Located at 11, 941 feet, with a small village on the summit and a few hostels, is a trekkers’ paradise called Sandakphu. As the highest point of the Singalila Ridge in the Darjeeling district on the West Bengal-Nepal border, Sandakphu commands one of the most spectacular views of the Himalayas.
Many years ago, I had joined a trekking group that took me to this beautiful place and witness first-hand the thrill of seeing with bare eyes, some of the most majestic mountains of our planet.
Ready with all our trek logistics, we set off from one October morning, from a place called Manebhanjan near Darjeeling. It took us a total of four days to walk through scenic villages, thick forests and splendid valleys, past forests of flowering rhododendrons of numerous types, giant magnolias and spruce, an amazing variety of orchids (you’ll be astonished there are 600 varieties of them in this region!!!) to reach a great basin set in the midst of the hills, the slopes of which were covered with rhododendrons and silver fir trees. We had arrived at Sandakphu! Until then, I had only heard that trekkers swore by the gorgeous views from its’summit. After four arduous days of climb and wobbly knees, I had every reason to believe them.
After all, where else can you see four of the five highest peaks in the world – Everest, Kangchenjunga, Lhotse and Makalu, along with Three Sisters and many other peaks of Nepal, Sikkim, Tibet and Bhutan all in one single stretch of snow? The summit also presents the best view of the mountain Kangchenjunga, popularly known as the ‘Sleeping Buddha’. This is what you get to see when you stand on the grounds of Sandakphu.
I have no words to describe what it felt then, to have accomplished the impossible because I had no clue what trekking at such altitudes really entailed until I was well into it. All the euphoria waned by the end of Day Two when my knees started to hurt after all the continuous walking -this, in spite of the fact that I was used to walking long stretches. But walking on level ground is totally different from walking up a steep mountain. I’m glad I didn’t give in. I felt heady with joy and enthusiasm on the last leg of our climb, as it was close to reaching my dream. At the end of Day Four, we finally reached the summit, haggardly, tired and exhausted, but ready to wait until the morning after to view that moment we were all waiting for!
We could have happily slept through till 10, but, the excitement to witness the sunrise, made us all wake up at the crack of dawn. The air was chilling and our cameras froze but the mind has a way of capturing things in a way that nothing does. We sat on the ground, almost thirty odd trekkers, many with tripods in position, ready for the capture as we witnessed that moment when the first golden rays of sun lit up the towering mountains.
A panoramic shot frozen in my mind’s eye, a treat to the senses, a memory of a dream fulfilled!