How to plan the Sandakphu Trek on your own – A Complete DIY Trek Guide
People say, a trek teaches you lessons for life, changes your perspective on regular events. I did not know the truth of the sentence in its entirety until I finished the Sandakphu Trek very recently. Sandakphu Trek, known for many good reasons is one of the Best Himalayan Treks that you can possibly be on. The trail also takes you through Singalila National Park, which boasts of the endangered Red Pandas and beautiful Rhododendrons. One of the major highlights of the trek is its location, which is right in the borders of India and Nepal. You could be walking in India during the day and at night, retreating to slumber in Nepal. The views of Kanchenjunga is out of the world. It is one of the very few treks from where you can spot so many Himalayan peaks, Mt Everest, Kangchenjunga, Lhotse, Makalu, to name a few.
Sandakphu Trek is doable almost the entire year, except for the few monsoon months. Different seasons offer different experiences all year round. Shades of rhododendrons adorn the trail during months of spring and the snow in winter months turn it into a winter wonderland. However, it is the months of October and November which are known for the most clear skies. During these months, nights are perfect for stargazing.
In most cases trekkers opt to go on treks with trek operators, sole purpose being convenience. But the Sandakphu trek is well connected with decent roads and there are many options for accommodations all along the trail where you can spend a comfortable night after long days of walk. This blog is a ready and complete guide on how to plan the Sandakphu Trek by yourself and have the best time in the lap of Himalayas.
- Sandakphu Trek Itinerary
- Day 1 : Arrive at Manebhanjan
- Day 2 : Manebhanjan to Tumling (12 kms)
- Day 3 : Tumling to Kalpokhari (13 kms)
- Day 4 : Kalpokhari to Sandakphu (6kms)
- Day 5 : Sandakphu to Sepi
- Day 6 : Sepi to Siliguri
- Sandakphu Itinerary – In Brief
Details about Permits
You do not require any special permit to trek to Sandakphu. All you need is a ticket for Singalila National Park for 2 days as you would be walking through the Singalila Range over two days. The tickets cost 120 per person for each day and can be obtained from the Forest Check Post in Manebhanjan.
You also need to produce photocopies of your identity proof, register your name and contact number in the register of the Forest Check Post. This was recently imposed after a trekker went missing in the trail. This entire process takes not more than 15 minutes if there is no queue. Make sure you keep the tickets safe as you’d be required to produce it at the entry point of Singalila National Park when you start trekking from Tumling on the second day.
How to find a Trek Guide
Please note that it is mandatory to go on this trek with a guide. You can easily find a guide from Manebhanjan. One of the places you can contact is Highlander Guides and Porters Welfare Association in Manebhanjan. You can walk in and ask for a Guide. We went on this Trek with Roshan Rai (9635689162); you could get in touch with him beforehand to check if his dates are free. Roshan was a young and enthusiastic guide who became a friend in no time. It was because of his immense knowledge about the area that our trek became even more memorable.
You need to pay INR 1000 per day to the guide which comes to INR 4000 for the entire trek and about INR 200-300 extra for his dinner at Sandakphu. Rest of his expenses are covered in the per day cost.
Sandakphu Trek Itinerary
Day 1 : Arrive at Manebhanjan
Manebhanjan happens to be the base of Sandakphu trek. Its a small town located 25 kms from Darjeeling. There is a small market in Manebhanjan and you can buy the last moment essentials and medicines from here.
How to reach Manebhanjan?
- Fly to Bagdogra Airport or train it to New Jalpaiguri Railway Station.
- From the Airport or Railway Station, you can get a reserved Tata Sumo to reach you to Manbhanjan. A reserved vehicle will cost you about INR 4000. Please note that 5 seater cars can not to to Manebhanjan because of the road conditions.
- From the Airport or railway station, take an auto to Siliguri Junction and follow this route : Siliguri – Ghoom – Sukhiapokhri – Manebhanjan.
- You can hop onto a shared cab till Ghoom. From Ghoom you will get another shared Sumo till Manebhanjan. If you do not find a direct vehicle, break the journey at Sukhiapokhri. The entire journey will cost you about INR 400.
Where to stay in Manebhanjan?
There are many homestays and hotels in Manebhanjan. Most of these places will offer basic facilities and they have a meal inclusive pricing. I stayed at Druk Homestay (9635224131) where we paid INR 900 per person including 3 meals and evening snacks. You could get in touch with them on call or whatsapp. This place is run by a lovely host and her family who will also help you with further bookings.
Day 2 : Manebhanjan to Tumling (12 kms)
Start your first day of the trek from Manebhanjan by 8 am. You will need to spend about 15-20 minutes to get your tickets at the Forest Check Post. The first 3 kms from Manebhanjan to Chitrey is a steep climb. You can either take the motorable road or the shortcuts at a few places. The first halt at can be at Chitrey. You can explore the Chitrey Monastery on the way.
After starting from Chitrey, you will walk through vast meadows and cutting through clouds, making your first day of the trek very thrilling. Stop for lunch at Lamey Dhura. Once you cross Lamey Dhura, you won’t find any more places to have lunch.
Upon reaching Meghma, take the left route which goes through Nepal and avoid walking towards Tonglu. Another 3 kms later, you will reach Tumling. Trekkers with moderate fitness can easily cover the 12 kms distance between 5-6 hours.
Where to stay in Tumling?
Satkar Lodge (+977 9814920430) | Siddhartha Lodge (+977 9742636578) | Shikhar Lodge (091488 24227)
We stayed at Satkar Lodge in a triple bedded accommodation with private washroom. It costed us INR 1500 for the room and about INR 400 per person for dinner and breakfast. You can send a whatsapp message beforehand and wait for them to reply. The phone numbers are of Nepal so regular calls would not get through. If it is not a peak season, walk in bookings can also be made.
Mobile networks are very irregular and only Airtel works fine in some points in Tumling. However, do not expect the availability of internet on cellular networks. Most of the homestays will have WiFi on chargeable basis (INR 100 per device to connect for a day).
Day 3 : Tumling to Kalpokhari (13 kms)
Start from Tumling by 8:30 am after a sumptuous breakfast. Ask for Tibetan Bread and Alu Dum, if available. It is a very tasty Nepalese delicacy that would keep you full for the first half of the day. After a couple of kms, you’d reach Tumling Fatak, a small village, crossing which you’d reach the entry point of Singalila National Park. Here, you’d be asked to produce the tickets that you had obtained on the previous day.
From this point onwards, the trail goes through dense forests of Singalila National Park. You can spot uncountable beautiful birds, wild horses and beautiful flower. If you happen to trek during spring, you would be welcomed with countless numbers of rhododendrons, all of different varieties and colours, making the trail look absolutely magical. The first 7 kms that goes through Singalila National Park is a downward trail. After covering the first 7 kms, you will reach Gairibas, which is a nice stopover for lunch. After such a tiring walk, a bowl full of waiwai, loaded with veggies would taste heavenly.
Starting from Gairibas, the next 2 kms is a steep climb and most of the trekkers find this stretch very difficult to ascend. If the shortcuts get difficult because they are more steep, you can follow the motorable road which are less steep but will take more time for you to cover the same distance.
As you finish the 2 kms steep climb, the remaining 4 kms is a flat walk till Kalpokhari. As you get nearer to Kalpokhari, you will find more fully bloomed rhododendrons on the way, during spring. Kalpokhari area falls under Ilam, Nepal and thus, cellular network is totally absent from this point onwards. There is no surety of electricity being stable either. And due to the altitude, the costs of accommodations start to go higher from this point onwards. On an average, it takes 5 to 6 hours to cover this 13 kms.
The beautiful lake – Kalpokhari is a bean shaped lake that some people say is the footprint of Shiva. The lake is of spiritual significance to both Hindus and Buddhists.
Where to stay in Kalpokhari?
Chewang Lodge (You can get in touch with Tenzing at 9635224131, who runs Druk Homestay at Manebhanjan to get the booking done for Chewang Lodge).
The accommodations with shared washrooms are cheaper and would cost about INR 300 per person. The private rooms are about INR 2100 for triple bedded accommodation. Food comes up to INR 150-200 per meal.
Day 4 : Kalpokhari to Sandakphu (6kms)
The last and final day when you reach the summit is the most thrilling experience of the trek. The air starts to become lighter and the altitude higher as you walk forward. Start the trek early on this day so that you can reach Sandakphu as early as possible and have the entire day to relax. Even though the distance seems to be only 6 kms, it takes about 2 hours to cover the same. The last bit of the stretch is really steep and if you are trekking during winters, there is a possibility you will have to walk through snow on the metaled road, making the trail super slippery.
After a 6 kms walk, you will finally reach Sandakphu, the trekkers paradise, situated right between India and Nepal, offering glaring views of Mt. Kanchenjunga and Mt. Everest. You can either stay at the Nepal side, where there are many hotels or walk another 1.5 kms further to reach the accommodations in India’s side.
Do not miss on trying Tongba, a millet beer which will keep you warm on the chilly night. You can also try this on the other nights in Tumling and Kalpokhari. You can also try the rhododendron wines, for a change.
Where to stay in Sandakphu?
In Sandakphu, there are trekkers huts as well as budget private rooms. One of the best accommodations of the area is Sherpa Chalet. Sherpa Chalet offers rooms with shared washrooms as well as private washrooms which are a bit on the expensive side (INR 4500 for triple bedded accommodation and INR 6000 for four bedded accommodation which includes dinner and breakfast).
Day 5 : Sandakphu to Sepi
Wake up before sunrise on the fourth day to witness the first light fall on the Sleeping Buddha Range. It is an enchanting sight that you will never witness elsewhere. The Sleeping Buddha range comes to life with the sunrays falling on it. During winters, Sandakphu transforms itself to a winter wonderland. The chilly winds and gleaming sunrays weave together to give the trekkers an unforgettable experience.
You can choose to start the walk a bit late on the day you are going to descend down to Sepi. Start your walk around 9 am and you will reach Gurdum by 1pm. The downward hike takes you through a well demarcated trail with bamboo forests, pine trees on both sides. Ask your guide to arrange for lunch at Gurdum. The lunch will cost about INR 200 per person. Another 2 hours of walk from Gurdum will reach you to Srikhola. Many trekkers choose Srikhola as their night halt but 1 km further down is a beautiful village called Sepi which is a good choice for a stopover on the last night.
Relax in Sepi and enjoy around a bonfire. Ask your homestay owner to arrange for a barbecue and they will be happy to take your request.
Where to stay in Sepi?
Pritam Homestay is a budget friendly homestay right on the main road. The prices are about INR 700 per person which includes your stay, snacks and dinner.
Day 6 : Sepi to Siliguri
You can ask the host at your Homestay to book you a seat at the shared vehicle that goes to Siliguri. The first vehicle would leave at around 5:30am. You’d need to pay INR 600 for a seat in a shared Tata Sumo to reach Siliguri from Sepi. It takes about 5 hours for this journey so make sure your flight/train is scheduled post 3 pm to avoid risking the situation.
Take an e-rickshaw or auto from Siliguri Junction to the airport or railway station.
If you have a morning or afternoon flight, it is advisable to stay over in Siliguri for a day and book your flight the next day. The traffic conditions are uncertain in mountain roads and you’d never want to miss your flight.
Recommendation for accommodation in Siliguri : Mulaqat BnB
Sandakphu Itinerary – In Brief
Day 1 : Arrive at Manebhanjan
Day 2 : Manebhanjan to Tumling
Day 3 : Tumling to Kalpokhari
Day 4 : Kalpokhari to Sandakphu
Day 5 : Sandakphu to Sepi
Day 6 : Sepi to Siliguri
Day 7 : Fly Out from Bagdogra
Best time to go for Sandakphu Trek
Sandakphu Trek is accessible throughout the year except for the monsoon months. Each season has its own charm. The spring season that spans through April and mid May is when the Rhododendrons are in full bloom, making the trail look picture perfect. If you are lucky, you might even experience snowfall like we did in end April. October and November are known to be the months that offer best views of the snow capped Himalayan peaks. The skies are blue and clear, making the scenery look dreamy. Winter months, again are known for the snowy trail. Snow covers the entire trail, starting right from Lamey Dhura. If you are not an experienced trekker, it is advisable not to go during winters.
Things to remember if you are going to Sandakphu
- Carry enough cash. There are no ATMs even in Manebhanjan and the homestays do not have any provision for online payments except for a few places.
- It is advisable to carry dry fruits to keep you on the go but avoid carrying eatables with plastic packets. If you do, please carry the plastics back with you.
- Carry enough paper napkins and newspapers. They come handy at many places.
- Always stay with your group and your guide. There have been cases when bears attacked men and injured them in the forests. The guides know every detail about the forest better than you and are equipped to deal with any emergency.
- Do not pluck the rhododendron flowers from the trees. If at al you need pictured with those, pick one from the ground and leave them there after you have taken a picture because you might be fined if caught with a rhododendron flower.
- Avoid littering the trail at any cost.
If treks in the North East Region interest you, you must definitely read about the Dzukou Valley Trek, an offbeat and enchanting trek in Nagaland.
To plan your travel to North East India, check these following itineraries:
- 15 Days in North East India
- A 7-Day Travel itinerary for Arunachal Pradesh
- Backpacking through Eastern Himalayas – 15 Day Travel Itinerary
- A 7-Day Travel itinerary for Meghalaya
- 10 Day Sikkim Travel Itinerary
- 7 Day Kolkata – Kurseong – Darjeeling Travel Itinerary
Hailing from the foothill town of Siliguri, Michelle takes keen interest in storytelling, through words and photographs. Having a home so close to the mountains is what she considers a gift. A law student and freelance content writer at present, she often takes time out to travel to the mountains and pen down her experiences. She believes in giving back to the community through volunteering in local projects and strongly supports community tourism.