Sikkim is truly a Himalayan dream, blessed with natural beauty and resources in abundance. The crown jewels of the state are the revered mountain peaks and Mt Khangchendzonga is considered the guardian deity of the Sikkimese people.
Standing tall at 8,586 metres, Khangchendzonga literally translates to ‘khang’ - snow; ‘chen’ - great; ‘dze’ -treasures and ‘nga’ – five or treasures of five great snows.
These five treasures are its five peaks: Khangchendzonga Main at 8,586m, Khangchendzonga West or Yalung Khang at 8,505m, Khangchendzong South at 8,476m, Khangchendzonga Central at 8,496m, and Kangbachen at 7,903m.
While three of these peaks -- Khangchendzonga Main, Khangchendzonga Central and Khangchendzonga South -- are located in Sikkim, Khangchendzonga West (or Yalung Khang) and Kangbachen are located in the Taplejung District of Nepal.
One of the best places to view Khangchendzonga, however, is from West Sikkim. Phoktey Dara, which borders Sikkim and Nepal, provides an amazing view of the Himalayan peak with the mountains forming a very defined figure of a person lying down, thus earning it the name ‘sleeping Buddha’. From here, one gets the up-close and almost ‘three dimensional’ view of many of its peaks and glaciers.
The trek to Phoktey Dara starts from Uttarey, a small town in West Sikkim, which is a short drive (1.5 hours) from the popular tourist town of Pelling. The trail takes you through the Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary and is rated an easy-to-medium uphill trek.
We pass through the Border Out Post at Chittrey, guarded by the SSB and the Chewabhanjyang Post, manned by the Sikkim Armed Police. After walking another 2 km, we reach Kalijhar, the base camp for Phoktey Dara.
Phoktey Dara is situated at an altitude of 12,000 ft. Most trekkers camp at Kalijhar and climb up 2,000 ft. at the crack of dawn to witness an epic sunrise and a 360 degree view of the mountains lighting up with the rising sun.
We were very lucky to be able to camp at Phoktey Dara, which is normally avoided as it can get very windy and at times miserable for its location right on the path of a wind tunnel. It is also considered logistical nightmare as water needs to be carried from quite a distance downhill.
Similar to the view from Sandakhphu, in Darjeeling, Phoktey Dara is a paradise for mountain lovers, as four of the five highest mountain peaks in the world can be viewed from here.
Mount Everest (8,848m), the world's highest peak, along with Lhotse peak (8,516m), the fourth highest and Makalu (8,485m), the fifth highest point on the surface of Earth, lies further west of Khangchendzonga (8,586m), the third highest peak in the world.
Another treat for the eyes is watching the night skies here. And on a moonless night, star gazers don't mind braving the chilly wind as this is also the perfect sweet spot for astro photographers looking out for dark skies away from light pollution, since this region borders one of the remotest parts of eastern Nepal.
A road bridge is now being constructed up to Chewabhanjyang and nearing completion, so for the lazy ones, Phoktey Dara will soon be very accessible as an easy walk of less than 2-3 hours will get you to this heavenly spot. And for the adventurous ones, just pack your bags and head out soon before the camping ground gets over crowded.
(The author is a landscape photographer and an adventure lover having trekked all over the Himalayas.)