Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Trek to Phalut

Nestled in the hills, which are the lonely vistas of the Indian Himalayan range, are the villages of Tumling, Sandakphu and Phalut and I had the occasion to trek upto these places in the month of November.

I decided on a sudden unplanned trip to Darjeeling, so I can feel better, and ended up doing the Phalut trek being up close and personal with the Kanchenjunga. What’s more, I heard that the Everest Range is also visible from Sandakphu and Phalut and being a nature lover, what more reason would I really need to take it head on?
So, I spoke with a few guides here about the trek and got the best offer and told him that I will meet him on the next day at 8.00 AM in the morning.
The earlier night, I also chanced upon a few guys from Slovenia and a couple of girls from England and a guy from Germany. These guys had a trek in mind and asked me if they could accompany me till the first day atleast... and I said yes, please.
So, off I went to Manebhanjang with the rest of the folks and my guide – a nice guy by the name of Siddharth Tamang [ Siddharth being the original name of Buddha]. [Note: Distance between Manebhanjang and Darjeeling is about 26 kms and it takes about 2 hours to reach there. Its also mandatory to take a guide if one plans to walk through the Singalila natural reserve.].  The other guys spent a few minutes showing their passports to the border outpost [ the trek passes through Nepal in several regions and hence the presence of outposts from the Indian Army in almost all locations] and spent a few more minutes getting a guide from them and we were good for starting on our journey.
We had a steep but interesting walk upto Chitre on trekking trails, steps and a jeep track. We stopped for tea there and had a bit of the magnificent Rhododendron wine. [The local wine is not so strong and tastes a little bit like Roxy – the rice wine. Try it if you get a chance]. The views started getting positively better and the air crispier and cooler. We moved through more of the jeep track and trails to reach a place called Lama Dura. More of trail walking along the gentle ridges of the Himalayas took us to Megma – the place where we lunched. Most who walked with me [except the German guy] had to say goodbye as they wanted to be back at Darjeeling by night fall. Saying our goodbyes [last goodbye’s?], the remaining moved forward to Tumling – the place for our night halt. We passed through a bifurcation in the road and took the left to Tumling and reached Tumling after a good trek of 11 kms from Maneybhanjang.
Tumling situated at an altitude of 2970 meters is a small village in West Bengal that has a few people and boasts of reasonably good views of the Kanchenjunga range. It has a few good lodges where people can stay and the people are nice to tourists at large. The place sleeps by 7.30 PM in the night and temperatures can really go down in the evenings [ it gets dark by 4.30 in the winter. I hear that in the peak of winter, it can get REALLY cold]. We met a nice Finnish couple over at the lodge where we stayed and had a really nice time talking and exchanging information.
We viewed the early morning sunrise at Tumling and had a first hand experience of life at the Himalayas when its almost freezing –the grass and the trees are covered with ice from the nights cold and one’s hands and feet get really cold.
Tumling Lodge

Lonely flag
Kanchenjunga view


We started early morning [8.00 AM] from Tumling after a good oats porridge and roti and made our way to Jaubari. We had tea at Jaubhari and met another American couple, another German man and a Chilean guy who also started walking along with us. One starts on the Singalila Natural reserve forest walk from here. We bought our tickets and started with our Singalila trek - the trek is good and really steep at places. We saw a lammergeyer in full flight, and mesmerized with its wing span stopped almost dead on our tracks.
Off we went to Gauribans where we camped for lunch and made our way to Sandakphu through Kalipokhri, Bikhey and Bhanjang. The trek is a total of 19 kms and the last 6 kms [from Bhanjang to Sandakphu] is really steep and one would do good to have energy bars handy so they don’t struggle through the last stretch. After an exhausting last stretch, we all were pleased to see Sandakphu finally in sight and we were welcomed with hot tea. More talk with the Finnish couple, the American couple, the Chilean and the German guys in the evenings. Fun filled and interesting.

Sandakphu is located at an altitude of 3636 meters and boasts of the best view in India of the Mt Everest and good views of the Kanchenjuga. We weren’t disappointed even one bit with either the stellar views of the stars we got the earlier night or the spectacular views of the mountain ranges [ both Everest and Kanchenjunga ranges] from the place. It was initially cloudy at the beginning during sun rise but the views became positively better by the time it was 8.00 AM - the sun drives the clouds away.
Just before the sunrise - Sandakphu

View of Kanchenjunga from Sandakphu

Kanchenjunga range on right. 3 sisters in middle. Everest in the far left 
Lhotse, Nuptse, Everest and Makalu - in sight.

More time for goodbyes – the Finnish couple and the German guys started on their way back to Darjeeling. Off we started at 8.00 AM from Sandakphu to another village [Phalut] which is even closer to Kanchenjunga and is reputed to be the best view point from West Bengal [the other is in North Sikkim]. We started on our long journey of 21 kms towards Phalut. The first resting point is Sabarkhum, about 14 kms away, and there are no villages where tea / water can be had [Note to the reader : ensure that there is enough liquid and energy bar too, if required, on hand]. Almost the entire stretch has views of the magnificent Kanchenjunga and Everest and if the weather is clear, its a divine trek all through [one moves closer to the mountain with the view in front of us]. We lunched at Sabarkhum [saw Yaks, eagles, mules and ponies on the way]and started again on our journey to Phalut – about 7 kms away and ended up in Phalut in the evening. More talk in the evening with the Chilean who is on a 8-9 month travel tour [ I wish I can do that too!]. It was an engrossing talk with him and was predominantly educative.
Phalut is a small village at 3600 meters and has some of the best views of Kanchenjunga from W.Bengal. My guide invited me to the hosts kitchen and we [me and the Chilean guy] went and had a very good time with the host and we were seated in her fireplace [her cooking stove, actually. So we sat close to it. Not ON it] and were party to an actual Tibetan style dinner and the going ons of a normal Nepali house. After a hot and sumptuous dinner, we said our goodbyes as I planned to leave early in the morning so I can descend to Rimbhik in a single day [quite a crazy plan since its 35 kms away!]
We [me and my guide] started at 5.50 AM from Phalut without having tea and descended very quickly [crazily quick as my guide puts] to Gorkhey at 7.45 AM. We had fantastic views of the mountain range in the morning while we descended and we descended through a trail through thick forests. We camped in Gorkhey for tea and breakfast and got a very sumptuous breakfast at Gorkhey and left at 8.45 AM. There was a very nice river passing through Gorkhey and we passed through a small bridge at Gorkhey to cross the river. Off we sped to Rammam via Samadhan and we didn’t plan to stop there. We passed through the Rammam school and sped on our way to Sirikhola. We passed through really thick forests and a lot of vegetation and pine and bamboo trees. We crossed the river at several locations while going from Rammam to Sirikhola. Stopped for tea at Sirikhola after reaching the place at 10.55 AM. Sirikhola is named after the Sri Khola [I know that it doesn’t explain a lot. Khola in Nepali means a river. Its the Sri river]. We had a cup of really good tea at Sirikhola overlooking the lovely Siri river and attending to our ankles and knees [they take a good beating. The road from Rammam to Sirikhola is very steep in many places]. We started at roughly about 11.25-11.30 AM to make our way back to Rimbhik through a flat and gentle jeep road for about 7 kms. We made it to Rimbhik at 12.35PM. 35 kms in 5 and a half hours. The guide was quite upset and very tired and said never again does he plan to do this. Well, so do the veterans of the circuit. I say, I would do it all again if it has to be done.
All in all, a fantastic trek. Immaculate views? Check. Nice company? Check. Good trekking trails? Check. Good time and rooms? Check. Good food? Check. One for the memories...

Note:
a. Dont try the 35 kms in a single day - its as crazy as my guide said it was. 
b. Carry warm clothing - trekking socks and gloves if you plan to do it in the winter. [Temperature can go upto -20 in peak of winter. When I went it was about -1 to 0 degrees. Water froze in the bucket and my toothpaste became solid and had to be coaxed out. I could see a lot of ice on the trees and the grass and on the way.
c. If you want to try the guide Siddharth - let me know. I will provide his details.
Updated 29th Nov : d. The guys here keep telling me each time I meet them that 35 kms in 6 hrs is a big thing and they have never seen it till date. So... all the more reason not to try this madness.

Link to Pics can be found hereherehere and here