Offbeat Trek from Srikhola to Sandakphu & Phalut
The trekking route I am suggesting below is possibly the best option now for the discerning trekkers wanting to trek to Sandakphu and Phalut. This is because the original and once the most popular route from Manebhanjan to Sandakphu
via Meghma, Tumling and Gairibas is fast becoming congested, particularly after increase in vehicular traffic along that route all the way up to Sandakphu.
Fortunately, there is no motorable road on this part of Singalila National Park once you go past Srikhola and you can trek in complete peace and solitude with lovely scenic nature as your company. You might only be meeting a few other trekkers coming from the other direction.
Get to Srikhola
From NJP or Bagdogra you can get a reserved taxi up to Manebhanjan
, otherwise get one up to Mirik and then change to another one for Manebhanjan. It takes about 3.5 - 4 hours to get to Manebhanjan from NJP/Bagdogra by a reserved car. From NJP, you can also get shared taxi up to Mirik Bazaar and then change to another one for Manebhanjan via Sukhiapokhri. From Darjeeling, Manebhanjan is only 1 hour 15 minutes away (26kms). You will get both shared and reserved taxi from Chowk Bazaar stand.
GTA Lodge next to Srikhola River in a scenic location
Photo: Suvendra.nath. cc by sa 4.0
From Manebhanjan, Srikhola is about 50kms away and takes about 2.5 hours by a vehicle. The route passes through Dhotrey (about 19kms from Manebhanjan) and Rimbik (7kms before Srikhola).
Srikhola is a picturesque tiny village at an altitude of 6,900ft and surrounded by mountains and forests. A stream also named 'Srikhola' flows through this village in a scenic setting. Actually the village has been named after the river. In local Nepali dialect, khola means a river. The tarred road from Manebhanjan ends at Srikhola... shortly thereafter, there is no further motorable road.
You should stay at Srikhola overnight and start your trek next morning. There are several private lodges here as well as a GTA Lodge run by Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA) of Darjeeling district. The GTA lodge is the best accommodation here with the Srikhola river flowing right next to it.
Guide, Porter, Permit
Guide and/or porter is mandatory for a trek to Sandakphu and Phalut. You can hire a guide and porter from Guide and Porters Association
located at Dhotrey. Note that the trek route passes through Singalila National Park
and you need to obtain park entry permit. You can get this permit at the Dhotrey Forest Check Post or alternatively at Manebhanjan Forest Check Post.
Permit fees, GTA lodge booking procedure, and other costs of trek are mentioned in a separate section below. If you want to get everything pre-arranged, it is better to do the trek through a Darjeeling based reputed trek operator. Go through the Best Trek & Tour Operators
to get their details.
Day-1 Trek: Srikhola to Sandakphu
This is an uphill route that ascends to an altitude of nearly 12,000ft over 16kms. It will take about 7 hours of trek including breaks in between. The route passes through forests of chestnuts and oaks and you can also see lovely flowering rhododendrons during April to May.
In about 3kms you will pass through Timburey Village - a tiny settlement. There is a camping ground here. And after 6kms of hike from Srikhola you will reach a beautiful scenic village Gurdum located in a valley. There are only handful of village families who live here. The river flows through the valley in a picturesque setting. Spend some time here to enjoy the views and the ambience before moving on.
Photo: Mamtarivonkar, cc by sa 4.0
From Gurdum, Sandakphu (located at an altitude of 11,929ft) is 10kms away. The trail ascends mainly through forested area. If you are lucky, you can see some Himalayan high altitude small animals along this stretch. Some of such animals include Red Pandas, Pangolins and occasionally even black bears.
You should stay overnight at Sandakphu. There are several hotels and lodges here including a GTA operated trekkers hut. Get up early in the morning and if the sky is clear, you can see a long stretch of the Himalayan range with four of the five highest peaks in the world including Everest, Lhotse, Kanchenjunga and Makalu... it's an amazing sight. Go through Sandakphu Information
to know about what to expect in Sandakphu, accommodation for trekkers and other useful information.
Kanchenjunga view from Sandakphu
Day-2 Trek: Sandakphu to Phalut
Phalut is 21kms away from Sandakphu and located at an altitude of 11,811 ft. Being at similar altitude as Sandakphu, the route is fairly leveled although there are some uphill and downhill sections along the way, but the last 1km is a steep uphill stretch. The trail passes through forests of oaks, chestnuts, silver firs and rhododendrons and offers magnificent views of the mountains.
View of Sleeping Buddha Range from Phalut
Photo: Rkb95, cc by-sa 4.0
There is only a GTA trekkers' hut at Phalut and no other accommodation. So, advance booking is very important. You will stay overnight at Phalut and next morning get even a closer views of the snow mountains that you saw from Sandakphu, particularly the 'Sleeping Buddha' range.
Day-3 Trek: Phalut to Gorkhey
This is a 15km (about 5 hours) downhill trek through forests of bamboo, pine, chestnuts, hemlock, oaks and rhododendrons. The route mostly passes through dense forests and descends quickly to Gorkhey located at an altitude of 7,700ft. The steep downhill gradient can be taxing on your knees. As you will be walking mostly through dense forests, the trek can get a little monotonous.
Photo: Greenchild, cc by sa 4.0
However, once you reach Gorkhey, the rewards are awesome. It's a small village perched in a beautiful valley with scenic views of mountains all around. The stream Gorkhey khola flows through this village. There are some 30 odd village families who live here, few of them offer basic lodging to trekkers and no prior booking is required. There is also a GTA trekkers hut located at Gorkhey.
Day-4 Trek: Gorkhey to Ribdi
This is a short 5km trek and will take about 2.5 hours of hike. In fact, if you are short in time, you can skip overnight stay at Gorkhey and easily continue the trek on day-3 to reach Ribdi.
From Gorkhey the trail initially goes a little uphill. About 1km away you will reach the lovely village called Samanden located in a picturesque plateau and fringed by pine forests.
At the first sight a thought would surely pass through your mind... if you could stay here overnight instead of at Gorkhey. The good news is it's possible to stay here overnight and enjoy the wonderful serenity and scenic views. You can see horses grazing in vast open stretches of grassy land and children playing on a small field. Few villagers offer homestay lodging and you can stay with them. Villagers here are friendly and welcoming. Electricity has recently reached Samanden, so that's an added bonus.
Trail passing over a bridge across a stream
From Samanden the trail will gradually descend to Ribdi which is another 4kms away. You will mostly walk through open spaces along zig zag route offering great views... some parts of the route will also pass through forested areas, and there will be waterfalls on the way as well as stepped walkways... you can get several photo opportunities on this trail.
View of a section of trail between Samanden and Ribdi
Ribdi is a village in West Sikkim at an altitude of 5,760ft. If you reach there by noon, you can get shared taxis to Jorethang, otherwise you can get a reserved taxi. Jorethang is 44kms away and takes 1 hour 45 minutes by a cab. From Jorethang taxis are available for NJP (3 hours) and Bagdogra (3.5 hours). You can also get shared taxis from Jorethang up to Siliguri during the day time.
The entire trek route described above can be completed in 3 to 4 days time starting from Srikhola and exiting at Ribdi. However, if you want, there are other variations of the route... from Gorkhey, instead of going to Ribdi, you can take another trail towards Rammam, proceed further and finally return to the starting point at Srikhola (21kms downhill trek, takes about 7 hours).
Alternatively from Phalut, there is a route that goes over Singalila Pass all the way to Uttarey in Sikkim (requires additional 2 days). Go through Phalut and onward trekking routes to know about the other route variations.
Indian security forces have introduced stringent checks related to identity proof at the various check post. Also, foreign nationals with only Indian visa are no longer allowed to stay at an accommodation which falls in Nepal's territory such as in Tumling and even parts of Sandakphu. It is advisable for foreigners to organize such treks through Darjeeling Trek Operators in order to avoid logistics issues.
Trek Costs & Logistics
Fare Updated: March 2021
Singalila National Park entry fee: Rs. 120/- per person per day of stay inside the park. The fee is Rs. 500 per day for foreigners.
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.
GTA trekkers Hut booking can be done by visiting any GTA Tourism Office. There is no system of online booking. Go through Darjeeling Tourism Offices to get address and contact details.
Most private home stays take walk-in guests if available. Rate of dormitory bed in trekkers huts = Rs. 200-300 per person per day.
NJP/Bagdogra to Manebhanjan: Rs. 3,200/- for reserved small car.
Darjeeling to Manebhanjan shared Jeep fare: Rs. 60/- per person and reserved small car fare: Rs. 1,400/-
Ribdi to Jorethang shared taxi fare: Rs. 175 per person.
Ribdi to Jorethang small reserved taxi fare: Rs. 2000 per person.
Jorethang to NJP shared taxi fare: Rs. 250 per person.
Jorethang to NJP small reserved taxi fare: Rs. 3,000 per person.
Rate for a Guide (if taken from Manebhanjan) is Rs. 1000 per day for Indians for up to 7 persons in the group, thereafter Rs. 150 per additional person. Guide rate for foreigners is Rs. 1200 per day for a group of up to 7 persons, thereafter Rs. 300 per additional person.
Rate for a Porter is Rs. 800 per day + Rs. 200 for food at Sandakphu and Phalut each.
Guide & Porter rates are all inclusive. One porter will carry up to 20kg of load.
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).
If you want avoid the hassle of doing all the above yourself, pay a little premium and go through a good trek operator. Ashmita Trek & Tours of Darjeeling offers this offbeat trek that starts from Rimbik (little before Srikhola). Visit Best Trek Operators to get their details.
Sourabh Das (August 2022)
Hi Raj! A big thank you for all the regular updates about Darjeeling Himalayas!! I am planning an offbeat trek to the Sandakphu -Phalut route between 2nd and 10th December 2022. The itinerary is as follows:
Day1: Arrival at NJP and reach Darjeeling by afternoon. Night stay at Darjeeling.
Day2: Reach Sepi Village from Darjeeling (60km drive). Night stay at Sepi for acclimatization before the trek.
Day3: Sepi to Samanden trekking (14 km). Night stay at Samanden.
Day4: Samanden to Molley (10km). Night stay at Molley.
Day5: Molley to Phalut and back to Sabargram (15 km). Night stay at Sabargram.
Day6: Sabargram to Aal/Sandakphu (14 km). Night stay at Aal/Sandakphu depending on availability of stay.
Day7: Sandakphu to Gurdum/Sepi (14 km). Night stay at Gurdum/sepi.
Day8: Gurdum/Sepi to NJP. Train at 8pm.
My queries are:
a) can we expect to get transport from NJP/Darjeeling to Sepi and return? What would be the expected fare for these routes?
b) are guides available to hire from Sepi Village? What would be the daily rate of hiring?
c) Whether stays will be available on the halt points? If so, what is the average charge of dormitories/ private rooms? Please mention about the food charges also. Thanks in advance!
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) August 2022
Hi Sourabh, It is unlikely that you will get a reserved taxi from NJP all the way to Sepi... drivers are usually reluctant even to go up to Manebhanjan... on one occasion, a cab driver agreed to drop me at Manebhanjan (via Mirik), but at Mirik bazaar, he stopped, talked to another driver and asked me to change the car citing a lame excuse that his car had developed brake problems... I had to eventually pay a fare far more than what was originally agreed upon. Since then, I have always asked the hotel/lodge at the destination to arrange for a pickup from Bagdogra/NJP, or have used a travel operator based in Siliguri.
If you happen to get a cab at NJP that agrees to go all the way to Sepi, the fare might be erratic. If you want to use this option, it is better to contact your homestay/lodge at Sepi and ask them to arrange for a car pickup at NJP at a reasonable price... in any case, both a pickup car and a cab at NJP will quote a fare considering that the vehicle has to travel both ways.
From Darjeeling, the distance to Sepi is 68kms. It can be easier to get a cab from Darjeeling to Sepi. The normal fare should be around Rs. 3,000 - 3,500 for a small car, but it can vary depending on prevailing demands for cabs.
You won't get a guide in Sepi unless your homestay helps you in arranging for one. The official association for guides and porters on this route is located in Dhotrey. On your way to Sepi, you can stop at Dhotrey and arrange for a guide to join you the next morning. The daily rate for a guide is Rs. 1,000 which hasn't changed since 2018. Advance booking of a guide can be done by paying a small advance amount (like Rs. 500).
There are homestays/huts/forest resthouses available in all the places you mentioned except for Ale where there is very limited accommodation in the village a little further away. People mostly camp there. Whether rooms/beds will be available at all these places when you reach, is something I can not confirm. However, for your dates of trek, it is likely that you will get something or the other.
In remote places like Gurdum, presently, a homestay charges Rs. 1,500 per person with all meals (June 2022 rate). It can be a room with 2/3/4 beds, and you may need to share a room with other trekkers. This is the system they follow in such places. If your trek timings do not allow you to take all meals in a homestay, you can talk it out for a lower rate.
This rate soars to Rs. 2,200 per person in a popular place like Sandakphu (Hotel Sunrise rate in June 2022) where a room is given on a twin sharing basis unless you book the full room... there is also a room-only booking option in Sandakphu with separate food charges. Just for your information, Sunrise is the only hotel in Sandakphu which offers 24 hours running water in the toilets (only cold water though), all other hotels and lodges only offer water by bucket and most have a steep charge for that.
Only a dormitory bed in a trekker's hut can range from Rs. 200 - 400, depending on the hut and location.
Good luck :)
Elly Crowell (May 2022)
We had the best time on our trek with Ashmita Trek and Tours! It was a last minute decision for my friend and I to do the 6 day / 5 night trip while already in Darjeeling, so we didn't have much time for preparation. The Ashmita team are so organized and helped us navigate all the paperwork needed for border check ins, figure out what kind of gear we would need on the trek, and how to get from Darjeeling to the start in Rimbick.
Subash, the owner, was in constant communication with us in the days leading up to starting, ensuring we had all the info for taxi times, who our guide was, what we'd need to pay for real-time versus later on, and answering any questions we had. Our guide, Rupesh, picked us up at our hotel in Darjeeling and walked us to the taxi we booked to ride to Rimbick.
We loved having Rupesh as our guide. He's incredibly knowledgeable about the areas we walked through, pointing out things to see we didn't notice, and showing us things we could eat while on the path. We had a great time talking with him about things beyond the actual trek too. He's always very funny and always felt relaxed, never hurrying us or making us feel like we were moving too slow. We asked to try and catch the sunrise at Sandakphu and once again at Phalut, so he got up early to check the weather both days for us and let us know when to come out and catch the sun. At night he made sure we had enough blankets to keep warm and kept us on track for all of our meals and tea breaks along the way.
The food was delicious ? breakfast, lunch and dinners. We packed snacks for daytimes, but had so much at mealtimes that we didn't end up needing most of them. The trekker huts and home stays were great and we even got to charge our phones (aka our cameras) on most of the days when electricity was on in them! There's little to no service, which we loved. Every person we stayed with, drank tea with, and chatted to at the stops was so kind and it felt like Rupesh knew all of them!
The trip back to Darjeeling was just as smooth as the rest of the trek. Rupesh scheduled us a shared taxi and walked us back to Ashmita's store front to make sure we picked up all our gear and could back a few things we'd borrowed. We had a great time debriefing with Subash and Rupesh about the off-beat route we'd taken.
Overall, I would absolutely suggest booking with Ashmita and going on the off-beat route. The whole experience was so easy (minus the actual hiking up a mountain part) and the team truly are fantastic!