Buddha is lying in eternal sleep atop the highest point in India on the Kanchenjunga Range. No, it is not a statue like the one in Kushinagar but the snowline that appears like Buddha in deep slumber overlooking and protecting mankind. This is one trek that you have to do no matter how many pretty places within the Himalayas you have been to. Sandakphu Trek is the only trek from where you can view 4 of the 5 Tallest mountains in the world.
- Kanchenjunga – Tallest in India and 3rd highest in the World @ 8586 metres
- Mount Everest – Tallest in Nepal and Tallest in the World @ 8848 metres
- Lhotse – Part of Mt Everest Range 4th Highest in the World @ 8516 metres.
- Makalu – Part of Mt Everest Range 5th Highest in the World @ 8485 metres.
Day 1: New Jalpaiguri (NJP) to Jaubari (2000 mtrs)
We drove down from NJP railway station to Jaubari near Maneybhanjan a small hill town near the Nepal Border. The 4.5 hour drive through tea gardens and winding hill roads was soothing and we stopped for some momos and Nepali style chicken curry on the way near Mirikh.
Day 2 – Jaubari to Tumling via Chitrey-Lamadhura & Meghma; 6 hours trek for 12 kms gaining 700 meters.
We started walking at 8.30am in the morning for the 12 km trudge to Tumling. After a steep ascent initially through dense forests we emerged into mist and the visibility was very low.
After 2 hours we reached the small village of Chitre and a brief tea break later to warm up, we passed by Lamadhura a small Tibetan Village bordering Nepal. We walked along the border with Nepal on our left and India on our right.
The flags fluttered in the wind and a chorten with Om Mani Padme Hum written all over in Tibetan script reminded us that we were in Buddha’s land. With mist and clouds for company, we reached Meghma at lunch. The simple fare of rice, dal and squash curry cooked with mild spices tasted heavenly.
That evening, we warmed up under heavy blankets in a modest lodge which promised the best views of Kanchenjunga.
Day 3- Tumling to Kalipokhri via Garibas and Kaikatta – 6 -7 hours through 14 kms with a gain of 400 meters.
The lodge did live up to its reputation; the first rays of sun streamed in through the windows and the magnificent Kanchenjunga set against a crimson sky was veiled in slow moving clouds.
I sat on a bench, braving the chilly wind; unable to keep my eyes off nature’s spectacle. We walked through Singalila National Park, often criss crossing cobbled roads and meadows trailed with rhododendrons; magnolias and pretty pink flowers.
We stopped for a plate of momos and noodles at Garibas and then climbed uphill to Kaikatta for lunch. Our pace slowed down post lunch and a gentle trail took us to Kalipokhri Village named after the little black pond at the edge of the village which is surrounded by the Buddhist Flags of 5 colours (5 Elements of Nature). It was cold and windy and the guest house hostess offered us hot soup and crunchy onion pakodas that warmed us up.
Day 4- Kalipokhri to Sandakphu (3600m); 6 kms in 4 hours gaining 500 mts
It was cold but sunny in the morning; I had a tryst with destiny which reminded me that life is all about connections and interconnections!! Read
While we walked along, a giant eagle was gaily flying in the valley having seen a sunny day after a while and the horses were merrily grazing away.
The path was cobbled and intermittently steep; and I turned into a mindful stretch; often stopping to converse with myself. Little children ran to school through zig zag roads; an old lady doubled over carrying some firewood. What is a mode of getting away from our busy city life is actually a hard life for so many in the hills.
I quietly counted my blessings; and enjoyed the romance of the clouds in the sky and smiled at their collective attempt to drive away the villainous dark ones. I stood near the border stone marker trying to spot the difference between Indian and Nepal soil in vain. Somewhere during the trail the house in the clouds in Sandakphu appeared.
It was cold and windy outdoors. We engaged in inane banter while somewhere deep within each one of us was praying for that ultimate view of the Sleeping Buddha the following morning.
Day 5- Sandakphu to Molley via Sabargram/Sabarkum 16 kms in 6 hours; through a undulating trail
At 5am in the morning; we were braving the chilly wind perched in precarious angles on a high rock and boulders. My hands were freezing and nose numbed from the wind and I chanted under my breath praying for warmth. Soon the sky turned crimson and the sun gallantly made an appearance in his horse driven chariot.
In the far horizon, the Sleeping Buddha emerged from the cloud cover and something filled me within. We have been walking for all these days just for this view!! My septuagenarian father would have completely lived his Bengali existence with this sight. In case you are wondering why? Bengalis have this affinity to Kanchenjunga since it is the closest mountain that they can visit from the plains of Bengal
Filled with the majestic views; we changed our plans to trek downward from Sabergram instead of trudging another 7 kms to Phalut. We walked through beautiful meadows while the mountains gave us continuous company. It was pleasantly sunny and we rolled on the meadows; for a change the cattle shit strewn all over ceased to matter.
Day 6- Molley to Sirikhola – 12 kms in 6 hours downhill; stretches of steep descent.
We walked back to Sabargram View Point ( 2 kms away) at 6am in the morning. It was bright and sunny and the snowline of Sleeping Buddha was absolutely overwhelming. The entire Kanchenjunga range glistened under the sun and these are the moments which no photo can do justice to. My heart yearned for more; all I wanted was to fill my senses; that would last until my next trip into the hills.
The mountains appeared within touching distance and everyone was spell bound by what they saw; the layers and layers of blue and green lit up against the sun rays
The entire Mt Everest Range including Mt Everest, Lhotse and Makalu could be seen to the left along with the 3 sisters and other peaks. I thanked my destiny profusely; mountains have a strange way of revealing themselves to the chosen ones and we were simply lucky !!
The 12 km downhill to Sirikhola was a challenge for the knees in certain stretches as we hopped over builders and stairs. Just when my knees and toes were making their presence felt; chirping birds diverted my attention.
We walked past pretty houses decked with flower trees and I almost crashed into a pea garden unable to contain my excitement.
The rickety bridge across the river in Sirikhola led downwards to the river where we spent some time dipping our feet in and out of the icy cold water. The gurgling stream in Sirikhola lulled me to sleep that night.
I could feel the excitement build up for the following day; I was going to Darjeeling after nearly 3 decades and I had this whole list of things to see, to eat to do …..
- Best Time for these 2 Trails : March to May & September to November
- Duration: Sandakphu is 5-6 days
- Level of Difficulty: Sandakphu is Easy (Tea house Trek) and has road access; Highest Point @ 12,900ft
- Journey: Starts near Maneybhanjan in West Bengal; 5 hours from NJP Station/Bagdogra and ends in Sirikhola 7 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 are between 0-6 degrees at night and around 10-14 degrees during the day on most days in March.
- Trekking: You can go on your own with a guide from Maneybhanjan or Tumling. Our guide Buddha was an amazing gentleman – 7407277837. This is a tea house trek who provide bed and food. Our trek was arranged by Wildboots.