The Sandakphu Trek. Located in West Bengal, India and sharing the border with Nepal, this relatively short trek has no shortage of views and stunning scenery.
With views of the Himalayas from the Everest Range to Kanchenjunga and beyond, it’s sure to impress. Through this article I’ll hopefully give you enough information so you can add this trek to your future travel itineraries.
How to get to Sandakphu?
Sandakphu, the highest peak in West Bengal at 3636m is situated in a perfect location for viewing the 3rd highest mountain peak in the world, Kanchenjunga. Also, being only a few hours drive from Darjeeling means this trek in fairly easy to access.
For myself and a lot of other people, the first part of their trip is getting a flight to Bagdogra. This airport is located near the city of Siliguri in West Bengal and is the closest airport to both Darjeeling and Sandakphu.
If you are like myself and booked through a travel agency in Darjeeling ahead of time, you will be met by a driver at the airport who will take you to your first nights stay which for myself was about 1.5 hours away in Makaibari at a homestay there.
However, if you haven’t pre-booked your trek and you aren’t an Indian Citizen, then you will need to find a guide as foreigners are required to have a guide for the trek. So once you arrive at the airport, you will want to arrange a taxi or driver to take you to either Darjeeling or Maneybhanjyang. In either of these two places you should be able to find a guide for your trip and they will help you with organizing your trek.
Darjeeling will give you the most possibilies as it’s a bigger city than Maneybhanjyang and is where all the travel agencies are. However, you are likely to pay a higher price there by going through an agency. I’ve heard you can hire guides directly by going to Maneybhanjyang as that is the beginning of the trek for a lot of people.
For myself, since I went through an agency, my arrival to the start of the trek was seamless and everything was organized in advance. Below, I’ll share my itinerary with pictures so you can get a feel of how the trek is. There are many alternatives of this trek, and you can even do this trek without hiking by going by jeep, so the itinerary below is just one variation you can do.
Day 1 – Bagdogra Airport to Makaibari
My first day, I was met at the airport by my guide and we drove 1.5 hours to where I would spend the night at a homestay in Makaibari. Makaibari is known for its tea plantation and my homestay was surrounded by the beautiful tea plants. Even as we drove away from the airport in Bagdogra I saw so many tea plantations as the area around Siliguri is know for it’s Assam Tea.
The drive is very scenic, but was told by my guide that most people will not drive these roads at night as there are wild elephants in the area and they typically are active at night and thus it’s not so safe to be driving the roads past dark.
As we neared the homestay, the roads started to snake up the hills and we were past the flatter lands around the airport. The roads are narrow, but somehow cars manage to go both directions.
The homestay was nice and I had a beautiful room to myself and the seperate bathroom had a western toilet and shower if I wanted. They served me delicious dhal for dinner and eggs and chapati for breakfast. It was run by a family from Nepal and they had a roadside stand as well that numerous people stopped at as they drove towards darjeeling to get a snack or tea.
Day 2 – Makaibari to Dhotrey to Tonglu
After waking up and having breakfast, I met my driver and guide and we drove for roughly 2 hours towards Dhotrey where we start the 2nd day of the Sandakphu trek.
Dhotrey is a great starting point if you don’t have a lot of time your first day. Most people start the trek in Maneybhanjyang and hike to Tumling, but if you want a shorter day, starting in Dhotrey and hiking to Tonglu is a better option and is more or less a shortcut.
On the way to Dhotrey we stopped in Maneybhanjyang as that is where the first checkpoint is, so I had to go into a small office and write down my passport details and let them know where I was heading with my guide. It was a very simple process.
After that, it was a quick 30-45 minute drive to Dhotrey and got there around lunch. So we stopped at a small restaurant and had a delicious meal of Thukpa (traditional noodle soup) and momos (dumplings). Was a great meal to get energy for the first day of trekking.
From Dhotrey, the trek starts out in the woods, before coming up into the hills above the main tree line. It’s a nice, relatively simple trek up to Tonglu and only took us about 2 to 2.5 hours to do.
We didn’t have a reservation for a place in Tonglu, so the first guesthouse we stopped at didn’t have any available beds. Thankfully, the second guesthouse did and so we decided to stay there. The 2nd guesthouse is the more famous one anyway as it has a small pond behind it that is amazing for photographs (although it was frozen where we were there) and also has easy access to some amazing viewpoints.
Just behind the lodge is a small hill and at the top has prayer flags and the whole are is just absolutely stunning.
So should you stay in Tonglu or Tumling?
A lot of people choose Tumling over Tonglu for their first night of trek because it’s a larger village and the lodges are of better quality. Even though this is true, the views from Tonglu are much more spectacular in my mind and are worth the less sleep you might get that night from being a little more uncomfortable. Although, the room where I stayed was adequate enough and did provide enough blankets to stay warm during the night. It was a really cold night and super windy, so was thankful for all the blankets. Kanchenjunga range from Tonglu is spectacular and you can see all the way to peaks in neighboring Bhutan!
I highly recommend if you are staying here to go to the small hill behind the lodge for both sunset and sunrise as the views are absolutely spectacular.
Day 3 – Tonglu to Kalipokhri
The trek from Tonglu to Kalipokhri is a nice trek, but in typical fashion for this part of the world, it’s a lot of up and down through the hills. This is also a longer day than the previous day and will take anywhere from 5-6 hours to complete with breaks included.
If you are starting in Tonglu, it’s a quick 20-30 minute trip down to Tumling. From here you can walk through an area of woods called the Black Forest which is quite nice and peaceful or you can follow the road.
We took the black forest route and it was quite nice. A few days prior though it had snowed, so we did encounter some quite snowy sections and had to be a little careful on the trail to not slip and fall.
Whether you take the black forest route or the road, you will have to descend a good 500 to 600m to another checkpoint.
Then from there, you will ascend 600m or so to get to Kalipokhri. Kalipokhri is mostly in Nepal and there are a lot of guesthouses to choose from of varying quality.
Kalipokhri itself doesn’t have any of the major mountain views, but the views of the surrounding hills is quite nice. Kalipokhri means Black Lake and there is a lake here that is worth going to in the morning for sunrise.
Day 4 – Kalipokhri to Sandakphu
Kalipokhri to Sandakphu is a pretty simple trek day as it should only take you a few hours to finish this part of the trek. From Kalipokhri you can easily see Sandakphu peak and is quite nearby. It’s just a long slog uphill to get there. The trail which mostly follows the road, winds back and forth as you gain altitude to reach the peak 500m higher than Kalipokhri.
As we took the trail, we encountered a lot of snow from the storm that rolled through a few days prior before we had started the trek. Because of that snow, no jeeps were heading up to Sandakphu, so we had the road entirely to ourselves. In some places the snow must have been close to a foot deep.
As you finally reach the village of Sandakphu, you realize why so many people come here to see the views. From left to right, you have views of the entire Everest Range, the whole way to the right where you can even see some peaks in Bhutan.
The village of Sandakphu actually feels quite large with numerous guesthouses. We choose the one highest on the hill and I was quite surprised by the quality of the lodge. There was a wood heater in the dining room (which was amazing since it was so cold there) and also the rooms had private bathrooms which was also great to have. Prices for the lodge are likely higher than some others in the village, but I liked having those amenities. Also, the nice thing about the lodge we chose, is it had a rooftop with incredible views of the mountain range.
So, in the morning and afternoon, all I had to do was go up to the rooftop to get amazing pictures, without having to go further away or be outside for long.
There are some small rocky peaks near Sandkaphu that a lot of people go to for sunrise and sunset, however, because I had just as nice a view more or less from my lodge rooftop, I didn’t visit those peaks. Also, it was incredibly cold, so didn’t want to venture too far from the lodge.
Day 5 – Sandakphu to Molley
In most typical itineraries for the Sandakphu trek, this day will go from Sandakphu the whole way to Phalut. A whopping 21km and a good 7-8 hour hike depending on your speed.
This was my plan too, however, because of the snow, we had heard groups were turning back from Phalut because the snow was too deep and just wasn’t worth it. So we decided to go to Molley instead. The nice thing about this change, is that the path follows along the normal path from Sandakphu to Phalut except for the last few km’s.
Many say that the views just after Sandakphu on the way to Phalut are some of the best and I would agree. You follow mostly a ridge line and have great uninterrupted views of Everest to Kanchenjunga! Also, the path is quite nice and it’s not too difficult.
I highly recommend leaving Sandakphu early as fog and clouds typically come in around noon, especially around the time of year that I did this trek. So for best views, start early.
So the trek from Sandakphu to Molley for us took around 5 hours. We also had a small lunch break. Molley is deep in the forest and quite a bit lower than Sandakphu. The whole afternoon though it was deep in fog and there was not much of a view. Even in clear weather, there isn’t the view of the mountains like our other stops. However, the place has it’s own charm being so deep in the woods.
There is only one lodge at Molley and was nice enough for the night. The food there was prepared well and we ended up being the only guests there that night. Like my previous place, I got to have a private bathroom as they put me in the 4 person room even though I was traveling alone.
Day 6 – Molley to Timburey
This was our final trekking day and mostly a long way down in elevation. The majority of the day was in the woods and at the beginning had to negotiate a few slippery snowy sections, but beyond that it was quite an easy day.
As we dropped in elevation, the temperature got warmer and that was nice.
After working our way through the village of Srikhola and asking the people there how to get to Timburey, we finally reached the village after only about 3 hours of hiking.
The elevation in Timburey is only around 1800m, and its’ near a stream so was quite a nice location to relax in the afternoon.
So I was finally able to shower (with hot water in a bucket) and also was able to feel a bit warmer as well. The lodge here was really nice with my own private bathroom. The food served here was very good and well prepared as well.
Day 7 – Timburey to Darjeeling
Our final day we had a later start and walked about 30 minutes to the road where we met our driver from before.
He came and picked us up and we drove through Rimbik and onwards to Darjeeling. The first section of road was quite narrow and scary, but later on it got better. In total, it took us 3.5 to 4 hours to get back to Darjeeling. Close to darjeeling we stopped at a small roadside stand to get some momos before entering city life again.
Darjeeling was quite different from the mountains, but had it’s own charm.
Even in Darjeeling, you can see Kanchenjunga range, just not as close as in Sandakphu.
Tips for the Sandakphu Trek
- Best time to go on the trek is October/November. This is when the weather is the best with clear skies typically and slightly warmer weather than winter. Second best time is April/May when the flowers are in full bloom. I can also recommend December as that is when I went, just make sure you are prepared for snow and cold.
- If you are going in winter, make sure you take a good sleeping bag. The lodges all have blankets, but it still felt cold without the sleeping bag. The nights got down to -10C and more when I was there. So also should have good gloves and jacket.
- If there is snow, be ready for some slower days and if there is too much snow, you may not be able to take jeeps or have a quick exit if something would happen.
- If you are doing the trek independently without an agency, you can arrange in either Darjeeling or Maneybhanjyang. If you want a porter, they can be arranged in Maneybhanjyang as that is where we picked up our porter and there are fixed rates for them.
Where to Stay in Darjeeling?
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At the beginning or end of your trek, you are likely going to want to spend some time in this beautiful city. Known as the “Queen of the Hills”, there is plenty to do here and you can gets views of Kanchenjunga here too, however, they are more spectacular on Sandakphu. The city has a ton of hotels and homestays, so would like to recommend some here:
Darjeeling Heights Home Stay – I stayed here for 2 nights and it was such a great decision. Beautiful rooms with heated bed and a rooftop with commanding views of the city and Kanchenjunga. About a 10 minute walk to mall road and the owner usually cooks dinner for guests in the evening if they want (small extra charge). All in all a great, quiet retreat from the bustling main part of Darjeeling.
Treebo Trend Dekeling Hotel – Another hotel with great views and nice rooms. Typically gets good reviews and is in a great location in the city.
There are many many hotels in Darjeeling though, so recommend checking them out online before booking. You can see them here: Darjeeling Hotels.
So there you have it. The Sandakphu trek is a beautiful stunning trek and I would highly recommend it to everyone. You don’t have to be a super trekker to do the hike, but it does help to have some hiking experience. If you have any questions or comments about the trek, please let us know in the comments below!
Also, if you are looking for another amazing trek in India, check out our article: Zanskar Trek, top 5 reasons to go!