Great mountaineers always say that once you experience the Himalayas in and out, you have seen it all in the world! Well, I won’t be able to second or contend that since I have yet to see all and I am sure my entire lifetime wouldn’t suffice. But what I have seen is enough to make me realize that the magic of the Himalayas is simply beyond words.
It was a couple of years ago when my friends and I were spending a week in Darjeeling. We had availed a Darjeeling local tour package, which also happened to include a trip to the famous Singalila National Park. It was a two-hour drive from Darjeeling town, through the sleepy towns of Ghoom, Lepcha Jagat, and Manebhanjan. Manebhanjan is the nearest town to the park and almost the end of civilization before the wild territory begins. Unlike many national parks I have been to, Singalila lets you drive your car, in our case, a cab. But we had to get a permit from the office of the Forest Department in Manebhanjan. We also had to pay a separate fee for our cameras. Permits could also be obtained from the entrance of the park near Tumling.
It was not until a few miles that we reached the core area of the park. But before I get into my trip details, let me give an overview of what one could expect here.
The Singalila National Park is home to the highest point of Bengal, the Sandakphu peak, soaring at 3636 meters. People come here from far and wide, only to get a glimpse of the five highest peaks of the world, all at once. As far the forests are concerned, they house rare species like Himalayan red panda, snow leopards, barking deer, and the Himalayan black bear.
Whatever I said above has been the result of my endless research on this place. And that day, as we were passing through the forests of Singalila, I could only hope that I could experience what I had only read so far.
The Himalayan wildlife
It was the spring season in the mountains and nature was alive with fresh foliage and colorful wildflowers. We were rolling through a gravel road that meandered through the sanctuary. I wish we could roam around on foot, but it would have been dangerous. The trek route, however, was different and through the outer perimeters of the forests. Our driving route through pine forests and rhododendron-laden trails made up for the walk. And let me remind you, these are not your regular rhododendrons that can be found in many mountainous locales. These were bigger.
A little further down the road, the forests became denser and we rolled down our windows to smell the wild pine and fresh mountain air. It was peak daytime and the large animals were nowhere to be seen. But we did manage to spot a few baby red pandas playing hide and seek from high above the trees. It is indeed a matter of privilege to be able to see red pandas, because, this is one of the few places on earth where you could see these strange but cute creatures. I also remembered spotting a griffon and a few blood pheasants, prominent in its scarlet feathers against the green woods. One could just spend hours just admiring the unique biome of this part of the Himalayas.
Trek to Garibas
We crossed two rivers- Rammam and Sirikhola, on our drive. After almost an hour and a half, we came back towards Tumling, one of the trek base camps. From there, we decided to trek to Garibas Trekker’s Hut, (this was not a drivable road), where many trekkers assemble and stay overnight, en route to Sandakphu. It was almost an hour and a half walk but it felt like a day. The elevation and altitude were quite challenging. I realized that to trek here, I would need proper preparation, which was for another time. By the time we reached, it had become cloudy, which is common in the mountains, in summer.
A view to die for
We were just catching our breath and about to perch ourselves on the ground when two of my friends suddenly jumped and cheered. The clouds had moved and far away, and, there it was, wrapped in the halo of the afternoon sun, the Kanchenjunga shining in an iridescent glow. Slowly the other peaks peeked out of the clouds and entire massif became visible. This stretch is called the Sleeping Buddha since it looks like the silhouette of Buddha in a reclined position.
There were many other tourists and trekkers, each trying to capture their best moment on camera. But all I could manage to do was gasp and quietly stare. It was outright the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life so far! I don’t remember how long I was numbed by the sight, but when the sun turned orange from yellow, I realized, it had been a while.
If you want to have an ultimate experience of the Eastern Himalayas, take a cab all the way to Manebhanjan or Meghma, and go for the three-day trek.
You can book a licensed and top-rated cab from Siliguri to Darjeeling and then to Manebhanjan.