which can be seen from the ridge, and also for the seasonal wildflower blooms and birding. Treks begin at Manebhanjan which is 24 km (1 hour approx. by road) from Darjeeling. The trekking routes inside the Singalila National Park have four legs or stages. Manebhanjan to Meghma (2600 m): This is a 4 hour trek through the lower forest. Meghma to Gairibans (2621 m): There are two alternative trekking routes. Both go via Tonglu (3070 m) and Tumling (2900 m). The boundary of the national park passes though Tumling where a checkpost is located. From Tumling, a shorter trail cuts through Nepal and Jaubari (2750 m). Gairibans to Sandakphu (3636 m): This is a steep 4 hour climb. Roughly halfway up the climb is the village of Kala Pokhri (3186 m). Sandakphu to Phalut (3600 m): This is the most pristine stretch of the trek, offering great views of Kanchenjunga and Mt. Everest. It is a one-day trek via Sabarkum (3536 m) covering 21 km. But the main problem of this Sandakphu-Phalut route is that there is no water source in between, so the trekkers have to carry enough water to reach Phalut.Since 2009 water & food available in Sabarkum. The descent from Sandakphu can be accomplished in several ways: Retracing the way back to Manebhanjan.    A steep descent to the village of Sirikhola on the banks of the River Sirikhola, via Gurdum (2300 m), and from there to Rimbick.    There is now a 4WD motorable road to Sandakphu, so one can hire a cab down to Manebhanjan and Darjeeling via Tumling and Tonglu if needed. The drive on the gravel road, however, is very arduous.

Treking rout step by step:
Manebhanjan

Manebhanjan school ground
Many trekkers come to Manebhanjan a day before the trekking starts. This is to acclimatize themselves with the weather before starting the trek early next morning. Check out Manebhanjan: Gateway to Singalila to know about this village, how to reach the place, available accommodations there and more. As you walk from Manebhanjan Bazaar towards the trail for Sandakphu, in 15 minutes or so you will reach the Check Post. This is where you get the permit. Earlier, the trekking route up to Sandakphu was same as the gravel road on which 4-wheel drive Jeeps and Land Rovers take tourists to Singalila National Park and Sandakphu. Since 2001, Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC, now GTA) and the park authorities have created a separate trekking route that mostly goes through the lovely forests and flowering trees, although merges with the gravel road at several places.                                                                    
  
Chitre (3kms from Manebhanjan), 1.5 hours trek

Monestry of Chitrey
Chitre is a small village about 3kms from Manebhanjan located at an altitude of 8,340 ft. The route up to Chitre passes through pine, fir, birch forests and bamboo glades. This part of the trek route is quite steep and really warms you up. It takes about 1.5 hours to trek up to Chitrey. You will get drinking water here. There is an old Buddhist Monastery (Gompa) at Chitrey, a make shift lodging for trekkers, a tea stall and few village huts. You will pass by the monastery. If you want to take it easy, halt for a while, freshen up and start the next leg of the trek.                                                                                 
Lamaydhura (further 3kms), +1.5 hours trek
Lamaydhura is a hamlet inhabited only by five Tibetan families. This part of the trek is more comfortable than the earlier stretch up to Chitre. It's a steady but gradual incline from Chitre and takes over an hour of trek. You will get drinking water here.                                                                          

Meghma or Megma (further 3kms, 9kms from Manebhanjan), +1.5 hours trek 
Meghma as always cludy

This is another small village located at the border of India and Nepal, and about 3kms from Lamaydhura. Meghma is at an altitude of 9,514 ft. There is a small hut at the center of the village which is a tea house and serves tea & light meals. At the back side of the cottage, there are couple of rooms for trekkers. Meghma is the border area of India and Nepal, and you will see posting of Border Security Forces here. From here, the border continues for most part of the trek route and you won't know when you are stepping on the soil of which country. It's like a freeway. Visit Meghma to know about this sleepy village and the amenities you can get here.
 From Lamaydhura, it takes about 1.5 hours of trek to reach Meghma. If you trek continuously from Manebhanjan, it will take about 4.5-5 hours to reach Meghma. Drinking water is available here. In fact at the corner where the trail to Tonglu branches off, there is a pipe through which spring water comes out. From Meghma, the trekking route goes towards right for Tonglu, and that part belongs to India. And the motorable gravel road goes along the left through Nepal towards Tumling. During winter time, from Meghma onwards it can get very cold and it would be wise to carry heavy woolens, jackets, caps and hand gloves and keep them handy.
                                                                        

 Tonglu (2kms from Meghma), +1 hour trek 
Sleeping Buddha from Tonglu 2012

Tonglu is a small hamlet located at an altitude of 10,130ft. This is where most trekkers take the first night halt. There is a GTA trekkers hut here. The lodge is about 2kms from Meghma and takes about 1 hour to reach. The last section is a bit steep. From Tonglu you can get lovely views of Darjeeling and Kurseong town areas. Down below you can see the great valleys and the plains of North Bengal with rivers like Teesta and Koshi flowing. Tonglu also offers a fine view of Kanchenjunga snow peaks. 


Tonglu to KalapokhriI (15KMS), 6-7 hour trek

Kiyakatta
    From Tonglu, you should start your trek early next morning. There are two routes from Tonglu towards Sandakphu. A shorter trek route goes through the village called Jobberi and all the way up to Gairibas. The other route which is more popular, is the gravel road that goes through Jhaubari which is part of Nepal and finally meets at Gairibas. Here we will follow the second (i.e. the more popular) route.  



   Tumling (2kms from Tonglu), +1 hour trek 

Rhododendron 
2kms trek from Tonglu will take you to another small Village called Tumling located at an altitude of 9,600 ft. Actually from Tonglu to Tumling and all the way up to Gairibas is a gradual descend and the trek is relatively easier. Tumling is a great place to stop for a while, freshen up and then get moving for the next leg of the trek. Some trekkers actually prefer to stay at Tumling for the first night instead of at Tonglu. This is due to availability of better private lodges and facilities here. If you like to do the same, then you can either come here via Tonglu or take the direct gravel road from Meghma. Distance would be more or less the same. Drinking water is available at Tumling. Check out Tumling to know what the place offers including private lodges and attractions. If you take the gravel road from Meghma towards Tumling, initially there are few village huts on both sides of the road. And soon the area becomes quite barren. Tumling is 4kms away along this road. Remember, during the winter time it becomes very cold from Meghma onwards. So take adequate measures to counter the cold (like heavy woolens, caps, gloves etc). Often snow fall takes place along this stretch. About 1km from Tumling you will reach the arch gateway of Singalila National Park, which is the highest altitude national park in the state of West Bengal. This park is well known for rare and fascinating high altitude animals like Red Panda, Pangolins, Himalayan black bear, Monals etc. There is a check post here at Singalila gate.
                                                
  Jhaubari (6kms from Tumling), +3 hours trek

A small village further along the way to Sandakphu at an altitude of 9,186 ft. This place may not be important from trekking perspective. But I always combine trekking with exploration of life in the mountains. And if you do that too, you will like to stop here and have a cup of tea. 

Gairibas (1km from Jhaubari), +0.5 hour trek

From Jhaubari one has to take a right turn towards Gairibas. It is further 1km ahead and located at an altitude of 8,600 ft. From Tonglu or Tumling, up to Gairibas is a continuous descend and a relatively easy trek. This is where you can halt for a while. If you started early in the morning, you can complete your breakfast here or have some tea, before you proceed towards Sandakphu. The trek route passes through bamboo glades. Gairibas is essentially a valley full of bamboo grooves. GTA trekkers huts/lodges are available here and located on the grassy triangular flat land. Because of the scenic beauty of this place, many prefer to stay here for a night before proceeding for Sadakphu next morning. Magnolia Lodge is also popular. During the high season, it may not be easy to get accommodation at Gairibas, unless you have booked it in advance. Drinking water is available at Gairibas.

Kalipokhri (6kms from Gairibas) +3 hours trek 
Lunch with Katla fish 
From Gairibas, you will need to trek for about three hours to reach a place called Kalipokhri (or Kalepokhri) at an altitude of 10,400 ft. Initially you will trek uphill through forests of oak, rhododendrons and bamboo and reach a place call Kaikatta in about 1.5 hours. The trail starts descending from here. In another 1.5 hours or so you will reach Kalipokhri. The place is so named because of a pond or a water tank filled with black water. The word Kali means black and pokhri stands for water area. However the black color is not due to pollution, it's muddy and the water never freezes. Due to all-time water availability, a small village settlement has taken place in this area. You will pass through forest of rhododendron, Singalila Sanctuary and then by the pond to reach the Kalipokhri village area. This is where most of the trekkers stay for the second night. There are several private lodges here including Pandim Lodge, Chewang Lodge, and Himchuli Lodge. There is no GTA lodge here, but the private ones also offer similar accommodations at reasonable rates. Drinking water is available at both Kaikatta and Kalipokhri villages.

Kalipokhri to Sandakphu (6KMS), 3 hour trek

 If you are staying overnight at Kalipokhri, start very early in the morning next day. You will not like to miss out on the panoramic view of the snow peaks from Sandakphu, which is best seen early in the morning. An early start from here will give you a chance to view the snow peaks twice, once as soon as you reach Sandakphu and again next morning before you start your return or onward trek.

 Bikheybhanjang (2kms from Kalipokhri), +40 minutes trek 

From Kalipokhri, the trekking route gradually descends up to Bikheybhanjang which is located 2kms away. On the way you will cross a place called Bhagsa where you can take a break for couple of minutes. Then walk towards Bikheybhanjang. This is another small hamlet. The name means "Valley of Poison" because of the poisonous Aconite plants that grow in abundance around this place. Don't worry, unless you eat the leaves of the plant, it is harmless. Basic lodgings are available at Bikheybhanjang. Villagers also offer their huts as home stays.



 
  Sandakphu (further 4kms from Bikheybhanjang) 

Sandakfhu

And now the final destination and the climax. You could actually see the Sandakphu Peak from Kalipokhri itself. But like all great things in life, this won't come easy. From Bikhheybhanjang the climb up to Sandakphu is the steepest. The 4kms route can easily take about 2.5 hours. There are stretches where the gradient is so steep that you will think your nose is about to touch the ground. Actually there are two trek routes from Bikheybhanjang, one through Nepal and the other through India. One through India is shorter and more popular although the two routes do merge at places. As always, the final rewards are awesome. All your strains will simply disappear as you see the board saying "Welcome to Sandakphu". You are at an altitude of 11,929ft, on the summit of Singalila range and at the paradise of trekking... Wow, you made it. Sandakphu is the place from where you get a 180 degree panoramic vista of some of the highest and most beautiful peaks of the world, right from Nepal all the way up to Arunachal. Some of the greatest peaks include the Mt Everest, Makalu, Kanchenjunga, Lhotse, Chomolhari, Pandim, Three Sisters, Kumbhakarna etc. Visit  Sandakphu to know about all my experience there and what you can expect. There is a GTA lodge in Sandakphu and also several other private accommodations including Hotel Sherpa Chalet, Hotel Sunrise, Namo Buddha Hotel etc. 
                                                                      
 Singalila National Park:
The park was declared a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1986, and was made an Indian National Park in 1992. The park is located in the Darjeeling subdivision, Darjeeling district, West Bengal, India. It is bordered on the north by the state of Sikkim and on the west by the country of Nepal. The park is part of the Eastern Himalayas. The Singalila Ridge, which runs roughly North to South and separates Himalayan West Bengal from the other Eastern Himalayan ranges to the west of it. The two highest peaks of West Bengal, Sandakphu (3630 m) and Phalut (3600 m), are located on the ridge and inside the park. River Rammam and River Sirikhola flow through the park. The park has no significant history of human settlement. However, small settlements have grown up along the trekking route to Sandakphu and Phalut. There is a reasonably large village at Kala Pokhri, around the lake of the same name. The Singalila Ridge was used as an approach route by the first documented mountaineering team which unsuccessfully attempted to climb Kanchenjunga in 1905. Thick bamboo, oak, magnolia and rhododendron forest between 2000 and 3600 m cover the Singalila Ridge. There are two seasons of wildflower bloom - one in spring (March-April) when the Rhododendrons bloom, and another in the post-monsoon season (around October), when the lower forests bloom (Primula, Geranium, Saxifraga, Bistort, Senecio, Cotoneaster and numerous orchids). Sandakphu is known as the "mountain of poisonous plants" due to the large concentration of Himalayan Cobra Lilies (Arisaema) which grow there. The park has a number of small mammals including the Red Panda, Leopard Cat, Barking Deer, Yellow-throated Marten, Wild Boar, Pangolin and the Pika. Larger mammals include the Himalayan Black Bear, Leopard, Clouded Leopard, Serow and Takin. Tigers occasionally wander into the area, but do not have a large enough prey base to make residence in these forests feasible. The park is a birder's delight with over 120 species recorded including many rare and exotic species like the Scarlet Minivet, Kalij Pheasant, Blood Pheasant, Satyr Tragopan, Brown and Fulvous Parrotbills, Rufous-vented Tit, and Old World babblers like the Fire-tailed Myzornis and the Golden-breasted Fulvetta. The park is also on the flyway of many migratory birds. The endangered Himalayan Newt frequents the region, and congregates around the lakes of Jore Pokhri and Sukhiapokhri and nearby lakes to reproduce. Jore Pokhri and Sukhiapokhri are within 20 km of the park boundary, and are protected wildlife sanctuaries.
 
Useful Information for Sandakphu Trek:  
1) How to book a room/bed in GTA (formerly DGHC) lodge or trekkers hut.
You can book online through GTA website www.gtatourism.com. Alternatively visit any GTA tourism office for booking. Check out Tourist Info for location & contacts of all GTA offices. An indicative rate for a bed in a GTA hut would be about Rs. 200. 
Here are contact numbers of a few private lodges along the trek route:
Jhaubari (Indira Lodge): +91-9733363473
Kalipokhri (Pandim lodge): +91-9742666243
Gurdum (Lakpa Dorjee Sherpa's home):  +91-9593996308
Srikhola (River View Hotel): +91-9733393617/ 8348286798
Sandakphu (Hotel Sherpa Chalet): +91-97727691127 / 9742621760

2) You will need to pay a permit fee for the trek (Rs. 100/- per person). You can pay this fee in Manebhanjan or Singalila National Park entry check post. Without paying this fee, entry through Singalia National Park will not be allowed. Keep photo identity cards (like passport/ driving license etc) handy both in original and photo copy.

3) You are required to take a guide and/or porter from Manebhanjan. Presently the rate is Rs. 400 per day for a porter and Rs 500 per day for guide. You can get current information about rates, permits etc from Highlander Guides and Porters Welfare Association and even make guide/porter bookings through them at a reasonable rate. Phone: +91-9734056944.

4) Other indicative costs for Sandakphu trek (updated February 2014):
Transport from Darjeeling to Manebhanjan: Rs. 75 per person on shared Jeep (full vehicle Rs. 800). Cost of food along the trek route would be Rs. 350-400 per person per day. Rate of dormitory bed in trekkers huts  = Rs. 200-250 per person per day. Rimbik to Darjeeling shared Jeep cost = Rs. 200 per person.

5) Cell phone signals for Vodafone and BSNL will work for most part of Sandakphu route.

6) several lodges along the way use solar power and allow you to charge your mobile phone & camera battery for a small amount.

7) What is the best time to trek for Sandakphu & Singalila?
There are two great seasons: one during April to May when its comfortable (temperature varies between 6 - 12°C) and the flowers like rhododendrons are in full bloom. In May however, there are good chances of occasional showers and the sky remaining cloudy. The second season is between October to November when the temperature ranges between 1 - 6°C, visibility is excellent and there may be occasional snowfall. You can also trek in December but it gets really cold around that time. For trekking in January/February, you will need equipment like snow boots, sleeping bags etc. Identifying trails may be difficult, so take an experienced guide.

My videos of  Sandakphu, Flowers of this region you can watch in YouTube by a single click.
                                  
                                                    Sorry for take your valuable time & thanks for take a look

11 comments:

  1. Read the article you know more about Sandakphu trekking

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  2. Thanks for writing about your experience. I like your blog. It is very understandable post with wonderful images. Your experience with all traveler & trekkers was good. You can also check best darjeeling Hotels list with an best amenities.

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  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  4. Trekking in Nepal is still the most favorite adventure holiday activity in the country. The two classic trekking routes either to Everest base camp or the Annapurna circuit are not easy and the challenge you'll face on either route will have a lasting effect. The Manaslu route trek around the world's eighth largest mountain is more remote but no less beautiful passing through stunning bamboo forests, villages filled with prayer flags and culminating with spectacular views from Larkya La. Mustang is an easier cultural trek, suitable for those with good general fitness but not necessarily any previous trekking experience. The language, culture and tradition of the Mustang region are still mostly Tibetan making this one of the most culturally interesting treks. There are shorter treks up the Langtang Valley and Helambu which are still hard work but also deeply rewarding. They generally begin in Kathmandu, leading through large grazing areas covered in flowers, dotted with stone huts used for butter making, Sherpa, Tamang villages and the homes of yak herders, right up to the Tibetan border.

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  5. Thanks for sharing this wonderful experience...ur information provided in this blog will help us a lot...if we face any problems or if we have any doubts then we will get back to us.

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    1. Hi Snehadri, Me including two of my friends (total 3) will be travelling to sandakphu in the last week of Oct, 2016. Our trek route is provided below:-

      NJP-> manebhanjan-> gairibas-> sandakphu-> srikhola-> rimbik-> darjeeling

      Can you pls tell me whether its possible or not for us to cover gairibas to sandakphu (approx 12-13kms) in one day?? We will plan to start from gairibas early morning (around 6am)...I heard the trek route is damn steep especially the last 1km before reaching sandakphu. Kindly help us out.

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  6. gairibus to Sandakphu is not so hard trekking as you think. But if you trek first time then try to off load your packpacks to porters thus it will be more easyer. rather than this part sandakphu to srikhola is more strenious due to steep down words walking. you mentioned srikhola to rimbik trek in last day but it not required now. Share zeep easily grab from srikhola. after reching srikhola contact Sovraj hotel. Its a bengalis hotel he is very helpfull guy.

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  7. Salkantay Trekking es la alternativa al Camino Inca a Machu Picchu y que ha sido recientemente elegido entre los 25 mejores Treks en el Mundo, por la National Geographic Adventure Travel Magazine.

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  8. Thank You So Much Your Blog Helped me a lot in my research

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  9. Wonderful travelogue. Thanks for this lovely travel experience in this blog. Loved reading this blog. Pictures were really awesome with more information. Explore to those places by booking bus tickets in advance to get excting Bus Ticket Offers .

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