Day 1 - January 23, 2016 – From 114 meters
It all started with a wish to trek through the snowfall in our very own Bengal…
To start off, I could barely sleep last night, struggling to find space for myself to stretch my body alongside my fellow traveller- my husband on the same berth. Reason for the ordeal – last minute booking and lady luck could manage only one confirmed train ticket for the night. Lesson learnt – if it’s train travel, plan well ahead of the schedule to get your confirmed tickets before boarding. So we woke up in the morning with bearable neck pain and impending joy in our hearts to begin our trek. We disembarked at New Jalpaiguri Railway Station (NJP) and hired a shared/ service vehicle to Darjeeling.
Every time you are in Darjeeling you should definitely try Keventers which serves some of the most amazing palates of English breakfast. Some say, without breakfast at Keventers, your Darjeeling tour is incomplete !! It is one of the oldest cafes in Darjeeling from the era of British rule and still serves authentic English breakfast. The best seats to occupy are the ones on the roof-top. On a lucky day, from here you can view the mighty and elegant Kangchenjunga blessing you from a distance, straight from your seat.
We enjoyed the fog this time with the chilly winds blowing across the picturesque panorama. Sipping on the famous hot chocolate and gorging on meat sausages, salami, meatloaves and poached eggs, our trip took off with a fulfilling gastronomic orgasm, exciting us to look up to the coming days.
Energized and refurbished with the food extravaganza, we started for Maneybhanjyang which was our destination for the day and starting point of our trek. We were warmly welcomed by the local Sherpa at Jaubari, who guided us to a well-maintained homestay. The hospitality and reception of the people in the hills give you a feeling of acceptability and warmth. They don’t feel the slightest twitch while embracing you as a member of their family. As soon as the sun bid us bye for the day, the cold started to set in. Now, it was time for some bonfire and socializing. I grabbed the warmest seat, nearest to the fire. The raging flames were trying hard to keep the adjoining ambience warm with its incandescent aura. Another group of trekkers, who were also from Kolkata joined us around the fire. They were on the same voyage as us and were occupying the next room. Together we celebrated that cold 'wolf moon' night anticipating the thrill of the forthcoming days.
Day 2 –January 24, 2016 – From 2134 meters
Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy, sunshine in my eyes can make me cry.
Sunshine on the water looks so lovely, sunshine almost always makes me high.
A lovely winter sun welcomed us to the next day motivating us enough to get off the cosy bed. We had been very well taken care of by a lovable family with some amazing local cuisines to feed on and everything was topped with warm hospitality to make a bond. Today we bid them goodbyes and start our trek to Tonglu.
All packed and set, we were waiting for our guide, Mr John to finally make the move. After our quick briefing for the day, we started the walk. The destination for the day was Tonglu. We started immediately with a steep climb through the lush greenery of evergreen coniferous pine, fir, birch forests, bamboo glades and wonderful rock vegetation. Soon we forgot everything and started to focus on the task at hand. The multiple openings which came on the way gave us the very much required breaks to enjoy the views as well!
Soon we reach a Chitre - a big meadow marked by a few prayer flags and a small tea stall. After some break, we headed to Meghma. The walk stood up to its name - 'On the Clouds' as we walked through the mist to reach a place with beautiful Chortens ( Buddhist temples ) and an SSB camp. It's always a moment of pride when we see our National Flag furling high up!
After a quick lunch at Meghma, we took time out and stepped into the small monastery, supposedly in Nepal. Since the main door was closed, there was nothing much to do other than pose for a few pictures. After trekking through the meandering pathways, we reached Tonglu. To our luck, we found heaps of snow in certain places and in the dousing sunlight the scene was a mesmerizing one. We moved to our tea house and settled our stuff to get ready for the next experience – Tongba – a local drink made from millet seeds mixed with hot water. You drink it through a bamboo straw. Well, it tastes like local wine!
Sitting in my room I was looking outside through the glass window. Far away in the facing mountain wall, there was a bright white tent visible, as if lit from inside. It was lighted so bright that it made me wonder what was burning inside to give it that blazing glow. Gradually I realized that the white tent was actually shifting places and actually moving !! To blow me off my belief, it was slowly rising higher. My curious self was glued to the spot to watch the show.. Gradually the white tent which was a semicircle shapes up to form something bigger and eventually takes the shape of a circle. To my utter surprise and amazement, it was the moon - and a full moon!
Oh my God !! I had just witnessed a glorious moonrise over the Himalayas !!
Day 3 – January 25, 2016 – From 3070 meters
A severe chill disrupted our sleep all night and we woke up with a feeling of intense sleep deprivation. But when you are on a trek you ignore such physiological inadequacies and move on with an indomitable spirit of adventure. Though I missed the sunrise, (blame it on my too-early-to-wake-up mood), I was lucky enough to catch the Sleeping Buddha and the mighty Kachendzonga right from our hut.
Today’s route was from Tonglu to Kalipokhri, via Gairibas and Kaiyakatta, through the Singalila National Park. Since we were stationed at Tonglu we had planned to start early and reach Tumling, meet our fellow trekkers and start our journey for the day together.
It was a long, but easy trek today. After the quick briefing about the route, we started our day. Our guide worked out our permits to enter the Singalila National Park and then we started to swirl up through the forest and clear meadows. It was a continuous climb following the border stones through the rhododendron forest. Our eyes were looking out to sight the 'very shy' Red Pandas throughout the journey. Sadly, we couldn’t spot any.
On this trail today, we understand one thing - Mother Earth does not understand Borders
After a traditional Nepali lunch comprising hot rice and oh-so-delicious egg fry and local vegetable curry at Kaiyakatta, we continued on our trail to Kalapokhri, which means the black lake. It was covered with a layer of ice floating on the top, and because of the thick layer of clothes and heavy bags on our back, we were well protected from the cold, to even realize that it was very cold outside.
A gentle climb from the lake took us to our Tea House for the day. Upon reaching we were allotted our rooms and soon, we gathered by the fireplace to get comfort.
Dinner is always served early in the hills as there was nothing much to do after dusk other than sharing stories of various experiences with your fellow travellers and newfound friends.
Day 4 – January 26, 2016 – From 3186 Meters
Today from Pandim lodge in Kalapokhri we got ourselves ready well before breakfast was served as we were excited to reach Sandakphu – the highest peak in Bengal. The terrain was easier but was completed under a carpet of snow. We heard that due to snowfall roads were closed and land rovers were not plying. We chose the shortcut trail to climb the hill faster so that we could have our short stopovers for photography. As it gets darker easily here than on the plains, we had to keep a constant track of the time as per advice from John Bhai.
Soon it started to get picturesque and I couldn’t afford to miss any side of it.
The locals here are so much full of life that on our way up we spotted a group of people descending, singing and merry-making all their way down celebrating India’s Republic Day.
As far as my eyes could see, it was all-encompassing white and the higher we went the whiter it was!
Far away from the hustle and bustle of our regular rat race of a life, where there is no peace, here you find that in abundance. Someone had said that if we wished for a longer life we should make climbing the hills a yearly activity and cleanse our lungs. Not aware of how much truth that saying held, my innocent mind felt like not only my lungs but also my entire physiological system was been purged of all the stress and strain of daily life.
Lost in my thoughts as I was walking, just to realize that we had reached Sandakphu. The wind chill lowered the temperature and it felt like freaking minus 6. Already freezing with the moist heavy clothes on, I could feel the frosty wind biting on my already corrugated cheeks.
To our wonder, we spotted three tents right opposite the trekker's hut and we had an option to spend the night in the tents right atop the fresh snow. There was a forecast of another snowfall in the night and the next day. However, this being my first winter trek, I had no experience of sleeping in such harsh weather conditions ever before. With no proper prediction of how colder it might get over the night, I was discouraged to opt for the tent. Thankfully there were sleeping bags ready for us to sleep for the night!
Here I want to share a small story – my fellow traveller Mr Husband wanted to defecate just before dinner was served and let me tell you the temperature had reached a minus 12. With a limited supply of solar power, the only option was to defecate far away digging out a hole in the snow as they call it in the mountain the cat-way. Had I been in that situation I would have definitely stayed indoors but he chose otherwise. When he returned alive to tell me the story of how he unclothed that part of his body, it made me laugh like crazy!
Day 5 – January 27, 2016 – From 3636 meters
It was freezing cold morning and I just did not want to get off my sleeping bag! I felt like moving around in my sleeping bag itself.
The weather had turned bad, and our guide decided that going to Phalut might get risky as the route is 21 kilometres with nothing on the way, not even a shelter. With a heavy heart, we gave up on our plan to go to Phalut, making it a wise decision. Therefore, today was the last day of our trek and we decided to descend down to Sepi passing by Gurdung and Srikhola.
Having descended for the first time on this trek, I felt descending was much harder as compared to ascending, and it really tests your knees and flexibility. The sight was so mesmerizing, that my nomadic mind was busy hogging everything around, making me forget the hardship of the route.
To my surprise, the same road we trekked the previous day had changed from the way it looked having dressed up in white. All the twigs, the bushes and the trees wore the same uniform!
On our way down I spotted a twig, with smaller branches coming out of its top-end forming a cluster – which was adorned with the fresh snowflakes caught between the branches forming a snow flower. And there were plenty of such flowers in that part of the landscape.
We continued our descend to Srikhola from Gurdum Forest taking stops in between, eating chocolates, catching our breath and resting our knees. Well, while going up is a test of how well you can expand and contract your air sacs, coming down is a test of how strong your knees are. The route down had to be covered before evening as it gets darker faster here and we had to walk a long way down.
After a humongous effort, we reached Srikhola, a small and beautiful village, aside from a river by the same name. We decided to trek further till the road head of Sepi to save another day. The last kilometres were harder with the falling enthusiasm and the hurting knee – when you lack physical fitness, mental stamina comes in handy. Somehow we had to reach Sepi that day, which drove us to the end. By the time we reached our guesthouse in Sepi, it got pitch dark outside and I was so hungry that I could eat one whole chicken. As if through telepathy, the dinner menu had chicken and we relished it to our heart’s content.
From Sepi, we drove to Jaigaon, that’s where Himalayan High is based. We spent a memorable time with our friend, Suman who arranged everything for us all these days. We spent a few days with his lovely family and visited the border town of Phuentsholing in Bhutan - the entry to the Happy Kingdom.
Something I realized by then is that though we city settlers complain about peace and serenity all the time, we do miss the noise and chaos of the city traffic too, perhaps out of habit.
And with the belief in my heart that there is never an end to a trip, I bring a physical end to a memorable journey, with memories to cherish for life.
- Planned Itinerary:
- Day 1: Arrive in Maneybhanjyang
- Day 2: Trek From Maneybhanjyang to Tonglu
- Day 3: Trek From Tonglu to Kalapokhari.
- Day 4: Trek From Kalapokhari to Sandakphu.
- Day 5: Trek From Sandakphu to Phalut.
- Day 6: Trek From Phalut to Gorkhey.
- Day 7: Trek From Gorkhey to Bharyang. Drive to Jorethang/ NJP
- Day 1: Arrive in Maneybhanjyang, via Darjeeling
- Day 2: Trek From Maneybhanjyang to Tonglu
- Day 3: Trek From Tonglu to Kalapokhari.
- Day 4: Trek From Kalapokhari to Sandakphu.
- Day 5: Trek From Sandakphu to Sepi, via Gurdum, Srikhola.
- Day 6: Drive To Jaigaon / Phuentsholing ( Bhutan )
- Day 7: Tour around Phuentsholing and shopping
- Day 8: Return to Kolkata
planned and organised by - Himalayan High - Sandakphu Phalut Trek