When it is about to visit Sandakphu, the highest peak in the district of Ilam, Nepal and West Bengal, most of the person choose Sandakphu trek, but what about those who can’t trek? Don't they deserve to witness magnificent four of the five highest peaks in the world ?
Absolutely !! You can, in fact, relax and equally enjoy the magnificent views of Sandakphu phalut without having your tongue sticking out in complete exhaustion. Although Sandakphu phalut trek have been traditionally known as trekkers paradise, nowadays travelling in a land rover is more famous amongst adventurous people.
Two best seasons for sandakphu trekking or visiting are April-May.Sandakphu in May temperature 8-15 degrees,in monsoon starting from Oct to early December Sandakphu temperature ranges from -5 to 5 degrees.
To visit Sandkaphu you need to first reach Maneybhanjan.Also you need fixed where you want to stay as If you search for Sandakphu hotels you will understand there is nothing as such but you will find gta lodges and sandakphu homestay.However we have stayed at GTA lodge Sandakphu which was decent place to stay in a pocket friendly budget.
A 'place where all roads meet' deep in the Himalayas, Maneybhanjan, remote village in the sky is known as the Land of Land Rovers.
Maneybhanjhang (Altitude 1523 m) is at a distance of little less than 100 kms from both NJP and Bagdogra,takes about 4 hours maximum to reach. You will get a shared taxi from Siliguri or else you can book a private car from NJP station itself as per your desire. We took an Innova which cost 3500 rs for 6 people from NJP to Maneybhanjan. Our car drove through Ghum station, one can visit via Mirik road also (preferable so that you can enjoy the beautiful road of Mirik). But most important is you need to reach Maneybhanjan before 3 p.m. (for late goers, it always safe to take some extra time) .After 3 p.m. no land rovers leave Maneybhanjan. Spot booking is the one and only option as pre booking is not possible for the land rovers. Thankfully we had reached there on time on a rainy day of 12th October 19. and managed to book a 1957 land rover.We came to know that Sandakphu weather was bad that time.Still in hope we decided to start our journey.
Here all you required to take a permit from the forest department office,for entry to the Singalila National Park near Tumling as the route passes through the park. The office is located on the roadside just before the uphill route starts from Manebhanjan. Foreigners need to show their identity proof. There is an entry fee to be paid as well as for camera and other charges are there.
After completing all the formalities Our driver-cum guide named Johnny bhai took 6 of us from Maneybhanjhang to our next stop Tonglu.
“Everyone wants to live on top of the mountain but you feel all the happiness while climbing it.”
Tonglu (Altitude 3070 m), a lesser-known roadside halt to travellers than Tumling in Sandakphu trek route takes half an hour to reach from Maneybhanjan as the distance is only 11 kms(2km from Meghma).The road is smooth as it has been converted to a concrete road (till Gairibas)..There is only one GTA Lodge (only tourist accommodation) which made it less crowded, and hard to get as it has 4 dorm rooms, in a reasonable cost(300 Rs/bed) and located in a lovely spread out area, Usually the trekkers halt here for the first night.
Except for GTA Lodge, there is a DM bungalow next to it which might be book from Darjeeling.
Only 2 families lived there in the entire village, which makes this place so calm and soothing. It has two viewing points nearby in which you can see the best view of the Kanchenjunga snow peaks during a clear day. you can find your mobile network in this viewpoint as well. Airtel Network is available in some places at GTA lodge also. At night, you will be able to see the lights of Darjeeling and Kurseong towns from outside the lodge. But it is suggested to not go out of your premises alone when it is dark.
In the 2nd day at Tonglu, we took an hour small trek towards to Dhotrey in late afternoon to feel the nature and enjoy mesmerising beauty of the valley
Although the room rate is cheap but the food cost is a little expensive here, boiled maggie for one cost 90 rs, Also note that from here onwards there will be no sufficient electricity so don't forget to charge your essential things, and don't waste water unnecessarily.
We stayed there for 2 nights and enjoyed our best day during the Sandakphu trip..
Please note you can visit Maneybhanjan to Sandakphu (32 kms)in a day unless and until you start early from Darjeeling.I will suggest halting in between so not only you can enjoy the beauty of the villages but also you will be able to adjust with the weather, high altitude and bumpy roads .
“It is not the mountain that we conquer but to ourselves”
As Sir Edmund Hillary said, we conquer the toughest motorable road of India toward the road up to Sandakphu. From Tonglu to Gairibas is smooth concrete road, beyond up to Sandakphu is hardly a road, made of loose boulders.
We left Tonglu after having breakfast around 10 am on 14th Oct head towards Sandakphu. Meanwhile, we brought some water and dry foods, Maggie from Tumling. Tumling is a place where you will find good foods (2km away from Tonglu). From there onwards we entered Singalila national forest. If you are lucky enough you can see Red panda, long-tailed Pangolins, birds like one tailed minivet, blood pheasant, cuckoo, Black-throated & brown parrotbill, many types of robins, slender-billed babbler, satyr tragopan and so on in your way. Though they are now in distinct in number.
From Gairibas to Sandakphu was a hell out of journey.We halted midway at Kalipokri to click some photos and communicate with local people.As the name indicates,the place has not too large lake containing black water which never freezes according to local people.After Kalipokhri there was path made of mud and loose boulders but for last 2 kms to Sandakphu was almost 45-degree angle climbing road full of boulders,when most of the time our land rovers back wheel was in the air.that 2 kms seems eternal to us then as we could feel the pain in our body,. The road was scary and fun at the same time. The road uphill is so treacherous, condition is very challenging for motorable vehicles. After driving the tough road at last you see magnificent views of the Himalayas which is very spiritual and calming.
We reached the highest peak of Singalila range Sandakphu height 3636 m around 1;30 p.m.our GTA Lodge was pre-booked, a decent place to stay and food was also delicious and cheap compare to Tonglu.We had lunch and took rest and later we explore the place.
The entire Sandakphu runs with solar power and no water for bath.Hardly you will find electricity except Serpa chalet lodge
We went to a viewpoint at evening from where you can see peaks views though there are obstacles .trees still it is worth watching you can see four of the five highest mountain in the world. We stayed there that night hanging out with some other trekkers listening to their journey and trek experience.
“The best view comes after the hardest climb ”-Way to Paradise.
On 15th October early morning we climed to top of a small hill ,another amazing spot from where we eyewitnessed a spectacular sunrise from when the sky was painted with bleak golden and pink and four of the five highest mountain in the world Mt. Everest,Kanchendzonga Lhotse and Makalu ,standing infront of us.Almighty Sleeping budha waked us up to see his beauty.The spectacular peaks of Sikkim, Bhutan, Tibet and Nepal was also visible.That nature’s beauty is hard to describe ,beyond any words,noone can understand unless they witness the same.
Around 9 p.m. we had breakfast and we 6 started our journey to Phalut.As already mentioned there is no proper road but a path made of rocks and is very very bumpy. It is not ideal for riding but paradise for trekkers as both the places (Sandakphu and Phalut) are at similar altitudes, covered with orchids,flowers , meadows and in the way you could keep seeing Kanchenjunga on your right and Mt. Everest family on the left(though we couldn’t see it clearly because of the cloud)
Phalut is the second highest peak of West Bengal ( Altitude 3595 m )located at the border of West Bengal, Sikkim and Nepal. The word Phalut derived from Fakluk, a Lepcha words meaning barren Peak. there is only one GTA lodge (so if anybody ever thought of hotels in phalut then please wake up) .We were damn excited to go through that so-called road, left all the trekkers behind. The road, however, became bad to worse, actually, we came to know that there was no road to ride Land rovers at that time only plain mud and rocks. It is impossible to drive further However we went till somewhere near to Sabargram and decided to go back to Sandakphu as after that it is impossible to go by car.and as we had heavy luggage with us we couldn't trek and made to Phalut for that day. Anyways with a heavy heart, we returned from there and took a 2-hour halt to a place called Thakum to just sit and enjoy the valley. At that time we saw 2-3 horses were running from one place to another, there was a lake and a spread out area covered with velvet grass, meadows, flowers some scattered trees, some cows were moving around, the picturesque was like it came out from a movie scene. However, Thakum’s beauty and that relaxing soothing two hours made us realize that When you lose your path, you get an opportunity to discover a world you have never known! So did we, this unforgettable memory will be special on the entire trip.
We head back to Sandakphu and stay that night there, attempted some short trek to explore the place, and the next early morning(16th Oct) we left for Tumling 13 kms away, down which is an equally painful and fun journey in a land rover as it is full of loose boulders, precarious bends and steep accents.its is tougher than climbing,has to be exceptional driving skills to make it the entire trip.
“Each fresh peak ascended teaches something. ”-Sir Martin Convay
Tumling is an equally beautiful place. Instead of staying at Phalut for 2 days we had had to stay somewhere else thus we came to Tumling. Its a village having 10-12 families and there you will be able to find cottages, homestays lodge, huts. Good foods are available here compare to Tonglu and Sandakphu. It has better private stay options which are slowly making this pleasant little hamlet a destination in itself, for even those who would not be able to go till Sandakphu.
It was not pre-planned, and during the peak season, there is heavy demand for these lodges as most of the people stay overnight here.so in this case, our driver cum guide Jhonny bhai helped a lot. He managed to find a homestay for us immediately in a quite distance from the main area.
Staying at tumling was leisure for us, we explored nearby places by small trekking, Singalila National Park’s entry is about 1 km from Tumling, which is covered with rare flora and fauna, Oak, Pine, Silver Fir, Birch, Magnolia and several variants of Bamboo trees and many more. There are many Buddha stupa with flattered flags, The locals believe that fluttering of the prayer flags brings holiness to the place.
Often there are prolonged power cuts. Only Vodafone mobile network and BSNL work at Tumling and that too at some specific spots. Local beer (chang) is available in some lodges.
We stayed there for 2 days and left for Maneybhanjan on 18th morning, reached around 12 p.m.there bid goodbye to the Land Rover to Jonny bhaiya who amazused us by his driving skills, hospitality ,friendly behaviour and to the trees, local people but….
All I was afraid of is saying Good-Bye to the mountains.
Short Notes about the trip-
Accomodations : Nowadays you can find a lot of hotel / homestay option at sandakphu and other places like Tonglu, Tumling. But I always recommend GTA Trekkers Hut , its well maintain and budget friendly ,cost around 300-400 Rs per person per night.
Cars: From NJP Railway Station to Manebhanjan you can take a sumo or innova
And takes around 3500 Rs . or you can go for shared car option, but availability of shared car is depends on your luck.
And , For the land rover , you have to book it from local land rover association at Manebhanjan.
Land rover Rate charts :
Manebhanjan - sandakphu -7500 (including halt at Tonglu - Sandakphu-Tumling)
1000 Rs for per night halting (we halted total 6 nights)
So , 7500+(6x1000) = 13500 Rs for the entire trip.
Food : Just like other trekking areas ,there are limited food options at sandakphu. Your per head meal cost around 400 RS including breakfast , lunch and Dinner.
Some price examples of food
Tea / coffee: 40-50 Rs
Maggi / wai wai - 80-120 RS ( price varies on veg or egg)
Rice Meal 60-80 Rs .
ATM Options : Once reaching NJP it is highly recommended to withdraw cash as there are chances one might not find ATM onward or they might run out of cash.