SANDAKPHU- The Magnificient Sleeping Buddha.
Sandakphu throws open an incredible panorama of world’s highest snowline, swerving from the snow-capped peaks of Nepal to Bhutan and farther east to Tibet. The trek route zigzags along the Singalila Ridge and moves this side and that of the Indo-Nepal border, switchbacking and switch-bordering towards an enchanting visually charged summit that makes it all worth it. Its the last month of the year 2k18 and we four musketeers ready to trek the most enchanting route Sandakhphu Phalut trek.
As its the starting of the winter season, we packed heavy woolen clothes with a sleeping bag, hot water bag, extra shoes if accidentally the rain occurred in your way. The route is for beginners to moderate and nowadays govt take necessary steps to mend the hill roads. But in the last ascent, it was a bit difficult to go on. Sandakphu-Phalut trek is also one of those few high-altitude Himalayan treks which are provided necessary amenities with comfortable trekkers hut accommodation or you can book govt bungalows. Our journey started from Manebhanjang (a small hamlet) which is 83kms by road from the New Jalpaiguri railway station. We started our trek very next day morning to Tonglu which is 11kms trek from Manebhanjan via Dhortey which takes nearly 7-8hours. The First Steps were very steep as you have to climb nearly 45 degrees inclination and it will put some real pressure on your lungs too. On the way, you will get some cottages where they serve you tea, Maggi, toast, etc. Tonglu is situated above 10150ft above sea level and you can experience a beautiful sunrise and sunset right from your trekker’s hut.
Our next destination is Kalipokhri via Gairibas. Kalipokhri is situated 10400ft above sea level. This day is a bit hectic because the route is quite unbearable. 15kms trek route but firstly you have to descend to 8600ft then to 10400ft. It will take around 8hours as you have to stop in Gairibas for a short lunch. The route is through Singalila national park.
The charming wilderness and wildlife expected of a Himalayan Trek are met as we pass through Singalila National Park, making the hike also one of the keen naturalist interests. There are innumerable intriguing birdlife, animals, and flora that you would be fascinated to explore in the diversity along with this trek route’s sub-alpine and temperate coniferous, broadleaf, and subtropical coniferous forest biomes. (ENTRY FEE FOR SINGALILA NATIONAL PARK FOR INDIAN: RS 30/- AND FOR FOREIGNERS: RS 100/-)
Gairibas to kalipokhri is a bit stiff ascent with boulders. Kalipokhri is just a few km away from sandakphu. Kalipokhri settlement builds around the small lake of Kalipokhri. Literally meaning black water, this little waterhole makes for a quiet, contemplative, and picturesque site cradled amidst the gorgeous mountainous terrain with the Kanchenjunga beckoning in the distance. This area is well within the Nepal border and shows the signs of the ethnoreligious Buddhist community of Nepal living in the Kalipokhri settlement.
On the third day, our final summit started at 8 am after completing our breakfast. It’s nearly 6hours of trek from kalipokri to sandakphu and the ascent of 11929ft above sea level. The last ascent was steep inclined nearly 45 degrees and it’s quite tough because of small boulders and the road was under-construction but manageable (Car route is available up to sandakphu but if u want to plan Phalut which is more 21kms from sandakphu you have to trek.
One can book a car from Manebhanjan to Sandakhphu. 1947 LAND ROVER car which accommodates passengers through this route, most seats are not that much comfortable because of the route.)After viewing a soul-stirring sunrise over the magnificent peak panorama, one of the best found on trekking in India. Mt. Kumbhakarna forms the head and face of Buddha, while Kanchenjunga forms the upper body.
The other peaks that make up The Sleeping Buddha are Kokthang, Rathong, Frey, Kabru South, Kabru North, Simvo, Mt. Pandim, Tenzingkhang, Jubanu, Narsing. We get ready for our descent to the village Sabargram and then to Phalut (11795ft) and the day was quite exhausted as it was the longest trek of the whole trek route nearly 21kms in a day. Our trail will pass through a different kind of snow-Laden valleys and small basin-like frozen lakes, pines forest, etc (see pictures).
Look towards the left and you will see the dazzling Everest family including Mt. Everest, Lhotse, and Makalu. The route from Sandakphu to Phalut has a relatively easier gradient as both the places are at similar altitudes, however, there will be inclines to climb at some places. We have already booked the only GOVT Trekkers Hut that’s why we don’t have to face any problem regarding accommodation.
It takes nearly 5 and a half hours to reach Sabargram. There is a forest hut at Sabargram where you can plan to stay for the night depending on availability. This hut belongs to the forest department. This is where several trekkers halt before starting their journey early the next morning. Many trekkers also camp at Sabargram. You need to carry your own food although the caretaker at the hut can also sometimes arrange for food, The last stretch of 1km to Phalut is a steep climb but we complete the full 21kms trek in one day which takes nearly 9 and half hours. Once you reach the Phalut summit, you are in a small flat grassy land that is devoid of any vegetation. There is an Indian Army bunker house near the peak of Phalut. However, if you look around, you will be rewarded with an awesome view of a long stretch of snow peaks.
THE SLEEPING BUDDHA
PHALUT GOVT TREKKER’S HUT
The range includes some of the highest peaks of the world including the Everest group, Kanchenjunga, Chamolhari, Pandim, Three Sisters and lot others. The snow range stretches from Nepal on the west through Sikkim, Bhutan and up to Arunachal Pradesh in the east along a distance of about 320km. Phalut sunrise viewpoint was a few km from our Government Trekkers hut (GTA) (see pictures).
We started our walk around 4.30AM, it’s just too cold and dark outside. We just headed towards the viewpoint phalut which is 2.5km of the trek. I just reach the top and got the first glimpse of Kanchenjunga(the Sleeping Buddha) stood like a guardian. All the aches of my limbs, muscles get vanished in seconds and then one line comes up in my mind”The best view comes after the hardest climb”. On the opposite side the world’s highest mountain Mount Everest with his family Lhotse and Makalu. After a few minutes, the sky turns in a pale reddish yellow color which reflects the mount Kanchenjunga snow-laden peak after a while the color turns into a completely orange mix with red that epic moment is still around my dreams.
Below me, the family of clouds drenched with those colors which change every second. As I stood back by the opposite sight of the Kanchenjunga family, the world’s highest peak Mount Everest with his siblings was an uber moment for me. (we use heavy woolen and gloves as it was the month of December). After a few hours, we step down towards our trekker’s hut for our breakfast as we have to start our trek to the next destination – Gorkey which is 15kms from phalut. we packed our sacks and sleeping bags and headed towards Gorkey which takes almost 6hours. The trek route is all way to the jungle and no shop, washroom, accommodation up till Gorkey. If you are enough lucky you can experience small unnamed birds, along with White-browed Fulvetta, Hoary-throated Barwing, Blue-fronted Redstart, Blue Whistling-thrush, & Red Panda, etc. Gorkey is a small village surrounded by mountains. it’s just like a cup-shaped valley with rich in vegetation. People’s main occupation is farming like Corns, Tea plants, many vegetables, fruits. We reached Gorkey nearly mid of the day and finished our lunch. We booked Govt Trekkers Hut well maintained and great hospitality and got an excellent room which faces towards the forest. There you can experience the forest side vegetation along with some small Tea Plant farming, corn plantation, etc. Besides, in the night, you can enjoy the splendid milky way with the stars shining bright. The next day we started our trek in around 8 am towards Srikhola our last destination. After taking our breakfast and say goodbye to gorkey indeed it was a nice place. Grokey to Rammam around 9kms and from rammam to srikhola it is around 12kms which total stands around 21kms. First few km from Gorkey is bit incline because you have to climb up first and then to Rammam(8400Ft). We reached rammam around 12.30 pm and had some snacks & Tea after that we trek more 12kms to srikhola which takes most of the time for nearly more than 5 hours. Srikhola (also known as Sirikhola) is a lovely scenic village in Darjeeling district. There is a river flowing beside the village with the same name ar the village as well. Some people started their trek from this small village to sandakhphu. Many trekkers coming from Sandakphu or Phalut prefer to stay overnight at Srikhola and there is a reason for that (we also follow the trails and halt in a hotel near srikhola river-bridge). Other than enjoying the wonderful natural beauty of the place, you can start early next morning, go down to Rimbik and catch a shared jeep for Darjeeling or Siliguri(NJP Railway Station) or to Bagdogra Airport.
Out of all the things we learned on this trek, one that we would absolutely not forget on our next trek is the art of backpacking. When we packed our backpacks, we thought we were packing just the essentials. Turns out the definition of essentials in plains and that in the mountains is very different. We need WAY less than we think. Who needs two lunch boxes for 2 people when 4 can eat in 1. Who needs a towel when you won’t be taking a bath for days and one more thing I would like to add that don’t ask for the kilometers to your fellow trekkers or to your guide repeatedly, just keep an eye on ur wristwatch and walk till your next destination arrived. So, next time you pack your bag for a long trek, think about only the bare minimum things you need to survive. Not live but survive and pack just that. Your back will thank you for that and you will be thanking us later.
DAY 1: Arrived NJP from Sealdah railway station around 8 AM. Took a CAB from Siliguri towards Manebhanjan. It takes around 4hours to arrived over there. We already book our homestay as this time was very high in traffic.
DAY 2: We started our trek around 8 am in the morning after breakfast. We trekked 11kms its takes around 6-7hours to arrive at Tonglu(10130ft). We already booked our trekkers hut in tonglu run by govt of west Bengal
DAY 3:Tonglu to Kalipokhri (10400ft). 15kms of the trek which takes around 8hours. We make our lunch in our way.
DAY 4: Kalipokhri to Sandhakphu (11929ft). 6kms of the trek which takes around 4hours. We do our lunch at sandakhphu trekker hut (Run by GOVT). Please book your preferred hut before commence of your journey.
DAY 5: Sandakhphu to Phalut(11811ft) via Sarbargram. Almost about 21kms.It takes around 8.5hrs. We do our lunch at Sarbargram. Phalut has only one Trekkers Hut which is under govt of West Bengal. Please book before you commence your trek.
DAY 6:Phalut to Gorkey. About 15kms of the trek which takes almost 6 hours. We do our lunch on arrival at Gorkey. Here the availability of the hut is much higher as many locals built Huts for trekkers. We booked Government trek huts over here for better accommodation.
DAY 7: Gorkey to Srikhola (21kms). 7hours of the trek. Mostly easy gradient. We booked a private homestay and accommodation is very good with food included.