Last Updated: September 05, 2016 

Sandakphu & Singalila Trek

 
Sandakphu is a wonderland for the trekkers. It's located at an altitude of 11,929ft (i.e. 3,636 meters) in Darjeeling district and on the north west of Darjeeling hill town. This is the summit or the highest point in Singalila range, and is also the highest peak in the state of West Bengal, India. The trek to Sandakphu goes all along the Singalila range. 
 
So, why do you think the trekkers from all over the world are so fanatic about Sandakphu and Singalila trek? The answer is simple.... Where else can you see four of the five highest peaks of the world including Mt. Everest, Makalu, Kanchenjunga, and Lhotse, along with Three Sisters and many other peaks of Nepal, Sikkim, Tibet and Bhutan in one single stretch of snow? Yes, this is what you get to see when you stand on the grounds of Sandakphu.  
 
 
 
Where else in the world will you be able to walk through the forests of flowering rhododendrons of numerous types, giant magnolias, spruce and wide range of amazing orchids? There are over 600 varieties of orchids in this area, the largest concentration in any single geographical area in the world. You can see them bloom in spring. 
 
The trek route passes through the Singalila National Park. So your trek journey is further complemented with a national park that has some of the most fascinating rare animals like Red Pandas and Pangolins. However, rare animals are rarely seen. The national park is also rich with varieties of birds. 
 
In Darjeeling district, the trek route to Sandakphu starts from a place called Manebhanjan, a small township located at an altitude of 7,054 ft (2,150 m). This is virtually the gateway to Singalila and Sandakphu. Manebhanjan is about 4 hours by taxi from NJP (the nearest major railway station) and also from Bagdogra (the nearest airport). The route is via Mirik, and if a direct taxi is not available, you need to come up to Mirik and then take another taxi. 
 
From NJP or Siliguri you can also get shared taxi up to Mirik and then take another one. However, shared taxis are not available at Bagdogra airport. Manebhanjan is only 26kms from Darjeeling and takes about 1 hour 15 minutes by taxi. Trekkers usually reach Manbhanjan on the previous day, stay at a hotel or homestay, and proceed early next morning. 
 
Getting ready for the trek 
Before you start the trek for Sandakphu, you need to ensure that you have a registered guide (which is mandatory) and if required, a porter. If you are going through a Tour Operator, then they will arrange for the guide/porter. Otherwise you can get them from the Highlander Guides & Porters Welfare Association at Manebhanjan. There is an office of Forest Department by the roadside just before the steep uphill route starts from Manebhanjan. You need to get a permit here (tour operators also take care of this). This permit is not a trek permit, it is an entry permit to the Singalila National Park.  
 
Note that if you go only up to Tumling, you don't need this permit or even a guide. Because the national park starts after Tumling, and the permits are meant for the national park and the guides for guiding you through the park. But it's quite controversial whether you actually need a guide at all. 
 
All along, the trails are well marked with signage and one can easily make it without any assistance. In my own case, the guide actually lets me be on my own and follows me. Well, rule is a rule and you got to follow that. 
 
From Manebhanjan the distance up to Sandakphu is 32kms which is usually covered in two or three days of trek. If you can trek for 8-9 hours a day, you can complete the one way trek in 2 days, otherwise in 3 days. Usually trekkers do it over 3 days. 
 
From Sandakphu, you can trek further up to Phalut which is another 21kms away. It takes an additional day of trek from Sandakphu on a relatively easy terrain, but it still is a long arduous trek. 
 
From Sandakphu, you can either return by the same route (seldom done) or take an alternative route. A popular return route is via Gurdum, Srikhola and then finally to Rimbik where one takes a transport (usually a shared or a private taxi) for a return transfer. 
 
A full circuit or round trip trek to Sandakphu takes a total of four to five days (depending on your ability). It can be undertaken by anyone who likes to walk. In trekkers world, it's considered a soft or light trek. But don't take it too easy if you are a novice... it's going to be a long hard work anyway. 
 
Visit Sandakphu & Singalila Route Map before I start the trek description. The map has both the distances and altitudes of the important places that you will be passing by. The route goes along the border of India and Nepal, and at several places is part of Nepal. 
 
At places there are more than one routes, one going through Indian territory while the other through Nepal's. But there is no need for Nepal visa along this route. It's a free zone for all including foreigners, but there are several check posts along the way guarded by SSB (Sashastra Seema Bal or Armed Border Force). All are subject to identity checks (carry valid Photo IDs, foreigners must carry passport). 
 
NOTE: 
 
1) You should be ready with all your trek logistics before you start, and that includes transport to Manebhanjan, state government registered guide with his own identity badge (which is mandatory now), porter (if required), permit for Singalila National Park (required for all as the route passes through the park), lodgings along the route (dormitory beds or rooms), food & water along the way, gears in case you are trekking in the winter which sees lots of snow & harsh weather conditions (a trekking pole is always recommended), camping equipment (if you plan to camp instead of staying at the huts), and transports for transfers to railway station or airport. 
 
Carry a bottle of drinking water which you can keep refilling with spring water (quite safe) along the way. Unless you want to arrange everything on your own, consider using a good Trek Operator who can arrange all such logistics and make your life much easier. However, that would involve additional cost. 
 
2)Having gone through the complete trek descriptions below, you should carefully go through the sections that follow about Accommodations and Useful Information. You can get vital information there such as lodging, contact info, guides, porters, permits, food, weather conditions, various costs involved & estimates, and lot more. And finally the last section is where I have commented on numerous questions from trekkers that reveal a lot of inside stories. 
 
 
 
Day-1: Manebhanjan to Tonglu (11kms), 6-7 Hours Trek 
 
Manebhanjan (also known as Mane Bhanjyang), Altitude: 7,054ft 
Many trekkers come to Manebhanjan a day before the trekking starts. This is to acclimatize themselves with the conditions before starting the trek early next morning. Manebhanjan is a small settlement. There is no ATM here. To get cash, the nearest ATM is at Sukhia which is about 15-20 minutes by car (it would be on your way when you arrive at Manebhanjan). 
 
There are small hotels and homestays here for overnight stays. Many small grocery and stationery shops are available at the market area to pick up your provisions like packaged water, biscuits, peanuts, dry food, medicines etc. Visit Manebhanjan: Gateway to Singalila to know about this small hill town, how to reach the place, accommodations, facilities and more. 
 
Manebhanjan. Route to Sandakphu 
Manebhanjang 
 
As you walk from Manebhanjan market area towards the trail for Sandakphu, in about 10-12 minutes, you will reach the office of the Singalila Wildlife Division. This is where you get the permit for Singalila National Park. 
 
Earlier, the trekking route up to Sandakphu was same as the boulder road on which 4-wheel drive vehicles take tourists to Sandakphu. By 2001, Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (now GTA) and the park authorities created a separate trekking trail that mostly goes through the lovely forests and flowering trees, although merges with the gravel road at several places. 
 
This trekking trail takes various forms along the way. In some parts it's a muddy trail through forests or open meadows, in other parts it's a steep stony stairway cutting through the mountains and again meeting the gravel road, and in other sections it's a narrow gravel pathway. At any section, you can choose to take either the gravel road or the trekking trail, however in several parts both become the same. 
 
Chitre (3kms from Manebhanjan, Altitude: 8,340ft), 1.5 hours trek 
Chitre is a small village about 3kms from Manebhanjan located at an altitude of 8,340 ft. The route up to Chitre passes through pine, fir, birch forests and bamboo glades. This part of the trek route is very steep and really warms you up. It takes about 1.5 hours to trek up to Chitre. You will get drinking water here as well as food in a local restaurant. Many not-so-seasoned trekkers actually take a vehicle up to this point and then start the trek. This is to avoid the steep gradient. But there are steeper sections ahead which you can't avoid, particularly the last 2kms of the trail to Sandakphu. So better start getting your cuff muscles ready now. 
 
The sharp winding road at Chitre (now it's a tarred road) 
 
 
There is an old Buddhist Monastery at Chitrey, a make shift lodging for trekkers, a local restaurant and few village huts. You will pass by the monastery. If you want to take it easy, visit the monastery. Then walk a few minutes and you will see a local restaurant on an open field. You can get food and water here, as well as toilet facilities. Halt for a while, freshen up and start the next leg of the trek. More info about Chitre here
 
Update April 2016: The gravel road between Manebhanjan and Chitre is now a paved (pitched) road. They actually wanted to make it a tarred road all the way to Sandakphu to make it easy for vehicles. But it could not be completed because the wildlife division had raised an objection stating that such pitched road would be harmful for wildlife. Another section of the road (between Tumling and Garibas) has also been tarred but lying unfinished thereafter. 
 
Lamaydhura (further 3kms, Altitude: 8,792ft), +1.5 hours trek 
Lamaydhura is a hamlet inhabited only by five Tibetan families. This part of the trek is more comfortable than the earlier stretch up to Chitre. It's a steady but gradual incline from Chitre and takes over an hour of trek. You will get drinking water here as well as snack-type food like noodles, eggs etc as well as tea/coffee, cold drinks, packaged snacks etc from roadside stalls. There are beds available for trekkers as well (low budget though and with makeshift toilets). From here, one side of the road is part of Nepal, while the other side is in India. The stalls at Lamaydhura have display boards showing they are in Nepal. More info about Lamaydhura here. 
 
Lamaydhura 
Lamaydhura 
 
The trail ahead of Lamaydhura ascends gradually. So this part of the trek is relatively easy. As you walk further up towards Meghma, you will pass though forests full of Chimal and Magnolia trees. 
 
Route ahead of Lamaydhura. Do you see a trekker? 
 
 
Shortly after Lamaydhura, I had one of my best experiences of trekking. We spotted a Red Panda crossing the trek route just yards ahead. I had always longed to see this rare and beautiful animal once in its natural form & habitat. And here it was right in front of me, looking at me eye to eye. Initially it was puzzled having seen us, wondering whether to cross the road or return. But soon it made up its mind, quickly crossed the road and started climbing a tree, and that's when I could finally capture it on my camera (see the picture below). 
 
Red Panda climbing the tree 
 
 
Meghma (further 3kms, Altitude 9,514ft), +1.5 hours trek 
This is another small village located at the border of India and Nepal, and about 3kms from Lamaydhura. Meghma is at an altitude of 9,514 ft. From Lamaydhura, it takes about 1.5 hours of trek to reach Meghma. If you trek continuously from Manebhanjan, it will take about 4.5-5 hours to reach Meghma. There is a monastery at the entrance of Meghma. 
 
Armed border forces have a large camping site at Meghma. There is also a restaurant here serving tea, coffee, snacks, meals etc. A separate toilet facility is operated by the restaurant owner. There are limited beds available as well. More information about Meghma here
 
Meghma, the monastery on the left 
 
 
From Meghma the gravel road bifurcates. The one on the right goes towards Tonglu (2kms) which is part of India. The trekkers usually take this route if they plan to stay at Tonglu. There is a GTA lodge here as well as DM's bungalow. If you do not want to stay at Tonglu but still like to take this route, then shortly before the GTA lodge a trekking trail bifurcates from the main gravel road towards left and leads down to Tumling. Ask your guide and he will show you the way. This trail to Tumling is shorter. 
 
Route from Meghma towards Tonglu 
 
 
The route on the left from Meghma goes to another settlement known as Tumling (4kms) which is part of Nepal. There are several private hotels and lodges in Tumling offering both rooms and dormitory beds.  
 
You can take any route you like. If you take the route to Tonglu, you will need to trek another 2kms and the route finally merges at Tumling. Both Tonglu and Tumling offer spectacular views of Kanchenjunga on clear days. 
 
Route from Meghma towards Tumling 
 
 
During winter time, it can get very cold from Meghma onwards and it would be wise to carry heavy woolens, jacket, cap and hand gloves and keep them handy. You will start seeing accumulated snow on both sides of the street soon after Meghma. 
 
Once during winter I took the route from Meghma towards Tumling. You get to see open meadows, valleys, gorge and barren landscapes. And in winter they remain frozen in snow. The picture below was taken between Meghma and Tumling. 
 
Meghma to Tumling, landscape in snow 
 
 
There are only handful of village huts along the way, hardly any vegetation and practically no facility for the trekkers on this route. However, you can remain immersed with nature's unabated beauty. And the terrain is relatively easy to let you enjoy that. 
 
Meghma to Tumling, landscape in snow 
 
 
But for now, we will take the route from Meghma towards Tonglu which is a more popular route for trekkers, because you get to see one more beautiful place - Tonglu. 
 
Tonglu (2kms from Meghma, Altitude: 10,130ft), +1 hour trek 
Tonglu is a small hamlet located at an altitude of 10,130ft. This is where most trekkers take the first night halt. There is a GTA lodge here. The lodge is about 2kms from Meghma and takes about 1 hour to reach. The last section is a steep climb. 
 
From Tonglu you can get lovely views of Darjeeling and Kurseong town areas. Down below you can see the great valleys and the plains of North Bengal with rivers like Teesta and Koshi flowing. Tonglu also offers a wonderful view of Kanchenjunga snow peaks. More information about Tonglu here
 
Tonglu, GTA Trekkers Hut 
 
 
Day-2: Tonglu to Kalipokhri (15kms), 6-7 Hours Trek 
From Tonglu, you should start your trek early next morning. From Tonglu your next destination is Tumling which is about 2kms away. 
 
Tumling (2kms from Tonglu, Altitude: 9,600ft), +1 hour trek 
2kms trek from Tonglu will take you to another small Village called Tumling located at an altitude of 9,600 ft. Tonglu to Tumling is a steep descend, but thereafter it's a gradual descend till Gairibas. Tumling is a great place to stop for a while, freshen up and then get moving for the next leg of the trek. 
 
Some trekkers actually prefer to stay at Tumling for the first night instead of at Tonglu. This is due to availability of better private lodges and facilities here. This is the last point up to which electricity is available. More information about Tumling here about accommodation, amenities, attractions etc. 
 
Tumling Village 
Tumling 
 
About 1km from Tumling you will reach the arch gateway of Singalila National Park, which is the highest altitude national park in the state of West Bengal. This park is well known for rare and fascinating high altitude animals like Red Panda, Pangolins, Himalayan black bear, Monals etc. There is a check post here at Singalila gate. If you haven't taken the permit yet, this is where you must take it, or otherwise you won't be allowed to go any further. 
 
NOTE: Few yards inside the arched entrance of Singalila National Park, the road bifurcates. The one on the left is a dirt road and goes through Nepal to a place called Jhaubari. You can see nice rolling meadows of Nepal on this route. The other road straight ahead goes through the forested area all the way up to Gairibas. This road belongs to Indian territory and has now been concretized up to Gairibas. 
 
You can take either route. While the trek up to Jhaubari is almost on a level terrain and is easy, after Jhaubari the road becomes downhill and steep, and could get slippery. If you want to avoid the steep downhill walk, then take the concrete road through the forest. There is also a third trekking trail here which also meets at Jhaubari and merges with the two other roads. But most trekkers actually take one of the two roads instead of the trail. 
 
 
 
Jhaubari (6kms from Tumling, Altitude: 9,186ft), +3 hours trek 
A small village further along the way to Sandakphu at an altitude of 9,186 ft. This place may not be important from trekking perspective. But I always combine trekking with exploration of life in the mountains. And if you do that too, you will like to stop here and have a cup of tea. Fudri, a young lady serves hot tea and light snacks from her home. She lives here with her husband and her daughter Yanzi.  
 
On one occasion I had stayed back in Tumling for a night and came all the way to Jhaubari to buy chicken. There was no chicken available in Tumling that day (in fact non-veg is a luxury here). My good friend and Nepali guide Sanjay suggested that I taste a drink called Roxy on our way back. It's a specialty of this area, he mentioned. This local drink is prepared from some flowering plants known as Guras that grow quite abundantly in this part of the mountains. Well I won't forget that experience in my life. 
 
In Jhaubari 
 
 
He took me to a hut in Jhaubari. It was a residence of a local family. An old lady poured a colorless drink in a cup and offered it to me. Few sips and soon my whole body got warmed up in that freezing cold night. I soon felt like some hot steam coming out of my ears and my body felt real light :) 
 
While I don't advise that you should try such intoxicating drink, but just in case you do, take in small quantities and have it real slow. But never try it while on a trek. You can refill drinking water at Jhaubari. 
 
Gairibas (1km from Jhaubari, Altitude: 8,600ft), +0.5 hour trek 
From Jhaubari one has to take a right turn towards Gairibas. It is further 1km ahead and located at an altitude of 8,600 ft. From Tumling, up to Jhaubari is a gradual descend and a relatively easy trek. But after Jhaubari it is a steep descend up to Gairibas. 
 
Gairibas 
 
 
Halt at Gairibas for a while. There is a tea stall here (which also has dormitory beds for trekkers). Piping hot vegetarian momos are great (no non-veg items). If you started early in the morning, you can complete your breakfast here or have some tea, before you proceed towards Sandakphu. The stall also offers noodles, toast and other snack items, and even meals. You can get packaged snacks, biscuits, soft drinks and bottled water here as well. Opposite to the stall is a check post of Armed Border Force. 
 
The three routes that originate shortly after entry to Singalila National Park (a concrete road through forest, a dirt road through Jhaubari of Nepal, and a trekking trail) all come and meet here at Gairibas. 
 
Three routes meet at Gairibas. Below is the main concrete road. 
From upper right comes the route from Jhaubari, 
and at upper left is the trekking trail. 
 
 
There is a nice GTA lodge at Gairibas (about 100 yards before you reach the check post and located at a lower level on a grassy flat land). The landscape around is picturesque with pine trees and lot other plantations. This is the best accommodation here. 
 
During high season, it may not be easy to get accommodation at Gairibas, unless you have booked it in advance. Because of the scenic beauty of this place, many prefer to stay here for a night before proceeding for Sadakphu next morning. Magnolia Lodge is also popular. 
 
GTA Lodge, Gairibas 
 
 
The trek route passes through bamboo glades. Gairibas is essentially a valley full of bamboo grooves. If you are here during spring (April), you can see colorful red Rhododendrons in full blossom. 
 
Rhododendrons, shortly after Gairibas 
 
 
From Gairibas, the route is a steep climb for about 2kms till you reach a tiny settlement known as Kaiyakatta. There are only couple of stalls here where you can get refreshment and water. The place gets its name from a strange story. A Marwari man used to run a business here. Marwaris are locally known as Kaiya. However this man deprived the locals to keep most profits for himself when one day a local came and beheaded him (an act known as katta). The place is since known as Kaiyakatta. 
 
Kaiyakatta 
 
 
From Kaiyakatta, there are two routes. The trail at the upper level goes through Nepal. However most take the other route that goes through India. Both routes finally meet at Kalipokhri where the lake is located. From Kaiyakatta, it's a gradual climb till you reach Kalipokhri. 
 
Kalipokhri (6kms from Gairibas, Altitude: 10,400ft) +3 hours trek 
From Gairibas, the trek up to Kalipokhri takes about three hours. It's at an altitude of 10,400 ft. Initially you will trek uphill through forests of oak, rhododendrons and bamboo to reach Kaiyakatta in about 1.5 hours which is about 2kms from Gairibas. The trail is up & down from here. In another 1.5 hours or so you will reach Kalipokhri. 
 
Kalipokhri is so named because of a pond or a water tank filled with black water. The word Kali means black and pokhri stands for water area. However the black color is not due to pollution, it's muddy and the water never freezes. The small lake is considered sacred by the local villagers. Due to all-time water availability, a small village settlement has taken place in this area (about 100 yards ahead at a higher level). This is where all private trekkers huts are also located. 
 
Kalipokhri Water Body 
 
See the trail on upper right which comes from 
Kaiyakatta through Nepal and meets here 
 
You will pass through forest of rhododendron, Singalila Sanctuary and then by the pond to reach the Kalipokhri village area. This is where most of the trekkers stay for the second night. There are several private lodges here including Pandim Lodge, Chewang Lodge, and Himchuli Lodge. 
 
There is no GTA lodge here, but the private ones also offer similar accommodations at reasonable rates. Drinking water is available at both Kaikatta and Kalipokhri villages. As you are entering the village, look up 45 degrees towards left, and you can get the first real glimpse of your targeted destination far away on a clear day... Sandakphu. 
 
Kalipokhri Village 
 
 
Day-3: Kalipokhri to Sandakphu (6kms), 3 Hours Trek 
If you are staying overnight at Kalipokhri, start very early in the morning next day. You will not like to miss out on the panoramic view of the snow peaks from Sandakphu, which is best seen early in the morning. An early start from here will give you a chance to view the snow peaks twice, once as soon as you reach Sandakphu and again next morning before you start your return or onward trek. 
 
Bikheybhanjang (2kms from Kalipokhri), +40 minutes trek 
From Kalipokhri, the trekking route gradually ascends up to Bikheybhanjang which is located 2kms away. On the way you will cross a place called Chowri Chowk (there is no signboard though) where you can take a break for couple of minutes. There is a hut here where mostly drivers leaving tourists at Sandakphu come back for night stays. The lady there will make you a cup of tea. 
 
Then walk towards Bikheybhanjang. This is another small hamlet. The name means "Valley of Poison" because of the poisonous Aconite plants that grow in abundance around this place. Don't worry, The plant by itself is harmless unless you eat the leaves. 
 
There is nothing much at Bikhey Bhanjan. Once you come to the small tinned hut like structure on the right (which is supposed to be a Check Post), you can see three routes ahead. The gravel road steers along the right. A steep stairway right ahead climbs up to a Stupa on top and then continues and meets the gravel road. And a trail on the left passes through lovely meadows (this is also a motorable route, but very steep and narrow). You can take any route, all finally merge. 
 
Bikheybhanjang, see the 3 routes 
 
 
Sandakphu (further 4kms from Bikheybhanjang, Altitude: 11,929ft) 2.5 hours trek 
And now the final destination and the climax. You could see the Sandakphu Peak from Kalipokhri itself. But like all great things in life, this won't come easy. From Bikhheybhanjang the climb up to Sandakphu is the steepest. The 4kms route can easily take about 2.5 hours. There are stretches where the gradient is so steep that you will think your nose is about to touch the ground. 
 
But the final rewards are awesome. All your strains will disappear as you see the board saying "Welcome to Sandakphu". You are at an altitude of 11,929ft, on the summit of Singalila range and at the paradise of trekking... Wow, you made it !!! 
 
Sandakphu 
Sandakphu 
 
Sandakphu is the place from where you get a 180 degree panoramic vista of some of the highest and most beautiful peaks of the world, right from Nepal all the way up to Arunachal. Some of the greatest peaks include the Mt Everest, Makalu, Kanchenjunga, Lhotse, Chomolhari, Pandim, Three Sisters, Kumbhakarna etc. Visit  Information about Sandakphu to know about all my experience there and what you can expect once you reach. 
 
There is a GTA lodge in Sandakphu and also several other private accommodations including Hotel Sherpa Chalet, Hotel Sunrise, Namo Buddha Hotel etc. Sherpa Chalet is arguably the best hotel here and great for viewing the snow peaks from the rooms. 
 
Day 4 - 6: Onward and Return treks from Sandakphu 
From Sandakphu, you have two options. You can either continue up to Phalut (another trekking destination) and then return via Gorkhey, Rammam, Srikhola to Rimbik where shared jeeps are available for Darjeeling or getting back to Siliguri. Or take a shorter return route from Sandakphu itself. If returning from Sandakphu, most trekkers take the trail that goes via Gurdum and meets at Srikhola, and then come down to Rimbik. 
 
Go through the link below to know about the onward trek to Phalut which is further 21kms from Sandakphu. It offers breathtaking views of the snow peaks and requires an additional day of trek. 
 
 
If you however want to return from Sandakphu, then go through the following link: 
 
 
Alternative Route for Sandakphu Trek 
There is another route which several trekkers prefer for trekking to Sandakphu. The route however merges with the common one I described above at Tonglu. From Siliguri you can take a car and drive all the way up to a place called Dhotrey (via Manebhanjan). It takes about 4.5 to 5 hours drive. After a night stay at Dhotrey, take the lovely scenic trek route (6 kms) that leads to Tonglu. The first 2kms is through a forested trail. And then the landscape opens up and you can sea wonderful meadows. It's an uphill trek route and takes about 3 - 3.5 hours to reach Tonglu from Dhotrey. Note that the route remains closed during Monsoon (mid June to mid September). If you are planning to take this route, a popular itinerary is: 
 
Day 1: NJP/Siliguri to Dhotrey by car, stay overnight at Dhotrey 
Day 2: Dhotrey - Gairibas Trek, stay overnight at Gairibas 
Day 3: Gairibas - Sandakphu Trek, stay overnight at Sandakphu 
Day 4: Sandakphu - Phalut Trek, stay overnight at Phalut 
Day 5: Phalut - Gorkhey Trek, stay overnight at Gorkhey 
Day 6: Gorkhey - Srikhola Trek, stay overnight at Srikhoila 
Day 7: Srikhola - Rimbik Trek,  then to NJP via Manebhanjan by jeep/car 
 
Accommodations along Sandakphu/Phalut Route 
Accommodations along Sandakphu/Phalut trek route are mostly basic lodges and trekkers' huts. Most offer dorm beds and few lodges also offer private rooms. Do not expect luxury like TV, geyser etc. For most part of the route there is no electricity although some lodges offer limited use of solar powered lights (usually 6pm to 9pm). Almost all provide basic food like rice, daal, noodles (locally known as wai wai), vegetables and some times eggs, and if you are lucky, chicken. 
 
 
 
How to book lodges/trekkers' huts along Sandakphu route? 
If you do not want to take any chances (particularly in summer), book lodges/huts in advance. There is no internet there and none have online booking provisions. I have given the contact nos. of the lodges below (hard to get some of them as phone lines do not work consistently). Call them up to check availability. They will ask you to transfer money to their bank account to confirm the booking. 
 
This can be a big hassle for foreigners because most lodge owners won't know Swift Codes for international bank transfers. Foreigners are better off to go through a Trek Operator to take care of all logistics including accommodations. One can however try the lodges on the go, and most often than not, you will get some accommodation on the spot. But the best and cleanest ones are the first to go full. 
 
You can optionally try through an operator in Darjeeling who could be your single point of contact for such bookings. They will of course push lodges where they get commissions. But such lodges are usually okay because the operators use them for organized treks and they can't afford to offend trekkers. 
 
Also note that the GTA lodges can only be booked by physically visiting one of their offices (there is one in Darjeeling on Mall Road, called Silver Fir building). To book a GTA lodge or trekkers hut, go through GTA Tourist Info for location & contacts of GTA offices in India. Beds (in dorms) and private rooms in some lodges are available for booking. 
 
Contacts of Lodges/huts along Sandakphu/Phalut route 
(NOTE: Visit the links in the table below for more info. Contact information is subject to change) 
 
Location
Accommodation
Phone/Mobile
Maneybhanjan
9232695120 
9564797551
 
9733044512 
(03542) 264387
Tonglu
GTA Lodge
Tumling
9564797551
 
9593320408
Jhaubari
Indira Lodge
9733363473
Kalipokhri
Pandim lodge
(+91) 9333964774 
(+977) 9735916541 
(+977) 9742666243 
(+977) 9734043453
 
Chewang Lodge
Sandakphu
GTA Lodge
 
(+91) 9332599261 
(+91) 9933488159 
(+91) 7407276989 
(+977) 9742621760 
(+977) 27691127
Molley
GTA Lodge
Phalut
GTA Lodge
Gorkhey
Shanti Lodge 
Eden Lodge
 
Gurdum
Lakpa Dorjee Sherpa's home
9593996308
Srikhola
9933488243 
9932216197 
9832375546 
7797989938
 
GTA Lodge
 
Goparma Lodge
9733261799
Dhotrey
Sherpa Lodge
9733048579
Rimbik
Hotel Green Hill
9593720817, 9733069143 9593828400
 
Kanchenjunga Hotel
9832518616  
9434872749
 
GTA Trekkers Hut
 
It is also possible to camp on a trek to Sandakphu or Phalut. However you must know some of the restrictions. Some areas on the way are suitable for camping and some are not. Trek operators or proper guides can best guide you through the camping sites. Check out Camping on Sandakphu route to get information about camping. 
 
Useful Information for Sandakphu & Phalut Trek 
1) These days it is mandatory that you take a guide and optionally porters for treks to Sandakphu and Phalut. There are state government registered guides who have their own identity cards. If you are approaching through Manebhanjan, you can get a guide from Highlander Guides and Porters Welfare Association located by the roadside as soon as you enter Manebhanjan. You can also opt only for a porter who can double up as a guide (although the association might persuade you to take a proper guide). 
 
Guides are also available at Dhotrey and Rimbik. At Dhotrey (when you take the alternative route described above), you can get a guide from Nature Guides Association. And in Rimbik (in case you take the reverse of the normal trek route), guides are available at Rimbik Guide Association. 
 
Another good option is to go through a Trek Operator who has registered & knowledgeable guides and can take care of all logistics including accommodations, food, permits, porters, transfers etc. They offer complete packages. A good trek operator will provide guides who can converse in English and Hindi, would be dressed appropriately, carry First Aid Kit, Tool Kit, Torches, birding field guide & voice recordings of birds (if asked for) etc. Trek operator cost would be more because of their value offerings. The top trek operators however offer good discounts on Darjeeling Tourism Card
 
2) Indicative costs for Sandakphu- Phalut trek (Updated April 2016): 
  • You need to pay a Permit Fee (i.e. Singalilla National Park Entry fee) of Rs. 100/- per person for Indians and Rs. 200/- for foreign nationals. You can pay this fee at Manebhanjan or Singalila Park check post located shortly after Tumling. Without paying this fee, entry through Singalia National Park (near Tumling) will not be allowed. Carry Photo Id cards (like driving license / Voter's ID Card etc) which may be checked at several intermediate check posts along the route like Tumling, Gairibas, Batasi etc). If you are going through a trek operator, they will take care of the permits. Foreigners must carry passport. 
  • Still Digital Camera: Rs. 100/-; Video Camera: Rs. 400/- 
  • Cost of food along the trek route would be around Rs. 500 - 600 per person per day. 
  • Rate of dormitory bed in trekkers huts  = Rs. 100-200 per person per day. 
  • Double/triple bedded room in a good private hotel or lodge can cost between Rs. 1,000 to 2,500 per day. Cheaper ones available too. 
  • NJP/Bagdogra to Manebhanjan: Rs. 3,000/- for reserved small car. 
  • Darjeeling to Manebhanjan shared Jeep fare: Rs. 50/- per person and reserved small car fare: Rs. 1,200/- 
  • Rimbik to Darjeeling shared Jeep fare: Rs. 200 per person and reserved vehicle fare: Rs. 2,500. 
  • Rimbik to NJP/Bagdogra reserved vehicle fare: Rs. 5000/-. 
  • Rate for Guide or Porter (if taken from Manebhanjan) is Rs. 600/- or Rs. 500/- per day respectively. Rate for foreigners is Rs. 900/- per day. Guide & porter rate includes their stay and food. One porter will carry up to 25kg of load in summer and 20kg in winter. 
  • Several lodges along the way use solar power or generators and allow you to charge your mobile phone, camera battery etc at a small nominal charge per hour (indicative Rs. 10-15 per hour). 
  •  
    3) Mobile Phone: Indian mobile networks do not work for most part of Sandakphu/Phalut trek. Vodafone and BSNL are the only mobile networks that work in patches along the way (but are inconsistent). You can get proper mobile towers once you reach Srikhola and then at Rimbik. Most locals on the trek route use Nepal mobile service. At some places your mobile tower will switch to Nepal international roaming, so be careful about the rates charged per call. 
     
    4) What is the best time to trek to Sandakphu & Singalila? 
    There are two great seasons: one during April to May when it's quite comfortable (temperature ranges between 6 - 12°C) and the flowers like rhododendrons, orchid, primula are in full bloom. Sky mostly remains clear and you get lovely mountain views. In May however there are chances of occasional showers and the sky remaining cloudy at times. The second season is between October to November when the temperature ranges between 1 - 6°C, visibility is excellent and there may be occasional snowfall. You can also trek in December but it gets really cold around that time. 
     
    These days Sandakphu trekking takes place in winter as well (between December - February). You will however need heavy woolens and equipment like snow boots, sleeping bags etc. Identifying trails may be difficult due to heavy snow covers, so take an experienced guide. If you plan to trek in winter, ideally use a Trek Operator
     
    Singalila National Park remains closed between mid June to mid September (for 3 months). This is the monsoon and animal breeding season. So Sandakphu trekking can not be done during this period. However you can trek up to Tumling during this time. The entry to Singalila National Park starts 1km after Tumling. 
     
    5) Clothing & Accessories: Sandakphu can be very cold even in summer. So carry adequate woolens & jackets. In winter take heavy woolens, gloves, caps, and of course wear woolen inners. Additionally, take a rain coat (a must in all seasons ), use good trekking shoes, carry extra pair of socks, a wind-cheater, gloves in winter, cap etc. Weather can be unpredictable, so always be prepared for drizzles, showers and fog. Carry an empty plastic bottle which you can keep filling up with spring water along the way and use as drinking water. It's safe. 
     
    6) There is no electricity or power for most part of the trek route (available up to Tumling). The locals use solar panels and some use generators. Lights are put on for some time at nights after which you are required to use candles. Hot water is a precious item along the route and made using wood burners. Hot water is supplied in buckets for freshening up. 
     
    7) Food will be basic like rice, daal, bread, vegetables, noodles, khichri etc. Eggs are usually available and chicken at times. There is no other meet available. Do not expect fancy hotel food. Packaged snacks, bottled drinking water, tea, coffee and alcoholic beverages are available all along the route and even in Sandakphu. 
     
    8) Carry all essential medication as well as a first aid kit. Use a trekking stick for an extra support to tiring legs. 
     
    9) If you are a novice, remember you must go slow and keep the spirits high... that's the key. Take a break every 15 minutes if you need and relax before you start again. Ask your guide not to move ahead and set the speed, rather be with you all the time. There will still be times when you would be on the verge of giving up... but don't give up. Ask your guide to tell you stories from his experience, you will limp along and cross the hump. Listen to suggestions from the guide. They can often predict fowl weather ahead and suggest an alternative plan. Abide by that. 
     
    10) Some have the notion that trekking downhill on the way back would be easier than trekking uphill. It's a myth. The return trail at various places (particularly from Sandakphu to Srikhola via Gurdum) have steep downhill gradient. The dry leaves on the forested trail and sometimes thin ice cover (like in March) can make it quite slippery as well. It can take a high toll on your knees and ankles. So use a knee guard if required and take easy but cautious steps. 
     
    11) Last but not by any means the least... I have noticed some trekkers (and mostly first and last timers) consume alcohol on reaching Sandakphu, perhaps as a mark of celebration for reaching the summit. This is probably the worst mistake one can make in this trek. Remember you are at an altitude of around 12,000ft. You can imagine how thin oxygen is in the air. And alcohol can compound your problem next day with dehydration and headache when you need to get set for one of the longest days in the trek. 
     
    If you have a question why alcoholic beverages of all types are showcased freely everywhere? The answer is, there are many tourists who come by 4-wheel-drive vehicles to enjoy and get the views. The bottles are mostly meant for them and their drivers, who can quickly get back to protected comfort next day, but you can't. 
     
    Visitors' Reviews/Comments 
     
    Arnab Das (September 2016) 
    Raj sir, I have some selected queries... 1. Are cooked food available in trekker's huts or should we take at least a porter for cooking arrangements during trek? 2. If we carry maggi pouches for a week in order to reduce the fooding cost, will the lodge owners or caretaker in trekker's hut cook it, with a lower charge? If it is not possible, then is there any provision that the guide will carry a small electric cooker for a bit extra payment? 
     
    Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) September 2016 
    Trekkers' huts provide food (although quite basic at most places). They won't allow you to cook your own food. Electricity is available only up to Tumling which too is unreliable. Beyond Tumling they use solar lights. All use wood log burners for cooking. 
     
    Sivan (August 2016) 
    Hello. I would like to arrive at Darjeeling on 15.9.16 and I really want to do the Singalila trek. I have few questions. First are the Sandakphu trek and the Singalila trek the same? second, I'm coming by my own, without partners to the trek. How easy it is to find partners/company over there? thank you very much!  
     
    Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) August 2016 
    Yes they are the same because Sandakphu is part of Singalila range, although sometimes some trekkers trek only up to Singalila National Park which is located near Tumling. You won't usually find company for the trek because trekkers start at their own time with their own guide. However sometimes you may be able a find another group or individual at the permit office where one needs to take the permit. Otherwise consider the guide or the porter as your only company. You will however meet other trekkers along the way. 
     
    Claudia Yung Fah, South Africa (August 2016) 
    Dear Raj, Hope you are well! I would like to enquire where there are specific luggage requirements for the porters I.e. must the luggage be a backpack or can it be a suitcase with wheels? Your advice would be appreciated. Kind regards 
     
    Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) August 2016 
    Hi, Porters in Darjeeling town will carry any luggage to take them to your hotel or bring them to taxi stand. But for treks, the luggage should be backpacks or soft bags, otherwise they are likely to be reluctant to carry them. 
     
    Sayantan Dhar (February 2016) 
    Hi Raj, Your account of the Singalila trek is not only exhaustive but also pretty high on information. I would like to know about the weather conditions for a possible trek during 3rd week of March. Will it be cold? Also would it help to pre-book our stays from Kolkata or can we expect availability of trekker huts when we reach there. We are a group of first time trekkers and will reach Manebhanjang on 19th March. Thanks 
     
    Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) February 2016 
    Yes, it can be very cold around that time in Sandakphu. So take all winter protections. No need to book huts in advance around this time unless you want to ensure booking in GTA lodges. 
     
    Peter Dcosta (January 2016) 
    Hi Raj, My name is Peter. I am from Barrackpore and currently working in Delhi with Starwood Hotels & Resorts. Most of the time I am a solo traveller. I am very impressed with your research and posts about Sandakphu. Being a solo traveller, I need to know about the journey and destination transparently. I need your huge favour to help me in my travel from Bagdogra Airport. How can I reach my starting point, do I need accommodation there and the expenses. Waiting for your response. 
     
    Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com)  January 2016 
    Hi, you need to start your trek from Manebhanjan. From Bagdogra, it takes about 4 hours to reach Manebhanjan by car (via Mirik). You will get pre-paid taxis at the airport. You can't start the trek on the same day. So either you can stay at Manebhanjan (very basic accommodations) or at Mirik (there are some decent hotels like Hotel Jagjit). From Mirik it takes about 2 hours to reach Manebhanjan by car, so start early (book a car in advance). There are shared jeeps also available from Mirik via Sukhia (where you may need to change to another Jeep). All other information are already available in my page. 
     
    Gabriel Davies (January 2016) 
    Hi Raj, Your website is great, thank you! I have the impression that it would be cheaper to book a guide and accommodation/permits etc on arrival in Darjeeling rather than through a tour operator in advance. I wanted to ask how easy it is to do this and how much we would be paying per person per day this way? Many thanks. 
     
    Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com)  January 2016 
    Hi, yes it'll be cheaper if you arrange logistics on your own including booking of guide, lodging etc. Guide is easy to get at Manebhanjan (quality questionable though). Lodging/permits too are easy and you can get them along the way. However in high season, all good/decent accommodations get full well in advance. You will be left with few low class (and sometimes quite unhygienic) private huts. I have already discussed indicative costs in the above sections. You can easily calculate your daily budget from there. 
     
     
     
     
     
     
    Related Resources & Articles 
     
    1) Sandakphu Trek Itinerary & Day-wise Plan: This article is a collection of questions and answers to what should be the day wise trek and night stay plans for trekking to Sandakphu and Phalut. 
     
    2) Sandakphu trek for beginners: If you have not trekked before or have little experience in trekking, but considering a trek to Sandakphu, then read this article for useful information. 
     
    3) Sandakphu & Singalila Route Map: See the trek route diagram and the distances 
     
    4) Sandakphu - Drive & Trek: When you are short of time to trek the entire circuit, you can take a jeep, drive for some part of the route to Sandakphu and return by the Jeep. This can help save time while getting a good flavor of the trek. 
     
    5) Sandkaphu Trek Experiences Shared: Trekkers sharing their experience. 
     
    6) Darjeeling Trekking: Know all about trekking in Darjeeling area.