Sandakphu: Conquering West Bengal's Highest Peak and My Fears.

By Paromita Debroy. 

It was a rainy June evening in 2013. I sat at my office desk, staring at the monitor, unable to work. I had read about the Uttarakhand floods the previous day and was still trying to come to terms with the devastation caused by it. I love the Himalayas and it felt as if something close to me was getting destroyed. Well, it also meant that I would have to cancel my visit to the flood-affected areas and plan everything all over again.

It was fate trying to send me to the Eastern Himalayas, for that’s when I stumbled upon Sandakphu, the highest peak of West Bengal perched at approximately 12,000 feet. 

There are three things I must confess before I begin. 
Firstly, fitness and I have never seen eye to eye. 
Secondly, I suffer from motion sickness on hilly terrain. 
Thirdly, I had never trekked for more than 3 km at a stretch. 

Nevertheless, I was determined to go: 

Day 1: NJP to Maneybhanjan (3.5 hours drive)

The route passes through beautiful tea gardens and goes via Mirik. Maney Bhanjan is the starting point of the trek. There are Land Rovers that ply directly to Sandakphu from here. But driving on that terrain can prove to be a gut wrenching experience! For trekkers, it is advisable to halt here for the day and start the trek early next morning. The road journey had left me with nausea and dizziness and as I went to bed at night, I still wasn’t sure if I should embark on the trek. It was going to be a long day tomorrow.

Panorama from Sandakphu at sunrise!

Day 2: Maneybhanjan to Tumling (12km)

The sun shone into our bedroom in the morning and I woke up with a start; it was only 5 am - a reminder that that we were in the eastern part of India. After procuring the necessary permits, we embarked on our trek. A steep ascent for 2km brought us to the Chitrey Monastery, covered in Buddhist prayer flags. We crossed the scenic hamlets of Lamidhura and Meghma, walked amid pine forests and chortens, and finally made it to Tumling. It was here that the mountain peaks revealed themselves. The valley below lay covered in white clouds, looking like an ocean. Far on the horizon, the peaks shone in a serene light against the back drop of the setting sun. 

Tranquility amid nature.

Day 3: Tumling to Kalapokhri (13km)

Past the relatively easy descent to the village of Gairibas, the trail becomes boulder-laden and steep. Past Kaiyakata, we walked to Kalapokhri, engulfed in mist and dense pine forests. “Pokhri” in Nepali means lake and “kala” means black. This lake is considered sacred by the locals and the waters of this lake, believed to have medicinal value, never freeze, even in the winter! I witnessed the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen in my life. Before me was the green meadow and on its edge, 3 mountain goats sat serenely oblivious of the camera-clicking fuss around them. The vast expanse below was filled with white fluffy clouds and the sky was smeared with shades of scarlet and crimson.

Sunset at Kalapokhri.

Day 4: Kalapokhri to Sandakphu (7km)

This morning’s trek was the last lap to reach Sandakphu, and though relatively easy terrain, it was challenging at over 10000ft. We spotted the flower aconite (a poisonous flower found in that region), the river Mahanadi flowing through the Siliguri plains, and scenes of village life in the harsh terrain. Then I heard the sound of some mystical music emanating from a temple - a celebration of Durga Puja at almost 10000ft, on a narrow trail in the mighty Himalayas, the blue sky over my head and the divine music blending perfectly with the serene and calm silence.

Aconite - a poisonous flower found in the region.

A villager building the thatch of his hut.

Sunrise at Sandakphu

After some acclimatization, the day started early at 4 am, to be able to witness the sunrise. It was around 2 degrees outside but the wind chill factor made it feel less than 0. As the eastern sky began to glow in a somber red, I waited with baited breath. The first light of the day shone on one of the peaks on Mt. Kanchenjunga, and slowly, each of the peaks lit up; this play of colors lasted for more than an hour. It looked like the Sleeping Buddha glowing in a golden light. Not only did we see the Kanchenjunga, Everest and Lhotse but every other peak that is possible to see from here! 

The eastern sky at sunrise.

Day 5: Sandakphu to Srikhola (22km)

This was the day that tested me the most. The trail to Srikhola is a steep descent for the most part. My right leg was not in good condition, my thigh had cramped badly and I was barely being able to walk. The red and white wild flowers, the dried grass which glowed in a golden color in the sun, the blue sky, the jungle trail lined with bamboo trees lending a creepy and eerie feel to the scene, and the trees hacked by sudden bursts of lightning, made me forget my pain momentarily. When I finally limped in extreme pain up the staircase to my room, the realization that I had actually completed the trek dawned upon me. I did it!

Wild bushes and flowers.
I was barely able to walk the next few days, a deep tan had taken over my face, and the reverse of my palm was charcoal black. I had travelled almost 2,000 miles to walk over boulders, at low oxygen levels, for 52 km, with bare minimum amenities. Was I crazy? I closed my eyes and found calmness and serenity within, that can be attained only by close communion with nature.

And every pang of pain made me realize that courage is not the absence of fear, but the realization that something else is more important than fear. I felt ALIVE!


Would you like to trek up to Sandakphu some day?


AUTHOR BIO: A software engineer by profession, Paromita loves travelling to the Himalayas.
Her love with the written word can be followed on her blog


Visit for experiential (and responsible) travel experiences at offbeat destinations across India. 

Join India Untravelled on Facebook and Twitter for daily travel inspiration. 

To contribute guest posts / photo essays to this blog, please see our contribution guidelines and send your story ideas to



*** *** 


  1. Wonderful post, thanks for sharing your photos and words!

    I am looking into embarking on this trek in just a couple of weeks, but am kind of shocked by the price quotes I'm getting online. Do you have a rough idea of what a single trekker should expect to pay for one guide and porter for a six-day trek in the region?

    Or could you tell me if Darjeeling has many trekking agencies where treks can be booked a few days before departure?

    Thanks so much!


Tell us what you are thinking...