I am very pleased to bring you a guest post from Indian blogger, Vaidehi. She writes about travel and wildlife in India, and also posts short story fiction.
Here is a short bio.
Brief introduction about myself
I am V Vaidehi(with Vaidehi as the first name), from New Delhi, India. Till two years back, I was working, at the middle management level, for the Indian Railways.
I love all aspects of travelling – the planning, the experience and the reminiscing. The last part led me to start my blog a few years back. Since hiking in the Himalayas occupies a special place in my heart, I started with a few posts, recounting my personal experiences on the Himalayan trails.
I write about other types of travel too and have just taken baby steps into the world of fiction writing.
And this is the unedited guest post, accompanied by some photos.
GAZE AT EVEREST INSTEAD OF CLIMBING IT
In May 2019, a picture of a traffic jam caused by climbers queuing up to summit the peak of Mount Everest had gone viral on the internet. I was aghast! Is it an easy stroll that so many were clamouring to summit, all at the same time? Not to mention the damage to the fragile ecology of the Himalayas and loss of so many lives.
It took me back to that evening when I had a ringside view of Everest and three other formidable peaks of the Himalayas from the comfort of the balcony of the lodge where we were staying.
Now, I am not a mountaineer by any reckoning. I am not an adventure freak either, though I have crossed Passes at 14000 feet, mouth dry, heart pounding and wondering why I got myself into such a situation. Also, I am not young nor do I enjoy excellent levels of fitness.
But I love hiking in the Himalayas, however contradictory this may sound. I am partial to the innumerable trails at the lower altitudes, below 10000 feet where the tree line ends, that take you through meadows, forests, streams and villages. The hike on which I am now going to take you along with me does not have many of these features, and has certain negative features instead. But then, what a glorious view it offers when you reach the ridge on the top!
It was a cold but clear December evening and we were at Sandakphu, a ridge in the Eastern Himalayas, at an altitude of 3600 metres. We stood there, mesmerized at the sight of Kanchenjunga – the third highest peak in the world at 8586 meters – come aglow with the rays of the setting sun. The vision of Kanchenjunga as seen from Sandakphu justifies the sobriquet it enjoys – “the sleeping Buddha”.
Much as the horizon at Sandakphu is dominated by Kanchenjunga, which is bang across – in your face, so to speak – our eyes kept darting to the awesome threesome far away at the extreme left – Makalu, Lhotse and Everest. It is only on a clear day that these can be seen and of the three, Everest seems to be the shortest as it is farther off and is distinguishable by its midriff and above perpetually swathed in clouds.
The trek to Sandakphu, which is at the crest of the Singalila ridge near Darjeeling in India, is one of the popular hikes in the Himalayas, as it is the only easily accessible place in India from where four of the five highest peaks in the world can all be seen together! Four out of five is a grand score indeed and that too, for people who are not into serious mountaineering. Singalila surely merits the title of “a ridge with a view”.
This trek can be attempted by first timers but is no less enjoyable for the seasoned trekker. It is a typical tea-house trek, with good lodgings available en route. So, no need to pitch tents or carry sleeping bags! Just hire a guide from Manebhanjan and hit the trail!
It is a short five day trek starting from Dhotrey, which can be reached from Darjeeling by road in an hour, via Manebhanjan. You climb for the first three days, halting at Tumling and Kalipokhri, to reach the ridge top at Sandakphu. The trail then descends on the other side of the ridge to Gurdum and finally reaches the road again at Rimbik. The distances to be covered each day range from 6km to 13 km but certain stretches are steep, like the final ascent to Sandakphu and the descent to Gurdum.
Let me get over the negative aspects right in the beginning. The trails on which you walk on the second and third day are not really hiking trails. The trails are paved with small sized boulders, some of them with sharp edges, to facilitate the movement of the British Land Rovers of vintage 1948 , which still run right up to Sandakphu. These ancient beasts (of beauty, some might say) look like they will fall apart any moment and the ride, I am told, is nerve-racking and rattles everything else too. Avoid it and labour on, on foot.
“Why could they not make at least a narrow mud trail alongside, for the hikers?”, was our perpetual lament during those two days. I believe a part of the trail is now paved with concrete, which again cannot be called a hiking trail but easier on the feet, I am sure. Also, those who choose the Land Rovers, have to return by the same route and will miss the beautiful forests on the other side of the ridge.
A fascinating aspect of this trek is that you go in and out of Nepal for the first two days as the border is quite porous in these areas. When we reached Tumling after the first day’s trek, we were amused to learn that the road belongs to India and the village on the side of the road is in Nepal!
At Tumling, we made sure to be up at the crack of dawn to catch the first rays of the sun on the peaks of Kanchenjunga. It was a magnificent moment for us and we were to experience it again at Sandakphu, at a much closer range.
Kalipokhri, where we halted after the second day’s trek, is also on the Nepal side of the border but being positioned below the ridge, offers no views of Kanchenjunga. After walking on that stony trail for five hours, we gave our weary feet some rest and had a great time playing with the kids of the Nepali owner of the lodge at Kalipokhri.
The trek also passes through Singalila National Park, which is a natural habitat for the red panda and himalayan bear. Both are elusive and cannot be sighted easily. The forests on the upward trail to the ridge top are somewhat sparsely wooded unlike those on the other side of the ridge. The trek from Kalipokri to Sandakphu is short but steep and suddenly, we were there on the ridge, with an unhindered and magnificent view of Kanchenjunga.
November and early December are the best times to go to Sandakphu for clear views of not only Everest, Makalu and Lhotse but even Kanchenjunga. April is also considered a fairly good time with rhododendron blooms all around but clouds and mist could act as the spoil sport. On a misty day, you could be standing at Sandakphu and not even have an inkling that the mighty Kanchenjunga is right across, let alone have any view of the Everest group.
We woke up to a very clear morning the next day and feasted our eyes on the changing colours of Kanchanjunga – a glowing orange at dawn to a blinding white by the time we left Sandakphu. And again, we were treated to a clear view of Everest, Makalu and Lhotse.
The trek for this day was downhill all the way and passed through lovely forests on the way to Gurdum, a picturesque hamlet. The trail on the last day of the trek is fairly level and passes through Srikhola, where we had lunch in a quaint lodge by the side of a mountain stream. At Srikhola, we left the wilderness behind and walked on to the road head Rimbik, where the jeeps were waiting to take us back to Darjeeling. One can also skip going up again to Darjeeling and instead, come down to Siliguri to take a train to any part of India.
If you are reasonably fit and yearn to walk in the Himalayas, a trek to Sandakphu to gaze at Everest and its cousins and be awed by the grandeur of Kanchenjunga, should certainly find a place in your list of things to do!
Thanks to Vaidehi for a great post. Please take time to visit her blog, and enjoy what else you find there.