3 GIRLS – 6 DAYS – 86 KMS –SANDAKPHU-PHALUT TREK

Uphill climb
It all began when two of my girlfriends came to see me as I’d been bedridden for a month. While the medical certificates stated that I couldn’t move about for some time, I knew from within that I would get out of bed sooner than what was written in black and white. I expressed my sincere desire to go out in the open, and my girls agreed immediately – not because they wanted to cause me harm but because they know my capability and believe in me when I say I can. No big plans, no guide, no compass / maps – just the three of us and our backpacks where we dumped our necessities and a lot of excitement.
Chitre monastery
We were greeted with a steep flight of stairs in Manebhanjang, probably the steepest along the entire Sandakphu-Phalut trail. A few minutes into the trek and realization dawned that it wasn’t as easy as it seems to be. We were having second thoughts – what did we get ourselves into? – shall we continue or shall we make a U-turn? But I guess the blood that runs in us overruled all such thoughts. We weren’t the first ones, nor would we be the last. It was time we tested our strength, both mental and physical. And so we carried on. In approximately 3 km, we saw the end of those razor-sharp stairs as we reached Chitre. An old monastery adorned the place, and as we took the blessing, a new form of energy enveloped us. In no time, we were back on the track never to look back! We completed 9 km that day and reached Tonglu, our first-night halt at a homestay where we slept the night away.
Meghma
We woke up to the majestic Kanchenjunga the next morning. This gave us a renewed sense of vigor as we were told that the view keeps getting better as we climb up. We quickly freshened up to partially-frozen running water – I kept touching my face just to be sure it remained intact –and had protein-rich heavy breakfast for the journey ahead. It started to get interesting! We took quick halts in between to take pleasure in the surrounding, for quick bites of chocolate bars, and of course, to hydrate ourselves. We encountered a lot of people on the way – locals as well as fellow trekkers. We kept gaining company – young and old — as we moved on. We walked around 14 km and reached Kalpokhri, where we were supposed to nestle for the night. The lady of the motel greeted us with a big bright smile; we smiled even brighter. The feeling was akin to being greeted by my mother when I come home after months of being away. But the smile on our faces immediately faded as we were told that the rooms were fully crowded. She told us that she had arranged accommodation elsewhere as she pointed to a distant tinned house on a hilltop some 2 km away.
Chauri Chowk
2 km away in a place called Chauri Chowk!! It was pitch dark, and we were just half there; it was when the battery of our cell phones had drained out that it struck us that none of us carried a torchlight. We literally dragged ourselves in the dark, praying that we reach safely. And we did … at last! A young woman welcomed us with tea (probably one of the best tea I’ve had so far) and showed us our cozy den. Dinner was served on time, and soon after we landed on the bed, we were fast asleep. However, I woke up to strange sounds at midnight, and I couldn’t put myself to sleep again. Was it a baby whining, or a cat crying? … I just couldn’t figure it out. Alongside, the mountain dogs barked half-heartedly yet continuously. Strange thoughts kept creeping until I fell asleep – I don’t realize when though! The next morning, we burst out laughing at my stupidity as I was told that the strange sounds came from the strong winds that blow every night. We had nutritious breakfast along with a glass of thick Dzomo (hybrid of yak and cow) milk, bought some Dzomo chhurpis, thanked the lady of the house, and headed towards Sandakphu (our next night halt).
Mountain trekking
Staying at Chauri Chowk was a boon in a way; we were 2 km ahead of the rest, and Sandakphu was just 4 km away! Comparatively, it would be a cakewalk – at least we thought so until we came across a long steep flight of stairs that stretched right from Bikaybhanjang (1.5 km approx. from Chauri  Chowk) up to Sandakphu. Phew!! I can’t put in words how we did that, but we did it anyhow and reached Sandakphu much ahead of time. Sandakphu, a small hamlet with a few hotels and shops spread across the land elevated at an altitude of 3636 m / 11930 ft above sea level, is the highest point of the Singalila range in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal and the Ilam district of Nepal. We loitered around for some time, climbed a nearby rock, and headed back to our hotel. We woke up at 4 the next morning just so we don’t miss the sunrise. The site was truly blissful! Four (Mt.Everest, Kanchenjunga, Lhotse, and Makalu) out of the five highest peaks (including K2) in the world can be seen from its summit! To witness the view was a blessing. We went back to the hotel where we were given a bottle of hot water each to freshen up. To my dismay, the bottle I received smelled of alcohol! However, I was so much at peace with myself — and also the lazy bum that I am — that I washed my face with the same alcoholic water solution without any complaint. Next, we offered prayer at a sacred temple, which is home to most of the nearby rivers.
Singalila range
We took our own sweet time to get dressed up as we had booked the heritage Rover to take us to Phalut (21 km from Sandakphu) – we didn’t have any prebooking in Phalut. We were basking in the winter sun as we waited for our ride when the owner of the hotel disclosed that the driver had left us and was on his way to Phalut! Later on, we got to know that the driver had two Japanese passengers on board, who denied to share the cab with us! And that was the only cab going to Phalut — what a wonderful stroke of luck! It was 9:30 am already, and we had to cover 21 km before sunset! We looked at one another and said, “We can do this.” Most of the trekkers heading to Phalut had left by 8:00 / 8:30-ish. So we were lagging behind by an hour / an hour and a half! A few locals whom we met on the way told us that we couldn’t make it. Such discouraging comments charged us up even more. And so we walked and walked and walked … — no breaks, no lunch, no photos or videos (although I took a few w/o their notice ;D … shh!) – taking quick bites of eateries we’d packed while still walking! And just when the massive golden fireball touched the horizon, we were at the hilltop in Phalut! While the glittering sparks of light from far across Darjeeling illuminated the otherwise candlelit hilltop at night, the golden rays of the sun gleamed through the snow-peaked mountains at dawn. The entire Singalila range looked like a bride decked up in gold, and I just couldn’t take my eyes off her. Such was her beauty! I didn’t want to move an inch, but all good things must come to an end.
Sunrise in Phalut
And so with a heavy heart and pocket full of memories, we headed downhill to Gorkhey, a well-planned village located 15 km from Phalut. We stayed there for the night and headed to Sirikhola (our final walk), another 15 – 16 km from Gorkhey, the next day. In the 86 km that we covered, not once did we find litter. I was truly impressed with the cleanliness the inhabitants and the tourists maintained! While we marked the end of the journey with fellow travelers in Gorkhey, I recall a quick conversation with a distinct guide, who was a friend to us by now:

Me: “How long have you been guiding foreigners along this route?”
He: “It’s been seven years!”
Me: “Do you not get bored with this job?”
He: “Nope. I love to walk this and similar such routes, payment is good, but most importantly, I get to interact with different people from all over the world every day.”
Me: “So when are you up next?”
He: “Two days from now.”

What a lucky fellow!

All Photographs © Fiddle F00t 

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