Visible Himalayan peaks during the Sandakphu trek

Sandakphu Trek In April: An Encounter With Picture-Perfect Rhododendrons

Author: Michelle Tirkey
Date: 2021-08-28

Share using:

Route: Manebhanjan - Tumling – Kalipokhari - Sandakphu - Sepi

Trek duration: 4 days

Best time to trek: Mar-May and Oct-Jan

Location: West Bengal

Trek highlights: Witness rhododendron blooms in April, sunrise over the Sleeping Buddha, views of Kumbhakarna, Korbu North, Korbu South, Khangchendzonga, Pandim, and Everest peaks

A trek in many ways is a test, a challenge you throw at yourself. More often than usual, a trek teaches you lessons for life, changes your perspective on regular events, and lets you rediscover your limits. On a similar quest, I left for the Sandakphu trek in April 2021 where I encountered picture-perfect rhododendrons, experienced a magical snowfall, and witnessed a glorious sunrise over the Sleeping Buddha.

Sleeping Buddha Range at sunrise

Sleeping Buddha Range at sunrise

I was accompanied by two of my friends, John and Jasmine. We commenced our journey from my hometown, Siliguri, and drove towards Darjeeling. The idea was to spend a day in Darjeeling and leave for the base of the trek, Manebhanjan, the next day. After spending a laid-back day in Darjeeling, hopping from one café to the other and engaging in some street shopping, we ended our day.

Darjeeling to Manebhanjan

To reach Manebhanjan, you can either book an entire cab, which can be done at the counter for private vehicles opposite Keventer’s in Nehru Road, or opt for shared cabs. We opted for shared Sumos, which are comparatively cheaper. Due to the unavailability of a direct vehicle, we broke our journey at Sukhiapokhri. A Sumo from Darjeeling to Sukhiapokhri and another from Sukhiapokhri to Manebhanjan took us about 2 hours, spending around INR 120 per person to reach Manebhanjan. Manebhanjan is a sleepy town that has gained popularity due to the trek route. There is no ATM in Manebhanjan so you must remember to withdraw cash before you arrive here. The town has a small market from where you could buy last-minute essentials and medicines as beyond this point everything starts to become expensive. There are budget-friendly options for stay, with basic amenities. We stayed at Druk Homestay run by Tenzing and her lovely family where we booked an all meal inclusive plan for stay. Tenzing also helped us arrange a trekking guide.  

Druk Homestay in Manebhanjan

Druk Homestay in Manebhanjan

Trek day 1: Manebhanjan to Tumling

With Roshan as our trek guide, we began our trek to Tumling. The distance between these two places is 12 km. The first 3 km till Chitrey was a steep climb, as we chose to climb through the shortcuts in the forests. The first halt was at Chitrey Monastery. We took some time to visit the monastery and soak in the mystic energy of the surroundings. From Chitrey, we walked a considerable distance through vast meadows, cutting through clouds and discovering a quiet trail. The pitstop for lunch was at Lamey Dhura, where we ate a bowl of Wai Wai instant noodles. We continued to walk through Lamey Dhura towards Meghma and took the route that goes through Nepal and avoided Tonglu. It took us about 6 hours, including the halts, to reach Tumling.

Chitrey Monastery

At Tumling, there are many options for accommodation ranging from trekkers huts to comfortable cottages. Due to the prevalent pandemic situation, we opted for a triple bedded private room at Satkar Lodge in Tumling. Roshan suggested we try tongba, a millet-based local beer known throughout the Eastern Himalayas. The tongba did help us stay warm. The homestay provided us with a delicious dinner and breakfast the next morning. 

Meadows before reaching Tumling

Meadows before reaching Tumling

Tongba - millet beer

Tongba - local millet beer

Trek day 2: Tumling to Kalipokhari

The second day’s walk covers a distance of 13 km, starting from Tumling to reach Kalipokhari. On this day, the trail cuts through the dense forests of Singalila National Park. At the entrance of the Singalila National Park, we were warned by the forest officials to stay with our guide throughout the trek as there have been incidents of bears attacking men on the trail. We continued to walk through Singalila National Park where we spotted various shades of rhododendrons spread all over, making the surroundings look absolutely magical. The first 7 km were mostly a downhill walk till we reached Gairibas, a stopover for lunch. At Gairibas, there are a couple of tea huts where trekkers can halt to grab some lunch. If you do not stop at Gairibas, there is no other place where you can find food before reaching Kalipokhari. A brief break later, we continued our journey towards Kalipokhari. The next 2 km from Gairibas is a very steep climb; I found it the most difficult stretch of the entire trek. Many short stops later, we managed to cross the steep 2 km to walk the remaining 4 km till Kalipokhari, which was comparatively a flat walk.

Entry to Singalila National Park

Entry to Singalila National Park