Trekking in the Mountains of Singalila Ridge
The mighty ranges of the Himalayas in the North of West Bengal offer the phenomenal viewpoints, to begin with, one of the most classical adventure treks. Darjeeling Singalila Ridge is in the middle of Eden, as you cross from one ridge to another through a narrow trail. The uninterrupted view of all-encompassing snow-topped mountains with the family of Mt. Kanchenjunga including Mount Everest makes the landscape unique and renders loveable experience.
If you find happiness in messy hair, dirty feet and chilled water falling on your skin, then you can wander and wonder at the same time! Trekking is the most inspired activity for nature lovers as the trekking sites allow you to witness the best form of nature. The fascinating aspect of this trek is to reach the summit, Sandakphu, by crossing the India-Nepal border a dozen of times. The love and affection of local people are similar for their guests irrespective of their origin.
Best Time To Visit:
Best time to trek is throughout the year except during the monsoon. March and April is the best time when the rhododendron flowers add life with a blush shade to the valley. From June to September Singalila ridge National Park is closed.
If you are looking for clear mountain and sublime sights of dawn from Sandakphu and Phalut, then September-November offers a better view. You can experience early snow in November and even may come across the slippery red panda if your luck bestows!
How to Reach?
The nearest airport is Bagdogra and railway station NJP. You have to reach Darjeeling More to get the shared taxi for Ghoom or Sukhia Pokhari. Both are relatively well-connected to Mane Bhanjang. Mane Bhanjang is the last town where you will get access to ATM and Pharmacy. No shared taxis are available for Sandakphu, so either you have to hire or trek.
My Journey in Singalia National Park- Itinerary
The pandemic has hit harder to the travel industry and its people are changing their professions to survive. We, the travellers, can help the travel industry to revive it. My first plan was to take up a challenge to push me out of my comfort zone and second, to explore my state. A friend of mine had already implemented an idea of Sandakphu trek. It was the perfect plan to rejuvenate myself and perceived the benefits of solo travelling.
What makes Sandakphu outstanding?
Sandakphu means “Height of the poisonous plants” as aconite plants grow in abundance at the height. The other notable aspects of the trek will take you through many hidden gems. It is one of the highest peaks in West Bengal at 11,930 ft above sea level and is truly breathtaking. Once you reach the summit you will be the part of an ethereal 180° panorama view of the four highest peaks of the world. Four lofts of the Sleeping Buddha are Mt. Kanchenjunga, Mt. Everest, Mt. Lhotse and Mt. Makalu. If you are a trekking enthusiast and nature lover, you cannot miss out on the Sandakphu Trek for sure.
Day 01: Mane Bhanjang
I took a bus from Kolkata for Siliguri, which reached in the next morning. After a few hustle and bustle, I grasped a shared taxi of Darjeeling to pass on Ghoom at the cost of ₹300. After three hours journey from Siliguri, I was at the Queen of Hills. The chill air of the mountain welcomed me at fuzzyGhoom station. I walked down the hill to reach my next pickup point for Mane Bhanjang. A few minutes later, I hopped to my next shared taxi for Mane Bhanjang at ₹100.
The journey was not smooth, the rough road didn’t matter me as I was preparing myself for the next day. It took around two hours to reach a small town divided by two countries India and Nepal. The local people were friendly, which made me comfortable making new friends. One of them was going to be one of my best friends forever and guide me for the next six days in the ridges of Singalila National Park.
Places to Stay: Homestays are a cheap place to halt for a night. If you are looking for a cheaper place, you can book for Dormitories offered by many homestays which will cost around ₹250-₹300. Hotels are also available in the town.
Day 02: Tumling
The first day in the hills with a beautiful view of sunrise at the horizon boosted me up for the rest of the day. Suddenly, I was a different person, charged up for the new challenge of 52kms trek. Before I finished my breakfast, my friend Dawa Bhutia was already at the doorsteps. Quickly I packed my bags, settled my bills and moved towards Singalila National Park Office for the pass and other official formalities.
The excitement was at full throttle after I walked out the gates of the office. The trek began complimented by the toughest challenge of the route. The first 4kms of the trek is steep climbing to mountain till Chitrey. It took every breath away, but the beautiful monastery at the peak of the mountain reinvigorated me for the rest of 9kms trek. We took a break in the fields of Chitrey, filled up water and moved on.
The small trails apart from the road are better routes for a trek from Mane Bhanjang to Tumling where nature is at its best, a layer of fog will suddenly cover-up the whole path and suddenly the bright sun will appear in the sky. The beauty of mother nature and its show bewildered me, which took us eight hours to reach Tumling, though it is six hours trek.
Places to Stay: There are many homestays in the village. They mostly provide customized package as bed charge, dinner, breakfast and tea. The total package is ₹700-₹800.
Day 03: Kala Pokhri
The morning in Tumbling greeted with a crystal view of Sleeping Budha. With morning prayer to Lord, “Om Mani Padme Hum”, we finished our breakfast and moved for next destination to Kalipokhri. Another steep climbing of 3-4kms made it difficult for every single step. Sooner, fatigue grasped me and my bag seemed heavier. The motivating mother-nature and my friend encouraged me to reach the next stop at Gairibas. We walked through trails of jungle leaving behind the motorable road.
We took a break for half an hour with refreshments by red tea and momos at Gairibas. We refilled our bottle and went to the check post of Singalila National Park. The total distance we had covered was 6kms. Now we had to trek more 7kms for Kala Pokhri. We took stairs from Gairibas for a few steps then we followed the road.
It took us eight hours to complete the trek up to Kalipokhri where airtel network is available at a few particular spots. The place gets its name from the Black Lake which in local means “Kala Pokhri”.
Places to Stay: Homestays are available in Kala Pokhri also. They treat their guests with the utmost compassion. The dormitories are cheap to stay. It will cost ₹250-₹300, food is available at a reasonable rate.
Day 04-05: Sandakphu and Aal
We had our breakfast and tea in the new day at Kala Pokhri and moved on for Sandakphu. We decided to move further 2kms from Sandakphu to Aal. After leaving Kala Pokhri, we moved towards the trail led by stairs. A new zeal to reach the summit charged me up for the rest of the route. We passed along the pine forest with different species of birds chirping around.
We took long breaks during this route as it was the shortest route to cover 7kms to Aal via Sandakphu. The scene along the way is something to be cherished. The final route to the peak was quite difficult and exhausting, as the climb from here was sharp. It took us six hours to reach the summit of Sandakphu and other thirty minutes to Aal.
I think it is a wise decision to move to Aal, as it is a cheap place to stay, thinly populated and gives the best view of Sleeping Budha. Aal and Sandakphu are at the same altitude. The evening becomes more cherishable if you love playing football. You can be a part of the team and have fun along with the play. I was not lucky to watch the sunset due to mist, but it smiled next morning when the view of Sleeping Budha was clear and spellbound. It is indeed something to remember for a lifetime.
Places to Stay: There are very a few homestays at Aal at ₹300. Homemade food is available. Most of them rely on solar panels. If you are planning to stay at Aal remember to charge all your electronic gadgets at Sandakphu.
Day 06: Gurdum
A thin layer of frost on the grass makes Aal as if it came out from a fairytale. The small village with a handful of people around and the panoramic vista of the entire Sleeping Budha encourages for the most exciting day of the trek. After spending a day in the beautiful village, it was time to move down. We had our tea and breakfast at Sandakphu and prepared ourself for 13kms trek down to Gurdum.
The trail from Sandakphu to Gurdum is the most isolated route that makes it perfect for the trek. The trails are in the midst of the dense forest with tall bamboo grass and no sign of human settlement. We took long breaks in the jungle, yearning to spot any wildlife. We met a few local peoples on the way with horses carrying their goods. The unwinding route to the small village, Gurdum, in the thick of the jungle guided by Buddhist flags raised my self-esteem.
The village is encircled with steep diving valleys with dense evergreen forest. The variety of flowers grown around the hamlet show the taste of its people for gardening. It was my last night in the ridges of Singalila National Park. The sky, full of stars with a comet passing over the horizon, gave me the farewell for leaving the paradise
Places to Stay: There are a few homestays available at Gurdum. Food and hot water are also available. The charge of Dormitory is ₹250-₹300.
Day 07: Srikhola
The final day in the ridges of Singalila, a fine morning with a mesmerizing sunrise and fresh air elated me. The experience of adventure that revealed my limits and strong-will. We moved to the beautifully decorated courtyard of the homestay. After a delicious homemade breakfast, I tasted salt tea for the first time recommended by my friend. Soon, it was time to say Goodbye to the picturesque little village Gurdum.
I packed my bag for the last trek of 6kms to Srikhola village. The village gets its name from the beautiful stream Srikhola that passes through it. The trek route is easy from Gurdum with the tortuous trail that took us around three hours to complete. Very few transports, mostly the small carriage trucks, are available from Srikhola. We hitched from Srikhola to Rimbick at ₹40 per person. The shared taxi for Darjeeling, Ghoom and Mane Bhanjang are available from Rimbick.
An Alternative Way:
If you are not a trekker and looking for a comfortable way to travel, then you can travel to Manebhanjan with your personal/ hire car. From Mane Bhanjang you have to hire Land Rovers for Sandakphu. As per rules and regulations, you cannot drive your vehicle to Sandakphu. The journey is uncomfortable that may take 7-8 hours. The one-way cost of Land Rovers to Sandakphu is ₹3500-₹4000 per person. There are better hotels at Mane Bhanjang and Sandakphu. It is preferable to book in advance.