Trekking Sandakphu, April 20-23

At daybreak at 5am, we had beautiful views of Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and Kachenjunga, the world’s four tallest mountains (With the exception of K2 in pakistan), all around or above 8500 meters.

Our trek up Sandakphu was four days and three nights. The first day was a 17m hike from Mane Bhanjang to Tumling at 2900 meters. The second 19km stretch took us to Mt. Sandakphu, West Bengal’s tallest mountain at 3636 meters.  This was not the first time I had seen these mountains, but it was by far the most amazing.

Along the way we stopped in cabins and had chow mein, momos (dumplings) and/or fried rice. The British built a rock and dirt road up to Sandakphu in the 19th century and it looks little repaired since then. It extends some 36 km up 1600 in elevation with numerous changes in elevation. We hiked that, and then down a forest of birch, rhododendron, and bamboo — traditional red panda habitat — on the third and fourth days to the town of Rimbik and then back to Darjeeling, where we were staying.

Each of the cabins had photos of white babies and cute sayings, that, or strange idyllic photoshopped posters of homes in the west, with  gleaming corvettes in driveways, swans in lakes and houses covered in snow. Strange.

There is no electricity along the way but frequent way stations with squat toilets. Houses have no insulation, heat or water. Only solar electricity All is carried up by jeep. The days in April were warm but the nights frigid at high altitude. In all, the path we took saw us cross between Nepal and India four or five times. Each time we crossed into India the Indian army had us sign our names and take down our passport numbers in traditional Indian bureaucratic style. The Nepalis could care less. There were no Nepali army stations.

When we asked our guide where the Nepali army was, he said, “There is
no Nepali army.”

Unlike much of India, in the hill country, there is a blending of
Buddhist and Hindu religions. Tibetan language signs and Nepali
intermix freely, so do monasteries sit near each other.