After almost a month from completing the trek this write up is coming!! Completing the trek seemed rather easy than penning it down. Reason ?? all the usual thoughts, from where to start, what all experiences to cover, which pictures to choose to best express memories and more importantly procrastination reasoning so called busy schedule but as they say, better be late than never.
From my last two encounters with Himalayas, I knew my next destination will be in Himalayas again! Almost a year without any holidays, Sandakphu-Gurdum trek on India – Nepal border with its fascinating routes and magnificent views was something my soul was craving for!! Usually for any trip/trek all the itinerary and plans are pre-ready in my mind. Except one, when to start the journey as being part of “mango people” in jobs we struggle to get leaves. Finally managing work and leaves I started my trip from Pune-Kolkata-Bagdogra-Siliguri and reached Darjeeling base camp. At the base camp, I met completely new set of people from different age groups who were going to be my co-trekkers. This is what I like about travelling solo, you get a chance to meet new people and at times to make good friends. We spent one and half day in Darjeeling base camp for acclimatization which included early morning exercises, roaming around the place strictly walking and if toy train fascinates you – take out your camera and just take a video or picture of it!!
Our actual trek started from Dhotrey to which we took a jeep ride (~43 kms) from Darjeeling. Dhotrey is a small village in Darjeeling located at 8,340 ft within the buffer zone of Singalila National Park. We met our guides Avinash- a short Nepali speaking guy with expressive eyes and Arjun relatively tall guy familiar with Hindi. Since it was Day 1 everyone’s josh was high for trek of 8 kms passing through Singalila National Park from Dhotrey to Tumling via Tonglu. Tonglu is 6 kms from Dhotrey, located at an altitude of 10,130 ft. On a clear day, one gets magnificent views of Kanchenjunga snow peaks from there. And if the sky is clear blue, one can even see Mt. Everest. However when we started it was raining and weather was not in favor of that view. Initially we all were bit sad for such rainy start of our trek but then forest trail soothed our disappointment with its scenic beauty and blossoms of magnolia and orchids. The route goes parallel to India-Nepal border and is so mesmerizing that barring first few steps I forgot that I’m carrying ~8 kg luggage on my shoulders!! After passing ups and downs of the 6 kms route we had our first official stop at Tonglu for lunch- packed one that we carried with us from the base camp. We reached Tumling around 4 pm. Tumling is a small settlement primarily of Gurung families in Ilam District of Nepal located in Eastern Himalayas at an altitude of ~9742 ft. We were welcomed by a Nepali family – a home-stay for our night halt on foreign land. After the full day high altitude trek it is advised not to take rest or sleep immediately so after unloading my luggage and a cup of hot soup I roamed around and headed to a point where I witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets till date. Sky post sunset looks spellbinding from here. At night I had yumlicious dinner cooked by our host and slept with the picture of witnessing the mountain ranges which enticed me to take this trek.
Next day, Day 2, I woke up at 3.30 am hoping to see sunrise, a clear sky and a view of Kanchenjunga ranges. From 4.15 am the sun rays started occupying the sky and gradually the first view of Kanchenjunga ranges appeared on the sky canvas – looked like sleeping Buddha.
After breakfast we headed for Kalapokhri-a small Himalayan village -14 kms trek from Tumling via Garibans and Kaiyakatta. The day was relatively sunny and sky was clear. The trail was again passing from Singalila National Park but with different types of flora and fauna on the route, birds and animals- if you’re lucky enough you can see red panda here. On this route we covered 7 linches – rising ground, hill resulting in up and down on the trek. After trekking 6 kms we had our packed lunch in Garibans and then headed to Kaiyakatta 3 kms for tea break. This tea break re-fueled the body and most importantly mind for the next steep 4 kms stretch of this trek to Kalapokhri-Nepal. “Kala” means “dark” and “Pokhri” means “lake” in Nepali, and the village is named after a local lake whose water is dark in color situated at altitude of ~10,200 ft. The sight of lake welcomes you to this place. Being relatively high in altitude and on top of a ridge, there is heavy wind blowing through the village all times of the day. Due to bad weather it was foggy and dark even at 4 pm- reached our camp for that night a temporary shelter arrangement made of wood. Weather didn’t allow us to step outside and camp leader didn’t allow us to sleep- so after hot cup of soup and tea the group engaged into games- antakshari, talent display and dance. In no time people had to remove their warmers owing to high energy and adrenaline rush created in the body. Our enthusiasm was so high that an outsider wouldn’t have believed that this group trekked 14 kms and is still high on energy. Tired bodies and energetic minds fell asleep after a tempting dinner – aloo sabzi,roti, dal rice and seviyan – a feast especially at the place like Kalapokhri.
Day 3 – again started at 3.30am – hope to get sunrise view. It was a mesmerizing and tranquil view. Everyone setting up their cameras to capture the scenic view in every possible angle. And “suryadevta” spread his blessings on us.. the sky was clear and filled with different hues of sunrise. Then we descended a little to catch clear view of kalapokhri- the local lake which we couldn’t get the day earlier. It’s a small yet beautiful lake surrounded by pine trees and prayer flags. It is a picturesque site cradled amidst the gorgeous mountainous terrain with the Kanchenjunga beckoning in the distance. This area is well within the Nepal border and shows the signs of the ethno-religious Buddhist community of Nepal living in the Kalapokhri settlement.
Most of us were happy as we got our profile pics here 😉. Post breakfast we headed for Sandakphu 8 kms trek route this time no packed lunch as we were going to get “garama garam hot lunch” (as quoted by the camp leader) at Sandakphu camp. Sandakphu (11,930 ft) highest point of the Singalila Ridge on India-Nepal border happens to be a mixed terrain trek with no abrupt height gain and mostly swinging through a tree cover. However, the sheer distance can be challenging and one needs lasting stamina to make this trek a success. The route is covered with Rhododendron blossoms. Guide will suggest you to take a shorter route via Nepal but it is advisable to go through the route passing from India. Most of us reached there by 11.30 am hoping to witness view of 4 largest peaks – Makalu ,Lhotse, Everest and Kanchenjunga. However the sky was not clear enough to get and capture the view!! Post lunch we strolled in nearby spots- local water source , temples of lord Shiva and Kaali Ma. By evening, post sunset, the group engrossed in sharing experiences. Some our group members belonged to 55-60 age group and they were regular trekkers!! Obviously they had interesting stories of their treks to share with us.
Day 4- excitement couldn’t let me sleep- was awake again at 3-3.30 am. I was wearing 3 layers and a down jacket as temperatures gone down to -3 degrees and wind blowing like crazy. Though I reached to the view point I couldn’t take out my hands out of the gloves for sometime. Each sunrise was unique and picturesque in its own way. Finally I could see Kanchenjunga ranges and few unnamed peaks from Bhutan. Other 3 peaks continued not to give clear view of theirs and blaming it on bad weather!! However whatever I could witness was simply awesome and serene. The Kanchenjunga family of peaks had to come as a different pointer. The sunlight streaming upon this snow capped peak becomes a vision to behold from early on, on this trek. Looking out of from our Tumling stay at dawn reveals the “Sleeping Buddha” structure of the Kanchenjunga in its relentless glory, and comes to get bigger and sharper from Sandakphu. The site of which will be preserved lifelong in my mind.
We had to descend 14 kms today from Sandakphu to Gurdum- from a route amidst different zone of Singalila Forest. Though descend sounds easier than ascend, this was not!! Route was tough through forest with different terrains. Rhododendron, Orchids and Magnolia blossoms made the experience pleasant. For couple of kilometers we passed through bamboo jungle too.Everyone was exhausted by the time we reached Gurdum we had lunch there and then unpacked our luggage. The home-stay in Gurdum was luxurious compared to what we had in our earlier camps. The campus was beautiful and surrounded by various flowers garden. Here we entered in mobile network zone. So the people who were earlier engrossed in admiring and appreciating the nature were now busy in talking to family and friends and yes not to mention posting statuses on various social media. That night was a dance night for all of us irrespective of our age.
Day 5 Last length of our trek Gurdum to Rimbick via Srikhola ~12 kms trek, however the route was easiest one as most of it was motor-able road. We had our halt for lunch at Srikhola- “khola” means river , a scenic village in Darjeeling district. Dipping our feet in the cold river water released all our trek stress. We reached Rimbick around 5 pm. It was mixed evening for all of us as the trek was concluding and next day we would head to our base camp to return to our routines. That night we shared our experiences of this trek. Everyone was carrying fond memories and new learnings with them, hoping and promising to continue such adventures in future.
This was my 2nd solo trek and it gave me many moments to cherish and lifelong learnings.
– going solo is fun and you’ll meet like-minded people
– age is just a number- from many senior citizens in the group. I should go on such trips so that when I reach their age I have enough travel stories to share with the young generation
– There was a small group of friends, who collected plastic garbage throughout the trek route and ensure it is disposed off properly. They did a commendable job especially at such high altitude when it is difficult to carry oneself and luggage this group carried all the collected garbage too. This inspired me to be committed to green and clean environment in every possible way.
Sharing some pictures of this trek (few of them are clicked by my co-trekkers).