Where else can you see four of the five highest peaks of the world, including Mt Everest, Makalu, Kanchenjunga, and Lhotse, in one single stretch of snow?
The Sandakphu-Phalut trek is a must-do for people looking to explore Darjeeling or Sikkim hills with a breathtaking panorama of Himalayan peaks. Sandakphu is the highest point of West Bengal at 3,636 m (11,926 ft) in the district of Darjeeling; Phalut is another tabletop on the same ridge.
The trek follows the famous Singalila Ridge, a prominent spur of high ground that lies at the southern end of a long crest, which runs down from the Kanchenjunga massif and forms the border between Sikkim and Nepal.
Sandakphu-Phalut is perhaps one of the most scenically rewarding tea house-style treks in the Himalayas. There are spectacular panoramic views of the Himalayas, including the Kanchenjunga range, Makalu, Everest, Lhotse, Janu, Chamlang, Baruntse and a host of other Himalayan peaks -- all seen in one stretch. The Kanchenjunga cluster is famously called the ‘Sleeping Buddha’, thanks to its appearance (Mt Kumbhakarna forms the head and face of Buddha, while Kanchenjunga forms the upper body. The other peaks that make up the ‘Sleeping Buddha’ are Kokthang, Rathong, Frey, Kabru South, Kabru North, Simvo, Mt Pandim, Tenzingkhang, Joponu, and Narsing).
The continuous view of the the ‘Sleeping Buddha' during the trek is a delight to the eyes and offers an out-of-body viewing experience.
We took a six-day, five-night trek with two guides (a guide is compulsory for the trek) and two porters organised by Relimai starting from Darjeeling on December 24, 2019.
Day 1: December 24, 2019: Drive down from Darjeeling to Dhotrey Village via Manebhanjyang (the gateway to Singalila Range) in 3 hours followed by a 6-km scenic uphill trek from Dhotrey Village to Tumling via Tonglu which takes around 3 hours. Night stay at Tumling, West Bengal; dinner with tongba (local wine made from fermented millet) and a warm log wood chimney fire.
Day 2: December 25, 2019: Sunrise at Tumling, followed by a full-day 14-km trek from Tumling to Kal Pokhari, India-Nepal border via Gairibaas and Kaiya Kata. Night stay at Kalpokhari, Nepal; dinner with local alcohol 'Arak’.
Day 3: December 26, 2019: Sunrise at Kalpokhari, Nepal followed by steep 7-km uphill trek to Sandakphu followed by the sunset view and night stay at Sandakphu with dinner comprising of smoked yak meat and delicious guava wine.
Sandakphu is the highest peak in the district of Illam, Nepal. It is the highest point of the Singalila Ridge in Darjeeling district on the West Bengal-Nepal border. The peak is located at the edge of the Singalila National Park and has a small village on the summit with a few hotels. Sandakphu is the place from where you get a 180-degree panoramic view of some of the highest and most beautiful peaks of the world. Four of the five highest peaks in the world, Everest, Kangchenjunga, Lhotse and Makalu, can be seen from its summit. It also affords a pristine view of the entire Kanchenjunga range. The strange name Sandakphu is derived from the poisonous aconite plants that grow near the peak.
Day 4: December 27, 2019: Sunrise at Sandakphu, followed by a difficult full day 21-km trek – first downhill and then a steep uphill trek to Phalut via Sabargram. Night stay at Phalut with dinner and delicious local ‘guras’ (rhododendron flower) wine.
Day 5: December 28, 2019: Sunrise at Phalut, followed by a full downhill 15-km trek to Gorkhey Village. Night stay at Gorkey Village with a campfire party.
Phalut is the second highest peak of West Bengal, India. Part of the Singalila Ridge in the Himalayas, it is located at the border of the Indian states of West Bengal and Sikkim and of Nepal. It is located inside the Singalila National Park. A small bunkhouse is near the top of the peak and is administered by the Indian Army. Singalila Pass is 17 km from Phalut.
The indigenous tribes surrounding the mountain peak are known as Falutians by outsiders. Falutians have a 300-year history of worshipping the mountain peak, and believe that Phalut is an omniscient god. They refer to the mountain peak as "Omna Re Ay".
Day 6 (last day of the trek): December 29, 2019: A 13-km trek from Gorkhey Village to Srikhola (the ending point of the trek) via the beautiful villages of Samaden and Ramam followed a cab ride to Darjeeling via Dhotrey Village, Manebhanjyang and finally to Darjeeling (the starting point of our trip).
Gorkhey is a small beautiful village in the District of Darjeeling. It is situated in a valley between Darjeeling and Sikkim. Gorkhey is one of the least visited places in Darjeeling hills. The valley is surrounded by thick pine forest and a small river flowing in between, known as Gorkhey Khola, which separates the boundary between Sikkim and West Bengal.
The 6-day, 5-night trek with two guides (a guide is compulsory for this trek) and two porters was organised by Relimai starting in Darjeeling.
So why should you do this trek in winter and not any other season?
1. Where else can you see four of the five highest peaks of the world, including Mt Everest, Makalu, Kanchenjunga, and Lhotse, along with Three Sisters and many other peaks of Nepal, Sikkim, Tibet and Bhutan in one single stretch of snow? Yes, this is what you get to see in peace when you stand on the grounds of Sandakphu and Phalut away from the maddening crowds of spring and autumn.
2. To challenge your mind, body and soul at altitudes of 3,000+ metres above sea level in winter.
3. After all, the real adventure is you; it always has been, right?
(The author is a football fanatic, travel addict and a smartphone photographer. His Instagram handle is: travel_addict_rc8)