The whole pandemic-choked year was a torturous one, especially for those of us with itchy feet. And what better way to celebrate the withdrawal of travel bans if not with a hike to the mountains? Heaven knows fresh air and a precious 10 minutes without the mask is topping everyone’s cravings list at the moment.
I am sure, even the people who don’t enjoy travelling much are now impatient to step out of their houses. Talking of me, let’s just say I spent my entire lockdown fantasizing about post-lockdown trips and by the end of the lockdown I developed severe aversion to my once beloved couch.
Although travel restrictions have eased a lot, it is still not as easy as it used to be. So, a successful moderate trek lasting 5-6 days after almost a year of detailed, careful travel planning was a matter of pride for me. And boy, was it worth it! No matter how many pretty places within the Himalayas you have been to, it’ll be your greatest loss if you miss out on the Sandakphu Trek. It is the only trek from where you can view four of the 5 Tallest mountains in the world.
It was in one of my friend’s Instagram story who had gone to Sandakhphu with IndiaHikes that I first saw a glimpse of this breath-taking place. Down with FOMO, I looked up this trek and in less than 10 minutes I had a plan laid out in front of me. Given that Sandakhphu is close from Kolkata, I immediately booked a slot with IndiaHikes and hoped for a wonderful start to the year!
IndiaHikes is well recommended by trekking fraternity all over India. I went through their website where they have shared the detailed itinerary with FAQs. I knew what I had signed up for! They asked for a medical declaration and a screenshot of me running 5km within 45mins as evidences for my physical fitness. This was my first time with IndiaHikes and their careful protocols did leave a strong first impression on my mind. Even better was the thrill from shopping for trekking gears and ticking off the check list that they provided me. On the other hand, running 5k after a whole year of being a couch potato was the real leg-breaking challenge.
Without further ado, let me share with you my hiking experience and spark the wanderlust in you!
Day 1 – NJP/Bagdogra to Jaubari Base Camp
I arrived at Bagdogra a day in advance to enjoy a relaxing start to my trip and not be in a rush to reach the base camp. On the day we were supposed to head to Jaubari base camp, I reached the pick-up point where I met a fellow trekker. From there, we drove up the increasing altitude as the temperature kept falling steadily. We made a stop for lunch where we met a few other fellow trekkers savouring local food. The organic local food is to die for! Finally, we reached our base camp where we all got introduced and were briefed about our upcoming dos and don’ts and the IndiaHikes journey.
Day 2 – Jaubari to Tumling via Chitrey-Lamadhura and Meghma
The day had come for us to find out how fit we were after a year of being cooped up in our homes. We woke up at 5 a.m., which was admittedly a tough task for all. Our trek leader, Tanmay, made sure we abide by the clock. With Indiahikes, everyone on board is asked to bring their lunch box and water bottles.
Indiahikes believes in Green Trails i.e. leaving no garbage behind. It was this vision of Indiahikes for reducing carbon wastage and encouraging to pick up plastic wastes in Himalayan trails that eventually played a big part in making the Himalayas clean.
For nearly 8 years now, Indiahikes has funded the Green Trails project to leave the mountains in a better condition. The adrenaline rush was kicking in and we started off with a group prayer and a light warm up. The weather was soothing and comfortable. I had decided to keep my phone switched off throughout these six days and truly savour my time away from all the hullaballoo of the world. I wanted to embrace the nature around me without any distractions. I would encourage you to do the same once in a while. Trust me, social media will only eat up the minutes which you can rather spend enjoying nature. No harm will come from waiting till the end of your trip to upload your stories and posts!
The trekking was interrupted with a tea break at Chitre. There would be plenty of times on this trail when you would stand on Nepal and Indian soil simultaneously. This was quite an exhilarating feel, especially because borders with Nepal were closed during the pandemic.
We had our lunch at Meghma, which roughly translates to “in the abode of clouds”. A wholesome meal of piping hot plain rice, dal and vegetables tasted so delicious and was exactly what we needed after the arduous trek. I rarely ever compliment a vegetarian meal but when I do, you can be sure it’s really something!
Day 3 – Tumling to Kalipokhri via Garibas and Kaikatta
This was the day we were to see the Red Panda, which is listed as an endangered species. We walked the gigantic Singalalila National park in search of the rare Red Panda. Of all the days, I enjoyed trekking this day the most. The entire day was filled with picturesque scenes. We stopped for tea and momos at Garibas. Even though it was veg momos, it was so mouth-watering! Following that, we reached a point where I walked on Nepal grasslands and then in India. We had our lunch at Kaikatta and I savored the paparazzi shoot with the valley kids.
Day 4 – Kalipokhri to Sandakphu (Gateway of Winds; 11,950 feet)
Finally, the day for Sandakhphu had come. The weather in the morning wasn’t very welcoming and the clouds seemed heavy with rain. Thankfully, as we ascended the hills, the sky got clearer. The path was cobbled and intermittently steep; I turned into a mindful stretch, often stopping along the way to breathe in the beauty and enjoy a few moments of contemplation. Little children ran to their school through zig zag roads; an old lady doubled over carrying some firewood. A life that seems like an escape from our busy city life is in truth a hard lifestyle for people living in the hills.
Day 5- Sandakphu to Molley via Sabargram/Sabarkum (16 kms in 6 hours; through an undulating trail)
No other trekking agencies take you further from Sandakhphu to Phalut and Molley. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to go beyond the comfort zones. After a whole day of hiking, we reached Molley via Sabargram, which happens to be an army base camp. This was the 2nd day of camping where we pitched our own tents and it is very doable! Tanmay served us amazing Kheer (sweet dessert) and fried rice.
Day 6 – Molley to Samaden via Phalut.
We were told to wake up at 4 in the morning for this most anticipated day. Two of our fellow trekkers couldn’t join us as they were not feeling well. One of them selflessly offered his Quecha trekking shoes for me to wear instead of my regular Nike shoes so that I could comfortably trek the 24 km ahead of us. I must admit it wasn’t an easy 24 km stretch of hike to be covered in one day and it found running out of breath often along the way. I was desperately clinging to the hope that that the close view of Kanchenjunga would be worth the breathlessness. Fortunately, the weather was clear and the sky a calm blue, although the wind slowed us down during the ascend. Finally, we were told that the Phalut viewpoint was nearby. I was in awe of the spectacular view of Kanchenjunga, its gigantic presence watching over us. This was the closest I have been to the Kanchenjunga. The killing effort to trek up to this point was totally worth it! From there, we had to descend 15 km to reach our home stay at Samaden which is considered to be the most beautiful homestay in the entire trek. And it most definitely was. I was literally exhausted and eagerly waiting for dinner feast of home-cooked mountain cuisine chicken, which I devoured with much delight. Later, we all played gully cricket and signed off the day with an emotional debriefing session where all of us, including Tanmay, spoke about our experiences and memories that we were taking back home from the Sandakphu trek.
Day 7- Samaden to Siliguri via Sepi: The Final Lap
I woke up to hymn of Om Padmini hum music from Tanmay’s phone. With a heavy heart, we parted with this beautiful place and the people who made the trek all the more memorable. Not getting to bathe for straight 6 days was only the reason that made me look forward to a hot shower at Lemon Tree in Siliguri.
Now that I write this, I’m glad there has been so many takeaways from this hike. I’ve been waking up early in the morning and going for a run. I listen to Bhutanese hymns often.
I believe I have given you enough reasons to gather your trekking gears and head for the Sandakphu trail. I hope you soon get to experience this beautiful trek and give yourself a pat on the back for conquering this trek. And oh, get yourself a high-altitude t-shirt from IndiaHikes to serve as a gentle reminder of your victory.
- Best time to visit these two trails: March-May & September-November
- Duration: 5-6 days is sufficient for Sandakphu.
- Difficulty level of trek: Sandakphu is moderate and has road access; Highest Point is at 12,900 ft.
- Journey: Starts from Jaubhari in West Bengal (4 hours from NJP Station/Bagdogra) and ends in Sepi (5 hours from NJP/Bagdogra). You can make a trip to Darjeeling on the way back.
- Temperature – Wind chill is very high; specially in Sandakphu and Phalut!! Temperatures usually range between 0-6 degrees at night and around 10-12 degrees during the day in March.
- Trekking: You can go on your own with a guide from Maneybhanjan or Tumling. Our guide Nima was an amazing gentleman (Contact: +91-9647738502).