Sikkim and nearby, India
William Mackesy’s account of this walk
Extracts from David Briese’s account:
Siri Khola to Samanden – getting into the trek
We soon entered a mixed broadleaf forest, which gradually changed into a zone of tall conifers, as a dense fog settled down to create a landscape of ghostly shapes. Reaching the village of Ramman, we stopped for a tea-break in a Nepalese teahouse and were greeted by the sun and the local school children on our emergence.
A rapid descent through the forest to cross a mossy-rock filled stream and a short steep climb on the other side brought us out to a grassy clearing, surrounded by tall firs and fields of peas and potatoes, in the village of Samanden.
After lunch and a short nap, we wandered down a steep stone path, lined with rhododendrons and pines, to visit the village of Ghorkey; the houses of this tranquil Nepalese village were spread out over a misty valley at the junction of two mountain streams.
Samanden to Phalut – the big climb
Dropping quickly down into Ghorkey (2260m) once again, we started the 1250m climb up to the top of the Singalila Ridge. The climb started steeply through a row of prayer flags lining the path up through the village gardens and into the dense foothills forest.
At 2900m, the track flattened out and followed the crest of one of the ridge spurs through a forest of tall lichen-covered oaks and monkey nut trees with an understorey of dense bamboo thickets. Gradually, the taller trees gave way to smaller rhododendrons, their branches overhanging the track aglow with red and pink.
At 3250m we stopped for lunch and, as we ate, the wind gradually picked up, whipping streams of cloud through the trees on the top of the spur. Climbing on, we emerged into an open grassland, splashed with a dash of pinkish-purple primulas, and were soon enveloped in a thick fog. As the wind strengthened, Wangchuk led us across the foggy landscape to our destination at the Indian army border post of Phalut (3505m); the big climb was over.
Phalut to Sandakphu – icy weather on the Singalila Ridge
It seemed that we were walking through the dense fog in a slow-moving bubble with a 30-40m radius of visibility; there was no real perception of distance or depth, at times the ground would slope up, at times down, at times it was flat. The strange ghostly shapes of trees faded in and out of our bubble, the stark silhouette of the odd grazing yak or dzo appeared and disappeared.
As we walked through the hail after lunch, wandering in and out of India and Nepal, my mind focused on the reactions of my body to walking at altitude; the extra slowness of pace and change in breathing patterns on the climbs. It was our first experience at walking over 3500m and we seemed to be holding up OK on that score.
Soon, the profile of buildings drifted into our visual bubble - we had arrived at Sandakphu.
Sandakphu to Tumling – a taste of Nepal
With the dawn the sun broke through over the sea of billowing cloud below us, and Kangchenjunga revealed itself for the first time. We quickly descended a stony road, surrounded by the dense green forest of the Singalila National Park. Reaching the village of Bakhay, we followed the road into Nepal, traversing the western side of the ridge through several small Nepalese mountain villages, and looking down into the deep valleys of eastern Nepal below us.
Descending slowly, the track led us through the superb forest on the Indian side, with rhododendrons, and the occasional brilliance of magnolias, lighting the way. A steep descent to the village of Gairibas saw us reach our lunch stop and passport check by the border post.
After lunch, we had an equally steep climb back into the treeless grassy slopes of Nepal, up to the village of Jaubari, with its Hindu temple, Buddhist chorten and burnt out police station.
The contrast between the Indian and Nepalese sides of the Singalila Ridge is stark; on the one side, the rich and verdant forest of the Singalila National Park, on the other bare shrub-dotted grass-lands, denuded of trees by centuries of wood collection for fuel.
One more zig into India, one more zag into Nepal and we reached our destination for the night, the very pleasant Shikhar Lodge at Tumling, with its large comfortable bedrooms and fire-warmed lounge.
Tumling to Maney Bhajang – the road home
With only 12 km of trek left, we set out along a winding stony road, dropping into the bare Nepalese side once more, climbing slowly back across the ridge into India at Tonglu, with its Buddhist monastery of Senchencholing.
From here we followed a well formed road downward through the forest, diverting back onto open grassland near the village of Meghma, to cross a landscape of chortens, mani walls and long rows of prayer flags fluttering in the wind. Wisps of cloud began to float across as the large stupa and buildings of the Csitray Buddhist monastery appeared around a grassy hillside.
All that remained was a steep descent along a stony footpath and road through the blue pines to Maney Bahjang, where our transport back to Darjeeling was waiting. The fog had once again returned to the ridge by the time that we arrived; as we started so we finished!
© David Briese. See his full account and much more in his fantastic website www.gang-gang.net/nomad.