Hike like a Sherpa: How to Conquer the Uttarey-Phoktey Dara Trek (Singalila Range)

Author: Laura Thapa
Date: 2019-07-20

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Nothing you do or have done will ever compare to a trek across the wilderness of Sikkim. Your breath will be taken from you in each moment, literally and figuratively. Arguably the best trek in Sikkim is from Uttarey to Phoktey Dara, which skims along the Singalila Range of West Sikkim. It is not, however, for the faint of heart or the ill prepared. The trail is commonly used as a Sherpa route for transporting goods to the border military, but it’s a bit of a backwoods trail for tourism. Up until recently it was unexplored territory, vast and untouched. You can’t conquer this trail unless you follow the local Sherpas and become like one yourself.

The first step in the journey is to cross the Singshore Bridge near Pelling and continue on to a nights stay in Uttarey. There are a few guesthouses to rest up and get a good meal of local thali. While you prepare for the trek, you will want to store anything unneeded for your trip at the guesthouse. For this, you will want to bring along an extra duffle with a lock. The trek is intense and strenuous not to mention rustic, so you don’t want to carry any extra weight than you must. The Sherpas you hire will be in charge of carrying tents, food, and cooking supplies. You won’t have the opportunity to load them down with your extra luggage. If you choose to take on this exhilarating journey then you should already have the mindset to forgo such luxury. Allow yourself to be inspired by the strength and audacity of the locals, and try your best to imitate them.

Day 1: As you set out, breathe in deeply and easily. This is the lowest elevation you will be for almost a week. Take in the simple beauty of the quiet village of Uttarey with its pastures lined in bamboo fences. Since you will most likely meet your Sherpas at their homes, don’t be shy to set your pack down and ask for a quick cup of tea. Get to know the men who are guiding you, and trek easy knowing they are experts in what they do. After a quick break, hoist on your pack and get ready for the real fun to begin. The goal for day one is to reach Achalley (8500ft) before dusk. It is about 6km from the village and can take around 4 hours. Make sure to take breaks for water and snacks, but keep up the pace. You want to pitch your tents before the sun sets.

Day 2: Wake up early and grab a cup of sweet ginger tea. Find yourself a nice patch of grass to sit on and catch Khangchendzonga beaming in the morning sun. She will seem to be hiding a bit from you with closer hills shielding her full face, but continue onwards and upwards over the next few days to see her full glory revealed among her neighboring peaks. From this point there are two options: break up your trip to allow more time to rest and enjoy the journey while adding an extra day, or trek all the way to the highest point, which saves time but can be exhausting and even dangerous for those susceptible to altitude sickness. Let’s say you have means to take an extra day. On this day, your goal is to reach Karka Chowk, a scenic valley situated around 10,000ft with a babbling brook racing through the middle. There’s plenty of flat ground to pitch your tent and open space to wander around to take some great pictures. Also, this is a good place to fill up your water. Make sure to drink plenty to avoid dehydration. Eat a filling dinner and sleep early. Tomorrow will be the hardest day of the trek.