Sandakphu - Phalut Trek | Day 3 | Phalut

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WEDNESDAY | 30th DECEMBER, 2015
Sandakphu -> Phalut

Today was the most challenging and riskiest day of the trek. I had to reach Phalut from Sandakphu, 21 km away, without any prior booking for a room to stay. Apparently, Phalut has only two huts with a very few number of rooms.

If I hadn't found a room here, I'd have to walk down to Gorkha, 12 km away, for a room. Thankfully, that didn't happen. I found a room because some group pulled out at the last minute.

The majority of the route is traceable here if you look closely.
The day opened with the trekkers fumbling in the dark to reach the best spot possible on Sandakphu to watch the sun rise and light up Kanchenjunga and the Everest. I was among them and managed to capture both of the sentiments using my amateur skills.
  
Mount Kanchenjunga, the second highest peak in the world,
as visible from Sandakhphu.
The sun always rises from above the most of the land when you're up in the mountains. As you can see, the gleaming line of yellow announces the coming of the star and right in the middle you will find the orb that has instant warming effect on the body.
  
The sun rising from Sandakphu.
Today was also the most beautiful day of the trek. The sight was a constant coaxing from Mt Everest and Kanchenjunga to go on as I covered more than twenty hills during the trek. Falling along the way were beautiful meadows with no trace of trees. My guide informed me that most of them were burnt in a huge forest fire decades ago.
 
The visible effect of the decade-old forest fire that burned everything to the ground.
I also came across some gentle yaks in these meadows. I couldn't help but laugh as they played around on the slopes. The leader kept eyeing me suspiciously as I clicked some photos. It had distinctive red decoration hanging from its ears to mark it apart from the others.
  
The yaks grazing on the meadows.
Kanchenjunga visible in the background.
The climb was, as usual, tough. It took a lot of energy to make that steep climb of the last two kilometres. Of course, clouds came in the way. I would love cursing them, but how can I! My heart was elated all the time!

It was such an emotional journey, being so far away from the din of the city, and everything that it brings along, walking through iced paths and beholding the Everest at every rest stop, that I had tears of joy when I finally reached the hut.

The view from my room is spectacular. The clouds are still in place so I can't click pictures of the view yet, but let's hope they clear by tomorrow morning. I do not want to miss the sight of Kanchenjunga. 
  
The lower hut, only the roof of which is visible, was where I stayed in Phalut.
Did I mention, Kanchenjunga, the second-highest peak in the world, is exactly 48 km away from Phalut peak! So large and so close that wherever you look, you'll find them. Of course, the goddamned clouds haven't let me take my share of looking yet. 

Please use the links below to start from the beginning if you've landed on this post directly, or to go to the next day of my trek if you're interested in reading more.

Day 0 | Darjeeling
Day 1 | Tumling
Day 2 | Sandakphu
Day 3 | Phalut
Day 4 | Gorkhey
Day 5 | Rimbick

Sandakphu - Phalut Trek | Day 2 | Sandakphu

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TUESDAY | 29th DECEMBER, 2015
Tumling -> Kalapokhri -> Sandakphu

I'm at some 3.6 km height from the sea level. To put this into perspective, the highest peak in the world, visible to me from where I am, Mt Everest, is some 8 km high. Which means that I'm almost halfway between ground and the Everest peak.

I'm at Sandakphu covered with two blankets and one comforter yet shivering violently. When I peed after my dinner, I swear, I could see little bit of steam come out as well. And, while this should be covered in the next post, when I tried to use water to wipe myself after emptying my stomach in a long session, the water in the bucket was actually frozen.

I used the tumbler as a hammer and broke some ice-water out from the bucket and washed my behind. People, readers, this isn't a joke, it really happened. If you want to use the toilets up on the top, please make sure you have usable, warm water before starting to do anything in a hurry.

Way ahead from Tumling.

Let's begin the narration for today from Tumling, where I stayed last night. Today I started at 8. The two major stops were Kayapatta and Kalapokhri. Usually trekkers stop at Kalapokhri for the night, and I was about to do the same too, remember? Sandakphu is only 6 km away from Kalapokhri, but the climb is incredibly steep at some 45° incline. It's discouraging and recommended to be climbed on a fresh morning.

But I climbed at such speed today that we were in Kalapokhri by lunch time, which is 14 km from Tumling. It took me 5 hours to cover that 14 km, and, hold your breath, 4 hours to cover the steep incline of 6 km to Sandakphu!

The route that finally makes us enter the Singalila National Park.
Lucky trekkers, and it's rare, can spot Red Pandas here.
In total, I've covered 20 km today. Counting yesterday, the total I've walked on the trek is now 34 km.

All through the route today were frozen streams, a little bit of snow and a breathtaking view of the majestic Kanchenjunga once. We walked through jungles, took shortcuts and braved the steep incline after the sun had set at 5.

There's ice behind me!
Nothing makes this painful trip worth more than what I saw while on my way here. There was time when I could look at several mountains, including the one that has Darjeeling, and then watch them get covered by clouds. 

When the sun set, it just hid in the clouds. I could look down at the orange glow from the edge of a hill. It lit up the clouds like bright pink cotton candy. The same happened at the sunrise the next day, but I'll cover that in the next post. This isn't the time yet.

We had khichdi for both lunch and dinner at separate places and I can say which tasted better. Food is great up here. Expensive, but delicious. The khichdi cost me Rs 150 and Rs 180 respectively.

A hut where I could buy Yak cheese from.
And a cup of black tea.

I still am not much fatigued, which my guide can't stop appreciating. Apparently, majority of people who left from Tumling only made it till Kalapokhri. But now the question that faces me is whether or not I want to continue to Phalut. The guide says the weather might get bad and there might not be rooms available there.

Phalut has only two huts on the peak. Both of them rent out rooms to trekkers, but fill up fast. So if you haven't made bookings ahead, you're running the risk of not having a place to stay in at the night. Please, mark my words, plan ahead and make bookings if you trek on this route. Do not miss Phalut. It is the best part of this trek.

It's 8 PM and I want to sleep. Tomorrow, the first ray of the sun will hit Kanchenjunga and I don't want to miss it for the world! Oh, did I mention, four of the top five peaks in the world are visible from Sandakphu! All of them, neatly arranged in a row for us to gaze at.
 
The Kanchenjunga behind me as visible from Tumling.
Please use the links below to start from the beginning if you've landed on this post directly, or to go to the next day of my trek if you're interested in reading more.  

Day 0 | Darjeeling
Day 1 | Tumling
Day 2 | Sandakphu
Day 3 | Phalut
Day 4 | Gorkhey
Day 5 | Rimbick

Sandakphu - Phalut Trek | Day 1 | Tumling

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MONDAY | 28th DECEMBER, 2015
Darjeeling -> Maney Bhanjang -> Tumling 

Today I took a bath in hot water in my hotel room at Darjeeling and set off for the taxi-stand with my wet towel hanging on the arm. Unsurprisingly, there were already two people waiting in the taxi-stand for more people to get into the shared taxi to Maney Bhanjang. I had endeavored to reach the taxi-stand by 8, and I did too. But it wasn't until 9 that the three of us decided to hire the entire taxi and leave for Maney Bhanjang without waiting for more passengers.

The road was bumpy and scary, but we reached Maney Bhanjang with high spirits. To my unfortunate luck they informed that it wasn't snowing on the trek route currently. The temperature was well below freezing point, but no snow yet. The taxi driver charged Rs 170 each to the three of us for the ride, and he also let in another passengers en route.

For a while the couple and I were planning to share one guide for the trek, but I figured they were slow climbers and had a different route than what I had in mind, so we split as per our original plans. I took a guide at Rs 700 per day for five days and by 11:00 my guide and I were ready to start climbing.

Maney Bhanjang to Chetri climb.
Maney Bhanjang to Chetri was the first steep climb. It was walk of 2 km and it actually made me realize how trekking isn't a joke. Trekking must be taken seriously and with utter sincerity. This walk of 2 km took me an hour to complete and by the time it was over, I was hungry and desperate for the breakfast I had skipped in the morning.
 
Trekking is a tiring job. Luckily, all that working out and jogging helps. The bag on your back weighs 10 to 15 kg and you walk behind your guide through a mix of wilderness and paved path. There could be ups and downs, quite literally, and they will knock the breath out of you.

But in all fairness, trekking is equally rewarding. Right now, as I'm writing this, my guide is playing a guitar near a fireplace. We're sipping Tumba, a Nepali millet fermented drink. It's almost time for dinner at the guesthouse in Tumling. But the route to Tumling hasn't been easy.

The hut where I breakfasted in Chetri.
From Chetri the climb was a little simpler till Lamidura 4 km away. I was feeling perfectly all right when we reached there. Not much shaken. The sun was out all shining, and mountains basking in the glory.

All around the trek route are breathtaking sight of Sandakphu peak and the green hills. No sound except your breath and your steps against the rocks. Silence so extreme that it weighs you down. You feel it crawling on your skin.

The winding route took us to Meghma next, 3 km away. Chowmein, excellent one at that, having caught me so hungry, was served for the second lunch near another army base. Later, to my realization, I saw that on the entire route of the trek there were army bases positioned called Sashastra Sena Bal (a.k.a. SSB).
  
Meghma with the SSB camp on the right.
The most beautiful sights of the day are witnessed here. There was a horse grazing, standing so tall and proud, on a peak somewhere far away. Darjeeling is barely visible, you can only make out the white of the establishment. And you get to look at your route to Tumling.

The final destination of the day was Tumling, the scene of which I described above, 2 km away, in Nepal. In total, I must have climbed 12 km today. Some people don't go to Tumling, but stay in a place called Tonglu for the first night. Tonglu is higher in altitude than Tumling and has a different route altogether, but the next day, everybody is on the same route to Kalapokhri.

The room I've acquired is beautiful and so cosy! The guesthouse has a fireplace roaring. The rent for the night is a mere Rs 250. There is no mobile network, and again, to another realization, I saw that there was no network for Indian phones throughout the trek route. So beware!

In Tumling's guest house here groups of trekkers are sitting around, sharing experiences. The atmosphere swells the heart, even though the feet are aching. The faces are all excited and wondering what's to come next.

Guitar is changing hands and voices singing in Nepali, English and Hindi are low. Tomorrow everybody is going to attempt to reach Kalapokhri, 14 km away. That is the next destination for all. A night stay at Kalapokhri and then the walk to Sandakphu on the third day.

The night stay at Tumling.
Sandakphu is 6 km of incredible steep walk from Kalapokhri. After that I'll return and not go to Phalut. Time is short, and frankly, the cold is killing. I have a return train to catch and my guide says sticking to the regular plan is good for the trek.

I cannot put into words the things I've seen, the fun I'm having and the excitement of things that are waiting for me. The only problem with this trek, apart from the daunting challenge of climbing itself, is that bathing is out of the question.

The dinner was simple and delicious. Rice, daal, sabji and roti in buffet. Nothing fancy, simple dishes made with elaborate care. Loads of butter on top and warm water on the side.

I have to come right out and say it, all the pains of getting to this place tonight are worth it. Of course, as you can notice on the route visible in the links below, I didn't stay at Kalapokhri the second night. I kept walking up to Sandakphu because I was feeling awesome and wild. My guide was surprised by how quick and sturdy my walk was.

I want to warn anybody planning to trek on this route. You should only make steel-clad plans after you've walked enough to see if you can stick to your plans. Always underestimate yourself when climbing a mountain. It helps.

Please use the links below to start from the beginning if you've landed on this post directly, or to go to the next day of my trek if you're interested in reading more.

Day 0 | Darjeeling
Day 1 | Tumling
Day 2 | Sandakphu
Day 3 | Phalut
Day 4 | Gorkhey
Day 5 | Rimbick

Sandakphu - Phalut Trek | Day 0 | Darjeeling

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SUNDAY | 27th DECEMBER, 2015

If you've been generous enough to let me occupy some space in your Facebook wall feed, you probably have an inkling that I went to some deserted mountains and clicked a few pictures for Instagram.

Here is an account of what else I did there presented informatively so in case you're persuaded of visiting the beautiful place yourself, it's easier to plan. It took me a while to make sure I am making no mistakes, but let my experience be a lesson here.

My journey had begun on 26th December, boarding a train to New Jalpaiguri (a.k.a. NJP) from Bhubaneswar (a.k.a. BBSR). It was difficult sleeping in the train. Some excited souls in the next compartment kept chattering late into the night. Thankfully, the train was late enough to let me make up for the time. The journey was a total of 20 hours.
  
The taxi booth for pre-paid cars outside NJP Railway Station.
Getting off at NJP station and looking for taxi to Darjeeling is fairly easy. Either get in the queue for a reserved pre-paid taxi (some Rs 2000 for a whole car to yourself), or let a driver take you to his sharing taxi (some Rs 200 for a seat). Or if you've been smart enough to go to IRCTC and book seats in the toy train, cheers for you!

Though, I must warn you, trekkers who I met later who took the toy train were left utterly dissatisfied. They hated the journey. Also, the train takes double to triple the time (7 to 8 hours) it takes to get to Darjeeling by taxi (3 hours). 

On the way from NJP/Siliguri to Darjeeling,
the driver takes a tea-break for convenience.
I had no hotel bookings. I got off when the taxi halted and roamed around checking tariffs. After a going through a few hotels, which were literally sitting in one line because the entire place is full of lodges and hotels, I got one to make mine for a day at Rs 800. The business for tourists is so booming there that private properties explicitly write PRIVATE on their doors.

Bathing was a torture in Darjeeling. There was no fan to dry my towel under. In fact, I later realized, there are no fans in Darjeeling anywhere. They don't even have the hooks in the ceilings. There is rare spotting of a thing called the sun which helps if you're a tourist, otherwise the locals are used to the cold.

Walking is also a difficult task because the roads aren't horizontal. They're always either inclined, or declined. Of course a day of walking prepares you mentally that there's no escape from this.

Chowk Bazaar market provides cheap apparels,
in case you've forgotten to bring enough warm clothes.
Another thing worth noticing is how chilled everything they serve is, unless they heat it. For example, water. The goddamned water is always, always super chilled. Not that heating it would make things okay. But, no refrigeration needed.

Oh, and the city closes really early. By 20:00, when you'd have collected enough courage to step out to have some hot soup with a plate of momos, you'd find that all the shops are closed. You'd have to kill your heart and eat something at the local Pizza Hut.

I'm writing this well into the night, covered with three kinds of blankets and still shivering. I am so worried about the trek starting tomorrow because it might be snowing. But I've come all this way to do this, and this is no time to act a pussy.

Let this be a warning to everybody out there. Think twice before you visit a hill station in winter. Tomorrow I'll have begun my trek. For those who have no idea where I'm trekking, following is an idea.

Accessible from Darjeeling is a place called Maney Bhanjang, from where a trekking route begins to a peak called Sandakphu. Sometimes trekkers also move on to a peak called Phalut from Sandakphu. Phalut and Sandakphu are so loved because these two peaks offer you the chance of looking at four of the world's five highest peaks in the world.

Among these four highest peaks in the world are Mt Everest and Kanchenjunga. Also fascinating is the fact that Kanchenjunga is only 48 km away from Phalut as a crow flies. So you can imagine the sight of the mountain is breathtaking.

The city of Darjeeling.
In the backdrop is Kanchenjunga.
Of course, to get to these two peaks, Sandakphu and Phalut, you have to either walk, or hire a four-wheel drive Landrover.  The trek is usually 100-km long if you go to Phalut and return, and this takes a total of six to seven days. It is mandatory to hire a guide from the local Guide Association (some Rs 600 per day) and this really helps.

I finished this trek in five days. My guide says I did so well because I try to keep fit by jogging and working out regularly in my mundane life. If that's the case, I'll never stop trying to keep fit.

Following is the list of my account of each of my trek day. I hope I am able to capture the emotions I experienced efficiently enough to inspire somebody else to go on this trek. If not, thanks for reading anyway. Please click on the link to proceed. (Note: Links might take a few days to get activated.)

Day 0 | Darjeeling
Day 1 | Tumling
Day 2 | Sandakphu
Day 3 | Phalut
Day 4 | Gorkhey
Day 5 | Rimbick