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Sandakphu - Of misty roads and grand vistas, and a sweet surprise!


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Duration: 3 Days
Photos of Sandakphu - Of misty roads and grand vistas, and a sweet surprise! 1/21 by Susan Halfhide

After my first trek, the Valley of Flowers, I was hooked. As with most newbie travellers, I was barely back home from my first trek, when I started itching to go out again,back to the mountains.

This itch turned into a plan by the end of September, where Gandhi Jayanti was giving me a long weekend.But the time was still short.

After endless hours of googling weekend treks, we hit the jackpot with Sandakphu. Now, generally this is a 6 day trek, but given our dearth of time, we decided to squeeze it into 3 days instead.Challenge accepted!

Well, I left the planning to Prashant, bowing to his (much) larger experience in trekking.I just got super excited that I'm going for my second trek!

Our journey started with us taking a night train from Howrah to NJP station.On arriving, we took a local shuttle till Ghoom. It was well past noon when we reached there, and it took us a while to get another hitch to our next stop, Mane Bhanjang.

Photos of Sandakphu - Of misty roads and grand vistas, and a sweet surprise! 2/21 by Susan Halfhide

We reached Mane Bhanjang around 3 in the afternoon, and set out to look for "Masterji". Now Masterji is the guy you go to for getting a guide/porter or any trek-related arrangements for Sandakphu.The little village seemed half deserted, the reason being a local football tournament final taking place nearby.

We finally located the elusive Masterji, only to learn that most guides had gone to watch the match and wouldn't be available.

As luck would have it, we were just about to leave him and try our luck elsewhere, when a guide came walking right up to Masterji. Voila! I tell you, fate was on our side!

We set off immediately with our ponchos on, given that a steady drizzle had started while we were negotiating with our guide. Within minutes the sound of the village faded away, with just a few muted cheers seeping through the fog from the football field.

Photos of Mane Bhanjang, West Bengal, India 1/1 by Susan Halfhide

We set off at a brisk pace, taking a lot of short cuts and switch backs (how I hate them). It was going to be dark soon, and we had to get to our first stop Tumling. Oh, we did stop midway to take pictures on the Nepal border, just for the heck of it!

Photos of  1/1 by Susan Halfhide

We soon realised we weren't going to make it before dark... our torches had come out, and we were still a good hour and a half away from our destination.

Our guide wisely decided it would not be safe to meander in the dark, so we waited an hitched a ride on an old and already overcrowded British Landrover, which is the most common mode of transport around here.

The ride was bumpy and we hung on for dear life to prevent ourselves being tossed off. It was the best thing ever!

We reached Tumling soon enough with sore backs and backsides.All we could think of was some hot dinner and a good night's sleep.

DAY 2

The next morning, the skies cleared for a while, with the sun making an appearance just as we entered the Singalila National Park. Our views of Kanchenjunga were still obscured with wispy clouds.

Photos of Tumling, Nepal 1/5 by Susan Halfhide
Photos of Tumling, Nepal 2/5 by Susan Halfhide
Photos of Tumling, Nepal 3/5 by Susan Halfhide
Photos of Tumling, Nepal 4/5 by Susan Halfhide
Photos of Tumling, Nepal 5/5 by Susan Halfhide

The route was beautiful, taking us through tiny settlements and villages along the way.

We stopped at Kalipokhri which was quite uneventful. The mist had set in again like a curtain around us. After a quick lunch at a near by rest point, we trudged on.

Photos of Kalipokhri Lake, Kalipokhri, West Bengal, India 1/1 by Susan Halfhide

More switch backs & short cuts followed (ugh!) but by now we just wanted to get to Sandakphu, so we trudged along gamely.

Photos of  1/1 by Susan Halfhide

We finally reached Sandakphu minutes before a deluge drenched the place. Next up on our agenda was to find a place to stay, which proved to be a task since most of the hotels & homestays were already full. Our guide did a lot of legwork, and we finally had a roof over our heads. And some hot chai!

We went to bed early, but came out a little later to witness the festivities of a local wedding, and also to gaze at the stars above. The heavens had put on a spectacular show for us!

My first thought as I woke up the next day was to peek out and see if the skies were clear. Things looked promising, with a blanket of clouds covering the lower hills, and an otherwise clear sky.

I hadn't anticipated the wind! My clothes were not really equipped for such weather, and I bummed Prashant's gloves to get my frozen fingers working again.

DAY 3
Photos of Sandakphu, Sandakhphu, West Bengal, India 1/3 by Susan Halfhide
Photos of Sandakphu, Sandakhphu, West Bengal, India 2/3 by Susan Halfhide
Photos of Sandakphu, Sandakhphu, West Bengal, India 3/3 by Susan Halfhide

We got to the view point, along with most of the trekkers, and lo and behold! - a perfect golden peaks sunrise awaited us. The Kanchenjunga, and the Everest on the other side, slowly donned their golden capes , with the smaller ranges joining in as the sun rose further.

Photos of  1/3 by Susan Halfhide
Photos of  2/3 by Susan Halfhide
Photos of  3/3 by Susan Halfhide

The moment didn't last long, and a glorious morning broke over us, with sunny skies and crisp views of the mountains all around us.

After a nice breakfast & the inevitable chai, it was time to get packing and move on.

We decided to take the shorter route back, and made our way towards Srikhola which is a good 15 kms descent through forests of pine and then, bamboo.

Photos of  1/3 by Susan Halfhide
Photos of  2/3 by Susan Halfhide
Photos of  3/3 by Susan Halfhide

The descent was tough on our knees, and yours truly hugged the ground quite a few times, too.Prashant was his stoic self, patiently maintaining my slow pace all the way.

We reached Srikhola around 3 in the afternoon, and gratefully settled down to have a nice home cooked lunch. The only problem was, my feet refused to go any further. We decided to spend the night there.

It was a pretty place, with the forest on one side and a stream on the other. We decided on catching some sleep, but Prashant snuck out soon after, and I could hear him whispering into his phone outside. Something was up.

We encountered Mr.Mrinal Pal, a gentlemen heavily involved in local development. He gave us a lot of insight into the lives of the locals along with sharing some interesting anecdotes.

The evening wore on, and the stars came out again. They somehow seemed even brighter and I glimpsed 2 shooting stars!

When we assembled for dinner, the whole mystery of Prashant's furtive actions was revealed. There was a Birthday cake for me!

He had planned this with the help of his mother, Mr.Pal and the lady of the house.It was the prettiest cake with fresh flowers adding a burst of colour and my name spelt out in powdered sugar!

Best. Birthday. Ever!

Photos of  1/1 by Susan Halfhide

We cut the cake, shared a bite each, and gorged on some lovely organic chicken and rice. We hung around for a bit longer, gazing at the skies, taking in the beauty around us, and then retired to our warm beds!

We were up early the next morning, with the sky still dark. Walking with the light of our torches, we made our way down slowly. Soon the sky lightened and dawn burst over the hills around us, we could see distant villages with their lights still flickering.

We reached a point somewhere near Rimbick, where we took a shared ride back to Siliguri.

And that, my friends, is how I spent the best birthday of my life!

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