Winter Trek to Sandakphu - Phalut

My footprints in snow — Winter trek to Sandakphu-Phalut in a quest to see Mt. Everest along with the Kanchenjunga range and a few more 8000ers.

The main attraction of the trek - Sunrise view of Mt. Everest, Lhotse and Makalu from Sandakphu on the fourth morning of the trek

Indiahikes calls Jaubhari the most beautiful base camp of theirs.
A 3 minute walk from the road, and it was clear, there is absolutely no exaggeration in that statement.

Quickly settling down in our shared rooms, most of us took a stroll further down in the same path

Jaubhari - the basecamp, was not to be known for sunrises. But I refuse to accept that. Such a beautiful place ought to be prettier in the golden hour and that was proven right on 1st morning of the trek.

A window with the view and a cup of tea to warm yourself, what more would you need to enjoy your 1st morning of a Himalayan winter trek.

While the trek is set to start from the road next to basecamp the ascent starts right from the basecamp. I am not sure if this is IndiaHikes’s strategy or not, but by the time you reach the road, you will start to understand your fitness levels.

Less than an hour into the trek, you start to forgot about the seemingly never-ending ascent, the thought that entered within first few minutes of trek. Instead you start enjoying the company of tall trees of the dense forest.

Sandakphu has a motorable road as well, and you start to see it from Chittrey where we had the first tea break of the day.

While my trek mates were waiting for the second/third cup of tea, the photo buffs( and me) quickly rush to this tiny shrine which is as photogenic as most of the Himalayan monasteries are.

A look back at Chittrey, as the climb continues after the tea break. After Chittrey, the trail is little close to or on the motorable road for most of the morning.

This monastery right opposite to the lunch point at Meghma was closed on that day and mist added more elements of mystery to the scene.

Mist was almost a constant company for throughout the evening. If it was not mist, atleast sky was too cloudy.

You can never predict the weather in the mountains and just around sunset, we were gifted with a clear sky and an awesome view of the sleeping Buddha.

The clouds had decided to part ways for a few minutes giving us the glimpse of the Kanchenjunga range. Those few minutes until sunset were enough replenish our energy after a tiring first day.

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Every travelogue I’ve read regarding this trek has a selfie taken at the entrance. Thats probably because when one member of the group gets the entry ticket and camera tickets, rest of the group get into a selfie mode. Our guide Buddha-da was on that for us.

I remember, I definitely spotted a bird in this area. By the time I could zoom (in my wide-angle) for it, it disappeared quickly, with some additional help from the mist. I have read that the National park does boast of a great variety of birds. But did not expect them right at the entrance. Not being much into bird photography, I simply decided to enjoy their sights henceforth in this trek.

Whenever I read about a village cattle shed in a book, I am going to use this as the reference for my imagination.

We were always walking into the fog, which kept us guessing about the next turn and the imagery after that.

Our trek lead Dushyant walks past steadily with the rain cover over his backpack. He gave us this instruction in the morning, that a light rain/snowfall is expected and it is better to have the rucksack rain covers on and the poncho handy.

Solo traveller by choice or not, you will soon find yourself getting or receiving help from your fellow trekmates, and before you know they’ll mean to you a lot more than what a day or two acquaintance might ever mean.

The room had a great ambience lighting with nothing but the sunlight entering through a glass in the roof and as always wooden walls do spice up the place.

We started seeing the changes to the scenery. Just a small hail shower, so it was not a white blanket yet. But it was a lot better what we got until then.

The only good thing about fog is that it accentuates the curves in the roads a bit.

We reached the stay for the night — Kalipokhri. And finally we got what we wished for.  Snowfall through out the night

Woke up and just stepped out of the tea-house hearing murmurs that everything outside was beautiful. And this is the view you get the minute you get out of the sleeping liner and drag your body to the chilly morning outside.

Perfect combo for a great shots — Remote Village + Golden hours in Winter

As sun continued to spread its magnificence across the sky, every single thing in the village turned more beautiful as the snow fall had continued last night.

To get the best out of the golden hour, it is always better to wake up a bit early, so as to get more time to plan the shots. As I woke up a little bit later, I could not manage to get more out of the golden hour, as my fellow trekker/photographer works hard at the top on getting the best

Not all the villages were as lucky as Kalipokhri, as this village, seen while we were enroute to Sandakphu, was not ‘fully’ covered in snow. Maybe, it was a just a light snowfall after all.

This morning was no different from the previous 2, as the fog continued to dominate the trails. However in the above frame, it revealed just a bit (towards the bottom right) to uncover additional trails leading to Sandakphu.

This trek is different in another aspect as well. Generally the summit day in most treks is considered to be tougher than the rest. Contrastingly, this day’s walk to Sandakphu is the shortest one in the entire trek. With snow adding to the joy, we continued the day energetically.

The loopy trails, now snow filled, on the way to Sandakphu (looking back on the trail we took)

Do you see a pole towards top right of this pic. Thats the sunrise point.

The kid here had scant regard for the climate as she continued to have her fun alone in the snow not waiting for any company. She was so hyper-active, that I had a tough time taking a clear picture of her.

You do feel warm and comfortable when you are at these active games. Take more than minute away from these and you’ll start to freeze.

A not so clear sky generally does not bode well with landscape photography. Fresh snow and the curvy roads helped to offset the light factor.



View of Mt. Everest from Sandakphu on the Sunrise

You get such a wide view from the view point in Sandakphu, that you will be able to witness the different phases of the golden hour all from the same place at the same time.

As each minute passed by, we could see light entering the lower parts of the Kanchenjunga range. Best place and time for time lapse lovers.

For quite a few more hours, the sleeping buddha view continued with us.

Such an view continuing with us for prolonged time, making the soreness on the legs wait a little more time.

When the Kanchenjunga range view is not there to amaze, clouds take up the roles. Cloud formations are generally some of the most interesting vistas in the mountains, as they are sometimes even on the same level as ours.

My only gripe so far in the trek was that we had almost no sceneries where clouds and the sky dominated everything else. We got that too for a couple of hours on the trail to Sabargram.

This was a perfect candidate for a monochrome frame

So far yet so close — The Kanchenjunga range as we proceed towards Phalut from Sabargram.

We had the Sleeping Buddha view almost throughout the day’s trek to Phalut top. The mountain ranges, one behind the other, show what we need to cross to get closer to the Kanchenjunga range.

One of the few pictures summarising the entire trek in one frame. Long trails with the sleeping buddha along with us.

Knowing that we were so close, made us move faster towards the view point. Phalut is the place, where the borders of West bengal, Sikkim and Nepal meet. It was just around 15km of aerial distance separating us from the Kanchenjunga range.

How can one not lose his/her self to this view? Mesmerised by the Sleeping Buddha view from Phalut top

Just for reference: Mt. Everest is around 150km (aerially) from this place.

We were not alone here. We had some yak company as well. And it knew to pose well. The yak positioned itself perfectly so that, it can be shot in the same frame with the Mt.Everest and its sister peaks.

In total contrast to we had experienced so far, the descent to Gorkhey was a complete forest trail with the bamboo shoots and the little snow flakes. And this was the only day when I was not at the end of the group.

The tall trees of the national park were blocking the sunlight (not so good) yet protecting us from the cold winds(awesome). If it wasn’t for the chilly winter and the little snow, you could easily take this stretch for a Western ghats trail.

The tall trees of the national park were blocking the sunlight (not so good) yet protecting us from the cold winds(awesome). If it wasn’t for the chilly winter and the little snow, you could easily take this stretch for a Western ghats trail.

This village can serve as the poster for the beauty that the forest villages of Himalayas boast of. A small quiet town where the loudest sound is the gushing of the Gorkhey river. Perfect place to spend your last night in the mountains.

I love the above picture for one simple reason. For me it noted the end of our trek.

Sandakphu Phalut trek was totally different than I had ever imagined. The real winters are still hard to understand for me. The mountain views were grander than I expected. Worth every penny spent, and the time including the next week it took for me to recover from dehydration.

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