My Life Changing Adventure On Sandakphu Trek - Travel Blog Part 2

6th Feb 2021

To spend a lifetime on a road that doesn't belong to you

Photo of My Life Changing Adventure On Sandakphu Trek - Travel Blog Part 2 by Rishi Biswas

Photo Credit: Ritban Bose

Blog Script: Rishi Biswas

Day 1 (NJP-Mirik-Simana-Manebhanjan-Dhotre), 105 Kms.

Day 1

To spend a lifetime on a road that doesn't belong to you

Photo of Mirik, West Bengal, India by Rishi Biswas

"To spend a lifetime on a road that doesn't belong to you"...

This was exactly what came to my mind as the undulating road ahead showed the way. On our sides flanked tall pines and a diverse mountain vegetation. Occasionally, there were settlements by the roads that defined the northern lifestyle...

They belong to the mountains...and their folk… in the sun and the rain. After all, we all are temporary visitors to the hills, whether to cure our depression or to taste the greener shades of our lives. Whenever you are among the hill folk, you become a part of their lifestyles, and would struggle to part off when the time comes…

View from our homestay (Sherpa Lodge, Dhotrey at 3 pm

Photo of Sherpa Homestay, Dhotrey, West Bengal, India by Rishi Biswas

The shadows keep growing longer

Photo of Mirik, West Bengal, India by Rishi Biswas

The Journey beings:

We had our SUV waiting at NJP, and it took us around 1.45 hours to reach Mirik, located at a distance of 56 Kms. (4,900 feet). Although Mirik has several spots for sight-seeing, we were on a different mission that day.

Some yummy momos cooked by the traditional folks, half-an hour’s break, and back to the SUV. It’s amazing to watch those roads criss-crossing the hills. Maybe we’ll cover up all those wooded corners of Mirik on some different trip, and definitely present you on our blog.

Mountain roads criss-crossing afar

Photo of My Life Changing Adventure On Sandakphu Trek - Travel Blog Part 2 by Rishi Biswas

What a pleasure to feast your eyes on the greenery underlying the valleys! And those tiny cars you follow down the trails disappear into the woods occasionally, sometimes to reappear, much higher and closer! And sometimes they are gone like a distant memory to remember...that’s how we all define our lives...

Ritban (Photographer) on the left and me at Mirik Selfie Point

Photo of My Life Changing Adventure On Sandakphu Trek - Travel Blog Part 2 by Rishi Biswas

Clicked at Mirik Selfie Point

Drive through the tea gardens

Photo of My Life Changing Adventure On Sandakphu Trek - Travel Blog Part 2 by Rishi Biswas

Drive through the tea gardens: Can you feel the flavor under your skin?

We drove by these tea estates on the way from Mirik to Manebhanjan via Simana, where you can feel the flavour under your skin. Feel the adrenaline rush as you chance upon those greenery with your eyes. Well, there’s definitely an opportunity to spend a day or two at one of those tea gardens. But that’s not on our list for today. We’ll take you all the pleasant way to Manebhanjan via Simana.

Simana...the border (Zoom for better view)

Photo of Simana View Point, Simana Basti, Nepal by Rishi Biswas

Simana, which means ‘border’ in Bengali, literally happens to be a natural border between Nepal and India. Standing on the cliff, you would love to pamper your vision with the tantalizing delicacies of nature. What you can see on the opposite cliff is Nepal along with its cottages. In between there’s a narrow gorge, through which cars can pass between the two hills.

We stopped at Simana to sip off steaming tea by the gorge. Ravens and hairy mountain dogs thrive here in abundance. As you peer into the valley, you can map a few colorful dots. These are actually the closely clustered settlements in Manebhanjan, as seen from the top. From Simana, we were supposed to take the route to Manebhanjan via Sukhiapokhri, which would take around 40 minutes. However, we had experienced hands at the steering, and Binay Ji took a steep descent on the left as a shortcut. The path down the valley was breathtakingly narrow and jagged. In 15 minutes, we were at Manebhanjan.

Photo of Manebhanjang market, Gorkhe, Nepal by Rishi Biswas

Manebhanjan...the last crowd of cottages before you blend into the pines

A mixed population, dominated by the Nepalese, is always ready to help you with cars, land rovers, and porters. This place also houses the Land Rover Association.

Down under the valley lies the tiny mountain township called ‘Manebhanjan’.Sandwiched between India and Nepal, this valley sits cramped at 7,054 feet. Serving as the doorway to the Sandakphu Trek, it also shows the way to the Singalila Range.

Interestingly, our Sandakphu Trek is a part of the Singalila National Park. It hosts some of the most exotic wildlife and plants in south Asia. Read my detailed blog on Singalila National Park on NatureDiary.

We stopped at the Land Rovers Association for our car reservations here (Tonglu to Sandakphu) Please note, it is mandatory for trekkers to hire a porter or guide during the trek. In case you are travelling via a travel agency, they would arrange the needful. Otherwise, you need to make all the necessary arrangements at Manebhanjan.

Also note, that only the ancient land rovers of the British era and the more recently developed Boleros are allowed to take on the mountainous paths. Considering the engine power, these robust vehicles prove to be the right match for the gravel terrain. These days, car owners are receiving subsidies from the government to replace the decade-old land rovers with Boleros, as they mitigate the pollution level in the mountains substantially. Presently, just 40 odd vehicles from the British era still ply on this route. However, in case you want to take on the entire trek on foot, you need not hire an SUV. Seasoned trekkers often go for the entire trek on foot. For us, we decided to have a Bolero for the steep path only from Tonglu up to Sandakphu. We would enjoy the raw charm of the forests when we descend the other side of the Singalila Range on foot all the way down through Phalut, Gorkhey and Srikhola. However, you can decide to go for a safari up to Tonglu, Sandakphu, or even Phalut on a land rover.

Since Manebhanjan is the last mountain township before the steep ascend begins, you need to purchase all your requirements like food, stationeries, and other essentials here. The market is quite congested and you may purchase dry fruits, mineral water and medicines. The market area also has a few eateries, although it lacks any proper restaurant. Some homestays have come up in the area, where trekkers and tourists might spend the night. Also note that trekkers would require a permit to visit Sandakphu. Manebhanjan also houses the forest department office that issues these permits. However, we had our permit issued back in the Kolkata office itself.

Note: You can also get across to Manebhanjan via Darjeeling (26 Km. away) through Ghoom and Sukhiapokrhi rather than NJP (Around 96 Kms.). For us, we ended up the trip at Darjeeling after the trek, going the other way round.

Temple premises at Manebhanjan

Photo of My Life Changing Adventure On Sandakphu Trek - Travel Blog Part 2 by Rishi Biswas

Temple premises at Manebhanjan, where we dropped in between the formalities and reservations. Witness a unique blend of Indo Nepalese architecture here. The sidings of the structure resemble a pagoda, with the embellishment of Guru Nanak and Idol of Lord Shiva. A typical specimen of mixed culture dominant among the Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus, Tibetians, and Nepaleese residing in this township.

‘Mane’ refers to the Buddhist Stupas, while in Nepalese, the word ‘Bhanjyang’ menas junction. Altogether, the word means junction of the Stupas.

Photo of Manebhanjyang, Nepal by Rishi Biswas

One of the kids in the temple premises, descending down the steps from what seemingly was a school above the temple.

Dhotrey: I love to dream green

Photo of Dhotrey, West Bengal, India by Rishi Biswas

20 kms. of wooded path to Dhotrey, smokey cloud wafting over the valleys and pine forests

If there’s anything as such as ‘Theme for a Dream’, I would definitely dream green. Dhotrey is located 20 Kms. from Manebhanjan, and you will love the undulating path tunneling through the pine woods and steep ravines. At places, you can locate an ocean of cloud floating over the valley, with distant ranges calling out to your spirit deep within

Link to Part 1 (Click here)

Sherpa Lodge,@ Dhotrey, 8500 feet above sea level

Photo of My Life Changing Adventure On Sandakphu Trek - Travel Blog Part 2 by Rishi Biswas

The chilly nights begin: Welcome to the subzeros!

Sherpa Lodge,@ Dhotrey, 8500 feet above sea level, where clouds paint dreams with tender sun streaks. We spent the first night of our trip at Dhotrey. The hospitality of these mountain folks have always amazed us. They are always ready to deliver the best comfort to visitors and trekkers, considering their limited means. For us, the old owner of the homestay arranged charging points for phones and power banks. There was always firewood burning on the top floor, supplying our flasks with drinking water. The chilly wind was already biting, and we braced up for a cold night, as the mercury dipped to two degrees!

Wooded forests, stranger homes yet so close to heart

Photo of My Life Changing Adventure On Sandakphu Trek - Travel Blog Part 2 by Rishi Biswas

We reached Dhotrey a few hours before sundown. It was February, and the shadows of night would come crawling down the mountain slopes in a while. We had a few tasks at hand; firstly, we were supposed to trek from Dhotrey to Tonglu the next morning. We needed adequate charge in our phones for shooting vlogs, as well as power banks. Secondly, we had to arrange our porters and guides. While we had already made the provision for our Bolero that would take us from Tonglu to Sandakphu, we were yet to find porters and guides.

The Porter’s Association, Dhortrey

Photo of My Life Changing Adventure On Sandakphu Trek - Travel Blog Part 2 by Rishi Biswas

The Porter’s Association at Dhortrey was closed. The poor connectivity in the hills was a matter of concern, as we would be cut off from our homes as well as the Association any time.

Eventually, we ran into two local guys, who were neither porters nor guides. They had noticed us looking for the guide in front of the Guides and Porter’s Association. We requested them to utilize their local contacts to fetch us a guide. The problem was that the Gorkha Territorial Authorities would not allow any tourist or trekker to enter the forest without the locals guiding them. While this would ensure their safety in the mountainous forests, it also provided employment for the locals. The guys exchanged numbers and left, and we had thin hopes that they would find a porter.

We had our late lunch at one of these local eateries beside the gorge

Photo of My Life Changing Adventure On Sandakphu Trek - Travel Blog Part 2 by Rishi Biswas

Meanwhile, we had missed lunch on our way from NJP to Dhotrey, and had rats dining on our intestines. At Dhotrey, we had the opportunity to taste the local food. A few plates of locally prepared noodles and momos soothed down our appetite, and it tasted toothsome after the 96-Km. Journey.

Tales of whafty clouds and mountain life

Photo of My Life Changing Adventure On Sandakphu Trek - Travel Blog Part 2 by Rishi Biswas

There's always some story written across those clouds, skies, and cottages. You just need solitude to realize what they tell you…

Encountering a bear (Himalayan Black Bear)

Photo of My Life Changing Adventure On Sandakphu Trek - Travel Blog Part 2 by Rishi Biswas

Encountering a bear (Himalayan Black Bear)

Meanwhile, we had felt the pangs of adventure calling out to us. A pine-clad route starting from our homestay led to Tonglu. To the left, there was a limitless slope tumbling all the way down to the plains across the pine forests. To the right, a steep slope climbed up the forested hills.

While the dusk was falling fast, Ritban and I decided to have a stroll down the wooded paths. The rest of us were back at the homestay, putting on layers of woolens to brace up for the chilly night ahead. Well, the exact moment wasn’t caught on camera, and the light was low. We had just approached this juncture, barely 150 meters from our homestay. I could also see the tall three-storeyed structure on the top of the hill at our back. With the evening falling fast, we knew we had a few more minutes to explore the woods. Ritban was carrying an electric torch with him to show the way ahead. It was me who first noticed a movement in the bushes to the right of us, a little way on the slope descending down. Something was moving out there in the woods, and I could vaguely trace its silhouette. It resembled a wild boar, but it’s creepy movement seemed a little awkward to me. I called upon Ritban and directed his attention towards the animal. Twisting his brows, he uttered, “Is it a boar?”. He was already walking a few steps ahead of me, and now he moved further deeper towards the woods on our right. Then he directed the flash of the electric torch towards the animal. By now, the animal knew that we had seen it.

“RUN!”, Ritban pulled my shoulders as he charged back towards the homestay, “IT’S A BEAR”.

I won’t say that I felt a shiver run down my spine. But I ran. And while I was turning back to run, through the corner of my eye, I could see the animal striding on in long leaps down the slope towards us. It was only about 20 feet away on the wooded slope when we sprinted back. And by the movement of its muscles and leaps, I would well say that it wasn’t a boar. It was pure ecstasy that had overcome us.

With our hearts in our throats, we flew back 150 meters without looking back. I thanked my trekking shoes for the tenacity and ease for the first time! Once we were at the doorway of the homestay, Soumya appeared at the entrance. While it was tough for the rest to immediately believe what we had seen, we couldn’t disbelieve our eyes. It was much later, while we spent a frosty night at the Forest Ranger’s cottage at Sabargram (this story of a windy night spent in the only cottage in the valley comes later in this blog), that the old caretaker confirmed that bears (Himalayan Black Bears) occasionally make their appearances down the pine forests at Dhotrey and the surrounding areas.

Where the woods lead to the clouds

Photo of My Life Changing Adventure On Sandakphu Trek - Travel Blog Part 2 by Rishi Biswas

Life under wafting clouds, they carry their little dreams down the slopes to far off cities, where their people come to work, they toil, they live, only to get back to the valleys every evening. It's a piece of dream they crave for, livelihood. Very different from our cravings.

A fast-descending evening

Photo of My Life Changing Adventure On Sandakphu Trek - Travel Blog Part 2 by Rishi Biswas

In the evening, just before we went for some refreshments at a local eatery, the two local guys returned to meet us at the homestay. They hadn’t found any porter for us, for the connectivity was poor and it was already evening. Rather, they offered to volunteer themselves as our porter-cum-guide. Sujay and Nimay, they introduced themselves. They would carry two of our heaviest luggage (five of us had seven rucksacks between us, the extra ones carrying dry food, flasks, medical aid, wine, and other stuff), and serve as our guide throughout the trip till Srikhola (Dhotrey-Tonglu-Sandakphu-Phalut-Gorkhe-Srikhola)

Watching the blanket of darkness envelop the pine-clad hills

Photo of My Life Changing Adventure On Sandakphu Trek - Travel Blog Part 2 by Rishi Biswas

The night was chilly, and probably it was the first time I was going to experience close to sub-zero temperatures. Amidst all the shivers, we found our beds and clothes drenched with moisture. The clouds wafting in the valleys frequently came down the slopes to wet our belongings. It was a tough challenge to stay dry and heated.

Venturing into the wooded trail!

Photo of My Life Changing Adventure On Sandakphu Trek - Travel Blog Part 2 by Rishi Biswas

While we had nothing much to do in the woods after what had happened a few hours ago, we still dared all odds and walked about a kilometer deep into the path. The silence was there to feel! This time, we carried two torches and were extra cautious on any sort of movement around. We had all five of us, and had our hearts leaping all the time. It was solitude basking itself amidst the tranquility in its purest form, beyond all folds of imagination travel-enthusiasts can have.

Soothing our taste buds with traditional food for supper

Photo of My Life Changing Adventure On Sandakphu Trek - Travel Blog Part 2 by Rishi Biswas

Once we got back to the homestay, we had to prepare our flasks, drinking water, dry food, and charge our phones for the next day. The starlit night was shimmering with pieces of shattered diamonds. And the chilly wind howled all night through the creaks of our doors and windows. I was hundreds of miles away from home, in a desolate forested mountain, counting stars late in the evening. Dinner was served soon, and I listened to the silence making itself eloquent outside, as it lulled us to sleep.

Link to Part 1 (Click here)

Rishi Biswas (Link to profile)

Vlog Link on YouTube (Click here)

More to follow in Part for updates and follow on Facebook © Rishi Biswas

Ready to travel for free? Earn credits and redeem them on Tripoto’s weekend getaways, hotel stays and vacation packages after the pandemic is over!