About Sandakphu - The Experience
Sandakphu has been always known as the trekkers' paradise and located at north west of Darjeeling town at an altitude of 11,929ft (i.e. 3,636m). With its increasing popularity for sweeping views of Kanchenjunga and even Everest and other rare to be seen peaks, many tourists have also started thronging Sandakphu. This is the highest point (or peak) of the Singalila mountain range.
Many tourists who find the 3 days trek to Sandakphu
too strenuous to bear, take an old British Land Rover from Manebhanjan which operate on this route and visit Sandakphu. Earlier this road was entirely a gravel road full of large boulders, but now most part of the route (from Manebhanjan up to Gairibas) has been converted into a concrete road. The last stretch from Gairibas is still a boulder road.
Roads leading to Sandakphu
The distance from Manebhanjan to Sandakphu is about 32 kilometers and takes about 2.5 hours by a vehicle. From Darjeeling, the distance to Sandakphu is 58kms (26km up to Manebhanjan). But once you reach Sandakphu, you will be rewarded with a precious bounty of nature.
If you love snow peaks, then you will feel privileged that you made it up to this point and joined the group of few who have witnessed an end-to-end panoramic views of the Himalayan peaks. And these include four of the five highest peaks of the world. I shall come to the view shortly.
View of Mt. Everest from Sandakphu
The name Sandakphu means "Height of the poison plants". This is because of the poisonous aconite plants growing in abundance here and Sandakphu being the highest point of Darjeeling hills where such plants grow. Don't worry, they won't reach any harm to you unless you try to eat the attractive purple blue colored flowers or the leaves of these handsome looking plants that are usually 1-meter in height. Sandakphu is also home to lovely flowering plants like primula and rhododendrons that bloom in plenty during spring (March to April).
The last stretch of the route from Bikheybhanjang up to Sandakphu (4kms) is really steep. This stretch and the slopes of Sandakphu area are full of silver firs, rhododendron trees and magnolias. Sandakphu is a small village with few huts, GTA (Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, erstwhile DGHC) trekkers huts and few other private lodges for tourists and trekkers.
Now about the view of snow mountains. From Sandakphu, you get a 180 degree view of the Eastern Himalayas, with ranges that belong to Nepal on the west, Sikkim and Bhutan in the middle and Arunachal Pradesh in the east.
Everest view from Sandakphu
The entire range from Nepal to Arunachal is about 320 kms long. But the most dominant in the range are the Everest and Kanchenjunga family of peaks. The best time to view the snow peaks is when the day breaks at the wee hours. The best season is between April to May and from October to November.
As the first sunlight strikes, you will see the dazzling peaks of the Everest family in Nepal at the far west including the gorgeous Mt. Everest (29,029 ft., the highest peak in the world). It is about 160kms away from Sandakphu. You will find it along with other peaks like Lhotse (27940 ft., the fourth highest peak) and Mt. Makalu (27,825 ft, the fifth highest peak). If you look further west, you will see the Chamlang (24,006 ft) that stands like a square wall of snow.
If you now start looking towards east at Sikkim, you will see the striking and prominent peaks of Kanchenjunga family (summit 28,156 ft., the third highest peak in the world). The name Kanchenjunga means "Five treasures of the snow" and it has five peaks in its family. It is characterized by a massive mass of snow. Buddhists call this range 'Sleeping Buddha' because the snow range looks like a sleeping figure of Buddha with Mt. Kumbhakarna forming the head, Kabru the face, Kanchenjunga the belly and Mt. Pandim the feet. And therefore Kachenjunga massif is considered a holy deity in Sikkim. It is because of this sacred belief, mountaineers are not permitted to climb the peak of Kanchenjunga.
Kanchenjunga view from Sandakphu
(See the sleeping Buddha, head on the left)
The peaks close to Kanchenjunga include Kabru (24,026 ft), Kumbhakarna (25,294 ft.) and Pandim (22,010 ft). Between Everest and Kanchenjunga you will see the peaks of Three Sisters. If you look further east of Kanchenjunga, you will see the great Tibetan peaks of Narsing, Dongkya and Chola. And then you can spot Mt. Chamolhari in Bhutan.
Where to stay at Sandakphu
There is a GTA Lodge in Sandkphu which is quite popular with tourists and trekkers. Accommodation and service is quite basic though (often only a caretaker manages the operation). You need to visit a GTA Tourism Office and book a GTA lodge (there is no online booking system). You will find address and contact info of GTA tourism offices here: Darjeeling Tourist Information Centers
GTA Lodge is the first one,
Sherpa Chalet with angular roof structures at the end
There are also several private hotels here. One of the popular ones is Hotel Sherpa Chalet
. It's on a hill top and has rooms in lower and upper floors with great views of Kanchenjunga.
Other private hotels includes Sunrise Hotel (Phone: +977 974-1450002), Namo Buddha Hotel (Phone: 070768 24423) etc. You need to call them up, transfer a part of the booking amount to their bank account and get a confirmation on booking. During low seasons, you can walk in and get a room.
How to visit Sandakphu
You can take a jeep or a Land Rover from Manebhanjan to reach Sandkaphu. It takes about 2.5 hours. You have the option of either leaving the vehicle after you reach, or keep it overnight. There is a separate night charge applicable if you keep the vehicle overnight.
You will also need to get entry permits for Singalila National Park
because Most part of the route including Sandakphu is part of this national park. The entry permits are issued at Manebhanjan Forest Department office and also at the entry gate of the park near Tumling.
Alternatively, you can get a complete tour package from a Darjeeling based tour operator which includes pick up and drop from/to NJP/Bagdogra/Darjeeling, all transports, permits, lodgings etc.
If you want to trek to Sandakphu from Manebhanjan, then check out Sandakphu and Singalila Trek
for complete details including trekking trail, route map, guidelines, costs, tips and more.
Doyel (November 2020)
I am travelling with husband, 3 year old and in-laws and we all want to see sunrise from Sandakphu. I am not willing to tag the little one along with us and want him to be with in-laws at homestay. But if they are interested, we have to do the trip separately. In the both the cases, we have to be back the same day and before lunch time. My son is a fussy eater and we have limited options here. So is it feasible we start very early from Darjeeling and see sunrise and be back to our stay? Is the weather always clear to view a sunrise from Sandakphu? Say, if we drop the sunrise plan, what is the probability for getting a clear view from Sandakphu during day and how will be weather conditions during day time? Can we take the little one with us?
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) November 2020
You should not take a 3-month old infant to Sandakphu (located at an altitude of around 12,000ft). The low oxygen level can cause breathing problems. Secondly, when one makes a day trip by a vehicle, there is hardly any opportunity for acclimatization along the way. In Sikkim, children below 5 years are not allowed to visit such high altitude places.
It is practically not feasible to visit Sandakphu from Darjeeling and see the sunrise on the same day. It can take around 3.5 hours one way plus the time to change vehicle at Manebhanjan. The Land Rovers start operating only in the morning hours. Chances of good views are much better early in the mornings, but that's not feasible on a day trip. During the day time, the visibility at Sandakphu is unpredictable and you need some luck to get clear views.
However, over the past few months, the pollution level has dropped considerably due to low tourist footfall, and Kanchenjunga is clearly visible from various places in Darjeeling hills almost 24 hours a day including at nights. So, hopefully, you should have a good time.
Saurav Roychoudhury (November 2019)
Dear Raj, Good morning! I am a solo traveler and looking at a low cost travel experience. Would greatly appreciate your advice on shared transport options for traveling to Sandakhpu, and home stay options, quiet and quaint places away from any hustle & bustle. I wish to just spend some days in quiet looking at the mountains and greenery. Thanks and regards,
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) November 2019
Hello, you won't get any direct shared taxi from Bagdogra or NJP all the way to Manebhanjan. You can book a luxury shared taxi online on Wizzride.com up to Ghum (on the way to Darjeeling) and take a shared Jeep to Sukhia/Manebhanjan. Alternatively, walk up to the car park outside Bagdogra airport building... there are usually drivers offering shared rides to Darjeeling (this they do unofficially, so I can not recommend this)... get off at Ghum and follow the same modes as above. Once you reach Manebhanjan you can inquire at the Land Rover ticket counter for shared Jeep... you can join locals or other groups and pay a lower one-way fare. At Sandakphu, there are few hotels and lodges that I have discussed on this page above.
Arun Chatterjee (November 2018)
I too went to Singalila in October 2016 for which I came into contact with Mr. Keshav Gurung and he gave me the contact number of hotel Namo Buddha at Sandakphu and Hotel Pradhan at Manebhanjan. Mr. Gurung is a nice person. As per his advice I deposited the required amount to stay at Shikhar Lodge. After reaching Tumling I got a warm reception from Nila Gurung (owner of Shikar Lodge). At Sandakphu I was fully satisfied by Mr. Samten Sherpa of Hotel Namo Buddha. When I was coming back from Manebhanjan I met Mr. Gurung along with my daughter. Overall it was an amazing experience... courtesy of Mr. Gurung.
Rajib chowdhury (February 2017)
Hi Raj, I really appreciate your effort here. I'll be visiting Sandakphu on mid February. Is it a good time to plan my visit & Will there be snowfall during this time ? Again THANKS A TON for such an informative site
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) February 2017
Hi, in Feb routes are likely to be closed to vehicles due to heavy snow.
Callie Chee, Australia (January 2016)
Thank you for your wonderful post. Now, I am planning to visit Sandakphu from Darjeeling to take some photos. I am planning to take only a day safari tour from Darjeeling. Is the sunset of the mountains eg Kanchenjunga equally as nice as the sunrise? By the time the jeep gets there, I think the sunrise is over. Are the roads safe to travel at night if I were to travel at night to catch the sunrise? And how long is it from Darjeeling? Many thanks!
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) January 2016
Yes, both sunrise and sunset views from Sandakphu are excellent and offer the spectacle of changing colors on the snow peaks. There are sunrise and sunset points in Sandakphu to get the best views. But day safari from Darjeeling wont serve the purpose. It can easily take over 5 hours one-way from Darjeeling. I shall not recommend night driving at all on this route because the gravel road is steep at many places and full of sharp turns. There is also a possibility of fog blocking the views. You should plan an overnight stay at Sandakphu to view sunrise or sunset.
A S M Faizullah (January 2015)
Dear Raj, Greetings of new year. I, along with my wife & 3.5 yr old son, have plahnned to have snowfall experience and thus thinking to visit Sandakphu on 3-Feb-15. Shall we be able to make 1 day round-trip Darjeeling-Sandakphu? Please give your expert advice with cost idea. Thanks & regards
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) January 2015
Routes will likely be closed beyond Tumling. But you can still see lots of snow around Tumling.