This Diwali we had a week-long holiday, which is rare for our school. We decided to go for a trek. We had previously completed a trek as of 2019 in Dayara Bugyal at an elevation of 12,000 feet. The choice of Sandakhphu was our first as that gave us an option to visit Siliguri, Santanu’s parental home.
Sandakhphu (3636m) is the highest peak of West Bengal at the border of India and Nepal. Initially, We were looking forward to going with India-Hikes as we did Dayara Bugyal with them previously and had a jolly time. But when called, we found out that all seats were booked. We looked for other trekking companies but the dates did not match our holiday schedule. Then after searching, some sites decided to go with one local company. One of Santanu’s friends who did trek Sandakhphu last March recommended a local travel agency they used - “Sandakphu and Beyond”.
This is a trek of 6 long days and 5 cold nights; asked a few friends personally but finally, it was only me and my son as many declined due to festive time and with many COVID restrictions coming down, people wanted to travel to heritage and cultural places; and Santanu had to work during the entire Diwali week.
Day-1 was travel from my in-law’s place (near Bagdogra) to “Maney-Bhanjyang” which means “land of stupas”; in a 2019 Discovery Channel documentary film here named this place as a land of Land-Rovers. As the British left, the British made Land-Rover of 4X4 wheel drive capability where only abandoned at Maney-Bhanejang at the time of Indian independence.
We started around 9.30 AM via Darjeeling More, Sukna, and Mirik ….we stopped for a quick tea garden photoshoot. Roads were good till this point and after a while, they started to deteriorate due to the previous heavy rain and we traveled along the Nepal border. Finally reached our destination for the day Maneybhanjang at 12.30 PM.
This day is meant for basic acclimatization to great altitude from the plains. The weather was comparatively devilishly when compared to my in-law’s place cold and with time we were getting frosty. We had a buffet lunch of lentils, vegetables, boiled rice, boiled egg, and potato fries; roamed around the hotel of Maney-Bhanejang, here we saw a landslide that had severed one of the town’s roads, a closed Shiva temple that was funnily on the Nepal side and built on Buddhist Pagoda architecture style….went to our room for our afternoon siesta. Evening we had hot chicken momos after insisting on my son for snacks along with the hot soup. Here sunsets are a bit early. By 4.30 PM it starts getting dark and hardly a few people can be seen although shops remain open till 8.30 PM. We knew to sleep early and get ready for our first long trek in 2 years, by 8.30 AM the next morning.
Day - 2 ManeyBhanjyang to Tumling
After a good sleep and breakfast, we started our trek with our guide Ganjen (akaGagan) who would be there with us for the entirety of the trip until we reached day 6.
We started by 8.30 AM, we were told today’s 11KMs of the trek where the first 2 KMs would be a steep ascend. It was a blessing in disguise as our legs were fresh for the climb.
Here my son started his complaints about not being able to breathe properly and he had to take many breaks. He said how they should have a porter but before he knew the 2KMs were done and dusted.
In 3KMs we came across the Chitrey monastery of 1910 popular for cave meditation where we got our first break for drinking water and eating our Chikki bars that our guide bought while my son pets a Japanese bobtail cat.
The second tea break we had at Lameydhura. At the third break, we had lunch, consisting of lentils, vegetable fries, and locally made butter at Meghma at the Indo Nepal border. There we saw a monastery too which was closed at that time.
At the border, our security people warned us not to go to Nepal due to (claimed) political unrest. But our guide said not to worry, it’s our daily work and nothing happens. I was even told that most of our stay was in Nepal except the last day when it will be on the Indian side. We then marched through the afternoon fog in silence. After an hour we arrived at Tumling.
We checked into a “Siddhartha lodge”, a local Nepali hotel. You must recall that we are now in Nepal as India’s law prevents the construction of private commercial property in the national park we were hiking, but Nepal doesn’t.
We were so tired that we were ready for our dinner and crash to bed but since we arrived at Tumling at 3:50 PM we had to wait for snacks and tea and then dinner. Since we did not pack any games with us to reduce weight or neither did I have any downloaded games on the phone that we could play, time stood almost motionless, after trekking for 11KM.
One often gets a largely empty stomach and our hunger seems to grow even after consuming tea and 3 pieces of fried fritters. They lit a fire to warm the guests up and we cuddled near the fire, the place drawing heat from its flames. By the time dinner was served we hogged on and quickly packed up everything and then promptly crashed into the bed.
DAY:3 Tumling to Kalapokhari
After spending a restless night due to Aarush having a cold. My drained body lugged onto walking a 13 KM in which again had 2km of a steep climb. After consuming breakfast we began our march on. It is of note that today I woke up at 5 AM to catch a glance of the sleeping buddha or the Kanchenjunga range. I must say the view was great but read on until we reached Sandakphu but suffice to say that it was worth it.
Our slow march down, yes we lost altitude during this part. But Aarush even after spending a horrible night of the sniffles was back on his feet and walked on as I lagged soon after 7 KM from Tumbling we came up to a place called Gariabas, from here it would be a steep ascent our guide Gaijin told us to take a break and recharge.
I ordered Momos for both of us so we could enjoy the local cuisine and chew some Perk chocolate and sip on some good amounts of water. Luckily we were walking at the same time with a batch of Bengali boys, which gave group motivation to Aarush and he even said that this was not as hard as yesterday as the body had been warmed by now after trekking for a kilometer. We arrived at the lunch point before them.
After having lunch at someone’s lively house we marched on our journey in the hope of not only seeing the highest point of India but the highest point of Nepal and Bhutan at Sandakphu but we had to stop for the Night at Kaalpokhari, which is famous for its lake that goes by the same name.
This lake is in the shape of a human footprint. It is claimed that this footprint is of Shiva while he married his new bride Parvati, to his abode at Kalinga. We were to stay at a hotel called Pandim lodge which is named after Mt. Pandim, a peak of the Kanchenjunga range.
Here Aarush tried some of the Yak cheese produced locally. Soon we had a dinner of flat-bread and chicken and ordered some hot water bags for sound sleep. People use them for heating themselves during the night and I ordered two of them after yesterday’s night in an attempt to find sleep. One trick you must remember is that when you receive such a bag try to stuff it in your jacket to prevent heat loss until you reach your room and stuff it into your blanket. Our guide told us to move the bag around the body to heat the entire body. We followed his steps and soon fell asleep.
DAY:4 Kalipokhri to Sandakphu
After a night of peaceful sleep, we woke up to the golden early-morning sun. The hot water bags were a miracle for us as they ensured a warm, comfy bed unlike the previous night’s cold slab. We decided to take a few photos of this scenic town after our breakfast. and met with a big group. After chit-chatting for a few minutes, I realized they were using a conglomerate called White Magic. I also realized they were from different parts of India coming together for this trek.
Secretly in my mind, I tried to find and search for my guide who appeared to be nowhere around, if Aarush could walk with them for the motivation as I knew today we had a 4 KM ascent upward, but in the end, we could only start 30 minutes later.
Aarush, motivated and headstrong today by surprise, marched on the flat terrain but that lasted only for 2 km before the upward rise began. The ascent was steep and we had to walk in baby steps to preserve our legs but as we gained altitude we again saw the sleeping buddha and in the distance, we saw Gangkhar Puensum, Bhutan’s highest peak. We still walked carrying our backpacks on our shoulders. But our pace was enough to catch up with that big group. We then drank some good H2O and chatted away our leg pain, but the hike was not yet done, so we still had to climb.
For some unknown reason, Aarush developed a sudden stomach ache, yet I forced him on to complete this trek. We were so close and I didn’t want to let a mere tummy-ache let me fail my mission. I told him to steel up and walk on and soon the trek was over for the day.
Our lodging was the Sunrise Hotel and restaurant and it offers the most beautiful view of the Kanchenjunga range along with Gangkhar Puensum and the Everest gang. But soon chilled air was in and Aarush had little for lunch as he had that little nagging stomach pain.
Soon lunch was over and we had to now just wait for lunch. Here night falls fast, but our wait for dinner seems to take an infinite amount of time to come. Since I forgot to charge my phone, we couldn’t take many photos but that didn’t matter because most of Kanchenjunga was covered by clouds and we couldn’t see Everest for that matter.
We had to wait for my dead phone to charge and this afternoon everyone would be taking an afternoon siesta. We had seen a big Bengali group and I was worried as Bengali would generally become frozen like ice cream and I quickly placed an order for 2 hot-water bags before they ran out of it.
It was also his first game of solitaire and he successfully won 2 games of solitaire. I had also discussed with my guide whom my son began referring to our man Friday when we were talking together. Finally, the clock struck the time for dinner. We had ordered two egg Thupkas, a local dish which is similar to a noodle soup but the noodles are generally thinner in diameter and more in quantity. Instead of the egg being boiled and sliced, the egg is made sunny side and made into thin strips so one can get more spoons or forks for eating.
Soon our hot water bags came that we promptly stuffed into our parachute jackets. I set an alarm for 5:00 AM to catch a glimpse of the Kanchenjunga range, Gangkhar Puensum, and the Everest gang.
DAY:5 Sandakphu to Siri Gaon
We wake up early, we have a lot of ground to cover. We have our breakfast and rush to our rooms and clean our system so that we take fewer bio-brakes during our way down.
We have to first reach Gurdum, which is 12 KM from Sandakphu. I thought this was a smart idea, but boy was I wrong. Our first 3 km was eventless except for my son falling to the earth on his backside. We soon entered a bamboo forest that was filled with the golden Himalayan bamboo that enchants one as soon as he or she enters it. This was the home of the red panda. but other than a couple of 2 yellow-throated Martins we saw no red panda. We met another group that was coming from the opposite side with their guides holding a bamboo knife from the movie “Rambo ’’ which fascinated my son. My son and the guide were just zooming like that, often waiting for snail body speed to catch up with them. As we approached Gurdum which was our lunch point we had approached the steepest part of our trek down. We did it slowly but at least did without breaking any bones. We then had our lunch and we realized that Ming Ma homestay that WhiteMagic and India Hikes would stay in the same homestay for the night this Diwali. I realized I could have postponed my arrival at my in-law’s house by a day but since I had insisted on the previous night.
That today would be the last day I would be carrying a bag on my shoulders. At first, I did not realize how hard it would be but soon I realized my mistake on how difficult it was becoming. My legs began to weaken with every step. BUT my ever cheery son just walked . There was clear pain on his face but he knew how to keep his emotions muted ,only our guide kept on marching at full steam ahead .As my sons pace slowed down we kept motivating each other into completing this trek for the last part ,which is after one crosses the hanging bridge and Sirikola in which a car a waited for us . We all clambered inside . For we were tired as hell . My legs seem to be dead if not paralysed, we then reached our reached lodging for the night . We then asked our really kind owner of that establishment if could have a bucket of water just to let us dip our feet. As soon as we dipped our feet some life entered my legs slowly but definitely it was still hurting a lot.
My son also followed suit but this trek had not yet broken him yet and he was still agile in some weaker form. We laid down to just get some energy into our energy. Soon it became 7:00 o’clock and we made it into our dining hall where we had an eventless dinner except for a call from my sister. We have to wake really early the next day to get into our shared taxi but so we immediately hit the sack.
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Pics which we will cheerish for a long time.