Sunday, April 3, 2016

Sandakhpu trek: Sleeping Buddha with Silver Blanket Ramro Che

It had rained in Darjeeling the day before we started Sandakhpu trek. We didn’t know whether it was a good omen or the indication of disastrous trek ahead. Luckily, it turned out to be good for us as it didn’t rain for next 5 days when we were on road and skies only got clearer each passing day! This is my travelogue of climbing highest peak in West Bengal at 12000 feet and walking through India Nepal border on the oldest trek trail of India which is in Singalila National Park, part of the Eastern Himalayas.

Day 1: Manebhanjan to Tumling via Meghma

We left Darjeeling around 6.30am to reach Manebhanjan by 8.30am, place where we met our guides- Rakesh and Sujay. I could spot Indo-Nepal border with Indian SSB camp and 1950's made Land Rovers which climbs up to Sandakphu and Phalut on rent! We started off by scaling 3km steep hill to reach Chittrey – which had a beautiful monastery with stupa’s. This was our first foot in Nepal, my international debut! There were some small Tibetan villages along the trail throughout and on the entire trek, India was on our right and Nepal on our left. And we ended up sleeping in Nepal on Day 1, 2 and 3! {International Trekker swag!}
Later in the day, we passed Lamayadhura to reach Meghma, 7km easy trek. From Meghma we set foot towards Tumling and reached Siddharth lodge {which had amazing valley view} around 4pm, but it felt like it was already 7pm and visibility of 10m. Temperature had dropped close to 5c and we got our hands on delicious dal roti chaawal dinner at 7.30pm to end our day! Meanwhile, I put down some lines my mind had accumulated when I walked overhearing classic Tibetan instruments and here it goes:
The last mile is when clouds
Came together to bling my eyes
The warm clothes and gloves could not stop me shiver
My sweat merges with the cloud
When white and red rhodendrons smile
Along a way that is barely visible
Though it feels like a drea,
And you try to enjoy and catch breath
Last mile haunts me and reminds me
That loneliness is a famous myth
As clouds with my thoughts are on a fly
With Buddha, Nepal and Sleeping Shiva- Peace!

Day 2: Tumling to Kala Pokhri via Gairibans

It was a heartbreak to wake up at 5am in the morning for sunrise and not seeing Kanchanjunga due to heavy fog. Putting disappointment behind, we started trek at 8am which had in store a 7km stroll through dense jungle and steep ascents with descents, we reached Garibans to find Jawans of Indian Army celebrating holi with colors, pakoras and sweets! This is the best holi I have celebrated and made it more special when a Jawan quipped- “Neither I nor you are at our homes, we are family now and let’s celebrate”. I guess, life is all about friendships!

After sharing momo’s and cup of chai with all, we started again and took a soupy noodles break at Kaiyakatta, at around 1pm. These houses use firewood for cooking and run on solar lights. Different life indeed. Gariribans to Kala Pokhri is around 5 kms and we reached the black lake (Kala Pokhri) where super chill winds were blowing & ensuring that the beautiful Tibetan flags all over the lake kept fluttering. Quite a sight! It was easily around 3c here! With pasta for evening snack & dal chaawal for dinner, we retired for the day at Pandim lodge.

Day 3: Kala Pokhri to Sandakhpu

Surprisingly, sky looked clear and we could also spot Sherpa Chalet lodge, our house in Sandakhpu from Pandim lodge. With renewed hope of catching a glimpse of Kanchanjunga, we started 1 hour before schedule after lovely Choley roti breakfast. After a quick 1 hour ascent we heard the voices of joy and knew magic had happened-
Then I finally see you
As expected you were magnificent
Breathtaking, heap of happiness, picture perfect
And of course, you were elusive!
I had woken up before sun rose yesterday
Just to catch first glimpse of you
But then, you were cozying with clouds…
I sighed and went back to my daily chores
But today, you made up for everything
You glowed and shined under the morning sun
Majestically sleeping with cakmess and peace
Which I pray that never eludes me from now!
You, sleeping Buddha, with silver blanket!
Sleeping Buddha, with Mt. Kumbakarna as face, Mt. Kanchanjunga as tummy and Mt. Pandim as toes- is treat to watch and we spent quite enough time just watching it! After good amount of pics, we walked to stop at Bhaneybunjan from where Sandakphu looked the closest. We knew this was the last ascent and very challenging. With close to 70 degree steep ascents and constant climbing we could do this stretch in 3 hours and finally we had reached our summit! Time for celebration with kichdi and awesome sunset where you are standing on a hill to see red sun romance clouds which are below you!

Day 4: Sandakhpu to Sephi via Sirikhola and Gurdum

On a shivering 5am morning, we woke up to see the best part of the trek- Sunrise at Sandakphu. Full moon setting on my left and new sun rising on my right, sleeping Buddha was shining red and slowly turned white. This is just wow! Icing on the cake- Vaguely visible 3 sisters- Mt.Makalu, Mt.Lhotse & Mt.Everest. I knew my trip was complete and with satisfied heart, we started to descent! After a while, I took off 3 layer of clothes on me as temperatures started to soar to 10c as I reached Gurdum, 9km trek down. River on the sides, Sikkim villages in front and constant descents of another 5kms trek along Timburey & Sirikhola, we reached Sephi. I enjoyed Sujay’s heartful singing on the banks of Srikhola. River, music, happiness of successful trek- what more to ask! We were served typical Gorkhaland food with homegrown spinach and potatoes-I had best food and stay at Lippohochha.

Day 5: Sephi to Darjeeling via Rimbick and Manebhanjan

After a quick lemon tea, we started off from Sephi at 6.30am on a shared taxi to Darjeeling which costed me 220rs! Passing through scenic landscapes, we reached Darjeeling at around 12pm and we finally had access to hotwater to bath! I have separately blogged on what I did in Darjeeling here.

Ofcourse, there were great lessons for me in this trek. Noting down a few:
  1. Smile like the people from hill. Ear to ear!
  2. Inner peace- go completely offline, look at landscapes and monasteries, appreciate smaller aspects and things which we take for granted
  3. Build friendships- from sushi cook of Munich to retail banker from Bombay to trekmates from IIT KGP to reigniting friendship with Bachhubhai (Rakesh Da, our guide, fondly called Supraj like this)!
  4. Work- You know that you have to scale up and you are catching for the breath- put your head down and do one step at a time. Manthan, I am going to remember you for long!
Like everyone, while I write this I am experiencing Post trek symptoms, which were/are:
  1. Must have thigh pains (due to descent) which makes climbing down stares a nightmare for couple of days!
  2. When you see beautiful girl and you think- “KT Dami Ramro Che!” (Nepali style!)
  3. Looking up at the sky and giving white clouds the shape of sleeping Buddha- Kanchanjunga!