You can experience the trek of a lifetime along the trails of the Sandakphu peak through the Singalila Range of West Bengal.
If you are looking for a low-risk trek surrounded by the north-eastern Himalayan massifs on all sides, the Sandakphu-Phalut trekking is the one for you. Sandakphu is the highest peak of West Bengal at 3636 meters from where you can see four of the highest peaks of the world- Mt. Everest (8849 meters), Mt. Makalu (8481 meters), Mt. Lhotse (8516 meters), and Mt. Chomo Lonzo (7804 meters). You can also see the famous Sleeping Buddha range of Kanchenjunga, the third highest peak of the world at 8586 meters.
Keep reading for a detailed article on how to plan your trek and what to expect on the Sandakphu Phalut trail of the Eastern Himalayas.
Let us take a peek into some of the highlights that the Sandakphu Phalut trek has to offer.
The ancient and enchanting trail:
The Sandakphu trekking route is one of the oldest and most famous "teahouse treks" in India. At a soaring height of 3636 meters, the Sandakphu peak stands proudly as the highest peak of West Bengal. The trekking trail constantly weaves around the Nepal-Sikkim border and offers a fantastic view of some of the world's highest peaks.
The trekking trail stretches from Manebhanjan (1928 meters) to Rimbik (2286 meters), covering an impressive 65 km. Manebhanjan can be reached from tourist hotspots like New Jalpaiguri station, Ghoom, Darjeeling, and Bagdogra. However, Bagdogra is considered the primary hub for the Sandakphu Phalut adventure. You may experience sub-zero temperatures on at least three days of this week-long trek. This is classified as a moderate-level trek by seasoned trekkers but can be completed by beginners, too.
Approximate cost of the trek and rewards it offers:
The Sandakphu trek cost is around USD 150 - 170 (approximately INR 10,000 - 12,500). But the cost is pretty reasonable considering the rewards that you will get during this adventure.
Besides the snow-capped mountains, you can spot several species of rare and enchanting mountainous flora and fauna. The rhododendron and magnolias are the main attractions of spring, painting the region with fantastic hues. At the same time, black bears, red pandas, and monals are often seen. Bird-watching is prevalent among tourists here as well as landscape photography.
The small villages and hamlets located along the trail offer a glimpse into the rustic life of the villagers in the mountains. The Srikhola river passing through the green mountainous vegetation is soothing to the eyes at the end of the trek.
Sandakphu is well-suited for beginners and experienced trekkers alike. Experts have classified this trek as a moderate one on the difficulty scale, primarily because of the long time spent trekking each day and the freezing temperature around Phalut.
Physical and mental fitness is of the utmost importance. The highest altitude on this trek is at Sandakphu, around 3636 meters, covering numerous steep ascents and descents. This drastic topographical fluctuation may cause Altitude Motion Sickness (AMS), and hydration is the key to recovery. However, if conditions worsen, it is best to contact the trek leaders or the locals for help. In the case of medical emergencies, it is easy to exit from the trail at any point.
The Sandakphu Phalut trek is not a monsoon trek. So, it is best to avoid the rainy season from May to August. Additionally, the trekking trail remains closed to visitors during these months in the foreboding of potential hazards induced by heavy rainfall.
That leaves the trekkers with eight months for the trek, and Sandakphu reveals its unique beauty in each of these seasons. The colors of Rhododendron and Magnolia when they bloom in the spring, the orange and golden hues of the foliage during autumn, and the blanket of snow on the trekking trail in winter are a treat for the eyes.
Especially during spring and autumn, the weather is optimum to provide you a clear view of the skies and the landscape. Moreover, if you are a bird-watching enthusiast, you should visit Sandakphu during spring (March and April). The maximum number of bird species can be sighted in this season when the Rhododendrons are in full bloom. However, frequent showers begin from mid-April, so it is advised to complete your trip by the first half of the month.
The autumn months (September, October, and November) are the best time of the year to view some of the world's highest peaks in all their glory from the topmost point of Sandakphu. This also remains the most popular season among tourists.
In the winter months from December to February, the Sandakphu hike is ideal for witnessing breathtaking sunrises and sunsets. Coupled with the mild snowfall at this time of the year, you can experience more peace and calm due to the less footfall of tourists.
For a trek, it is always advisable to pack light and carry minimum luggage. But at the same time, it is wise to pack for all possible consequences. Since this is a moderate trek, carrying only your essentials will be enough.
Apparel, footwear, and other accessories
Wear light and comfortable clothes for the trek during the daytime. Polyester t-shirts, shorts, and track pants are the most appropriate clothing for this. Keep a windcheater or a light jacket in hand for whenever the temperature drops. You can carry one or two thick jackets to bundle up for the freezing nights. A beanie and a pair of woolen gloves coupled with thick socks will help you deal with the cold after the sunset. Carry extra pairs of underwear. Thermal innerwear may help you to cope with the cold in winter.
High-grade, waterproof and sturdy hiking boots are required for this trek. Entirely new shoes may cause problems for you since you have to walk great distances each day along the Sandakphu trek route, so make sure you have broken into them at least 2-3 weeks before embarking on the journey.
If you travel in April, you must carry a waterproof raincoat with a hood or a water-resistant poncho to stay safe from the rain.
Since you will be trekking for a week at least, it is best to carry a rucksack of around 45-65 liters capacity, depending on your needs. Keep a fanny pack or smaller purse to store small items you need to keep at hand – this may contain your wallet, money, cards, electronics, a few plastic bags (for altitude sickness), an inhaler (if you use one), etc.
If you are traveling in April, use waterproof jackets to protect your backpack and carry waterproof bags to put your electronics, wallet, and other essential items.
If you are camping during your trail, you or your porters need to carry camping equipment. One of the most critical things to carry in this regard is good quality sleeping bags.
A first-aid kit along with your regular medicines is a must-have. Keep antiseptic liquid, ointment, and a few bandages for minor injuries and blisters. A pain-relieving spray will come in handy in the case of sprains and muscle aches. You will need gauze swabs, crepe bandages, painkillers, and medical adhesive tapes to treat bigger wounds.
It is advisable to carry generic medicines for common flu, allergic reactions, fever, stomachaches, and diarrhea. These include paracetamols, antihistamines, anti-nausea, and antacid medicines. Remember to take water-purifying tablets also.
Toiletries and menstrual hygiene products
To maintain hygiene:
Other important items
Keep extra batteries in hand for your camera, a power bank for charging your other electronics, and plug adapters. A torch, water bottles, and sturdy trekking poles will also be helpful. Remember to carry your trekking permits, photo ID with address proof and its photocopies, car and hotel bookings, and a map and keep them safe.
The trekking trail of Sandakphu Phalut covers a distance of 65 km, and the transit takes around a week. The New Jalpaiguri (NJP) station is the nearest railway station, and airport facilities are available at Bagdogra. The trek usually starts from Manebhanjan, which is the traditional starting point. Jaubhari, a village 2 km away from Manebhanjan, is also a popular starting point.
From Manebhanjan, you will have to trek up to Tonglu (3070 meters) on the first day itself. The trek takes around 6-7 hours, so it is ideal to start early in the morning, right after breakfast. You will cover a distance of 11 km, stopping at Chitre (2542 meters), Lamey Dhura (2698 meters), and Meghma (2600 meters) on the way. Stay overnight at Tonglu at the GTA lodge.
This trail is relatively on a plain terrain since both the points are around the same height except the steep ascent to Phalut for the last 1 km. This will take you around 8 hours or even longer if you are taking extended breaks in between. But the breathtaking view of the mountains accompanying you on both sides of the trail is simply worth it. Ensure carrying food and water with you from Sandakphu since the availability of such resources is next to none on the trail.
You will be passing through Sabargram (3543 meters) and Molley (3378 meters), which offer overnight accommodations if you cannot cover the entire route in one day. If you think you need to stay at one of these points, make sure to reserve beforehand. Otherwise, you can proceed to Phalut without a break here.
Around 15 km away lies the village of Gorkhey (2347 meters), where the locals offer you accommodation in their huts. You can also access the GTA and private lodges. There is no need for reservations here. However, more places to stay overnight lie ahead if you can keep trekking for the day.
Samanden (around 2300 meters) is another small village located on a beautiful plateau 1 km from Gorkhey. It is also called The Lost Valley and is regarded as the most picturesque spot by many tourists. The local villagers run homestays here.
Rammam (2560 meters) is the third place to stay on your trek down the trail. It is even further away, an extra 9 km from Gorkhey. It covers a total distance of 24 km from Phalut and will take you around 8 hours from Phalut. Rammam is a more popular hub for tourists.
Since Sandakphu is a moderate trek that can be completed without facing too many challenges except walking for long on certain days, it will be sufficient to train your body with regular exercises, walks, and jogging. Squatting and skipping will help you strengthen your core muscles, while cycling and swimming will help you increase your stamina.
Mental fortitude is of utmost importance. If you are determined to overcome any challenges or dangerous situations you may face, nothing can stop you from achieving the sense of fulfillment that comes with undertaking such a beautiful trekking experience.
To summarize, the Sandakphu Phalut trek experience will be a memorable event in your entire lifetime once you witness the breathtaking views of the Sleeping Buddha, Singalila Range, and some of the highest peaks of the world.
Ensure taking your care and following the guide's instructions to make this a fulfilling and comfortable experience. With the proper gear and safety precautions, enjoy the glorious Eastern Himalayas!