Subhashis is a software engineer by profession and a photographer by passion. Being born in Coochbehar and brought up in the hilly town of Maithon, he is deeply attached to nature and enjoys every moment out of this bust city life. Macro is his favourite subject he gets to observe and enjoys the little beauties of nature. Not only an excellent photographer, he is a nice man as well. I used to click with my nikon F 80 till 2007 When i got my first digicam in 2007, I knew nothing about photoshop and other softwares. He helped me a lot in learning these stuffs by sharing his knowledge. This article will give you an insight into my trek to Sandaphu, the highest point of West Bengal.
It needed only a few hours of planning and we were ready to be on top of West Bengal. Sandakphu, the highest point of West Bengal was our destination. During winter, the rush towards North Bengal is low. So, we did not have to toil hard to get our tickets. We heard of Political turbulence going around Siliguri and its north, but the call of the mountains was too strong for us to back off. So, three of us, myself and my friends Sudip and Indranil packed our rucksacks and started.
January 3, 2009, Saturday (Day 0)
Indranil, who was our tour guide, had already booked a cab through his contacts in NJP. The driver was waiting for us at the taxi stand outside the station. We kept our luggage in the cab and started looking for a restaurant to have breakfast. There are lots of restaurants just opposite to the NJP Railway station. We chose one, quickly stuffed our empty stomachs and got back to the cab.
is up Hill Cart Road via Ghoom and the other is via Mirik. We took the second route since the first one was closed due a strike by GNLF. In NJP, it was warm and the sky was clear, but as we
moved up, thick clouds covered the entire area and temperature started falling. At SukhiaPokhri, it was chilling. We got our jacket, caps and gloves and quickly put them on. We stopped there for some time, got into a restaurant and enjoyed the taste of “Sui-Mai”, which is a type of Nepalese Momo. It was so delicious that we decided that on way back we would stop there to enjoy it again.
new start point for the Singalila trek. We reached Dhotrey (2700 meters) at around 3PM. It was still very foggy. We could hardly see a few feet ahead and so, viewing the beautiful Kanchendzonga was not possible. We felt a bit depressed but, the scenic beauty of Dhotre, the wonderful atmosphere created by the fog and the hope to have our luck in the next few days, lifted our spirits. In Dhotrey, Indranil had a contact who was supposed to arrange a porter for Sudip. He was not fit enough to walk all the way carrying his luggage. Indranil met his contact and Sudip met his porter. These people serve both as a porter and guide. They are registered and they charge Rs.250 per day. Indranil told me that there are registered offices both in Dhotrey and Manebhanjyang and you can hire porters from any one of the places. Dhotrey was more chilling and in spite of all the warm clothes, we were shivering. We drank some hot tea to let our body acclimatize and then started walking towards Tumbling. The trek starts through the village of Dhotrey where you can see some huts made of tin sheets. I learnt that previously, the huts were made of wood, but a devastating fire had destroyed them a year back. As we advanced, the signs of human civilization around our trek path started decreasing. Soon, it was only us and uninterrupted nature. We walked through the forest of Indranil and Sduip, starting the trek from Dhotrey rhododendrons, magnolias and huge pine trees. The slope was gentle and I loved walking through such spectacles of nature.
We reached Tumbling (2980 Meters) around 7PM and checked in Shikhar Lodge owned by Nila Di which is a common name amongst all the trekkers in this route. She is very well known for her hospitality and has received many awards too. Tumbling is in Nepal. I never thought that my first foreign trip would be that way but I was excited being in Nepal. We had walked 7 kilometers and our bodies were so tired that we could hardly stand straight on our feet. Temperature was around zero degrees centigrade. We had a cup of hot tea and ordered our dinner. “Roti” and “Sabji” was the only thing available but we were so hungry that it tasted delicious. Cigri was provided in our room to keep it warm and we soon fell fast asleep.
I roamed around the village for some time and returned to the lodge to have breakfast. After breakfast, we packed our bags and bid farewell to Tumbling. We started early because we were supposed to cover a 14 km. journey to Kalapokhri. Heading for Kalapokhri marked our entry into the Singalila National Park, a 78 sq. Km. area of forest , named after the Singali Pass (La = Pass) communicating Nepal with Sikkim. The Singalila ridge has originated at the south summit of Kanchenjunga. It has moved southwards along with a comfortable down gradient for the trekkers and met the plain at Manebhanjyang and Dhotrey. I heard that if lucky enough, you can have a glimpse of leopards and Red Panda there. Walking for 2 kilometers up a gentle slope, we reached a place called Joebari in Nepal. At Joebari, we had some rest and a cup of tea. We were tired. When walking up a slope, even a distance of 3 kilometers seems never ending. It was well past noon when we reached Garibas, a border outpost manned by the Shashastra Seema Bal or SSB.
The whole trail is marked with border pillars and outposts. It’s like walking on the borderline and crossing over to Nepal and again coming back to India time and again. Interestingly, the journeyfrom Joebari to Garibas isa 2 Kilometers walk downa winding slope. So, itwas a sort of relief to ourlegs. We had warm cupof tea there, took some rest and prepared ourselves for the very steep climb to Kaiyakata.Garibas to Kaiyakata is a steep climb of around 4 kilometers.
Kaiyakata has just 4 shops and thepopulation of that place is around 20. There, we were served with hot lunch which consisted ofa local noodle soup called the “Wai Wai” (a noodle preparation of Nepal similar to Maggi)From there a 3 kilometers not so steep climb took us to Kalapokhri. When we reached Kalapokhri, it was alreadydark. We stayed in Chawang Lodge with warmwooden rooms and a very big and beautiful kitchen.Temperature was sub-zero but we were sweating due to the enormous amount of physical labor that we had to take. But the effort was worth it. The beauty of nature that we had experienced throughout the journey was awesome. We were hungry and so dinner was served soon. After that we quickly got under the blankets and fell fast asleep.
The Chawang Lodge has a phone and I utilized the facility to call back home. All through the route, the mobile connection was feebly weak and of no use. After breakfast at the lodge, we set of for the ultimate destination. Kalapokhri gives the view of the backside of Sandakphu. Nothing great about it because only a hut could be spotted but still it gives a misleading idea of how much the climb will be. Apparently it looks adjacent to Kalapokhri but one could not spot the in-between mountain trail to be traversed to reach Sandakphu.
A steep ascent for 2.5 kilometers and a gradual walk downhill for 1.5 kilometers brought us to Bikheybhanjyang (10,200 ft). The place is named after the poisonous plant “Nilo Bikh” that is found in this region. In fact, the word Bikhey in Nepalese means poisonous. The journey from Kalapokhri to Bikheybhanjyang was mind blowing. The trees had shed their leaves preparing for winter. The dews had frozen in their bare branches and they looked white, glittering in the sunlight. At some places, it looked liked a land of jewel trees.
We halted for some time in Bikheybhanjyang, had tea and then again started walking towards Sandakphu. Distance of Sandakphu from Bikheybhanjyang is only 4 kilometers but the ascent is steep. The road goes through thick rhododendron and magnolia forest. It seemed that the temperature of the place had remained sub-zero for quite sometime. The road as well as the trees had thick coating of snow.
I cannot express how beautiful the scenery was. I can only tell that I never felt like being in India. It felt like being in Switzerland, walking through the valleys of the Alps. The road was winding with U-turns every few meters. The last turn before reaching Sandakphu had a line written on it, “No sweet without sweat”. Someone must have written it, but it was the truth. Even in the chilling cold, we had to sweat hard to reach our destination. So, we expected the sweet, the view of the mighty Kanchenjunga, who had for the entire time, remained out of our sight due to the bad weather conditions. Even at Sandakphu, the weather was extremely bad. Dark clouds had engulfed the entire area and nothing was visible beyond a few feet. The sky usually remains clear in the morning. So, we hoped that it would be a sweet morning the next day. In Sandakphu, we checked in Hotel Sherpa Chalet run by the local Buddhist family with a good restaurant and STD facility. We dumped the luggage in our room and went to restaurant to
have coffee. The coffee, made of sheep milk, was terrific and during our stay at the hotel, we had many more cups of it. The term “Sandakphu” is a gradual descends from the term Santaphur” which means “the dwelling place of a saint”. “Sadhuji ka dera” is probably the oldest house and that is still there at Sandakphu.
January 7, 2009, Wednesday (Day 4)
I got up at 5:30 in the morning. From the smoked glass of the windows, it seemed like it was still dark outside. The window panes were vibrating and I could hear noise of the winds as if there was a tornado outside. I opened the window to check if it was still cloudy and what on earth did I see. Straight in my line of sight, stood the majestic Kanchenjunga mountain range. I shouted in excitement. Indranil, who is an experienced campaigner of that region, understood what has happened. He woke Sudip up from sleep and three of us stood by the window, mesmerized, looking at the Kanchenjunga, as if it was the last thing we would see. I do not remember how long we stood like that. Indranil broke the trance and told us to get ready to go outside. We quickly dressed up and got out. Outside, it was very windy. The chilling wind was striking us like nails. It was so cold that I had to cover my entire face with my monkey cap. Sun was just rising which looked like coming through the mountains with the horizon turning from purple to orange. As the first morning light fell on Mount Kanchenjunga and it turned red.
It was one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever seen. I have seen the same thing from Tiger Hill in Darjeeling but it was different. From Sandakphu, the floating clouds look like waves in the sea splashing on the nearby mountains and when the ocean of clouds end the almighty Himalayas welcome you.
The view is spectacular. The best of Himalayas are there. I could see Kanchendzonga, Pandim, Lotse and Makalu, three Sisters as they are called, and then, the mighty Everest mountain range. If you roll your eyes in 360 degrees, it feels like you are in white Garden with clouds surrounded by the snow laden peaks. We had cameras but nothing can capture that moment. The view of Kanchenjunga range from Sandakphu is known as the “Sleeping Buddha”.It really looks like someone having a swollen tummy, lying down in deep sleep.
Around 9AM, we had our breakfast and started off for Shirikhola. The road goes towards Phalut, which is another place where people go to view Kanchenjunga. On way, we found a pillar which said some golden words, which in my opinion should be followed by each and every person who visits the place. It said “Leave nothing but footprints and Take nothing but memories”. People tend to leave behind pollutants like plastics which are extremely harmful for the natural balance of the region. As we started descending, it was like walking through a place where everything is white. The road was covered with snow, the trees were covered with snow and from the gaps between the trees we could see Kanchenjunga, which was glittering white under the bright sunlight.The sky was dark blue. In my entire life, I had never seen a blue sky like that. As we descended, the snow gradually decreased. Then it was thick green forest of bamboo trees. Gradually, Kanchenjugha went out of our sight too. After descending for more than 9 kilometers we reached a place called Gurdum. On way to Gurdum, we passed through the dead valley. It is so called because, in 1988, a forest fire broke in that area and the entire tree line was burnt. Now they stand like barren poles of alpines along the slope. From the dead valley we could see Gurdum Lodge which looked like a small toy hut.
The route from Sandakphu to Gurdum is very steep, so one has to be very careful while getting down. I realized that descending from the mountains is a much tougher job than the climbing. It really affects your knee and so it is better to carry a knee cap with you. Gurdum is a tiny hamlet with variety of plantations seen. For the first time I saw cultivation fields were different types of chilies, potatoes and cauliflowers were being grown. We stopped at that place for lunch and had “Wai Wai” again. Because of our photography we were very late and started for Shirikhola (1800 Meters) at around 3 PM. It was a winding stone laden route of 5 kilometers to Shirikhola. Till Shirikhola, the route is marvelous. The trek route is along the river Shiri and passes through a sub tropical forest. A variety flora fauna could be found. We checked in oparma Hotel there and had fried tuna fish for snacks. It was just wonderful. Our legs had already started aching because of the steep descent. So we had dinner and just crashed in to our beds.
We started from Shirikhola around 10 AM. Rimbick was our destination. We could have directly gone to NJP and it would have shortened our trip by a day but we chose to stay in Rimbick because of two reasons. Firstly, Indranil had a stake in probably the best hotel in Rimbick and he insisted that we stay there as his guest. Secondly, our bodies were hell tired and making it to NJP and then boarding the train would have been too much for us. Rimbick at 2286 meters is on the opposite side of Shirikhola. So we had to cross the Shiri River. There’s a hanging bridge made if wooden planks tied by ropes. Crossing the bridge, we started walking keeping the hills of Sikkim on our left.
The journey was not that exciting. We reached Rimbick at noon and got into Hotel Sherpa. It is run by the most prestigious Buddhist family of the place and the accommodation was lovely with running hot water and very hospitable people. After all the days of hard life, where we moved like nomads, Rimbick gave us the feel of civilization. There are shops all around and you could get almost everything you need. I bought a shampoo sachet and a disposable shaving razor to clean myself up. Having a bath after such a long time, and that too in hot water, was a great feeling.
We had rice and chicken curry for lunch. The food was extremely tasty. After lunch, we roamed in the garden of the hotel for sometime. The garden was beautiful with various species of flowers in full bloom.
January 9, 2009, Friday (Day 6)
Jan 10, 2009, Saturday (Day 7)
Important times to visit:
Entry fee to Singalila National Park:
Still Camera: Rs. 25/- each
Movie Camera: Rs. 250/- each (Handycam too)
There are several check posts throughout the route:
Fist post: 1 km after Tumbling
Second post: Garibas
Third post: Bikheybhanjyang
Fourth post: Sandakphu