Trek with the grandest views of Everest, Kanchenjunga, Lhotse and Makalu
If there’s one reason this trek is a must-do, it’s the honour of viewing four of the tallest mountains in the world. The surreal view stays with you for a long time through the trek.
Sandakphu, being the highest peak in West Bengal, at 3,636 m, offers grand views of the world’s tallest peaks. Lhotse and Makalu, the fourth and fifth highest peaks in the world stand tall at 8,516 m and 8,463 m, trying to outdo the world’s tallest peak. But how can they? After all, the Everest stands in between them, towering over everything, at 8,848 m.
On the other hand, Kanchendzonga, the third highest peak, stands with its family at 8,586 m. The entire cluster is famously called as The Sleeping Buddha thanks to its appearance. Mt. Kumbhakarna forms the head and face of Buddha, while Kanchendzonga forms the upper body. The other peaks that make up the rest of The Sleeping Buddha are Kokthang, Rathong, Frey, Kabru South, Kabru North, Simvo, Pandim, Tenchenkhang, Jupono, Narsing,
This trek is done along the border between India and Nepal. In fact, one constantly moves in and out of Nepal during the trek. The mighty mountains, of course, know no boundaries. They stretch through Nepal, India, Bhutan and further.
Another curious feature of this trek is the Kalapokhri (Black Pond). It is a beautiful black pond that one comes across on the second day of the trek. Its water never freezes and Buddhists consider it holy. Bikhey Bhanjyang is another valley just below Sandakphu. It is also known as the Valley of Poison. It got its name because of the poisonous flower, Aconite, which grows here in abundance. In fact, the name itself means ‘Valley of Poison.’
Day 1 : Getting to the base camp – Maneybhanjang
Refer to the ‘getting there’ tab for details on how to reach the base camp.
Day 2: Jaubari to Tumling
• Altitude: 2,134 m to 2,887 m
• Time taken: 6-7 hours, 11 km
Trek Difficulty & Gradient: Easy to Moderate. It can become difficult if it rains. Combination of gradual/steep ascents and level walks. Rocky path (gravel roads) with few muddy sections and meadow walks.
Drinking Water sources: Chitre, Lamadhura & Meghma.
Trail Description: From the homestay in Jaubari, climb up to the road. Across the road, there is a trek route going up the hill to Upper Chitre. It is a steep climb of 3 km, through a thick forest, and takes about an hour and a half to navigate.
There are many trails going left and right, crossing each other. Take the route that climbs uphill and mostly turns leftwards. Sticking together with the group and staying close to the guide is always advisable.
There are small openings in the forest. As you climb higher, pause to take a look at the villages and mountains around through these openings. For a section of around 10 minutes, the trail becomes steep. It leads to a meadow with two small shops.
Spot a motor road going upwards and a little below, towards the left, look out for the Chitre Monastry with lots of furling Buddhist prayer flags. That’s Upper Chitre. Take a break here.
From here, the trail gradually goes uphill. There are stairs made here to help locals and trekkers through the forests till Meghma. At Meghma, the forest opens up to a lovely meadow. The motor road can be seen constantly, with few odd Land Rovers taking other tourists to Sandakphu and Phalut. This can be used as a reference if you ever feel lost. This road goes till Phalut and you may even choose to walk on it. However, the mountain trail is very beautiful through forests, with a variety of wild flowers blooming in the springs.
Lamaydhura is the next stop and is a 3 km steady incline hike. It takes another hour to get here. Look out for Chimal and Magnolia trees. If you’re lucky and very quiet, you might be able to spot a red panda.
Lamaydhura is a small village with a handful of Tibetan families that run a small tea shop. It is a cosy place to take shelter and enjoy a hot cup of tea and biscuits.
The trail from Lamaydhura to Meghma is a 3 km stretch and has some leisurely walks over grassy terrain or the motor road. It is the easiest gradient for the day’s trek. After 1 to 2 hours of hiking, you approach an SSB checkpost (keep your visa and ID card handy for getting it checked here).
From here, walk straight until you find a Buddhist monastery on your left. You can enter the monastery if you wish. A 4-minute-walk from the monastery will lead you to a fork. Take the left road and then break for lunch. The road going straight goes to Tonglu, 200 meters above Tumling at 3,087 meters.
The trail from here to Tumling is a 2 km hike, a flat walk on the motor road, and takes 30–40 minutes. Tumling is on the Nepal border and has a few good private guest houses on the Nepal side. The day’s trek ends here and one can rest at a cosy tea house in Tumling.
Day 3: Tumling to Kalipokhri
• Altitude: 2,887 to 3,170 m
• Time taken: 6-7 hours, 11 km
Trek Difficulty & Gradient: Moderate. It can become difficult during rain. It’s a long day for trekking, with a combination of gradual/steep ascents, level walks and descents. Rocky path (gravel roads) with few muddy sections, meadows and forest walks.
Drinking Water sources: Tumling, Jhaubari, Garibas, Kayakatta.
Trail Description: Wake up early for a brilliant view of the sunrise. Take a good look at the Sleeping Buddha. The Everest cannot be seen from here, but the entire Kanchandzonga family of peaks opens up appearing like a Sleeping Buddha and takes our heart away.
The peaks that you can see from the left are Kumbhakarna, Kanchendzonga and Simvo in the background. Below Kanchendzonga are Koktang, Rathong, Frey, South Kabru, North Kabru, Kabru Forked, Goecha and the ridge of Pandim just ahead of Simvo. The depression between the ridgeline of Goecha and Pandim is the Goecha La, which is a popular and beautiful trek in Sikkim.
After coming back from the sunrise view point, get ready to leave in another 90 minutes, as the day’s trek is a long one. As you start, notice that two motor roads converge. One of them, coming down from Tonglu, is the Indian road. What you trek on is the Nepal road. Walk straight, and in some 20 minutes, reach the Singalila National Park entry point.
From here, you can choose between a hiking trail and a motor road. The motor road goes into Nepal and reaches Gairibas via Jaubari, both villages in Nepal. We suggest you take the hiking trail, which passes through dense forests and meadows and is much more beautiful than the motor road. It directly goes to Gairibas.
Gairibas is 5 km away from Tumling and it takes around 3 hours to get there. Through the forest, the trail climbs to a flattish top. From here, visually trace the route all the way to Sandakphu, which stands tall before you.
The trail descends from this point and a 10 minute trek will land you on a beautiful meadow with majestic views of wide valleys. To your right is India, and to your left is Nepal. You will also find a border stone there. Another 40 minutes of descend from here will bring you to Gairibas.
Gairibas is a small village with few hotels and guest houses on the Nepal side. On the right side of the road is India’s SSB camp and Singalila National Park Entry Check Post. Here, pay the entry fee to enter the National Park and take a small tea break.
From Gairibas, Kayakatta is at a 2 km distance, with 1.5 km of steep climb. There are stairs made for trekkers. One also has the choice of trekking on the winding motor road. You can choose the motor road, because the windings open up a few times to the Nepal side, giving fantastic views. After climbing to the top, descend a bit and in some 10 minutes, you reach Kayakatta, where you can stop for a hot Nepali lunch.
From Kaikatta, your next destination is Kalipokhri, which is 4km. the trail goes on a level motor road. Vehicles are not allowed on this motor road. It’s a beautiful trail with lots of birds on the way. After some 1.5-2 hours, spot a bean-shaped black lake with waving Buddhist prayer flags surrounding it. This is Kalipokhri, which translates to Black Lake. There is a small Buddhist temple at the opposite end of the lake. Note that you are actually standing on the border between India and Nepal.
Find a small shed and a motor road running behind the shed. That road takes you to the interiors of Nepal, to Ilam district, which is the district town for all the Nepali villages on this trek. With a short walk of 5 minutes, you are done for the day. Rest here for the night.
Day 4: Kalipokhri to Sandakphu
• Altitude: 3,170 m to 3,636 m
• Time taken: 3 hours, 6 km
Trek Difficulty & Gradient: Easy, Combination of gradual/steep ascents and level walks.
Drinking Water sources: Bhagsa, Bikheybhanjang.
Trek Description: Today is an easy day. Start from Kalipokhri by following the trail to Sandakphu. Your first pit-stop is at a place called Bhagsa. The walk to Bhagsa is a gradual descent up till Bikheybhanjang, which means ‘Valley of Poison.’ It gets its name from a poisonous aconite plant growing in abundance here. This section is relatively easy and can be covered in 30-40 minutes.
Take a break at Bikheybhanjang and look out for Sandakphu ahead. The trail from here to Sandakphu is a steep incline of 4 km. The trail zig-zags up the hill. There are two trails. The left one goes via Nepal and is a longer trail, but the ascent is gradual. The more popular route is the shorter one, which remains within the Indian border. But the ascent here is steep.
Once you take the second route, there is an hour’s trek on a steep ascent, followed by 15 minutes of level walk. Here, once again, take time to observe the trails from the Nepal and India converging and breaking up.
After 15-20 minutes of walking up the steep incline, you reach the Sandakphu ridge. The last stretch to Sandakphu is full of silver firs, rhododendrons and magnolia. As you reach Sandakphu, you will see the lovely large-leaved Drumstick Primulas.
Observe the huts and tea stalls dotting the Sandaphu landscape. Mobile network is available at the highest point in Sandakphu.
Enjoy the 180-degree panoramic view of the Himalayan peaks. Climb up to the view point. One of the world’s most coveted panoramas opens up before you. Makalu, Lhotse, Everest, Nuptse, Baruntse, Chamling, Chomolonzo, Machapucchare and other peaks of the Annapurna range spread on towards the west. Three sister peaks stand tall towards the north and then of course, the Sleeping Buddha lies before you. Towards the east, you see the highest ranges of Bhutan. Its highest peak, Chomolhari, rises above of all other peaks around it.
If you are lucky, you can witness Sandakphu covered in snow. The temperature here dips to sub-zeroes after sunset.
Day 5: Sandakphu to Phalut
• Altitude: 3,636 m to 3,599 m
• Time taken: 7-8 hours, 21 km
Trek Difficulty & Gradient: Moderate, Combination of gradual/steep ascents, level walks. Rocky path (gravel roads) with few muddy sections and forest cover. Will get tricky if it rains.
Drinking Water sources: Carry additional water today, as water is scarce at Phalut. Sabarkum has an open pond close to the Forest Post. At Phalut, climb the hill opposite the Government Huts on the Gorkhey side to find water, if any.
Trek Description: Start early as there is lot of distance to be covered. The trails are the best you will encounter in terms of scenery and diversity in flora and fauna. Walk ahead towards the north over the settlement area in Sandakphu.
The route to Phalut in April and May has the best concentration of rhododendron trees in full bloom. You will also get the best views of Khangchendzonga while trekking to Phalut. The gradient is easy as the altitudes of Sandakphu and Phalut are almost the same.
Proceed north-east, following the logical trail. A 20 minute descent is followed by a 5 to 10 minute ascent and another short section of an easy descent. Gradual ascents and descents over 2 to 3 hillocks and you join the road again. This section takes an hour and a half as you reach Thukumb Checkpost. Get your entry tickets checked here.
The trail to Sabarkum is towards your right while the Nepal road goes via the left trail. Take a left via the Nepal trail and walk for 10 minutes till you reach a hut. Another 15 minutes on the same trail will connect you back with the trail to Sabarkum.
This stretch takes around 3 to 4 hours till you find yourself at Forest Check Post of Sabarkum. Look for an adjacent pond close to this check post for refilling your water bottles. However, make sure you use water filters. Trail from Sabarkum to Phalut is 7 km zig-zag . There is a series of gradual descents and level field walks, each coming in intervals of 15 minutes. After this is a half km flat meadow walk followed by 1 km of steep climb section, which can be negotiated by taking shortcuts.
The total 7 km section can be done in two and half hours or less. Look out for trekkers’ hut on your way. The peak of Phalut is now only half an hour of hill climb section ahead. Phalut is a small grassland with minimal or no vegetation. There is just a SSB camp, a forest guest house which can accommodate 8 people, and a GTA trekker’s hut which can accommodate 18 trekkers. It’s a remote place with the closest views of the entire panorama. We have to climb the hillock on our left a bit to reach the view point. Generally we go there for sunrise. From there we see the entire panorama of the mountains and peaks. Similar to the ones we saw from Sandakphu, but from much closer distance. Camp for the night at Phalut.
Day 6: Phalut (3,600 m) to Ribdhi via Gorkhey
Trek Difficulty and Gradient: Moderate. Mostly descend with very few gradual climbs. Rocky paths, gravel roads with few muddy sections and beautiful forest cover.
Drinking Water sources: Gorkhey
Trek Description: After watching an unreal sunrise behind the mountains, head for your descent. The trail mostly passes through forests, with lots of openings. Initially Pandim, Tenchenkhang, Jupono, Narsing are seen through the openings. It’s almost 9-10 km to Gorkhey, where you can have a Nepali lunch. It takes around 3 hours to get here.
From here, exit to Sikkim after crossing the Gorkhey River, which borders Sikkim and West Bengal. The exit point to Bhareng is a 4km stretch and takes around 1.5 to 2 hours to reach. The route climbs up through forests and descends to a motor road.
Take a left and walk for another hour on the road to a small house. Here, leave the road and climb up to a trekking trail. The trail descends and climbs for around 20 minutes to a village. From there, follow a concrete staircase to get down to Bhareng.
Bhareng is a motor head. Vehicles can be arranged from here to Jorethang (3 hours) or Darjeeling (5 hours). Otherwise, a shared vehicle leaves to Jorethang every morning and from Jorethang, you can find vehicles that go to all the nearby places.
We rest overnight at Bhareng/Ribdhi in a guest house.
Alternate trek routes from Phalut to Sirikhola: Route 1: Phalut to Gorkey (10 km), to Rammam (9 km), to Sirikhola (4 km), total distance – 24 km. This is a longer route but very scenic. Experienced trekkers may want to take this route.
Day 7: Depart from Ribdhi
Have early morning tea and leave to your destination. Vehicles can be arranged on demand.