Singalila National Park
A Jeep Safari
Singalila National Park is a reserved forest area located at the Singalila ridge in Darjeeling district. This is a high altitude park spanning between 7,900ft to about 12,000ft covering an area of 78.6 square kms. This is in fact the highest altitude park in the state of West Bengal.
The entire Singalila ridge is covered with thick bamboo, oak and rhododendron forest. It was initially a wild life sanctuary and later made into a national park in 1992. The whole of Singalila range and the national park has long been part of the trekking route to Sandakphu and Phalut
Road through Singalila National Park.
See Rhododendrons shortly after Gairibas
Singalila national park has two ranges. The southern range starts shortly after the small township of Manebhanjan
(which is located at the base) and extends through Tonglu, Tumling, Gairibas, Kalipokhari, Bikheybhanjan and all the way up to Sandakphu (11,909 ft) and beyond to Phalut (11,811 ft). Sandakphu and Phalut are the two highest peaks of Singalila range.
For visits to the park, this route through the southern range is most popular to tourists. Other than the trekking trail, there is also a motorable road along this route that leads all the way up to Sandakphu and onward to Phalut. Old Land Rovers that originally belonged to the British era, operate on this route and take tourists from Manebhanjan through the National Park to the peaks of Sandakphu and Phalut.
Route to Sandakphu
This road is a gravel (i.e. boulder) road from Gairibas onwards all the way up to Sandakphu and Phalut and is very bumpy. Gairibas is about 18kms and Sandakphu is about 30kms from Manebhanjan by road. The trekking trail merges with the road at several sections and is little longer than the road route.
The northern range of Singalila National Park is accessible through Rimbik (there is a separate route from Manebhanjan). To the north of the national park is Sikkim and to its west is Nepal.
Singalila Route Map
Once you go past the village Tumling
(altitude 9,600 ft), you will see the sign of the main entrance of Singalila National Park after about 1km. You will come to the large archway of the entrance. The trek and the gravel route passes through the gate and the park. You need to show your entry permits here at the check post. If you do not have the entry permits to the park, you can pay and get it here. I have discussed the permit process and the costs in a section below.
Singalila National Park Entry after Tumling
Singalila National Park is popular to tourists from all over the world for it amazing flora and fauna, and the stunning view of the Himalayan peaks including the Everest and Kanchenjunga.
Plantations in Singalila National Park
As you trek or drive through the park, you will pass through forests areas full of oaks, ferns, silver firs, bamboo and flowering plants like rhododendrons, wide range of orchids, magnolias, primula and several other types of flowering plants. During March to April, rhododendrons (of around 20 different types) bloom in different colors all across the park.
If you come during October-November, you will see large varieties of Orchids. There are over 600 varieties of orchids bloom in Singalia, the largest concentration in any single geographical area in the world. During this time, you will also see the ornamental primulas having formed carpets of flowers in the lower forest areas.
Wildlife in Singalila National Park
Singalila National Park has some of the rarest and exotic animal life. Many of them are high altitude animals that are found mostly in the Himalayas. One of my favorites here is the Red Panda. I have been lucky to have come across one face to face. It ran towards a tree. I followed it and could finally take its picture as it was climbing the tree.
A survey in 2015 revealed that there are only 32 Red Pandas in Singalila National Park. Secondly they usually spend the day time on tree tops and come down to look for food after dusk. So chance of sighting one is quite rare. They are herbivorous, a special and rare species of bear and have fondness for bamboo leaves and fruits.
Red Panda at Singalila
Other fascinating animals within the small species include the barking deer that look like small deer with short horns but bark like dogs, the fearless yellow throated martens that look like large cats, the long tailed Pangolins that roll up the trees, wild boars and so on. You can also see the rare lizards here like amphibians Himalayan Newt. They reproduce in the nearby lake areas of Jorpokhri and Sukhiapokhri.
There are also exotic larger animals in the park like the Himalayan black bear, clouded leopards etc. Occasionally even tigers can be seen in the park.
Himalayan Black Bear
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Note that unlike a forest in the plains, Singalila National Park is a high altitude forest in steep mountains. The road that passes through it and the trekking trail are the only places that are accessible to human beings. So, you need to see the flora and fauna here mostly from the road or the trail. You can not venture into the forest because there are deep gorges that can be dangerous.
Birdwatching in Singalila National Park
There are over 350 species of birds recorded in Singalila National Park and that includes 5 globally threatened species. You can see the Himalayan high-altitude birds as well as the Indo-Burma species.
Some of the birds that are seen in Singalila National Park includes Satyr Tragopan (rare and near threatened), Long Tail Minivet, Blood Pheasant, Black Throated and Brown Parrotbill, Robins of many types, Cuckoo, Slender Billed Babbler, Fire-Tailed Myzornis, several different types of Vultures including few critically endangered ones such as Indian Vultures and Slender Bill Vultures, etc.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
April and May are a good time to go for birdwatching in Singalila National Park, October and November too are good months to visit... the possibility of rains would be least around this time of the year. April-End is actually the best time for birding here because most birds then come out in the open to harvest nectar from the spring bloom.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
There are practically no trained local guides on birding in Darjeeling or Manebhanjan, however, some of them from their experience in the area, can help you get to the right spots for sightings. If you trek, you will need a guide anyway (it's mandatory), if you take a Jeep, the driver doubles up as the guide. But the guide or the vehicle is allocated by turn and you won't have a choice if you want to get the guide/vehicle on your own at Manebhanjan.
Although few local tour operators of Darjeeling
offer birding tours, they too have guides who would only try to show from their own experience... they do not usually have a birding handbook of Singalila National Park and not very knowledgeable about the many different kinds of birds that can be spotted there. Most will know the Nepali names of some of the regular birds. These guided birding tours are more focussed on the trek rather than birding. So you will need to depend mostly on your own birding skills, but the guides can help in showing the places where bird sighting possibilities are higher.
One of the best places for bird watching is between Singalila Park entrance and Gairibas, near a place called Batasi. However, there is an Armed Border Force camp at Batasi and photography is prohibited around the camp. But you can still stay clear from the camp site and take a few pictures of the birds.
Birding trail in Singalila Park is the same as the trekking trail (if you trek), or the motorable road (if you take the vehicle)... both the trail and the road merge at several places and sometimes for long stretches. At few places, the landscape opens out on either side of the trail or the road to plateaus or meadows and sparsely forested lands which you can also access for birding.
Trekking Trail and Meadows at Singalila National Park
Source: Wikimedia Commons
If you trek and go up to Sandakphu and return... you will need 5 days after you reach the base at Manebhanjan. If you take a Land Rover vehicle, you will need 2 days unless you want to keep an extra day. You will also need to keep the vehicle with you.
Best time to visit Singalila National Park
You get breathtaking views of the Eastern Himalayan peaks from various places along the route through the park. As you move up towards Sandakphu, Kanchenjunga appears to be closing in and come face to face with you.
From Sandakphu, you get a panoramic view of the snow range that stretches for over 300kms from Nepal in the west through Sikkim and Bhutan to all the way up to Arunachal Pradesh.
Kanchenjunga view from Sandakphu
You get mind-blowing sight of some of the highest peaks of the world including Everest, Kanchenjunga, Lhotse and Makalu. Visit Sandakphu Experience
to know what this place offers.
There are two great seasons to visit the park. One is during Spring (i.e. from March until May) when the flowers like rhododendrons and orchids bloom in full, and then again after the monsoon is over (i.e. between October and early December) when the snow peaks show in their dazzling beauty in a clear blue sky.
Note that the park is closed during the monsoon time (between mid June to Mid September). Even during April and October, there may be occasional showers. This entire stretch is notorious for unpredictable rains. So keep one or two days more for the visit than what may be required in an ideal case. This is to ensure that the rain doesn't spoil the whole party. And for the same reason, carry a raincoat or umbrella.
From Tumling onwards, it can get very cold particularly during the winter. Even in April you may get snow in places like Sandakphu. So carry adequate woolens, caps and gloves. Always wear sturdy but comfortable pair of shoes.
One way is to go through a Darjeeling based Tour Operator
. They will organize all logistics for you including vehicle, guide, stay and entry permit. Alternatively if you want to manage on your own, then you can come down to Manebhanjan
from where the jeep safari actually starts.
It's a small township at the base of the Singalila ridge and at an altitude of 6,325ft. You can reach Manebhanjan from Darjeeling via Ghoom and Sukhiapokhri by reserved or shared taxi. The distance is 26kms and it takes about 1 hour 15 minutes by road from Darjeeling.
Manebhanjan Market Area
From New Jalpaiguri (NJP) as well as Bagdogra airport, Manebhanjan is about 85kms by road via Mirik. You can get pre-paid reserved taxis from both NJP and Bagdogra. It takes about 4.5 hours to reach Manebhanjan from both these places. From NJP however you can also take a shared taxi (usually a jeep type vehicle) up to Mirik and then take another one to Manebhanjan. This is much more economical compared to reserved car. But change over time at Mirik could be uncertain. Also, the frequency of shared taxis drop after 2pm and you won't likely get one at NJP or Mirik after 3pm.
Once you reach Manebhanjan, you can take a 4-wheel drive vehicle - Land Rover. The Land Rovers here are vintage 4-wheel drive vehicles that were once used by the British. Only handful of them (around 40 nos.) are still remaining in this part of the world and maintained by their owners.
From the jeep stand at Manebhanjan, you can get a Land Rover for a safari to the Singalila National Park. The local Land Rovers Association publishes the fares. The vehicles go up to Sandakphu (30kms from Manebhanjan) in about 2.5 hours with a break in-between and beyond to Phalut which is at a distance of 20kms from Sandakphu (another 2.5 hours... note that the stretch from Sandakphu to Phalut is a boulder road). You can ask the driver to stop wherever you want.
Our Land Rover and Driver Naresh (now retired)
All are required to take a permit from the forest department before entering the core area of the park. Foreigners need to show their identity proof at the Manebhanjan check post. There is an entry fee (Rs. 100/- per person) to be paid. This permit can be either taken from the Forest Department office at Manebhanjan or at the entrance to the National Park about 1km from Tumling.
Update January 30, 2018: The aging Land Rovers are mostly over 50 years old. Although the original engines had been replaced with Mahindra/Isuzu engines to get fresh lease of life, but that too is now more than 20 years old. The state government has indicated that an alternative use of these heritage vehicles on easier terrain would be planned. Meanwhile subsidized loans would be offered to replace these old Land Rovers with vehicles like Mahindra Bolero.
Transport fares & associated costs
(Fare Updated: January 2020):
The fares and rates below are indicative.
NJP/Bagdogra to Maneybhanjan: Rs. 3,500/- for reserved small car.
Darjeeling to Maneybhanjan: Shared Jeep fare- Rs. 50/- per person; Reserved small car fare - Rs. 1,200/-
Land Rover Fare Maneybhanjan to Sandakphu (round trip): Rs. 5,500 + Night Halt Charge
Land Rover Fare Maneybhanjan to Phalut (round trip): Rs. 9,000 + Night Halt Charge
Night Halt Charge for Land Rover: Rs. 1,500 per night (applicable for night stays)
Park entry fee: Rs. 100/- per person per day of stay inside the park (Rs. 200 per day for foreigners)
Still Digital Camera: Rs. 100/-; Video Camera: Rs. 400/-
Vehicle Entry Charge: Rs. 100/-
Contact nos. of Singalila Land Rover Association: 8145822708; 9800667075; 9647790545
There are a number of trekker's huts and even lodges along the way (run by both GTA as well as privately by the villagers). During high season, you should make advance bookings if you want to stay at some of the better ones, otherwise, the guide can find some privately run huts for you for the night stays, some of which may not be quite hygienic.
GTA Lodge at Gairibas
GTA (Gorkhaland Territorial Administration) lodges and trekker huts are available at places like Tonglu, Gairibas, Sandakphu and Phalut. For booking rooms/beds in GTA lodges, you can visit one of the GTA tourism offices (see Tourism Centers
for location & contacts of GTA Tourism Offices).
will usually book you in private lodges. However they offer packages including pickup/drop at NJP or Bagdogra, Land Rover booking, and stay (while food is optional).
Private lodges and huts are available at Meghma, Tumling, Jhaubari, Gairibas, Kalipokhri and Sandakphu. Shikhar Lodge
at Tumling is one of the best places to stay for Singalila Park Safari. Other nice accommodations include Hotel Siddhartha
(right opposite the Kanchenjunga viewing area) and adjacent to it is the Mountain Lodge. All these are budget hotels. Note that the entrance to Singalila National Park is located close to Tumling (about 1km away).
If you plan to stay at any other intermediate place along the route, or like to know about more lodging options, visit Lodgings along Sandakphu Route
where I have discussed the various accommodation options on this route and given their contact details.
Avijit Ganguly (October 2017)
Hi Raj, Honestly I am a great fan of your forum. It's a gold mine of info!!!! Need a help!!! Can you suggest any guide or naturalist or trek n tour co in Darjeeling who can help us to track Red Panda in Singalila NP and surrounding wildernesses including Neighbouring Ilam District of Nepal adjacent to Sandakphu route? One Home Stay of Tashi named "Habre's Nest" is very expensive for general wildlifers and photographers like us.
So looking for some individual Guide or tour trek co to help us. do you know any one to suggest? A stretch from Tumling to Gairibas /Kalapokhri, Kaiakatta is a very productive area to look for elusive Red pandas as I am told by few people but really need a guide to help even with Birding. Would be really grateful for any input. Thanks & regards.
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) October 2017
Hi, Red Panda sighting in their natural habitat is very rare. In my numerous visits to Singalila/ Sandakphu, I could sight only once and that too very luckily. It is this reason that practically no guide or tour operator in Darjeeling specializes in red panda sighting tours or treks, although there are several doing birding trips. I am afraid that Habres Nest is presently the only way to try it out in Singalila area as they are dedicated to Red Panda conservation and are also best located for such ventures. However they too recommend several days of stay to get a decent chance of sighting. They have a nice homestay option as well.
Joyasish Ghosh (March 2015)
Dear Raj, Thanks for helping us through priceless information. We 4 adults and two children are going to Sandakphu and Phalut through Land Rover. Our itinerary is as follows:
26th May, 2015: NJP to Maneybhanjan and then to tumling by landrover.
27th May : Tumling to Sandakphu via Singalila National Park view.
28th May: Sandakphu to Phalut and back to Darjeeling via Maneybhanjan.
My queries are:
1) How can we explore Singalila National Park?
2) Can we get a land rover in Maneybhanjan smoothly in this peak season? what will be the rate for our journey including Night charges?
3) Can we get the bookings in Sikhar Lodge or Sandakphu DGHC Lodge on spot?
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) March 2015
Hi, You should ideally take a guide from Manebhanjan (Highlanders Guides & Porters Welfare Association) to get information about flora & fauna in Singalila national park including bird life. You should get a land rover (although the their number is limited to 40 odd), otherwise at least a jeep. You can book one in advance through Highlanders if you want to be sure. Rates etc is already given in my site. Nobody can guarantee you rooms in any well known lodges during peak season. So book in advance.
Praveen Prasannan (November 2014)
Hi Raj, We are planning for a jeep safari to Singalila National Park on 24th Dec. May I know if it can be covered as a day trip from Darjeeling ? Also, due to winter season will there be any cancellation of these safaris ? Thanks & Regards.
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) November 2014
Hi, Day trip of Singalila from Darjeeling is not recommended. It will take about 4 hours one way and the ride on the gravel road from Manebhanjan is not pleasant at all. While it is doable if you start early, it can be very tiring as you may end up travelling some 10-11 hours for the round trip and mostly on a bad road. Usually tourists stay overnight at Tumling.
There is no such ongoing scheduled safaris. If you go through a tour operator in Darjeeling, they will organize a trip including a guide and transport. Otherwise you need to go down to Manebhanjan, and get a jeep/Landrover and a guide yourself. However in late December, there can be lots of snow out there. The national park's entry is near Tumling and it stretches to a large area towards higher altitude. So some parts of the route at high altitude may remain un-accessible due to snow. You need to try your luck.
Selvakumaran. P (March 2014)
Dear Raj, Thanks a lot for providing tons of information. We 4 friends are planning for a 5-6 day birdwatching trip to Singalila between Apr 6-11th. Can you suggest good guide who can help us in birding? Thanks and regards
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) March 2014
You won't find any good guide here for birding. You can get in touch with Birding India Tours (email: [email protected]
) and check. They organize birding tours in Sandakphu area.
Sunit Ghosh (May 2013)
Sir, We are planning to visit Tumling in 18th Oct'13 to 23rd October,13. We are 11 adult (6 male & 5 female) & 5 child from 4 yrs to 7 yrs age who are planning to visit Tumling. Please let me know whether it is advisable to go to Tumling in late October with children & ladies? If yes, then can I have any contact number to book the lodge and what will be the best comfortable lodge in Tumling, of course in your choice? Whether it is advisable to spend one or two nights in Singalila National Park? Whether any accommodation is available in Singalila near Tumling entry? We have gone to Risyap twice with same team & found it very interesting. Please guide us. We have 3 Doctors in our team & we all are in the age group of 35-40 yrs.
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) May 2013
October is a good time to visit Tumling. The entrance to Singalila National Park is very close (within 1km from Tumling) and you should stay at Tumling if you plan to visit the park. You can plan your stay at Shikhar Lodge
run by Neela. This is the most popular and best lodge here although very basic.
Abhijit (February 2013)
Hi Raj! Planing to visit Sandakphu-Phalut in October'13 during Durga Puja vacation. It'll be very helpful if you let me know about the following topics: 1. Up-down fair from Manebhanjan to Sandakphu and Phalut with night stay & Singalila National Park entry fee with Digital and Video camera & guide charge (if any) 2. How many commuters a Landrover can carry? 3. When the journey will start from Manebhanjan & when we'll reach Sandakphu? Eagerly waiting for your response. Thanks
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) February 2013
Hi, Manebhanjan to Sandakphu takes about 5 hours by jeep or Land Rover with 30 minutes halt on the way at Tumling. A reserved Land Rover or jeep can accommodate up to 6 persons other than the driver. It can start any time from Manebhanjan, but you should try to leave by 9am. For remaining information, refer to the section on Darjeeling to Other Places - Transport & Fares
Partha Mukherji (January 2013)
Hi, This is a wonderful site. Thank you for your response. Please let me know the following info. 1) Rates for a small four wheeled jeep- Darjeeling to Sandakphu (stay there for two nights and back to Darjeeling). 2) Average hotel/ guest house/ home stay charge - general/ middle class (including check in- out time and meal charges). 3) Will it be a good option to stay at Mirik in the first night then moving to sandakphu via Manebhanjan in the next early morning? Mirik to Manebhanjan car charge? Share car available? regards
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) January 2013
If you are visiting Sandakphu from Darjeeling, then Mirik won't be on the way. You will need to get back to Sukhiapokhri for Manebhanjan. From NJP/Siliguri, it makes sense to stay at Mirik for a night before proceeding to Sandakphu via Manebhanjan. You won't usually find shared cars from Mirik to Manebhanjan. A small private car may take Rs. 1000 to 1200. The cars/shared jeeps are available at the Mirik Bazaar stand. Shared jeeps are also available from Darjeeling to Manebhanjan (Rs. 50-75 per person). I have discussed the Land Rover (4 wheel drive) rates in Fares From Darjeeling
For room rates etc, please contact a booking/tour agency in Darjeeling. You will find some of the good ones here: Darjeeling Tour Agencies