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A Trek to Sandakfu

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''The highest peak in West Bengal, Sandakfu offers the best view of Kanchendzonga mountain.''

My experience as a first time trekker : One fine day, a friend of mine I wasn’t much in contact with, called up to invite me to be a part of an all women first time trekkers group that was planning a trek to Sandakfu in a month’s time!
How exciting can it get! And the rest is History for the four of us.
Life has never been the same, again! Finally it was not just the four of us. An experienced trekker/professional photographer and a local guide accompanied us, who made our trek all the more interesting.
We encountered a few difficulties, as well, very few in fact, but all these were compensated for by the sheer joy of walking alone (because our pace didn’t match), through the Himalayan range under the sun, and through hail storm, rains, and hold your breath, snowfall in the beginning of May!
Equally fond are the memories of gradually waking up at around 2 am, after going off to sleep early, and sharing notes, cracking jokes and pulling each others’ legs, while we lay shivering together in the trekkers’ hut, waiting to catch some more sleep before it’s time to start another tiresome day.
That is a different type of bonding, only trekkers know! Braving together the physical challenges, extreme temperature, physical pain and fatigue; and more importantly, the inner demons that coerce one to lose faith in oneself and believe that this mission will not be accomplished.

The Trail : We began our trek from Chitre, after spending a night in the serene lap of this small village with a Buddhist Monastery.
That, I think, helped us to get acclimatised, since we were coming from the plains in the beginning of summer!
During the trek, our first night’s halt was at Tumling, at Leela Didi’s Hut (very popular among trekkers). The next day we traversed through Singalila National Park and reached Kali Pokhari (English translation –Black Lake) at around 6.30pm.
After halting for the night, next day we braved the toughest but most beautiful part of the trek, the rise up-hill to the highest peak in West Bengal – Sandakfu!
Experienced trekkers can trek these odd 30Kms in a day. But we were first time trekkers and believers of the philosophy – manzil se behter lagne lage hain yeh rastey!
Since we trekked 9kms on the first day, 14kms on the second and 6kms on the third day, we got ample opportunities to stop and marvel at the natural beauty of the mystical Himalayas that lay before us, capturing as many frames as we intended, with our cameras. After a night’s stay at Sandakfu, we returned to Chitre in a Land Rover, reliving the moments as we passed by those roads where we had experienced our private peak moments.

Travel tips : It is a good idea to practice walking for at least a month, for stamina building, before undertaking such a physically challenging journey.
Yoga practitioners are also likely to have some advantages over others. Most of us had not done that and had to pay for it by panting and gasping for breath after every few minutes, where the slopes were steep.
Carry feather jackets or windcheaters that are padded. They can be kept on even when the sun shines brightly. Similarly, thermals are a must because they are light weight and warm. Don’t forget raincoats, as well.
You may carry dry fruits along with chocolates as energy boosters, but don’t munch on dry fruits, particularly cashews, too often, as it may lead to flatulence. I had to stay up almost the whole night on our first day because of chest pain.
Keep changing the hand with which you hold the walker’s stick, otherwise your upper arm and shoulder muscles would pain like hell at night. In fact, it is a good idea to use the stick sparingly, relying on it only in the steeper parts.
Even though you will be enormously tempted to take short cuts up-hill, avoid them. The short cuts are likely to drain you out faster. But we all do cheat at times, right? So, when you do take shortcuts, mark certain landmarks, so that you can return to the trail, if you happen to get lost. On one occasion, I was left with the choice of following a cow, when I had lost my way through a short cut!

Trekking is a life-changing experience : One should trek at least once in a life time! It has transformed me, taking me to a higher level of spiritual existence and contact with nature.

If you need a Local Guide : Call Phuphu Shering – 09734617586. He is safe to travel with and extremely competent in his job. Take my word, Phuphu’s presence will definitely add value to your trip through these mountains generously spotted with colourful rhododendrons!

Source / Review By : Pallavi Banerjee

Pallavi, a Clinical Psychologist, works as an assistant professor of psychology in Bethune College, Kolkata

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