One of the most fascinating destinations of West Bengal is Sandakphu. Literally meaning ‘peak of the poisonous plants’ owing to the presence of Wolf’s Bane and Himalayan Cobra Lilies, Sandakphu stands out for a phenomenal view of some of the mighty Himalayan peaks. The peak is located inside the Singalila National Park, which in turn, is famous as the home of the endangered Red Pandas. Sandakphu is a perfect gateway for enjoying the snow-capped Himalayas and the verdant vistas of mountain valleys.
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Sandakphu is the summit of Singalila ridge of the eastern Himalayas. The altitude of 3,636 m/11,930 ft makes Sandakphu the highest peak of West Bengal.
Where is Sandakphu located:
Sandakphu is located on the Indo-Nepal border. It is harmoniously spread across the Darjeeling district of West Bengal and Ilam district of Nepal. The peak is situated in the midst of Singalila National Park.
How to reach Sandakphu:
- By flight: The nearest airport is Bagdogra Airport, which is around 111 km away from Sandakphu. Daily flights to Bagdogra ply from Kolkata and Delhi.
- By train: New Jalpaiguri (NJP) is the nearest rail station and the distance is approximately 140 km. All north Bengal and Assam bound trains run from Sealdah and Howrah and halt at NJP.
What makes Sandakphu special:
Sandakphu has a small village on the summit. Owing to its incredible height, Sandakphu offers a clear, undeterred and magnificent 180-degree view of the world’s four highest peaks – Everest (highest, 8,848 m), Kanchenjunga (third highest, 8,586 m), Lhotse (fourth highest, 8,516m) and Makalu (fifth highest, 8,463 m).
From Sandakphu, the snow-capped Kanchunjunga and it’s congregation of smaller peaks are distinctly visible all the year round. The formation resembles the head, face, upper body and feet of Lord Buddha. Hence, it is referred to as the “Sleeping Buddha”.
In addition to such heavenly sceneries, Sandakphu is a haven for breathtaking sunrises and sunsets. Also, the nature’s bounties know no bound here, all thanks to the Singalila National Park.
What is the best time to visit Sandakphu:
Apart from the monsoon months (stretching from mid-June to mid-September), Sandakphu can be visited at any time of the year. Each season imparts a unique beauty to this place. For all the details read our post here.
How to travel in and around Sandakphu:
The most popular way of travelling to and fro Sandakphu is trekking. In fact, Sandakphu is regarded as the most famous trek of West Bengal. The trekking route starts from Manebhanjang, which is about 25 kms away from Darjeeling.
The 31 km of trekking route passes through the Singalila National Park, spanning across India and Nepal.
However, trekking is not the only option as the route is motorable too. Paved road exists up to Gairibas. It gets trickier and bumpier from hereon, nearing dangerous at times. Steep accents and precarious bends characterize the road. The road is also strewn with loose gravels and boulders. The journey is jumpy, dizzying and back-breaking, and can only be completed by sturdy SUVs.
Land Rovers, hailing from the colonial period and aged about 70-80 years, are the regular means of transportation here. Recently, a few Boleros are also plying. Private vehicles are not allowed here. You can read all about reaching Sandakphu by car here.
How difficult is the Sandakphu trek:
This is a moderate trek, which can be completed by anyone with a reasonably good level of fitness. In fact, the first time trekkers will find Sandakphu trek ideal for their debut.
- The trekking route is mostly paved and well-marked. It takes around 5-6 days to complete.
- Taking a guide is mandatory in this trek and porters are available, if needed.
- Sufficient homestays and trekkers’ huts are present along the way. Home cooked meals and comfy beds are readily available.
- Also, this trek does not demand any extra trekking gear.
How to book Land Rovers:
The vintage Land Rovers are iconic. They are one of the fascinating features of this route. No wonder, Sandakphu is called “Land of Land Rovers”.
The Land Rovers are booked from Manebhanjang. The stand is located just at the end of the bustling market. A board displays the tariffs and registration numbers of the vehicles that ply on this route.
Moreover, guides and porters can be booked from the “Highlander Guides’ and Porters’ Welfare Association” in Manebhanjang.
Can Sandakphu be visited as a day trip from Darjeeling:
The distance between Darjeeling and Sandakphu is around 76 km. Owing to this closeness, many tourists visit Sandakphu as a day trip from Darjeeling. However, this means less exploration of the entire route and major missing out on spectacular sunrises and sunsets that define Sandakphu. Also, since the road condition is hellish, the simultaneous up and down journey is bound to be taxing and gruelling. Hence, it’s better to stay and spend at least one night at Sandakphu.
What are the places on the way to Sandakphu:
The Sandakphu trail has many small settlements on its way and before embarking on the journey, it’s better to have a clear idea about this and that of the places. We have provided a detailed guide about places to stay on this trail which you can find here.
A chart of distances:
- NJP to Manebhanjang: 85 kms
- Darjeeling to Manebhanjang: 25 kms
- Manebhanjang to Chitrey: 3 kms
- Chitrey to LameyDhura: 3 kms
- LameyDhura to Meghma: 3 kms
- Meghma to Tonglu: 2 kms
- Tumling to Gairibas: 9 kms
- Gairibas to Kalipokhari:6 kms
- Kalipokhari to Bikheybhanjang: 2 kms
- Bikheybhanjang to Sandakphu: 4 kms
- Sandakphu to Phalut: 21 kms
- Sandakphu to Gurdum: 10 kms
- Gurdum to Srikhola: 6 kms
- Srikhola to Rimbick: 7 kms
Where to stay in and around Sandakphu:
Sandakphu’s trail offers limited and basic options of accommodation. In all the villages along the road, homestays are available. For more information on accommodation along the Sandakphu trail, visit https://thefloatingpebbles.com/accommodation-along-the-sandakphu-trail/
Day 1: Driving through clouds to reach Tumling:
A gloomy, cloudy morning greeted us at Bagdogra. With a tinge of sadness and a dash of hope, we started our journey.
Our first stop was Mirik. We enjoyed our breakfast with mesmerizing views of tea gardens.
Next, we reached Gopaldhara Tea Estate. Tourists can visit a part of this beautiful tea garden.
The weather remained unchanged, as we visited the Simana View Point. On a sunny day, it offers excellent views of the Kanchenjunga and the valleys and mountain slopes on the other side.
We finally reached Manebhanjang at around 1 PM. We booked a Land Rover at the designated stand. Without much ado, we began our drive towards Sandakphu.
After tossing and turning inside the vehicle, we reached Chitrey after some 20 minutes. The ascent to Chitrey was extremely steep and at places, the road seemed almost vertical. The weather hadn’t improved yet, but the misty aura looked perfect on Chitrey. The village was encompassed in a serene aura, with local women chitchatting among themselves, furry cows grazing on the open field, hens pecking on the ground, a sole ‘shorten’ standing on the edge and rows of prayer flags fluttering in the wind.
As we left Chitrey, it had started to drizzle. We gave LameyDhura a pass and moved on to Meghma.
It was love at first sight with Meghma. True to its name, Meghma was literally nestled inside clouds. The monastery is the first thing to catch attention in Meghma. Its vibrant red colour was standing in stark contrast with the greyish ambience. The village seemed mystical, where silence was the only sound.
Next came Tonglu. With its fascinating view of the Sleeping Buddha and its rustic charm with mules grazing on the field, Tonglu is one of the most charming places on this route. The lone GTA Trekker’s Hut stands with a backdrop of the Kanchenjunga and just opposite of a pond. We took the dirt road beside the hut and strolled on the meadow. As we laid our eyes on Tumling a few kilometres below, the sky started to clear and speckles of sun rays became visible.
The Sleeping Buddha was clearly visible when we reached Tumling. We were awestruck by the sheer beauty of Kanchenjunga. But that’s not all. As soon as we reached Tumling, the sun appeared on the western horizon, all ready to set. The sky had shaded its grey and now coloured in all shades of red and orange, yellow and golden. We just stood there, stunned and mind blown. The feeling is indescribable in words.
Day 2: Braving a menacing road to reach Sandakphu:
The second day started with shivering in biting cold, daring the freezing wind gust blowing from Everest’s direction and witnessing the Sleeping Buddha drenching in the first rays of the sun.
We took our positions on a hillock, just in front of our homestay. The watch was ticking 5-15 and it was still dark. The silhouette of Sleeping Buddha seemed near, yet so far. The eastern horizon started to lighten up gradually. As the sun began rising, the medley of changing colours was reflected on the Kanchenjunga. Similar to the sunset the day before, this sunrise also left us awestruck.
A filling breakfast later, we embarked on the last lap of our journey. Concrete road up to Gairibas makes the drive quite easier. The herculean task of braving a frightening road with dizzying heights and blinding bends starts afterwards. However, the scenic beauty of the road took our mind off the back-breaking journey.
We halted at Kalipokhari next. The small Nepalese village, with the holy lake at its centre, is the perfect stopover for stretching the backs and legs for completing the last part of the journey.
The last settlement before Sandakphu is Bikheybhanjang. The road, henceforth, is most difficult and perilous.
However, as the saying goes “no pains, no gains”. The sheer beauty of Sandakphu, along with the pristine view of the Sleeping Buddha and Everest made us forget all about the arduous drive.
After we checked in and had a delicious lunch, we set out to explore Sandakphu. First, we took the road down the Trekker’s Hut. The towering pine trees and sun rays seeping through them add to the ethereal charm of Sandakphu. There are also groves of rhododendrons and dirt road snaking through them. This area is perfect to enjoy the mountain and silence together.
Later, we took the road leading towards Phalut. The hike is enjoyable, with striking and clearer views of Everest, Lhotse and Makalu.
We watched the sunset from the crowded sunset point.
As soon as the sunset, frosty gale set in motion. The cold seemed numbing and almost unbearable. We retired to our rooms for the time being and made futile attempts to warm us with piping hot tea and coffee. The wind continued to gain momentum as the evening progressed, it’s sound clearly audible from our wooden rooms. The cold also escalated, and we continued to shiver under layers of sweaters and heavy blankets.
It was a full moon night, and we wouldn’t miss a moonlit Kanchenjunga. It was the dead of winter out there, and wearing armour of multiple layers of sweaters and jackets, we defied the piercing cold to own a lifetime experience. The view of the Sleeping Buddha revelling under the full moon is truly a sight to behold.
Day 3: Bidding Sandakphu adieu:
The third day started with another spellbinding sunrise. The majestic Kanchenjunga glowed, as the golden rays of the sun touched it. We had been beholding Kanchunjunga continuously for 2 days straight, and yet we couldn’t feel our hearts’ content.
It was now time to leave Sandakphu. After grabbing delicious bowls of soupy noodles, we said our goodbyes to Sandakphu, to Kanchenjunga.
We drove down the same breakneck road and literally left a sigh of relief after reaching Gairibas.
On our way back, we made a pit stop at Tonglu. The scenario was starkly contrasting to the other day. While Tonglu was in a cloudy and gloomy avatar on our first day, it was fair and sunny on our return. We didn’t miss the opportunity to enjoy the clear view of the Sleeping Buddha from Tonglu. A few quick snaps and selfies later, we continued on our way down.
One by one, we crossed Meghma, LameyDhura and Chitrey. Wistfully, we reminisced our times there as we left them.
Our destination was Gurdum. We reached Gurdum in the afternoon. Gurdum is a different story that we will weave later.
Things to remember:
- The nature of accommodation all throughout the Sandakphu trail is basic and minimal. Rooms are provided with staples and devoid of excesses. Its wise not to expect or demand any urban luxuries here.
- Solar power is the source of electricity here. Also, electricity is not available round the clock, especially at nights. Power banks, fully charged and more than one, will be handy for charging mobiles and cameras.
- Running tap water is unavailable here. The hotel and homestay authorities keep barrels filled with water in bathrooms. The locals here suffer from a water crisis and stockpiling water is a real hardship. It is better to use water in moderation here.
- Given the higher altitude and harsh terrain, acclimatization is key in this trail. Therefore, we suggest taking it slow and stopping over at either Tonglu or Tumling before driving to Sandakphu.
- The drive around Sandakphu will take you through the severe landscape. Take medicines like Acetazolamide (Diamox), Hyoscine Patch, Avomine and other regular meds.
- There is no ATM at Maneybhanjang, or at any other place on the Sandakphu trail. Carry sufficient cash in hand and visit ATM at NJP, if necessary.
- Take sufficient dry foods and snacks.
- Entry inside Singalila National Park is restricted after 1-30 PM.
- Permits are mandatory for entering into Singalila National Park. The authorities charge INR 200 per head as an entry fee.
- The Sandakphu journey traditionally kick-starts from Manebhanjang. But, off late, many travellers are opting for Dhotrey as their starting point.
- The GTA Trekkers’ Hut can be booked from Gorkha Bhavan, which is located just opposite City Centre Mall in Salt Lake, Kolkata. Contact numbers are 033-23377534 and 9903174047.