Planning out my Sandakphu trek was not difficult though I was confused with the many route options. This terrain can be done in a number of ways and across days. I wanted to do mine solo (sans a guide) and over six days. However, I completed the trek in five days, with a guide and a fellow trekker.
Here is the route I took and all other details you may need if Sandakphu is on your 2015 list.
Day 1: Darjeeling-Manebhanjan-Tumbling
I left Darjeeling for Manebhanjan in the morning and the drive took less than an hour and a half. This village is the starting point of the trek. Once I was there, I had a quick word with Keshab Gurung, the local coordinator for Help Tourism and who helped book a guide, even though it is possible to find a guide once you reach Manebhanjan. Non-Indian nationals are expected to complete some official formalities at the check post here.
Amar was my guide and after a cup of chai, the three of us started the trek. The marginally steep climb continued until Chitrey Monastery, after which the cold mists kept me busy. We crossed the check post of Meghma, the village of Gurasai and finally Tumbling, where we would stay for the night. We were officially staying in Nepal this night!
Distance: 14 kilometres
Time: 6 hours
Accommodation: Nila Didi’s Lodge (also known as Shikhar Lodge.) Probably the best place to stay in Tumbling with great hospitality and delicious hot food. We also got hot water bags for the night!
Expenses:Cab Darjeeling to Manebhanjan: ₹200 (usually ₹60 per seat, we bought more seats to leave quickly) | Lunch and tea: ₹90.
Day 2: Tumbling-Kalapokhari-Sandakphu
We left Nila Didi’s lodge early morning after breakfast and I got a first glimpse of the Kangchenjunga. Shortly, we entered Singalila National Park and proceeded onwards to Joubari, Garibas where we stopped for tea and bought passes for the National Park. The climb was similar to the first stretch to Chitrey and soon the forest trails made way to Kaiyakatta. The flat walk to Kalapokhari was comfortable where we stopped for lunch. This is where the afternoon began getting very cold. If you didn’t get a chance to buy a ticket for the National Park at Garibas, you can buy one at Bikhey Bhanja. Bikhey is also where the very steep and tedious last three kilometres to Sandakphu begin. This repetitive path was gloomy and tough for me. Towards the end of the hike, I was worn out and just as I thought I couldn’t go on any longer, I suddenly saw the magnificent Kangchenjunga at the light of the setting sun. I had reached Sandakphu and the evening here was under deep blue skies with unbelievable views of the mountain ranges.
Distance: 19 kilometres
Time: 8 hours
Accommodation: The PWD shed, which was very basic stay but we were blessed with hot water bags again. The toilet wasn’t very clean and electricity is only on solar at stipulated hours.
Expenses: Check out at Nila Didi’s: ₹1200 for two (accommodation, two meals and tea) | Lunch and tea: ₹240 for two | Singalila National Park pass: ₹100 for Indian nationals.
Day 3: Sandakphu-Sebargram-Phalut
We woke up very early to see the sun arise from a bed of clouds as the Kangchenjunga and the Sleeping Buddha changed its colour accordingly. Battling the very strong winds, we had some quick breakfast and set out for the most beautiful day of the trek. While walking through the ridge, the mountains never left our sight. First we hiked across stony paths, then the barren grasslands, yet-to-bloom slopes of Rhododendron and spookily silent forests; finally reach Sebargram, where we had lunch. After that the hike to Phalut was comfortable till the last kilometre. Phalut was warmer than Sandakphu with milder winds.
Distance: 21 kilometres
Time: 7 hours
Accommodation: Sole government shed. This was probably the most simple of our stay and yet the most memorable.
Expenses: Check out at Sandakphu: ₹1210 for two (accommodation, two meals and tea) | Lunch at Sebargram: ₹200 for three.
Day 4: Phalut-Gorkhey-Ramman
Another spectacular sunrise and since Phalut was warmer, I was happy to spend more time outdoors here. After a quick stop to see the mountains for the last time from a stone’s throw distance, we proceed our downhill walk to Gorkhey. Initially the non-threatening path, soon became repetitive and I hurt my toes resulting from the constant pressure of the angular walk. Once we reached Gorkhey, we made a long stop for lunch. While I enjoyed being next door to Sikkim, we started our short and scenic eight kilometres walk to Ramman. Walking through the forest and the infrequent streams, we reached Ramman just in time for tea.
Distance: 23 kilometres
Time: 8 hours
Accommodation: Ramman homestay where the hosts were lovely. At night, the stars of the sky merged with the lights lit in Sikkim.
Expenses: Check out at Phalut: ₹1400 for two (accommodation, two meals and tea) | Lunch and tea at Gokhrey: ₹400 for two.
Day 5: Ramman-Srikhola-Rimbick-Darjeeling
After significantly hurting my toes the previous day, I was weary of any downward walk. Thankfully this terrain was friendly. With Sikkim on one side, the hike was picturesque throughout and the hanging bridge of Srikhola was quite the attraction of the day. This day was a cakewalk, as if we were being rewarded by nature! A lunch break at Rimbick and then we drove to warmer climes of Darjeeling. Jeeps from Rimbick only leave at either 0700 hours or 1200 hours. We pre-booked the latter which was packed with 13 passengers, excluding the driver. The drive to Darjeeling took us about 4.5 hours via Manebhanjan, where we bid farewell to Amar.
Distance: 15 kilometres
Time: 4 hours
Accommodation: Alice Villa in Darjeeling for a night.
Expenses: Check out at Ramman: ₹1000 for two (accommodation, tea, Tongba and two meals) | Tea at Srikhola: ₹100 for three | Cab from Rimbick to Darjeeling: ₹160 per seat | Lunch at Rimbick: ₹70.
Good to know:
-It is courteous to pay on behalf of the guide. We definitely did.
-Most of the costs here are inclusive of tip.
-My trek dates were November 29 to December 3, 2014. Prices may vary accordingly to season and places.
Note: I was guided and aided by Piran of Kipepeo and Raj Basu of Help Tourism immensely. Both the organisations travel responsibly and work in sustainable tourism projects across Northeast India. I’d highly recommend them in case you want to travel the unexplored and mystical Northeast India.
If there is anything you’d like to ask, do leave them in the comments below.
Images © Amrita Das.