If you’re looking for a trek in the rich, brilliant belt of the Eastern Himalayas that brings a little bit of everything to the plate, the Sandakphu trek awaits you. Easily the most cherished trek of West Bengal, the Sandakphu peak is located in the district of Darjeeling and roughly marks one edge of the green and abundant Singalila National Park. Located at a height of 11,930 feet, the altitude of the Sandakphu trek is quite spectacular, making it a hike that guarantees thrill. The view from the Sandakphu peak is already breathtaking because it encompasses the Everest, Kangchenjunga, and Lhotse mountains, but it is not limited to just that. If you’re lucky enough to witness clear skies (which are more or less a surety between October and December) you can look beyond and find your vision peppered with the view of peaks in Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, and Sikkim as well. Saying that the Sandakphu experience packs a punch is no exaggeration.
What makes the Sandakphu trek so special is its versatility in terms of what it offers. The hill mountain takes on a different shade with each season. While it blossoms with vibrant life and flora in the summer months, autumn promises large, sprawling clusters of rhododendron and magnolia throughout the uphill hike. Studded with nature’s gems like sprawling alpine trees and gurgling rivulets, and a plethora of mountainous vegetation – including the astonishingly rare cobra lily, because of which the region has correctly and infamously been deemed “the mountain of poisonous plants”, the Sandakphu trek is a treasure chest for lovers of nature. Every nook awaits discovery. And for those willing to embark on a more adventure-intensive experience can always choose to opt to traverse this destination in late December when snow graces the hilltops, the skies are a clear blue, and you feel like royalty at the Sandakphu crest.
The temperature at the Sandakphu region is quite endurable most of the time, and never too severe. This, matched with the moderate trekking difficulty of the Sandakphu trek make it a viable and inviting adventure option regardless of the time of year.
At an elevation of 3,665 meters, the Sandakphu trek allows you equal parts thrill and a peek into the unimaginable, untamed natural beauty of West Bengal. The starting point of the Sandakphu trek is Manebhanjan, which is at a distance of about three hours from New Jalpaiguri. (For further reference, it must be noted that the distance between New Jalpaiguri and Delhi is almost 1,470 kilometers and can be covered directly via a long journey by train). After reaching Manebhanjan, which is the base camp for the Sandakphu trek, trekkers will be crossing other ravishing points of intrigue, such as Tumling, Srikhola, and the Singalila National Park, all of which provide an in-depth view of the state’s scenic treasures.
The Sandakphu trek duration is five nights and six days, making it the perfect week-long getaway, leaving room for one day to travel and recuperate as well. The best time for the Sandakphu trek is summer and autumn if you’re looking for bearable temperatures and a lush landscape sprinkled with flowers, oak and bamboo, and even animal life like the barking deer, leopard cat, and red pandas. The temperatures here at this time range between -2 degrees (absolute minimum) and 15 degrees, making it quite a pleasant hike. However, during the winter season, with the presence of snow, trekkers may experience harsh temperatures, between -5 degrees and 8 degrees. It is important to bundle up and make provisions for warm clothes before embarking on the trek in winter. Trekking to Sandakphu, though moderate in terms of difficulty, is characterized by smooth, well-paved roads, making the experience a pleasant one. Its allure is only brightened by the heavy flora and fauna of the region, making it a delight for naturalists and photographers, or anyone else who enjoys witnessing nature in its prime.
Day 1: Arrival at New Jalpaiguri; Drive from New Jalpaiguri to Manebhanjan
Distance covered (by road): 95 km
After an early morning arrival at New Jalpaiguri, we gather together and meet our fellow trekkers. From here, we commence the four-hour-long drive to Manebhanjan, our base camp for the trek. We spend the drive enjoying the lush view and getting to know the adventurers we’ll be spending the whole week with. After a hot lunch, we take some time to explore the base camp. Evening snacks and dinner follows, accompanied by a briefing from your trekking leader. We sleep in tents tonight, eagerly anticipating the first day of our adventure that is to follow with the next sunrise.
Day 2: Singalila Range (from Manebhanjan to Tumling)
Distance covered: 11 km
An exciting, five-hour-long trek awaits us today, so we bid the base camp farewell for now after a hearty, sumptuous breakfast. Our destination for today is the small, sequestered little village of Tumling, which lounges at a height of 9,500 feet. It is here that the borders of India and Nepal melt into one another, which is why it is advisable to keep the required documents (like your Visa and ID) handy.
The uphill trek is not too arduous as Tumling is linked to neighboring places (including the base camp) via well-made roads. However, Tumling is not only the first but one of the most breathtaking peaks you will see on your trekking journey to Sandakphu. Lunch will be provided on the way. We halt our journey for the day at Trekker’s Hut, which is a cherished spot in Tumling for Sandakphu-adventurers to stop and spend the night. We bask in the delight of the wonderful services and enjoy our stay here for the night, drinking in the outstanding views of the Singalila Range and beyond. We rest here. Tomorrow is a big day!
Day 3: Singalila National Park
Distance covered: 9 km
With a new sunrise, we gear up with a nutritious breakfast today. Our endeavor is to travel a distance of 9 km in five hours, to a place called Kalipokhri, but not before we enjoy the view of the Kangchenjunga peaks bathing in the gentle light of dawn. If you pay attention, some of the obscure peaks of Sikkim (like Goecha La) may also catch your eye.
Today, we make our way through the dense vegetation of the Singalila National Park and bask in the unfiltered beauty of nature. Keep an eye out for flowerbeds of rhododendron, geraniums, and magnolias in ruby red and white, and alpine trees standing tall and strong, framing the trekking path for you. After passing by many such vibrant landscapes (and maybe even witnessing a deer or two, if we’re lucky) and even streams and small lakes, we reach another Trekker’s hut. We freshen up and eat our meal here. We rest for the night to stock up on enough energy to finally surmount the apex of our trek tomorrow.
Day 4: Sandakphu Peak
Distance covered: 8 km
Our challenge today is to cover a distance of 8 kilometers in 4 hours. After a delicious breakfast, we climb our way up to Sandakphu peak, with the treasured knowledge that we are actually at the highest existing point in the state of West Bengal. The trek is slightly difficult and requires you to keep your energy levels high, so make sure to have your snack quota and water bottle filled at all times. From the crest, we have the pleasure to witness the stunning views of the Khanchendzonga and the Everest peaks, which are adorned by their lush, daughter-forests at the base. You will witness what is most probably the most dazzling sunset you have ever seen, here. Remember to take enough pictures and solidify the memory in your heart and spirit, for it is a feeling you will forever keep close to your heart. We rest for the night at another trekker’s hut after a well-deserved, hearty dinner.
Day 5: Descent to Srikhola
Distance covered: 17 km
Today is the last laborious day of trekking for us, which is why we begin the day with yet another hearty meal. In a span of 7 hours, we must surmount 17 kilometers, all the way from Sandakphu to Srikhola. In the first five hours, we complete a relatively easy downhill trek to Gurdum, enjoying the lush, scenic views on the way. A piping hot lunch is provided to all the trekkers. From here onwards, a descent of another two hours will bring us to Srikhola, which is our destination. After tea and snacks, dinner, and a bonfire where we reflect and share our memories, we stop here for the night and enjoy the wonderful view of the star-studded night sky.
Day 6: Return to New Jalpaiguri
Distance covered (by road): 130 km
We share conversation and a nutritious meal for the last time as a group this morning, after which we all drive through the spiraling roads of West Bengal’s scenic hills all the way to the starting point, i.e. New Jalpaiguri railway junction. From here, the trekkers can go back home as per their individual travel arrangements. For now, our journey together ends here.
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