The original Sandakphu Trek Route:
What has changed?

Since decades, the trek route from Manebhanjan to Sandakphu that passed through Chitre, Meghma, Tonglu/Tumling, Gairibas and Kalipohri has been the most beloved route for the trekkers. Although it still continues to be popular, there is a change... the experience is no longer the same. 
Since 2016 the municipality started concretizing the gravel road that goes from Manebhanjan along the Singalila ridge all the way up to Sandakphu and onward to Phalut. 
The sharp hairpin turn at Chitre (now it's a concrete road) 
Road at Chitre 
Although the trekking trail separates out from the road at several sections, there are many sections of the trail which are common with the road. The gravel road was originally built by fixing boulders and rocks into a dirt road, and only sturdy Jeep type vehicles could operate occasionally carrying food and other essential supplies for the villages at the higher reaches. 
Read Manebhanjan to Sandakphu and Phalut to know about this trek route. 
By 2016, the section of the road between Manebhanjan to Chitre was concretized. Soon thereafter, the section from Tumling to Gairibas was converted into a concrete road. And by 2018, the entire stretch from Manebhanjan up to Gairibas became a concrete road. Only the last section from Gairibas up to Sandakphu (i.e. 11 out of 32kms) is temporarily on hold after the local villagers, environmentalists and operators raised objections. Sandakphu to Phalut of course still remains a gravel road. 
Concrete road ends shortly after Gairibas 
Road after Gairibas 
As a result of the concrete road, these days vehicles (Old British Land Rovers) from Manebhanjan carrying loads of tourists easily reach Sandakphu within 2-2.5 hours. In fact, the Land Rovers Association in Manebhanjan offers regular Land Rover trips to Sandakphu and Phalut to tourists. 
Earlier the gravel road made it a backbreaking bumpy journey of 4-4.5 hours. But now Sandakphu, which was earlier known as a trekking destination, has also become a tourist destination. 
During the high season (April to Mid-June, and October to November), large number of tourist vehicles operate on this route. In fact, many tourists from Darjeeling make a day trip to Sandakphu these days (Darjeeling town is only 26kms away from Manebhanjan). And for the trekkers, it is not a pleasure walking on such a road where vehicles keep coming from behind you. 
The road passes through the core of Singalila National Park, and vehicular traffic has also impacted the wildlife here. Because of this increased traffic, sighting wildlife on this route has become rare. A trek that once used to be lonely long walks with nature as your only company, is now a busy route with vehicles plying frequently carrying loads of noisy tourists during the high seasons. 
A Land Rover making trip to Sandakphu 
Land Rover for Sandakphu 
And this heavy traffic has not only impacted wildlife, it has also affected popular places like Tumling and Sandakphu. There are not enough hotels and adequate infrastructure at these places to handle such sudden rush of tourists. You can well imagine what might be the experience once you land up there. 
In fact, getting a room in a lodge or bed in a trekkers hut during the high seasons along this route particularly in Tumling, Tonglu, and Sandakphu has become quite difficult these days because of tourists. Fortunately, the route between Sandakphu and Phalut is still a gravel road and not quite suitable for vehicles. So very few vehicles are seen on this section. 
Last time when I stayed in Sherpa Chalet at Sandakphu, the hotel was not only packed, in the evening there was loud music playing at the lobby/restaurant area and number of youngsters (mostly tourists) were drinking until late night and making loud noises, not to mention, the staff were unable to provide required level of service. I won't be surprised if Sandakphu soon becomes a mini Darjeeling town. 
So, what is the solution? 
Take an alternative route to Sandakphu and Phalut, and avoid the traffic. The discerning trekkers these days are avoiding the original route and planning out routes that are free of tourists. 
One such route and an excellent one starts from Srikhola. From Manebhanjan, you can take a vehicle and go up to Srikhola located at an altitude of 6,900ft. A tarred road from Manebhanjan goes all the way to Srikhola passing through Dhotrey and Rimbik. 
You can get your guide and porters from Guide and Porters Association at Dhotrey. Stay overnight at Srikhola and then trek to Sandakphu through scenic villages like Timburey and Gurdum. You can then trek onward to Phalut, Gorkhey, Samanden and finally leave via Ribdi in Sikkim, or choose one of the various other alternative routes that are free of tourists and vehicles. 
Read: Sandakphu and Phalut Trek from Srikhola for complete details of the trek route that starts from Srikhola and gives you multiple options from Phalut that includes exiting through Ribdi in West Sikkim. 

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