It was the puja vacation of 2009 when we planned for Sandakphu trek. We were a group of six members: myself, Subhomoy, Jonathan, Koushik, Bobon and Anirban. We were inexperienced and excited, but we were allowed to do so in such a low-difficulty level trek we knew. This was our first trek. So, a lot of preparation was required. Whenever a survey is demanded, who can do it better than some research-students busy with no-work? We finished all the surveys quick and finalized dates.
- Day 1: boarding from Sealdah (SDAH) railway station,
- Day 2: reached New Jalpaiguri (NJP); NJP – Manebhanjyang (by car); Manebhanjyang – Tonglu (by Land Rover),
- Day 3: Tonglu – Tumling – Gairibas – Kalpokhri – Bikhebhanjyang – Sandakphu (trek),
- Day 4: Sandakphu – Gurdum (trek),
- Day 5: Gurdum – Sirikhola (trek),
- Day 6: Sirikhola – Rimbik (trek); Rimbik – Darjeeling (car),
- Day 7: Darjeeling – NJP; catch train,
- Day 8: reach Kolkata.
Being a popular trek, the route has numbers of trekker’s hut with ample facilities for food. Bobon booked the trekker’s huts as per the decided itinerary from the DGHC (Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council) booking counter at Shakespeare Sarani, Kolkata (Full address: No. 4, Ground Floor, Embassy Building, Shakespeare Sarani, Kolkata – 700071; Contact: 033 – 22821715). The huts were too cheap; each hut cost us Rs. 60 per head per day. We packed a lot due to inexperience (for better direction, check how we prepared in our West Sikkim trek), still missed important accessories like raincoats.
The journey dates always come in a rush and all of sudden, you will find yourself in a mess. The Sandakphu journey started in similar fashion as we did not have confirmed tickets for all the members. However, myself with Bobon, Koushik and Jonathan reached Sealdah in time. The train was as usual late. We finally got boarded in Kamrup Express after some 2 hours of waiting. Anirban and Subhomoy got into the train at Malda when it was almost dinner-time. Subhomoy brought chicken meals for all of us from his home. After dinner, we went to sleep. By the meantime, the train was getting later, which we found the next day.
Day 1: NJP – Tonglu
By morning, the train was late by around 5 hours. Finally, at about 8 am when we reached NJP, it showed a clear day and we liked it. I was thrilled about getting a view of Mt. Kanchenjunga. It would be my first time ever. Subhomoy, who came to NJP numerous times, told me how unpredictable getting a view could be. But, making all surprised, the NJP station over-bridge showed us the first glimpse of Kanchenjunga.
One can book jeeps on sharing basis or reserve the whole car. We booked tickets for a service-jeep and reached Manebhanjyang by 1 pm. With the Sun getting covered by clouds, it started getting colder. After lunch, we booked a Land Rover to Tonglu. These Land Rovers were used since the British period. When the British left our country, local people started using the jeeps for tourism purpose – keeping the engine same and altering the body parts on requirement. Though, the tires seemed smoother than my skin. Drizzle started soon after we started. Finally, we reached Tonglu by 4 pm. The place is a valley with a magnificent view from the trekker’s hut. Kanchenjunga, still being visible from the hut, made all busy for taking photographs.
The hut had five dormitory rooms, one toilet and a dinner place, where the keepers stay with his family. The room, we booked, was spacious and got six beds for all of us. We stayed our day at vehicles for a long time. Hence, we were in a mood of walk and visit the place. The daylight was still there.
After having a little snack and coffee, we came outside. The area was clean and full of flowers.
It was nearly time for Sun-set. The hills on the West were visible in a silhouette and were extremely beautiful.
On the other side, the late rain-drops were making the shrubs attractive catching the last Sun rays.
Whatever picture we took was a priceless gem.
The temperature was decreasing with the Sun-set. Hence, we were about to return to the hut. The sky was looking nice with the colours it got.
We finally settled at our dormitory. We rested for a while before dinner. The hut-keeper was well-behaved and an awesome cook. He helped us to charge our camera batteries with solar power in the hut. We had nice non-veg meals followed by sound sleep. Thinking that maybe the last day we could have a network in our mobile, all of us made the necessary calls.
Day 2: Tonglu – Sandakphu
It was early in the morning when the hut-keeper called us. It was sunrise time and Kanchenjunga was hit by the first light. We hurriedly reached outside to have the view.
We climbed a little to a place, which was looking like a view-point to us. Watching the valley from this place was a feast for the eyes.
Every single view-able objects were looking extremely beautiful being lightened with the inclined sunlight.
We enjoyed the morning for a long time. We started for the day’s walk by 8.30 am. We had selected Sandakphu as the day’s destination.
Right from the beginning, we had Kanchenjunga, Makalu and Everest at our left up to Tumling. Tumling was another beauty being a part of both Nepal and India.
At Tumling, we had our breakfast. During our breakfast, we came to know that having a guide was mandatory and we had none by then. We got a boy of around sixteen – Sange as our guide.
As we were feeling it hard to carry our own sacks, we thought a porter would be handy. Sange took one of his friends with him as a company.
The post-Tumling trek route encompasses varieties – from ridges to valleys and from forest to villages.
The clear blue sky was another bonus.
After passing the villages, the trail started to get higher and higher. We soon reached Gairibas from where one needs to collect pass to enter the Singalila National Sanctuary. After Gairibas, the slope got steeper. In that part of our trek, we were getting tired frequently.
After a two-hour walk with such intensity, we reached Kalpokhri. Most of the trekkers stay here on the day they start from Tonglu. Kalpokhri got a secret pond with numerous chortens.
We had our lunch at Kalpokhri. Right after lunch, the rain started. Three of us had raincoats. Hence, we stopped for a while hoping for rain to stop. Eventually, the rain did not stop. We decided that three of us without their sacks can move on, where remaining three with the guides can wait for a Landrover. So, Jonathan, Anirban and myself, wearing the three raincoats we had, started walking once again.
Post-Kalpokhri trails are also steep a little. We had a hard time hiking through that steep during rain. We passed Bikhebhanjyang around 5 pm. We had tea over there. We were about to reach Sandakphu within half an hour more when we saw our friends coming in a land rover. They gave us a lift to Sandakphu. We reached Sandakphu late and the keeper gave our room to someone else. On request, he vacated it soon. After having noodles for long day’s, we were bored. To change the taste, we ordered chow min in snacks. That order cost us like hell; we were very much tired and could not digest the inedible dish by any means. Most of us fell sick and could not take food at dinner. The cold night at Sandakphu was spent on walking from room to toilet to room and listening to the gossips other trekkers were having. We found it funny when an older person was calling the third highest mountain in the world as “Kanchan” affectionately. The time flew fast with his stories until we fell asleep.
Day 3: Sandakphu – Gurdum
Sandakphu viewpoint is all about watching Mt. Kanchenjunga closely. But, all my friends were sick. They had late sleep the day before. Hence, they did not respond quickly when Sange called us. I woke up and joined Sange towards the viewpoint.
The day was so clear that I could see mountains like Kanchenjunga, Kabrus, Pandim, Makalu and even Everest.
Everyone was busy with their camera – most of them capturing Kanchan, where someone towards Nepal shooting Makalu and Everest.
Bobon joined after half an hour, while others came following him. We together rejoiced for the view we got. Soon after, we had our breakfast and got ready for a walk. We had a destination of Phalut. But, considering our stamina it seemed difficult. After a short discussion, we decided to take a short alternate route which goes to Rimbik via Gurdum and Sirikhola. The actual route does not actually pass through Sirikhola. Hence, we were not too upset while discarding Phalut from the list.
We started steadily. Subhomoy suggested a restless but slow progress and we followed it word-by-word. The first trail towards Gurdum was plain and surrounded by rhododendron trees. If it would be around monsoon, we could have a view of a full-blown rhododendron flowers.
The height was gradually decreasing as we were moving. A knee-cap would be helpful there.
A change was noticed in the nature of trees and shrubs with the changing height also. The day’s trek lacked views of mountains as the weather had become overcast. But, the surrounding nature was colourful.
Finally, we reached the upper Gurdum. This is a place where the Gurdum village can be seen. We saw a number of trees, razed with lightning, there. That was a scary scene.
The following trail started with a huge decline after upper Gurdum. The steady, steeped and quick decline made Subhomoy sick.
By 12 pm, we reached finally Gurdum where we planned to have lunch. Subhomoy called for a rest and no-more-walking. We readily agreed with that.
The Gurdum hut is a private hut, not maintained by DGHC. Hence, it is well-maintained and costly. We luckily got the rooms there and then went for lunch. After the dirty hut we got at Sandakphu, we felt like home at Gurdum. The day spent while chatting with each other, over coffee and watching layers of mountains through the windows.
We had our dinner early with a plan to start the next day as early as possible.
Day 4: Gurdum – Sirikhola
The day we stayed at Gurdum, restored energy within us. After breakfast, we thanked the keepers of the hut and started hiking again. We had to reach Sirikhola.
Sirikhola is about 3 hours walk from Gurdum. The route is passed through several villages. Jonathan was getting busy with children from those villages.
After 3 hours of walk, we reached Sirikhola, indicated by a suspension bridge. Right after crossing the bridge, one can find the DGHC hut.
We did not book the hut. Hence, we moved to another option – a cottage by the Youth Hostel. It is run by a Bengali person from Dumdum – Sengupta. Saptarshi, Jonathan and Subhomoy came at Sirikhola last year and stayed here. So Sengupta was a known person to us. Moreover, his cottage got a stream just beside it. We settled at the cottages for a while and spent the rest of the day at the stream – named Sirikhola (or, Shrikhola).
The stream got us for all the time light was there.
With the sunset, we got inside the cottage. The next day we needed to move to Darjeeling. We had a Bengali supper and sound sleep that night.
Day 5: Sirikhola – Darjeeling
After breakfast, we started walking to Rimbik. The day was full of mist and drizzles, which made the landscape mysterious.
Sirikhola outskirts got comparatively more population. The reason may be: these places are close to important facilities (school, hospital, market, communication etc).
The villages, through which we passed, were full of natural beauties. They had streams, bushes with colourful flowers and silence sneaking in everywhere.
When Rimbik was almost reached, we found that works were going on to make motor-able roads. We expected cars to reach Sirikhola very soon and moved on to book a car to Darjeeling.
It took around 4.5 hours from Rimbik to reach Darjeeling. At Darjeeling, we had a contact through which we booked a hotel. The night was spent marketing at Mall and having cookies and other food-stuffs at Glenary’s.
Day 6: Darjeeling – NJP
At Darjeeling, we once again went to view Mt. Kanchenjunga probably for the last time. We spent the whole morning near the Health Club, Mall – having breakfast and shopping a little.
We needed to start right after lunch. Hence, we came back to the hotel and packed. After lunch, we started to move to NJP. We reached NJP after a long ride.
We had our train booked and all seats were confirmed. We could see the Kanchenjunga once again from the NJP over-bridge. It was the first time I came to Darjeeling and Kanchenjunga was visible all the days. I had a nice first trip with Kanchenjunga.
The train started. It was moving late, seemed later as we were eager to reach Kolkata and share our feelings with all.