The Sandakphu trek is considered as one of the most scenic treks in the Eastern Himalayas due to its gorgeous trail that cuts through the dense forests of rhododendrons and magnolias along with the pristine view of some of the tallest mountains of the Himalayas like Mt. Everest, Mt. Kanchenjunga, Mt. Lhotse and Mt. Makalu.
Apart from these, the trek also offers splendid views of various other mountains blanketed with lush alpine trees, monasteries, gorgeous valleys dotted with patches of wildflowers, and much more. This is what makes Sandakphu trek one of the best treks in Sikkim.
The Sandakphu trek takes you to the highest peak in the Ilam district of Nepal and West Bengal. Located at an altitude of 11,930 feet, Sandakphu is also the highest peak of the Singalila Ridge in Darjeeling. The peak is located on the edge of the Singalila National Park, amidst sub-alpine forests, in West Bengal, on the Indo-Nepal border.
The word ‘Sandakphu’ literally translates to ‘the peak of poison plants.’ The peak derives its name from the bloom of the poisonous genus of plants like Aconitum and Himalayan Cobra Lilies that grow on the top.
The Sandakphu trek is most known for its pristine view of the Himalayas. While on top, not only do you get superb views of four of the five highest mountains in the world, but also many other famous and iconic mountain peaks. Standing on top, you enjoy the 180-degree view of the Himalayan mountains of Nepal, Tibet, Sikkim, Bhutan and if you’re lucky, Arunachal Pradesh in the distance too.
Starting from the west, the first mountain you see is Chamlang, a mammoth wall of snow that peaks at an altitude of 24,000 feet. As you move eastward, you are greeted with the world’s tallest mountain, Mount Everest. Further, you see the mountain peaks of Lhotse and Makalu standing close to each other.
At the centre stage is the massive Mount Kanchenjunga, the world’s third-highest mountain. The mountain stands proudly with her sister peaks, giving it the revered name of Sleeping Buddha by the locals. Next to the Sleeping Buddha, you see the prominent peaks of Sikkim like Kabru, Khumbhakarna, Simvo, Goechala and Pandim.
These are followed by the two massifs of Tibet - Joguno and Narsing. And farther to the east is Mount Chomolhari of Bhutan that completes the panorama. And if you are lucky, if the weather is clear, then you will also spot the elusive peak of Kangte of Arunachal Pradesh too.
You’ll start your Sandakphu trek from the NJP railway station in West Bengal. It’s a 5-hour drive from here to the start point. From day 2 of the Sandakphu trek, you’ll start trekking through pine forests with snow-capped mountains in the distance. You’ll cross the India-Nepal border, camp at Tumling.
From here, you can expect to see the peak of Mt. Kanchenjunga, if the weather is clear. Later in the day, you’ll also be able to see Mt. Everest too. By day 5 or 6, you’ll attempt Sandakphu peak. This takes you to an elevation of 11,929 feet. After that, you’ll begin your descent which will take at least two days. You’ll end the Sandakphu trek at Darjeeling, or back at the NJP railway station.
The Sandakphu trekking trail is located in the Singalila National Park which is closed during the monsoon season, from mid-June to mid-September due to heavy rainfall. So the Sandakphu trek does not happen during this time. Apart from the monsoon, the trek is on throughout the year.
During the summer months, the trek is gorgeous with warm days and cool nights. This season is perfect for those who want to escape the heat of the city and into the cool summers of the Eastern Himalayas.
The next season, spring is the best time to go if you want to see the forests in full bloom. During this season, the rhododendron trees flourish, covering the landscape in a multitude of colours. This gorgeous scenery is only made better with the many wildflowers that grace the trail in various colours.
Then there is the winter season for those who want to experience the Himalayan winters and trek over a trail covered in snow. During this season, the landscape is covered in snow and the sky is clear, offering magnificent views of the Himalayan peaks. The best snow months are January and February if you want to experience a snow-trek in Sikkim in its full force.
There are no ATMs on the Sandakphu trekking route, not even at Manebhanjan. However, the closest atm is at Sukhiapokhri run by SBI. But it is best not to rely on the sole ATM, so remember to withdraw all the cash you need for the trek at Siliguri itself.
As for the mobile network, Vodafone, Airtel and BSNL work well in these areas but the coverage is usually sporadic. And if you want to charge your devices, then you can charge them at the many teahouses for an additional cost of INR 10 to 50 per device.
Check-out other adventure activities in Sikkim that you can pair your Sandakphu trek with.
Day 1: Drive from NJP/Bagdogra, Siliguri to Kopidana
Day 2: Trek from Kopidana to Tumling
Day 3: Trek from Tumling to Kalapokhri
Day 4: Trek from Kalapokhri to Sandakphu
Day 5: Trek from Sandakphu to Sepi
Day 6: Trek from Septi to NJP/Bagdogra, Siliguri
Arrive at Siliguri at 12:00 hrs and get picked up by the tour operator. You then take a 5-hour drive to Kopidana via a scenic route through the mountains. Reaching there by evening, you spend the rest of the day at leisure. Overnight in a teahouse.
You wake up to the crimson morning over Kanchenjunga and begin your trek through dense forests of rhododendron and pine, along the Indo-Nepal border. Overnight in a teahouse.
You wake up to the misty morning views of the mountains and begin your trek through the rich forests of magnolias and rhododendrons of the Singalila National Park. En route, you enjoy the splendid views of Kumbhakarna, Shimboo, Goechala, Kabru and many more peaks. Overnight in a teahouse.
Today, finally you trek to Sandakphu via a relatively easy trail consisting of few steep sections. From the village, you enjoy breathtaking views of the Himalayan giants like Mount Everest, Kanchenjunga, Makalu and Lhotse. Overnight in a teahouse.
Today, you begin your return trek and descend to the village of Sepi, passing through mixed forests that are home to red pandas and bears. En route, you also encounter the Sri Khola River. Overnight in a teahouse.
The last day of the trip, today you take a 5-hour drive back to Siliguri via a scenic route through the mountains. You reach there by 14:00 hrs, marking the end of the Sandakphu trekking trip.
The Sandakphu trekking package includes transport from Siliguri to Kopidana on Day 1 and from Sepi to Siliguri on Day 2. The pick-ups and drop-offs are available from both the NJP Railway Station as well as Bagdogra Airport. The mode of transport will be a Tata Sumo or a similar private vehicle.
As for the accommodations, you will spend 5 nights in teahouses on a multi-sharing basis. And you will be served all veg meals from dinner on Day 1 to breakfast on Day 6.
The trek package also includes the services of an experienced trek leader and support crew. The cost also includes all government permits, entry fees, technical and safety gear for the trek (if required), a first aid kit, and all applicable taxes.
The Sandakphu trekking package does not include the services of porters and mules for personal luggage. However, they can be arranged for an additional cost of INR 1,600 per person for the entire trek with a maximum weight limit of 11 kg per bag
Apart from this, the cost does not include any kind of travel arrangements between your home-city and Siliguri, any meals not mentioned in the inclusions, any kind of travel or health insurance.
The package neither includes any kind of personal expenses like tips, extra meals, beverages, etc. nor does it include any costs arising out of unforeseen circumstances like bad weather, natural calamities, roadblocks, etc. Lastly, the cost does not include anything not mentioned in the inclusions and anything availed additionally will be charged extra.
During the summer months of April and May, the Sandakphu weather is cool and the skies are clear, especially if you choose to go in April. The flowers are in full bloom during this time, so you’ll see rhododendron flowers carpeting the trails, as well as orchids and primula flowers dotting the landscape.
You can also choose to go in the months of October to November if you want a more stark landscape. During this time, there is excellent visibility for views that stretch into the horizon, and glorious sunsets and sunrises. It’s very cold and there might be occasional snowfall, so do carry the right clothing and gear.
The Sandakphu trek starts from Siliguri, where you’re picked up by the tour operator and driven to the starting point of the trek. So you have to arrive at Siliguri first and you can reach here by air, rail or road.
If you’re coming by flight, then the closest airport is the Bagdogra Airport at a distance of 17 km from Siliguri. However, this is a domestic airport connecting to Mumbai, Chennai, New Delhi, Kolkata and Guwahati. There is also the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose airport in Kolkata which is an international airport.
So if you’re coming from outside India, then you can fly to this airport. There are regular flights operated by Air India, GoAir, IndiGo, SpiceJet, Vistara and Druk Air. Do note that due to haze and fog, there might be slight delays in the flight schedule, especially during the winter season.
Siliguri is also connected to some cities by a good network of roads. From Kolkata, you can reach via the National Highway 34 and National Highway 31. National Highway 31A connects Gangtok to Siliguri, and National Highway 31 and 31C connect Guwahati to Siliguri. There are also many state and privately run buses that ply these roads along with a few buses that run between Siliguri and Patna.
For the Sandakphu trek, you need to wear quick-dry full sleeve t-shirt along with trekking pants. And you should also wear a light jacket if you’re trekking during the summer. If you’re going during the months of winter, then you also need to wear inner thermals, fleece and down jackets, synthetic/woollen gloves and a cap. You should also wear sturdy and comfortable trekking shoes that provide ample grip.
For the Sandakphu trek, you need to carry a strong and comfortable backpack that will carry all your things. Along with this, carry a water bottle, dry snacks, personal essentials, toilet paper, personal med-kid, and anything that you think you might need during the trek.The tour operator will also provide you with a packing list, be sure to follow that carefully to ensure a safe and comfortable trek.
The Sandakphu trek is an easy to moderate grade trek that can be enjoyed by both fit beginners as well as experienced trekkers. The trek requires you to walk around 45 km in a duration of 4-5 days. So it is recommended for beginners who have decent fitness levels. If you can walk 8 to 10 km with few stops, then you can make it to the Sandakphu top.
The trail is well marked with frequent shops and settlements along the way every 2-3 km. You can stop at these shops for a break and refresh yourself with a cup of tea. Additionally, the trail has very few steep sections, and no technical equipment is required for the trek. All of this makes it the perfect trek for fit beginners.
The trek to Sandakphu takes place in the Singalila National Park located in West Bengal and Ilam, Nepal. This trek requires you to cross the Indo-Nepal border into Nepal, but the border is nominal with no restrictions to Indians. So you don’t have to worry about crossing into Nepal. If you’re a foreigner traveller with an Indian visa, then even you will face no hindrance.
At higher altitudes, the air pressure is low and so is the concentration of oxygen in the air. Due to this, when someone gains significant altitude without proper acclimatization, then they experience altitude sickness. Symptoms include nausea, headache, dizziness, etc. And if it is not addressed on time, altitude sickness can be fatal.
Hence, it is recommended that you acclimatize properly before and during the trek to minimize the risk of altitude sickness. For the Sandakphu trek, you need not worry about acute mountain sickness as all the itineraries are designed with acclimatization in mind.
If you’re still unsure about it, then you can carry Diamox tablets with you for the trek to help you with acclimatization but do consult your doctor before consuming the tablet.
Singalila National Park is a protected forest land that requires you to have a permit before entering the forests. The forest entry fees cost INR 100 for Indian travellers and INR 200 for foreigners. There is also an additional cost of INR 400 for video cameras.
Most of the Sandakphu trekking package cost includes forest entry fees and permit charges, but do check the inclusions section of the trip you’re booking thoroughly to see whether it is included or not.