The highest point of West Bengal may not be very high, but it’s got everything going for it. At 3,627M, Sandakphu is a small package with big surprises ribbon-tied with the most comfortable trekking experience you can imagine. Resting between the borders of India and Nepal, it is not at all surprising that of all the trekking trails within the Himalayas, Sandakphu earned the title ‘Trekker’s Wonderland’. Let me take you through a few of those highlights which make this trek a hands down winner in a lot of categories.
Highlight 1: Jaubhari and Other Villages
Jaubhari is first of the many small, quaint and soul-calming villages on this trek. This one doubles up as the road head as well. At a distance of 110 kms from the closest airport, Bagdogra, in Siliguri, the 5 hour drive to this small village is the start of a refreshing experience and sets a high standard of beauty for the days to come. Jaubhari exudes the quintessential vintage village vibe with step farming all along its mountain faces, people on bicycles carrying produce and the colourful houses with small fields in front of each home against the tall trees of mountain forests and the most glorious sunsets.
The stay on this trek is in guesthouses which means we stay within small villages and remote settlements along the border, instead of tents at campsites isolated from habitation. Each of these villages is rich with details of culture, food, religious beliefs and style of living on either side of the border. It is a fascinating study in the geographic evolution and coexistence of cultural philosophies.
Highlight 2: Flirting with Indo-Nepal Border
As highlight 1 makes clear, never have boundaries been as blurred as they are on the Sandakphu trek. Crisscrossing between Nepal and India, you realize how similar the cultures on these borders are when you fail to recognize which side of it you are on and find yourself inquiring about it in villages you cross every second hour! Talk about a USP of a trek and we wouldn’t be surprised if no other trek can beat this one.
Highlight 3: You Want it Tall?
As the highest peak of West Bengal, Sandakphu enjoys all the benefits of its title. This 3,627M peak brings some of the tallest mountains and places them right in front of you. Bound by the Big Four – Mount Everest, Kangchenjunga, Lhotse and Makalu, Sandakphu remains one of the very few moderate level treks which offer such splendid views and puts you bang in the middle of 8,000M peaks.
There are very few things that can make one feel so exceptionally small as well as so exceptionally privileged at the same time than to be walking with the formidable structure of Kangchenjunga on one side and the powerful presence of Mount Everest on the other side at the same time. It is a moment made of many emotions that cannot be described fully in words but must be experienced firsthand to get its true complex flavour.
Highlight 4: Visual Delight
There is no end to the wonders this trek has to offer. The trail of Sandakphu goes through the Singalila National Park which is a biodiversity hotspot that boasts of innumerous species of flora and fauna. If you are super quiet and super lucky, it’s possible you might chance upon a Red Panda and some very rare Himalayan birds, too! In fact, the trail lies on the infamous Singalila Ridge which forms the border between Sikkim and Nepal running down the Kangchenjunga (also called the Kanchendzongha) Range earning it yet another name – the Singalila Ridge Trek. While some treks are about challenge, difficulty and exploring your limits, Sandakhpu is all about awe inspiring beauty – it lays its entire focus on providing you with the best views possible.
Highlight 5: The Sleeping Buddha
One of the biggest highlights of Sandakphu trek, while it has many, is The Sleeping Buddha which is a cluster of mountains that bear an uncanny resemblance to the perfectly proportioned form of Buddha lying in an eternal sleep. It is the Kangchenjunga range of peaks which give it the shape from which it gets its name. This magnificence makes itself seen numerous times along the length of the trek and it is so vivid that you cannot miss it even if you tried!
The cluster of peaks forming the Buddha seem even more reverential in the morning as the peaks shine golden soaked in the sun’s light. Remember to ask your local guide to name the peaks in this cluster – each one is of significance and might be a name you’ve heard before.
Highlight 6: Who Said Black is Not a Holy Colour
There is a lot of beauty housed on the trail of Sandakphu – each one more unique than the other. These small surprises that this trek has littered across its route is what distinguishes it from other treks and gives it a bold personality that it holds to from Day 1 all through to the last day.
One of these many distinctive wonders is Kalapokhri. Kalapokhri in Nepali literally translates to Black Lake. We meet this beauty on Day 3 and it is, as the name suggests, a lake with water that looks as black as the night. The only things adding colour to it are the hundreds of prayer flags along its borders, the bright blue sky and the green of the land. Stupas stand close by, keeping watch as a row of prayer wheels line up right at the end of the lake to mark the start of a new village. No points for guessing which side of the border you are on here!
Highlight 7: Comfort No Question!
If the constant flirting with the In
do-Nepal border, Kangchenjunga and its cluster forming what’s famously called The Sleeping Buddha, the forests full of rhododendrons and glorious sunsets and sunrises weren’t enough, Sandakphu adds just the right touch to the trek by offering warm beds, the company of locals, scrumptious home-cooked meals and a comfortable sleep in a closed room with warm blankets each night of the trek. Looking for insurmountable beauty but want to give uncomfortable and cold nights a miss? Sandakphu is the answer to all your wants!
Highlight 8: Rhododendrons
I am sure it’s clear by now that this trek is nothing if not visual poetry in motion. But the thing that probably earned it the title ‘Trekker’s Wonderland’ is the constant company of expansive forests full of blooming rhododendrons of all warm and cool shades of colors spread as far as your eye can see. We may have seen a lot, but we’ve never seen anything as beautiful! It is quite literally a walk through heaven!
It is only when you see the forests thick with bushes and trees of all colours of these beautiful flowers will you agree that they deserve a special mention and are entitled to be a whole highlight on their own!
Highlight 9: All This in Just a Week!
I think you’ll agree with me when I say there aren’t too many treks that can boast of delivering so much in so little time!
Sandakphu is a trek of multiple climaxes. Not only is the day of the climb to its highest point the highlight of the trek – the entire trek is a series of highlights one after the other right from Day 1 all the way through to the last day. This is one trek which is best explored first-hand. Come?