Darjeeling -Sandakphu/ Phalut Trek http://ashmitatrek.com/darjeeling/trekking-in-darjeeling/darjeeling-sandakphu-phalut-trek.html
06.10.2014 - 11.10.2014
I casually slipped off the warm memory foam mattress, underneath the smooth silk sheets and into the aromatic hot tub below. My arm is outstretched. "Bucks Fizz Kabhi". It is 5 AM and a rude knock on the door awakes me from my dream of soft mattresses, hot water and clean western toilets. I emerge from several layers of blankets and drag myself off the bed and disconnect the fantasy. The mattress is so thin that I can feel every knot and every splinter from the wooden bed.
We are in a mountain lodge 3600 metres above sea level (3 Ben Nevises). B.B.C , Basic but Clean it is, I.T,V (Intercontinental, Taj, Victoria) it ain't. Sam (sorry Petula) crawls out of her incredibly compact but warm down sleeping bag and joins me and our guide as we trudge up a hill to see sunrise. My lazy alter-ego wanted to stay in bed but the drill instructor inside my head gave me a kick up the backside. We get to the top and are joined by a number of sunrise worshippers. This is the second time on the trek that we see the full Himalayan Mountain range. Dead ahead and so clear you feel you can touch it is Kanchangunga. Further to the West is a trio of 3 peaks. the one on the left seems the biggest although the one in the middle (still clearly seen) is much further North. At a height of 8,848 m, for the second time we see Mount Everest in all its glory as the rising sun illuminates the mountain show.
So 6 days and 90km. Was it worth: the early start; the thigh straining squat toilets; 2 smelly hot water free days; the ridiculously early cold nights; the arguments over pocket scrabble; the pain, blisters; the 495 "are we there yets"?. The answer is a resounding yes. Worth every minute.
On the first day of the trek we were met at the hotel by our guide, 41 year old Nepali Banad. He is a man of a few words although very knowledgeable, especially on flora and bird life. Without fail he put our interests firsts. A real captain Oates if you like. Every morning he would wake us up with a welcoming ginger tea. Judging by some of our fellow traveler's experiences our guide was certainly the right person to have around rather than some of the cowboys we had heard of. We drove to Maneybhanjan (India/Nepali boarder) on 6th October to commence our trek with a relentless climb, just after the route's first Bhuddist temple. It was particularly tough for Sam. In addition to daily regime of applying copious quantities sun cream and and plastic melting fly repellent she also had a pre-existing leg pain to contend with. She did however remarkably well and did not moan. PS I have to say that or she will kill me.
The terrain and the flora offered great variety from bamboo to pine forest to jungle. From rhododendron trees attempting to bully their way to prominence to the more delicate bright yellow mountain flowers. We even came across a patch of gently undulating hills that reminded me of Derbyshire Peak District. Of course we frequently had to descend before going up, The up and down meant twice we reached a height of 3600m.
The trek frequently meandered into the Nepali boarder. In fact we stayed in Nepal on 2 occasions. This Sikkim (formally an independent state) border appeared to be always close by. There were many check points leaving the Nepali border. The frequent banter with the boarder soldiers no doubt helped relieve their boredom. The security was brought about following the slaughter by insurgence of the Nepali Royal family in 2001. India is keen to keep any trouble in check. Also in the distance we could frequently see the pyramid shaped peak of Kula Kangra (7500 m), the highest mountain in mysterious Bhutan.
We encountered few western trekkers although we came across plenty of Kolkata students, breaking away from their highly competitive university life to enjoy the Puja holidays. It is a very reassuring trend that the young in India are starting to explore the hills. I have always thought that for many middle class Indians their legs were practically redundant in a nation that would drive to the bathroom if they could. It however gave me cruel satisfaction to see people half my age grimacing in pain and fatigue. Of course those W Bengali holiday makers not wanting to strain their legs were able to take a jeep for some of the way on the trek. Their carves and thighs remained unharmed although there backsides remained hemorrhoid inducingly tender. Where vehicles could not cross we also passed many a trader using mules to transport their wares. We saw little girls taking there even smaller brothers home from school, all with immaculate school uniforms. We passed through many a village with multi coloured Bhuddist prayer flags wafting in the wind. We passed goats with almost human expressions, cows with red hair (honestly - not joking) and bush tailed Yak/cow crossbreeds. No Yetis, although after 6 days without a shave and shower I could pass as one! In the lodgings we met a couple from prospering Bangalore, apparently the in place to live. We also met an Israeli couple, one half had lived in a kibutz. Over the years I have noticed that post national service (3 years for men and 2 for women) India is deemed to be one relatively safe, and welcoming place for Israelis to visit. .
It was nice in the evening to dine with our fellow trekkers although dressing for dinner was a case of donning a t-shirt that had just about avoided desertion. The food on the trek was basic, repetitive, but substantial. The kind of porridge soup with honey and sweet tibetan bread was a winner as was the honey bee brandy, my high altitude nightcap of choice!
On the last day an easy descent thankfully beckoned. It was however offered a fine view as it skirted half way down the valley, above a fast flowing river below (roughly translated Mr River). That day I felt refreshed. The previous night on the trek had been relative luxury with hot water and A CLEAN WESTERN TOILET. Yes we even had to photograph it (pre use of course). So the trek was ultimately rewarding and enjoyable. I may have felt dirty at times. Dirt however can apparently be a virtue in the West Bengal hills. Trucks and jeeps are adorned with amusing proverbs, sayings and words of wisdom. I usually have no truck with silly quotes although one such vehicle did declare that "dirty girls like dirty trucks".