Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Himalayas 2018: Sandakphu trek

Wandering one gathers honey.
It’s that time of the year again when I travel all the way to Himalayas to have yet another trekking experience. I, along with my friends, decided to participate in trekking expedition to Sandakphu in West Bengal state organized by YHAI, a place where the Mount Everest, Kanchenjunga, Lohtse and many other mountains are visible. The idea was to explore a new side of India where we haven’t been before. On previous occasions we trekked to Khaliya Top in Uttarakhand and Brighu Lake in Himachal Pradesh. And I had done Sarpass trek a few years back which was again in Himachal Pradesh.
And by the way, on this occasion my wife, Varsha accompanied me for a trek for the very first time :)

Here is how we reached Darjeeling, our base camp:
- Flight to Kolkata, where we spent a day visiting places like Victoria Memorial and Howrah Bridge
- Overnight train journey from Kolkata to New Jalpaiguri (Darjeeling Mail)
- Taxi ride from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling; Shared taxis readily available at the station

Day1: Reporting at base camp, Darjeeling
It was a comfortable hotel/hostel accommodation at Darjeeling. Once we were done with reporting formalities and freshening up, we headed out to explore the city. The railway station junction provided us a beautiful view of Kanchenjunga range in the background. The toy train with the vintage steam engine was a great sight too with its unique engine sound, drivers honking loud and the exhaust steam.




Day2: Acclimatization
Ours was the second group who would be heading towards Sandakphu the next morning. And we were around 25 people from all parts of India. A morning exercise activity at a nearby ground followed by a moderate walk to a Japanese temple was in the agenda. The group sweated it out on that chilly morning during exercise activity and then started our walk post breakfast. The Japanese temple called Peace Pagoda was built under the guidance of Nichidatsu Fujii, a Buddhist monk from Japan. It’s a serene place where we all spent some time chanting “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” and, of course, clicking photos. Once back to the hostel, we were asked to deposit any extra luggage so that we can carry lighter backpack during the course of the trek. And we spent again roaming around the city for the rest of the day.




Day3: Trek to Tumbling (9,500 ft.)
Big day and we were up early to start our journey towards Dhotrey, about an hour’s journey in taxi, the starting point of our trek. Here we met our 2 guides, Gopal & Biren and we were all set for the trek after a small pep talk by the representative. We walked for ~8 km in that Singalila National Park.



It was cold, it was foggy and it was good. We had a lavish lunch at Tonglu and the lunch point was a nice little cozy place next to a small pond.



We walked further along the concrete road to reach our next camp, Tumbling. A beautiful location where we spent good amount of time taking photos. This was again a nice cozy home-stay (Siddhartha lodge) where we boys were given the top floor dormitory which was a suitable place to play some games post dinner. We enjoyed playing Mafia, a clever game of identifying assigned mafias in the group. The night was colder and we knew we were in the single digit temperatures.



Day4: Trek to Kalipokhri (10,256 ft.)
The next morning, we packed our lunch boxes and began our trek. The 13 km walk was again along the free road with very less visibility due to thick fog. We were entering Nepal soil during the course and that gave us a sense of achievement as it proved to be our first international trek ;-) The camp was again a small hotel accommodation. The temperature dipped further at night time. However, the fun only increased as we played card games and we all sang as a group. And to add glamour to the occasion, a few local singers and guitarists joined the fun night.



Day5: Trek to Sandakphu (~12,000 ft.)
This was just 6 km walk but certainly the most strenuous off all the days. The last 4 km was a steep ascent and every step was a great effort. When we reached the camp, again a home-stay/hotel accommodation, we were exhausted. The hotel staff didn’t make it any easier as they got busy attending a local politician instead of us, the scheduled guests. Anyways, the soup and lunch revived us. Next was the interesting part where I got a crazy idea of making everyone dance to the Garba/Dandiya beats. Good that our group leader had carried a Bluetooth speaker which came in very handy. We were cramped dancing inside the hotel and it got crazier further as we all decided to dance outside in the open space. Let me tell you it was freezing and with thick fog. But who cares, we had our dancing shoes on, not literally though. We had some wonderful dancers as well; pun intended :-p



Day6: Trek to Gurdum (9500 ft.)
The next morning was full of dramatic events. We were praying for a clear sky to witness sunrise with the Everest range and Kanchenjunga range in sight at 5:30 am, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. We all returned to the camp disappointed and started getting ready and with breakfast. While doing so, the skies cleared suddenly and there was sunshine and that’s when I came quickly back to the same spot to check if any mountains are visible. And guess what, the Kanchenjunga i.e. the 3rd highest mountain in the world was clearly visible over the layer of clouds. That! That sight was worth all the efforts. However, the Everest wasn’t keen to show up and grace us.
The 14 km descent was enjoyable as it was through the forest and steams and the weather was very pleasant. The camp was a beautiful hotel stay having a very few houses around and no drive-able road to it. People have to walk for a good distance to reach here. The owner had maintained a beautiful garden with some colorful flowers and strawberry tree stretch. The day ended with tasty dinner and many rounds of card games.



Day7: Trek to Rimbik (7500 ft.)
We walked in the dense forest again for few kms before reaching the lunch point, Sirikhola. The hotel was located next to a river and we didn’t require any special invitation to dip our legs in that cold running waters. In no time we all were at the river with all our cameras on.



Post lunch we headed towards our next camp and reached there by 5:30 pm. It was situated in a market area of the small town. In quick time, we took our rooms, got ready and were on streets for general shopping. 
A small ceremony was held before dinner to commemorate the completion of our trek. Completion certificates were handed over followed by some activities.

Day8: Ride back to Darjeeling
Early morning the taxis were ready to take us back to Darjeeling. On our way back, we were fortunate enough to get the view of the famous Sleeping Buddha, the Kanchenjunga range. This view was more majestic than the previous morning’s as this was the full stretch of mountains. What a wonderful sight it was!



After reaching base camp, we packed all our luggage and hired taxies to take us to New Jalpaiguri to board our return train to Kolkata. The wonderful trip ended at Kolkata where we all took our respective flights back. Our group parted ways with whole set of new ideas and plans for our next year’s trek :)

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