Darjeeling Sandakphu Gangtok by Car

Rashmi Nandgaonkar (April 2013) 
Dear Raj, I went through almost all your notes on Darjeeling tourism, and I must say they were so informative with amazing details. I have a few queries though, hope you would guide me through. 
1. Actually, my son is going through a trekking group from Pune to Darjeeling and continue with trekking towards Sandakphu - Rimbik - Gangtok... Now we (my husband and daughter) too wish to join them, but cannot trek due to some health issues... I therefore would like to ask you to help me plan my stays such that we can join them in between and enjoy sightseeing too... is it possible to go to Sandakphu directly after 2 nights stay in Darjeeling and then proceed to Gangtok after the sunrise view from Sandakphu...what places are worth visiting in and near Gangtok... 
2. Can we hire a single vehicle throughout our stay right from pick up from Bagdora Airport to Darjeeling till drop at the airport from Gangtok. I hope I have made myself clear. We plan to leave on 21st may and return on 28th May by air.. however the trekking group is leaving on 18th may and returning on 30th..by train 
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com, April 2013) 
Here are some points that should help you plan your trip: 
1) You can have a vehicle which can pick you up, be with you and finally drop you at the airport, but... 
2) When you drive from Darjeeling towards Sandakphu, a normal small car can come only up to Manebhanjan (about 1.5 hours from Darjeeling). This is the base from where the treks start. From here a steep gravel road goes all the way up to Sandakphu and Phalut. You must have a jeep or a 4-wheel drive vehicle from here up to Sandakphu and Phalut. Secondly due to uneven rocks and boulders on the way, the journey up to Sandakphu and Phalut would be very bumpy at most places. So you should be prepared for that. 
4) The drive from Manebhanjan up to Sandakphu can take 4-5 hours depending on number of stops in between. You must book accommodation in Sandakphu - either the Trekkers Hut run by GTA (Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, erstwhile DGHC) or a private lodge. 
Best would be Sherpa Challet which has good view rooms, and on a clear day you can get breathtaking view of Kanchenjunga from here. But remember, these are all basic accommodations, no luxury here like TV, geyser etc.  
Stay overnight and next day you can go to Phalut (21kms, 2.5 hours) and come back (you can synchronize this with your son's trekking schedule so that you can meet him at both places). Don't stay at Phalut, the accommodation is not good. 
If you go to Phalut, then you will need to stay back at Sandakphu for one more night. This gives you a second chance to see Kanchenjunga and Everest peaks incase the first day was cloudy. But all this while your original car waits at Manebhanjan. Note that best chances of viewing the peaks is in early morning and not during the day time. 
5) Once you get back to Manebhanjan, you can then directly go to Gangtok (another 4 hours or so). However at Gangtok, you will need to change over to a Sikkim vehicle because other state vehicles are not allowed in Sikkim. 
Next day you can take standard local sightseeing tour in Gangtok. Ask the driver, he will know. But I personally like the drive to Rumtek Monastery. It will take half a day for this trip. You can also try to go to Changu Lake (12,400ft) some 40kms away. Again very steep drive. Finally take a drop back to the airport. 
6) You will need to time all the above as per your schedule and time available in hand. Carry enough package water. You will get basic food. So if you are not comfortable, carry enough food as well for your Sandakphu trip. 
7) You must go through an operator to handle all these logistics. You can contact Subash Tamang of Ashmita Treks &áTours of Darjeeling. He is a good reliable person. Take my reference, and he may take extra care. There are also several other tour operators in Darjeeling who can organize such tours. You can find their contacts in the link below: 
Hope this helps! 
Rashmi Nandgaonkar (April 2013) 
Dear Mr Raj, Thanks a lot for the Instant reply and guidance. I wish to share my plan with you.. 
21st May- we land at Bagdogra in the afternoon 1.30pm, from there to Darjeeling, local sightseeing if possible with the trek group 
22nd to 23rd - Darjeeling stay... sightseeing... what to and what not to visit not yet decided:) 
24th- Towards sandakphu by jeep via singalila forest(it is possibl?)..overnight at Sandakphu with the trek group at trekkers hut 
25th- Leave Sandakphu after sunrise ..towards Gangtok directly (the trek group treks down through Rimbik, halfway and then might take a vehicle to reach Gangtok the next morning, depending upon the stamina of the children)..we might reach Gangtok I think in the evening, right? 
26th - Gangtok sightseeing 
27th-we plan to go to Siliguri, a friend stays there, though I have no idea how far is it from Gangtok, I need your help here, when do I leave Gangtok to reach siliguri by evening, overnight at friend's place. 
28th...10.50am flight to Mumbai via Delhi... Siliguri is near to Bagdogra I suppose 
I hope it works well, please suggest some not to b missed places, from your site, the whole place appears to b so picturesque, thet m confused wht can i afford to or not to miss:) Once again thanks a lot for all the help, and keep up the good work, our best wishes with u. 
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com, April 2013) 
Month of May being in high season, Darjeeling gets very crowded. There will be tourists everywhere and Darjeeling may not appear to be as picturesque as it actually is. I don't want to disappoint you, but just like to set your expectation correctly. To pick up the best places to visit, you can go to the website menu option 'Tourist Places' and choose from the Top 10 tourist places that I described there. But I fear, in many places like the Ropeway (cable car), there will be long queues around that time. 
From Darjeeling it is possible to take a jeep and go right up to Sandakphu. But it must be a 4-wheel drive jeep. Do not take a Sumo, Scorpio or Bolero. Although there have been instances that some adventurous guys made it to Sandakphu with Bolero and Scorpio, those vehicles are not right for the route. 
If you leave Sandakphu early in the morning, you should reach Gangtok by late afternoon (assuming you will take a few breaks). At Deorali, you will need to change your vehicle to one which has Sikkim registration. 
From Gangtok, Siliguri is 4 hours. So you can have an early lunch and then start from Gangtok. Note that in the hills it gets dark early, so start by 1pm. 
Siliguri is a hell (by my definition). A thickly populated dirty &ámessy town. I won't spend a minute there unless I have a compelling reason to do so. Bagdogra is only 30 minutes from Siliguri. 
Have an enjoyable and a safe journey. 

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