Hiking - Destination

The Sandakphu Trek: A Trekker's Paradise

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 Call it “Sandakphu” or “Sandakfu” or “Sandakpur,” the place is a trekker’s dream come true. With a height of 11,941 ft (wow!), the Sandakphu peak is the highest crest nestling between India and Nepal. It is the highest peak in the Singalila range. The array of natural beauty and the magnificent outlook of the dignified Himalayas make the Sandakphu trek West Bengal’s most popular trek as well as in the Eastern zone of India.

                                         “The Mountains Are Calling, and I Must Go…”

                                                            -- John Muir

The complete Sandakphu trek trails up to Phalut (3600m), the second highest peak in the region after Sandakphu. However, the route to Phalut is comparatively difficult and is ideal for expert trekkers only.

Know More Here:

Why Sandakphu?

Well, aside from the pristine paradisiacal beauty of the Mother nature and the wild elemental grandeur of the snows, Sandakphu offers the grandiose view of four of the five highest peaks of the world - Mt. Everest, Makalu, Kanchenjunga, and Lhotse.

And that’s not all. When you stand tall on the Sandakphu grounds, you get a panoramic view of the entire Kangchenjunga Range and many other peaks of Nepal, Sikkim, Tibet and Bhutan in one single stretch of snow!

If that’s not exciting then we don’t what is!

Nitish Walia, an adventure photographer, and avid trekker, testifies Sandakphu trek as “one of the most beautiful treks in India; the views that one can see on a clear sky day are beyond amazing. I really consider myself lucky at times when nature opens up itself and lets me capture its marvels which are how I was able to click the shining bright clear sky images of Kanchenjunga at night.”

He continues, “The trek is moderate in terms of gradient, but one has to walk for long hours every day. Beyond Sandakphu, if one chooses to go to Phalut then it’s a long trek of about 21kms in one day but the views are equally rewarding. Looking at Everest and Kanchenjunga together in one frame is like a magical moment for me and it happened only because I was willing to walk those extra miles.”

To know more about Nitish Walia read here.

Whom is the Sandakphu trek meant for?

The Sandakphu trek is for every trekker/hiker or mountain lover. The grand Himalayas accompany you throughout the trail, teasing you with views of virginal beauty around. 

The Sandakphu trek is relatively easy and can be enjoyed by young (above 12 years) and old people alike. It’s a good trek for beginners and enthusiasts who have religiously followed the prescribed fitness regime. Sandakphu is easily accessible by jeep, though the road condition is rather poor yet the rustic ride in old vintage Jeeps will definitely give you the feel of flitting away from the urbanization.

A blogger at Scribbles, Snachita Chatterjee paints a very vivid picture of her Sandakphu trek in the Himalayas. Chatterjee, a Trek fanatic, blogs about her walk in the Himalayas that reads like a short bildungsroman story. She says that on the return trip she could “no longer wait for some homemade food and a comfortable bed to sleep, while at the same time my spirit was permeated with a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, and lightness. It was my unbearable lightness of being, perhaps.”

Sandakphu Trek Cost

The Sandakphu-Phulat trek cost depends on three factors.

  1. Tour Duration
  2. Group size
  3. Services taken

If you are an expert trekker and like to trek on your own, in a group of five to six people, then your trek cost may be lower. But if you belong to the beginner category and hire the service of organized trekking company then the cost will be slightly high. Trekking companies will give you a budget according to your group size and specific requirement and provide service treks like porters, guides, and other team members involved to help you have a comfortable trek.

But then again- will a comfortable trek grant you the satisfying pleasure of summit conquest?

Sandakphu Trek
Sandakphu Trek

However, to lag a registered guide is mandatory as you enter the Singalila national park which is well marked with signage, so don’t worry you can easily make it without any assistance too.

The Sandakphu Trek: Let’s Go!

If we have pumped you up enough to go on the Sandakphu trek then here’s a virtual tour of the trek. Take a close look!

Winter Camping
Sandakphu weather

Read about Winter camping guidelines here.

The Trek Route: What to Expect

Sandakphu is the loftiest peak of the Singalila Range while Phalut the next highest point after Sandakphu. The trek route runs along the border of India and Nepal. In fact, you will constantly move in and out of Nepal. During the trek, you will often camp on the Indian land at one time and find yourself on the Gurkhaland at other times.

The Sandakphu trek passes through the Singalila National Park where you may spot the unique Red Panda, Pangolins and a variety of birds. The entire trail is punctuated with verdant flora- flowering rhododendrons of numerous types, giant magnolias, spruce and a wide range of amazing orchids. As a matter of fact, the region is home to 600 varieties of orchids- the largest concentration in any single geographical area in the world.

Caution: Beware of the poisonous aconite plants that grow near the peak. It is not called “Sandakphu” (Height of the Poison Plant) for no reason.

How to get to Base Camp - Jaubhari

The Sandakphu trek starts from Maneybhanjan but the trek’s base camp is a lovely, quiet village called Jaubhari, 2.5 km after Maneybhanjan. Registered trek companies will have your pick up arranged from NJP to Jaubhari at 9.30 am.

The cab fare is approximately Rs. 3,500 (per cab). You’ll also have transport from Darjeeling for Rs. 1,500. This fare will be shared by four-five trekkers in a vehicle. If you are an independent trekker then take a ride in the shared jeeps from NJP station to Darjeeling for Rs. 200. Switch Jeeps from Darjeeling to Jaubhari via Maneybhanjang. The total fare would be around Rs. 220 to 250 (max).

An ardent traveler, Himadri Sinha Roy who has a keen interest in trekking the Himalayas took a lesser traveled route to Snadakphu. He recollects, “unlike others, we did not start our trek from the usual starting point of Maneybhanjan rather we did the trek in a reversal mode. On reaching Siliguri, we took a car and reached a small hamlet in West Sikkim called Okhrey, it took us around 7 long hours via Jorethang and reach this beautiful Himalayan village of Okhrey.” Roy started his Sandakphu trek in the reverse mode from Bersay to Sandakphu-Phalut via Gorkhey.

Quite innovative, don’t you think?

However, we shall brief you on the usual Sandakphu Trek route that starts from Maneybhanjang.
 

The Starting Point: Maneybhanjan

The Sandakphu-Phulat trek starts from Manebhanjan in Darjeeling district. At an altitude of 2134 meters, Maneybhanjan is the gateway to the Sandakphu region. If you reach Maneybhanjan in the evening then spent the night and set on the trek in the following morning. The total distance from Maneybhanjang to Sandakphu is about 32 kms and it can be covered in two to three days. You can continue the trek from Sandakphu to Phalut, the second highest peak in West Bengal, or simply decent towards Rimbik. There are several points to check out on the trek down and the returning journey can be completed in maximum four days.

Sandakphu Trek: Description and Itinerary

The Sandakphu trek falls under moderate trek level. The average temperature is 6º and the highest point is Sandakphu (3636 m/11930 ft), followed by Phalut (3600m/11800ft).

The best time to do Sandakphu trek is during March to May and October to December. The temperature is between 6 - 12°C from March to May and fluctuates between 1 - 6°C from October to November.

Both the seasons proposes unique aesthetic trekking experience. The winter Sandakphu trek will give you crystal clear mountain views and present glorious sights of sunrise. On another note, the spring trek will exhibit colorful forest vista.

Sandakphu Trek Map for Trekkers

Trek Map
Sandakphu Trek Map

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Getting to the base camp – Jaubhari

  • Altitude: 6,400 ft
  • Time taken: 4-5 hours drive from NJP. Pick up from NJP station at 9.30 am

Day 2: Jaubhari (6,400 ft) to Tumling (9,450 ft); 11 km, 6-7 hours

  • Altitude: 6,400 ft to 9,450 ft
  • Time taken: 6-7 hours, 11 km
  • Trek gradient: Moderate. A steep climb for the first 1.5 hours is followed by a gradual ascent and descent for another hour. Last 3-3.5 hours of the day 2 trek is a combination of gradual ascents and level walks.
  • Water sources: Chittrey (1.5 hours), Lamyadhura (3.5 hours), Meghma (5 hours).
sandakphu trek route
sandakphu trek 

Day 3: Tumling (9,450 ft) to Kalipokhri (10,400 ft); 13 km, 7 hours

  • Altitude: 9,450 ft to 10,400 ft
  • Time taken: 6-7 hours, 13 km
  • Trek gradient: Moderate. A gradual ascent for 1.5 hours is followed by a 40 minutes descent and steep ascent from Garibas for another hour, which is followed by an easy descent. The last 2 hours will be Level walks on the motor road.
  • Water sources: Garibas (2 hours), Kaiyakatta (4 hours)

Day 4: Kalipokhri (10,400 ft) to Sandakphu (11,950 ft); 6.5 km, 3 hours

  • Altitude: 10,400 ft to 11,950 ft
  • Time taken: 3 hours, 6.5 km (to Goat campsite)
  • Trek gradient: Easy – moderate. For the first 30 minutes of the trek is gradual ascent followed by a steep ascent for about an hour, and finally, a wavy path on the motor road.
  • Water sources: Bhagsa, Bikheybhanjang,- you’ll reach both places within the first hour of trekking. Ensure to refill your water bottles before proceeding forward.

Day 5: Sandakphu (11,950 ft) to Sabargram (11,807 ft); 14 km, 6 hours

  • Altitude: 11,950 ft to 11,807 ft
  • Time taken: 7-8 hours, 14 km
  • Trek gradient: Moderate. Day 5 trek begins with a gradual decent followed by a combination of gradual, steep ascents and level walks. Rocky path (gravel roads) interspersed with muddy sections and forest cover. Can get tricky if it rains.
  • Water sources: Carry 2 litres of water from Sandakphu as you set out (water is scarce on this route). Refill the water bottles at Sabargram, where there is an open pond close to the Forest Post.

Day 6: Sabargram (11,807 ft) to Gorkhey (7,546 ft) via Phalut (11,950 ft); 17 km, 6 hours

  • Altitude:  11,807 ft to 7,546 ft via 11,950 ft
  • Time taken: 6 hours,16 km
  • Trek gradient: Moderate. The initial descent is followed by a combination of gradual ascents and descents to Phalut. There are level walks to Gorkhey except for the steep descent in the final hour of the day’s trek.
  • Water sources: Carry 2 litres of water. Refill your water bottles from a stream ahead of Phalut.

Day 7: Gorkhey (7,546 ft) to Sepi (6,234 ft); 15 km, 5 hours. Depart from Sepi after lunch.

  • Altitude: 7,546 ft to 6,234 ft
  • Time taken: 4-5 hours, 15 km
  • Time difficulty: Easy, mostly level walks interjected with a few ascents and descents.
  • Water sources: Refill your water bottles at Ramam, where you will reach a little over an hour into your trek. So, carry sufficient water with you today.

Panorama of Peaks seen from Sandakphu and Phalut

Panorama of Peaks from Sandakphu
Panorama of Peaks

Pushing the Sandakphu trek to Phalut peak requires extra strength and endurance. If you are an advanced trekker, then try surmounting the Phalut peak, along with Sandakphu, for a complete panoramic view of the mighty mountains that know no boundaries and stretch to Nepal, India, Bhutan and further.

Mountains at Glance:

The Sandakphu trek will also grace you with breathtakingly beautiful scenic sights and fanciful villages through small openings through the forest. The mountains to look for:

  1. Baruntse ( 7220m )
  2. Chamlang ( 7319m )
  3. Chomo Lonzo ( 7818m )
  4. Lhotse ( 8516m )
  5. Machhapuchhare ( 6993m )
  6. Makalu ( 8462m )
  7. Mount Everest ( 8850m )
  8. Nuptse ( 7861m )
  9. Kanchenjunga ( 8586m )
  10. Talung ( 7349m )
  11. Rathong ( 6679m )
  12. Kabru N ( 7353m )
  13. Koktang ( 6147m )
  14. Simvo ( 6812m )
  15. Frey ( 5853m )
  16. Kabru S ( 7318m )
  17. Kabru Dome ( 6600m )
  18. Kabru Forked ( 6100m )
  19. Pandim ( 6691m )
  20. Tenchenkhang ( 6010m )
  21. Jupono ( 5650m )

Villages at Glance: Gorkhey, Gairibas, Meghma, Molley, Maneybhanjyang, Bhareng, Rammam, Srikhola, Sepi, and Gurdum.

How to get fit for the Sandakphu trek

Although the Sandakphu-Phulat trek is a moderately difficult trek, it is an extremely long trek. This means you have to prepare for such a laborious task. Here how you can fit yourself out for the adventurous trek along the India-Nepal border.

  • Cardiovascular endurance

The Sandakphu trek demands a good amount of endurance and stamina. Target 10 km in 60 minutes before the start of the trek. You can begin by jogging daily. Begin at a slower pace and increase it every day. Other endurance-building exercises such as swimming, cycling and stair climbing with limited breaks will also help.

For a high-altitude trek, you should have a command on both- distance and speed. Prepare yourself in the following order–

  1. In the beginning of the fitness routine, target completing 5 km in 35 minutes.
  2. Gradually rise your speed to do 5 km in 30 minutes
  3. Next, increase the distance to 10 km and cover it in 70 minutes
  4. You are trek-fit when you can do 10 km in 60 minutes
  • Strength

The Sandakphi-Phalut trek is mostly under forest cover and the trail is rough. Phalut to Gorkhey day has an entire section of 3-4 km with steep descents.

The rugged and steep terrain can be harsh on your knees and thighs. Therefore, your leg muscles need to be strong enough to endure this patch.

To strengthen your legs, start with the following workout-

  1. 3 sets of squats, with 8 squats in each set. Work towards reaching your target in 3 weeks.
  2. Gradually, target 3 sets of squats with 15 in each set.
  • Flexibility

Trekking with a backpack around the hills and the highlands requires some effort and agile muscles. To increase your agility and strength, do stretching exercises such as hamstrings stretches, quadriceps, hip flexors, lower back muscles, and shoulders stretches regularly.

Livingit Tip:
Do not outdo yourself. It is important that you arrive on the trek with relaxed muscles.

What to take on the Sandakphu trek

Every trek calls for some necessary items to load on because you are going away from human civilization and mother nature could be harsh if you aren’t equipped well.

Bare Necessities

  1. Trekking shoes: Solid trekking shoes with good grip is required for this trek. Your humble sports shoes will not be very comfortable.
    You can get all the tips on choosing trekking shoes here.
  2. Backpack (40-60 litres): A backpack with sturdy straps and a supporting frame is quite essential. The external frame helps to keep your posture straight while trekking and the shoulder straps provide comfort and stability. If trekking during the months of April and May, do not forget the backpack rain cover.
    Learn how to select the best trekking bags here.

Trekking Clothes

Up above in the mountains the elements are mean. Be it the wind or the sun, you will need to protect your body from them. A hollow full sleeve windproof jacket or a goose down jacket will help enormously because Sandakphu is a very windy trek. In addition, wear sun-protective garments to shun skin burning.

Read to know all about Sun Protective clothing here.

  1. Warm layers: Wear at least three warm layers for this trek- two light layers such as fleece or woollen and one padded jacket. During winter, add another top layer.
  2. Trek pants: Carry three pairs trek pants. Wear one pair and carry the rest.
  3. Three collared t-shirts: Carry light, full sleeved sun-protective t-shirts to prevent sun burns on the neck and arms. Again, wear one and carry two.
  4. Thermals: It will be pretty cold and if you are more susceptible to cold then carry thermals for the nights. Whereas is it mandatory to carry them from December to March.

Livingit Tip-
To change your t-shirts often. The body tends to sweat a lot on such rigorous walking trips. Trekkers who don’t change into fresh clothes fall ill due to wet clothes.

Accessories

  1. Sunglasses: Goggles and sunglasses are a must to prevent snow blindness and further protect the eyes from dust, wind, and others.
  2. Suncap: The sun is intense at higher altitudes. So, bring a sun cap/hat with a broad brim to safeguard your face and neck from sunburns.
  3. Hand gloves: Cary at least two pairs- one pair of fleece or woolen hand gloves and a pair of water proof gloves.
  4. Balaclava: This woollen helmet helps to keep your ears and neck covered and protected from cold winds. You may replace them with woolen scarves instead.
  5. Socks: Carry at least three pairs. Two/three sports socks to wear while trekking and a pair of woolen socks for the night.
  6. Illumination: Carry flashlights, headlights, headlamps, LED torch. And don’t forget extra batteries.
  7. Trekking pole: You can save up to 40% energy with this useful trekking equipment. It provides you with extra balance and stability to keep going on the rough terrain and share your load on steep accents.
  8. Waterproof Poncho: Due to its geographical location, Sandakphu is prone to rainfall throughout the year. Therefore, it is advisable to carry a waterproof poncho on the trek.

Others

  1. Daypack (20 litres): Carry a smaller backpack to carry water, medical kit, and some light snacks. That way you needn’t unload your backpack at regular intervals.
  2. Toiletries: Sunscreen, moisturizer, lip balm, light towel, toothbrush, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, toilet paper. Carry a Ziploc bag to discard the used tissues and napkins. Do not dump the Ziploc bags in the mountains. Plastics and tissues are not biodegradable.
  3. Cutlery: Carry a spoon, coffee mug, and a lunch box. For hygiene reasons, bring your own cutlery.
  4. Two water bottles: 1 litre each.
  5. Plastic covers: Use plastic bags to compartmentalize things while packing. Carry extra plastic bags for wet clothes.

Personal Medical Kit

A medical/first-aid kit is a trek prerequisite. Minor cuts and characteristic medical conditions like dizziness, nausea, constipation may occur. So, be prepared with a personal medical kit. Include the following medicines and items in your medical kit- 

  • Diamox – 10 tablets (to prevent AMS)
  • Dexamethasone – one strip
  • Nifedipine – 5 tablets
  • Crocin – 6 tablets (fever)
  • Avomine – 4 tablets (motion sickness)
  • Avil 25mg – 4 tablets (allergies)
  • Combiflam – 4 tablets (Pain killer)
  • Norflox TZ & Lomofen– 6 tablets each (diarrhea)
  • Digene – 10 tablets (acidity)
  • Omez/Rantadine – 10 tablets (antacids)
  • Crepe bandage – 3 to 5 meters
  • Gauze – 1 small roll
  • Band aid – 10 strips
  • Cotton – 1 small roll
  • ORS – 10 packets
  • Betadine or any antiseptic cream
  • Moov spray (aches, & sprains)

The Risks on the Sandakphu Trek

The Sandakphu trek is graded as moderately difficult but that is not to say that it is danger-free. It is a long trek that rapidly climbs to Sandakphu and Phalut campsites and you should be mindful of that.

Safety Guidelines to be followed on the Sandakphu Trek

A registered trek organization will take safety procedures to ensure your complete safety during the trek. But if you are on your own then consider the below safety rules-

High Altitude Trek Equipment -
Equip yourself with the appropriate and required tools and equipment. While trekking in the mountains, wear shoes with micro-spikes, gaiters, high altitude rated sleeping bags, and probe.

Being hydrated and well-nourished -
Drink at least 4 litres of water every day during the trek to ensure proper hydration. Dehydration can make you lose energy very quickly and intensify the effects of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). Carry nutritious snacks and avoid skipping meals. Not eating properly can lead to serious health emergencies on high altitudes.

Acute Mountain Sickness -
At 11,941 feet, you cannot rule out the chances of being hit by Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). As we said, the ascent to the Sandakphu is rapid so, you may not have enough time to realize before AMS hits you right in the face. Therefore, you need to understand the AMS symptoms and abide by the remedies.

AMS Symptoms-

  • Persistent headache
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty in sleeping

AMS Remedies-

  • Take rest. Give your body time to get acclimatize to less oxygen availability
  • Life-saving medicine- Diamox, Dexamethasone, and Nifedipine
  • Alert your trek members about your condition

Caution: AMS condition can worsen to advanced stages like High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE). These advanced conditions are fatal.

The Return Trip

The Sandakphu trek ends at Sapi. You can find transportation available from Sepi to NJP (New Jalpaiguri) or Darjeeling and the fare ranges between Rs. 3000 to 5500 per cab. The time taken to reach NJP is approximately 6 hours whereas you can reach Darjeeling in 4-4.5 hours.

In case you are booking return tickets for the same day, it is advisable to book tickets for flights/trains/buses that leave after 9 pm.

And that’s how you can do the Sandakphu Trek. Hope we have provided as much information and motivation as possible to have you at least calling up your friends and planning a trek to the gorgeous Sandakphu.

If we have missed out important info then please write or share your trekking story -  we are happy to feature adventure memories!

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