TREK IN SIKKIM & WEST BENGAL
The Singalila Ridge is an excellent moderate to strenuous trek. The trek was often used by officers of the British Raj. In the summer, they escaped the heat of the plains by retiring to Darjeeling and the mountains beyond. The itinerary visits some of the most interesting towns in West Bengal, including historic Darjeeling, and walks up to the point on the map where Nepal, Sikkim and West Bengal meet. The itinerary is very varied - including visits and a good look around Kalimpong, Gangtok and Darjeeling.
Duration: 17 Days
Type of Trek: Moderate-strenuous
Best time: March-May/ October-November
DAY 1 : ARRIVE DELHI,
Our Local representative will greet you at the international airport and help you transfer to your hotel.
DAY 2: AT LEISURE,
You can either rest or venture out into the city for a taste of the heat, dust sights and sounds of teeming India. Delhi has endless sightseeing possibilities. Some of the best places to visit are the Red Fort, the Lodi Tombs and Lodi Gardens, Tibet House, India Gate and the Old Observatory. Delhi basically is 12 cities all merged into one and laced together by the new city of the British Raj, Overnight at Hotel.
DAY 3 : FLY TO BAGDOGRA, DRIVE TO KALIMPONG.(4,100ft/1,250m)
After catching the 3-hour morning flight to Bagdogra, we will be met and driven to Kalimpong. The drive takes two or three hours, first through a few tea plantations and jungle and thereafter up into the foothills above the Indian plains. Overnight at the Himalaya View Hotel.
Kalimpong, 74 km east of Darjeeling and 72 km north of Siliguri, is a bustling and rapidly expanding, although still relatively small, bazaar town. It is set among the rolling foothills and deep valleys of the Himalaya.
It was once part of the lands belonging to the rajas of Sikkim, until the beginning of the 18th century, when the Bhutanese took it from them. In the 19th century it passed into the hands of the British and thus became part of West Bengal. It became a centre for Scottish missionary activity in the late 19th century. Until the outbreak of the Sino-Indian war in 1962, Kalimpong was one of the most important centres of Indo-Tibetan commerce, with mule trains passing over the 10,826ft/3,300m high Jalepla Mountain pass. The Kalimpong-Jalepla road was the largest all-weather route between the two countries. With relations improving between India and China, Kalimpong will probably lose its trans-border business to Gangtok, in Sikkim.
The main crops grown locally are ginger and cardamom. Kalimpong was once densely- forested, but widespread tree felling has left large areas denuded. There are still some areas where tracts of forest still stand, including along the left back of the Teesta River and in the environs of Lava and Richila.
Kalimpong's attractions include three gompas, a couple of solidly-built churches, a sericulture centre, orchid nurseries, and the fine views over the surrounding countryside. Although not many travelers visit Kalimpong, there is enough here to keep you occupied for a couple of days. For the energetic, there are some good walks around the town.
The Himalaya View Hotel. The Himalaya View Hotel still captures the romance of a turn-of-the-century boarding house. Wood floors and stone walls convey the warm feeling of a mountain lodge, but Tibetan furnishings disclose a different history. Once the home of a leading Kalimpong British family - the author Annie Perry grew up here - the large sitting room with fireplace invites guests to gather and make use of a personal collection of Tibetan literature.
DAY 4 : SIGHTSEEING IN KALIMPONG, DRIVE TO GANGTOK. (5,074ft/1,547m).
The morning will be spent sightseeing in the town and visiting the main monasteries, before being driven to Gangtok. Again, this is approximately a 3-hour drive, spectacular in places. Watch out for the amusing road signs! On arrival in Gangtok you will be transferred to the Netuk House Hotel or Nork Hill Hotel.
The capital of Sikkim, Gangtok (which means 'hilltop'), occupies the West Side of a long ridge flanking the Tanipul River. The scenery is spectacular and there are excellent views of the entire Kangchenjunga Range from many points in the environs of the city.
Many people expect Gangtok to be a smaller version of Kathmandu. It's not, but it is an interesting and pleasant place to stay. Gangtok only became the capital in the mid-1800s (previous capitals were at Yuksom and Rabdentse). The town has undergone rapid modernization in recent years. Gangtok has also become something of a hill station resort, being a popular holiday destination for Bengalis. The influx peaks during the 10-day Dura Puja holiday period at the end of September or early October, when Bengalis converge on the town en masse from the plains.
To the north is Enchey Gompa and the telecommunications tower. The palace of the former chogyal and the impressive Royal Chapel (the Tsuk-La-Khang) are lower down along the ridge. Nearby is the huge Tashiding, or Secretariat complex, and, below it, the relatively recently built Legislative Assembly, both executed in a traditional architectural style. On a continuation of this ridge but much lower is the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, an Orchid Sanctuary and, not far beyond the institute, a large chorten and adjoining gompa.
DAY 5: SIGHTSEEING IN GANGTOK, DRIVE TO RUMTEK. (5,084ft/1,550m).
You should visit the local handicrafts centre, the Institute of Tibetology, the local town markets of Gangtok, and the Orchidarium. In the afternoon, you drive to Rumtek monastery. It is only an hour’s drive away and affords excellent views of Gangtok from the opposite hillside. Overnight at the Martham Village Resort. This is a very pleasant spot and consists of a number of thatched cottages dotted over a hillside next to a village.
RUMTEK MONASTERY, is the seat of Karmapa Rinpoche and is the newest and perhaps the most impressive in size and grandeur in Sikkim. Like His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the leader of the Gelugpa sect, the Karmapa Rinpoche (literally Precious One), is a reincarnate lama much revered by the Sikkimese people. Portraits of the 16th Karmapa, who passed away in 1981, are seen in every Kargyudpa monastery showing a kindly round face and ornate black hat, which he holds on his head with one hand. The hat is said to have the power of flight and if not held down or kept tight in a special box will fly away. The old Rumtek monastery was destroyed by an earthquake, but has now been restored and sits just below the new complex, built to house the 16th Karmapa when he fled from Tibet in the 1960s. Also worth visiting is the nearby Jawaharhal Nehru Botanical Gardens, 75 acres of temperate forest and plants. If you feel like the exercise you can walk along the road to the monastery and no doubt meet some of the local children who will be keen to strike up a conversation.
DAY 6 : DRIVE TO DARJEELING. (7,001ft/2,134m).
Again, you will enjoy a very scenic drive that may take six or seven hours. Sikkim is nearly all deep gorges with heavily-forested mountainsides with twisting rivers in the bottom of the gorges. There are steep patches of terracing and on clear days there are excellent views of Kangchenjunga. After arriving in Darjeeling, you will be transferred to the New Elgin Hotel.
DAY 7: DRIVE TO MANEYBHANJANG, (7,000ft/2,134m) TREK TO MEGHMA. (9,512ft/2,900m).
After a drive of about 1 1/2 hrs you begin the trek. The trail passes through evergreen forest and bamboo glades, across farmland and pastures and past small villages until you reach Meghma, a total of around 18km. From here there is a panoramic view of the Himalaya to the north. Camp overnight.
DAY 8: TREK TO KALIPOKHARI (10,195ft/3,108m).
You begin by trekking 4 kms to KalIpokhari. This is a crystal lake, surrounded by pine trees. You then ascend for about another 4 kms as far as Bikhebhanjang (10,977ft/3,346m). You will now reach the magnolia and rhododendron forests around Sandakphu, from where you will get a magnificent view of some of the world's highest mountains, including Everest, Kangchenjunga and Makalu. Camp overnight.
DAY 9 : TREK TO SANDAKPHU. (11,927ft/3,636m).
Although this is a fairly short trek, there is no point rushing to the top! Today can be spent exploring, looking at the view, or simply relaxing, getting used to the height and enjoying the peaceful mountain and forest surroundings, before the walk up to the viewpoint at Phalut in two days time. Camp overnight.
DAY 10 : TREK TO MOLLEY. (11,599ft/3,536m).
5-6 hrs. 14km. The trail follows along the Singalila Ridge through chestnut, oak and silver fir, with commanding views of the Himalaya all along the route. Molley is a small village in the alpine-like forest. Camp overnight.
DAY 11 : TREK TO PHALUT. (11,810ft/3,600m). 5 hrs. 8kms.
This is a fairly easy walk to the tri-junction of Sikkim, Nepal and Bengal. This is the main and best viewpoint for the spread of mountains to the north. The afternoon is free to explore or just gaze at the mountains. Camp overnight.
DAY 12 : TREK TO RAMMAM. (8,398ft/2,560m). 5 hrs. 12km.
This is a gentle walk through a hidden valley, passing through the villages of Gorkhey and Samaden en route. This is an easy descent, with the weather getting warmer with the decrease in altitude. There should be orchids and a full range of flowers in view, especially during the spring. Camp overnight.
DAY 13 : TREK TO RAMBICK. (8,396ft/2,559m). 6 hrs. 18km.
For the first 9 km or so this is along fairly level paths until Sirkhola, a well-known bird-watching centre. From here the path begins a gentle gradient down to Rimbick, the largest town in the area. It is possible to see Darjeeling from the town. Camp overnight.
DAY 14 : END TREK, DRIVE TO DARJEELING.
It is a fairly long drive back to Darjeeling and you will arrive after a lunch stop at Sukhia. The rest of the day is free to relax, though there is no need to rush out and look around as you have another two days to explore this fascinating town. Overnight at the Windamere Hotel.
Straddling a ridge in the Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya and surrounded by tea plantations on all sides, Darjeeling has been a popular hill station since the British established it as an R&R camp centre for their troops in the mid-1800s. The industrious Brits, not averse to mixing a little business with pleasure, recognized that the quality of the soil and the mild climate were ideal for tea cultivation. The forested hill slopes were soon denuded of their cover and planted with this most lucrative revenue earner. These days, people come here to escape from the heat and humidity of the north Indian plain. You get an indication of how popular Darjeeling is from the 70 or so hotels recognized by the tourist office and the scores of others which don't come up to their requirements. Here you will find yourself surrounded by mountain people from all over the eastern Himalaya. They have come to work, to trade or - in the case of the Tibetans - as refugees. Mother Teresa spent her early years as a nun here with the sisters at Loreto Convent.
DAY 15 : SIGHTSEEING IN DARJEELING.
Today you make an early morning visit to Tiger Hill to see the sunrise over Kangchenjunga. A short ride on the famous mountain railway is also a must. Trains came to India in the early part of the last century - among the very first and most novel is the famous Toy Train of Darjeeling. It is exactly 116 years old having made its maiden trip in September 1881.
In 1870, an agent working for the Eastern Bengal Railway came up with a brilliant idea to reduce the costs of transport. His name was Franklyn Prestage, and his idea was the Toy Train. It took eight long years for Prestage to submit his scheme to Governor Sir Ashey Eden, who gave it immediate sanction. Named the Darjeeling Steam Tramway Company, it was changed to the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Company on 15 September 1881. It remained as such until it was taken over by the Indian Government on 20 October 1948. The construction had begun in 1879, the first 20 miles from Siliguri to Tindharia station was opened in March 1880 for the Viceroy's special train only, and finally, on 4 July 1881, the baby locomotive and three coaches puffed right through to Darjeeling - a total of 50.75 miles.
A half day trip on the world-famous railway is highly recommended (Please be aware that the railway sometimes runs out of coal, and therefore the train that runs on the tourist circuit is not always running. You can always get onto the regular departure that runs down to Siliguri, getting off at the first stop, from where we can arrange for you to be picked up). Sometimes the train goes so slowly that it is faster to walk! Some of you may remember Brian Blessed, the actor, sitting on the roof of the train in his film that re-enacted Mallory and Irvine's attempt on Everest.
There are also various interesting monasteries to visit and the Himalayan Zoo with its black bears, Siberian tigers and snow leopards. A visit to the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute is well worthwhile, for the list of Everest summiteers. There is also the Tibet Self-Help Centre and the Happy Valley tea estate. Overnight at the Windamere Hotel.
DAY 16 : DRIVE TO BAGDOGRA, FLY TO DELHI.
On arrival back in Delhi you will be transferred to the Imperial Hotel. The rest of the day is free to relax by the pool with a beer or perhaps go shopping in the emporiums around Connaught Circus.
Transfer to air port and fly home.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Whilst every effort is made to keep to the above itinerary, clients will hopefully appreciate that this is Adventure Travel in a remote mountain region. There will quite likely be changes to the itinerary in terms of anything from on-the-spot choice of campsite to when a rest day is taken. Weather conditions, road conditions, vehicle breakdowns off the beaten track, local availability of, horses or yaks, can contribute to the need for changes. The Trek guide will do everything in his power to see that you are inconvenienced as little as possible in such circumstances. Timings are approximate.