Hello, Namaste and welcome to another edition of Far East Adventure Travel-The Podcast brought to you by Far East Adventure Travel Magazine-Sunrise Spectacle Over Himalayan Giants.Trekking The Singalila Ridge in India-the new issue. Go to the iTunes App Store-search Far East Adventure Travel-download the app and subscribe. A special announcement about Far East Adventure Travel Magazine coming soon! Can’t wait to share it with you.
Hi this is John Saboe the publisher of Far East Adventure Travel Magazine-in this week’s edition of the podcast an overview of Darjeeling, India and the Singalila Ridge Trek.
I’ve said it before, I know, Darjeeling is one of my favorite places in India. Of course it doesn’t have the beautiful beaches of the south or the same intense energy of Rajasthan, but it is an amazing place to spend some of your time in India.
One of my favorite things about Darjeeling are it’s roots in Himalayan culture. It is a wonderfully diverse place- a mix of Bengalis, Nepalis, and Tibetans. Throw in some old British Raj influence in architecture and lifestyle and you have one of the richest experiences in India.
Getting there is not complicated. You can fly to Bagdogra Airport 96 km away and take either a private or share jeep right to Darjeeling-a 2.5 hour drive. If you’ve traveled overland to West Bengal then you can take a share jeep from Siliguri to Darjeeling-a 3 hour or so ride complete with windy sometimes vomit inducing roads.
Once you’re there enjoy some of the wonderfully home-cooked style Tibetan food, Thupka, or Thentuk noodle soup, either with meat or meatless. I was there in December and I enjoyed this meal at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Of course you can’t visit Darjeeling without sampling their world famous teas. Nathmull’s is one of the best places to go. Extremely knowledgable people that will help you to appreciate some of the world’s finest teas.
Darjeeling closes down fairly early, so don’t expect a party scene but depending on the time of year you visit you may just feel like jumping into bed after dinner with a hot water bottle to keep you warm.
One of the most popular activities in Darjeeling is taking in a sunrise from Tiger Hill, where on some days depending on how clear the skies are you can watch the sunrise over 4 of the 5 highest mountains in the world, Mt. Everest, Makalu, Lhotse, and Kanchenjunga.
You are picked up at your hotel at around 4am and are whisked away to Goom, the town where the highest train station of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is located.
The alternative that takes a lot more effort but is incredibly rewarding is a 5 trek of The Singalila Ridge, a trail that snakes along the Indian/Nepali border and takes you to the highest point in West Bengal, Sandakphu, where you can get the closet look from this part of India at 4 of the 5 highest mountains in the world, along with views into neighbouring Bhutan and Tibet/China.
When I arrived in Darjeeling I had just completed a trek of The Kanchenjunga region of Nepal with hikes to both the north and south base camps of the third highest mountain in the world, so I was understandably a little snookered. After I rested in Darjeeling for a week enjoying some great food, having regular showers again I felt ready for the Singalila Trek. I just couldn’t pass up this opportunity and the weather had just turned, with many overcast days on my arrival to the promise of clearer skies.
Booking a trek is quite easy, you can actually book with your hotel or go to one of the many tour operators in town. Always get a couple of quotes, always.
I was traveling alone and my 5 day trek came in under $250USD, which I thought was very reasonable. I also requested an attached bathroom if possible with my room and I was assured they would do their best to accommodate me, they did! If you are traveling with someone else or a group your individual price will be less. You can also pay a little more and instead of having to take a shared jeep you can hire a private one which more comfortable especially on the 4 hour drive back from Rimbik, traditionally the end of the trek.
March/April is a great time to go as the wild flowers and Rododendrums are in bloom. The lower forests bloom post monsoom-October along with Orchids. I was there in early December, near the end of the trekking season. It was cold at the highest points of the ridge but I was also blessed with clear skies. It was also fairly easy to get rooms with attached bathrooms. After my experience with the extremely rough conditions of the Kanchenjunga region it was a welcome pleasure.
I had a wonderful time enjoying the town of Darjeeling, it’s people and culture, but now I was ready to venture out once again into the lower hills of The Himalaya. I had been fortunate to see some of these mountains, Makalu, Lhotse, Mt. Everest and Kanchenjunga before but never all at the same time.
I was so excited to be out trekking again, in India this time, with the prospect of seeing the sunrise over all of these giants of the Himalaya at the same time. Four of the five highest mountains in the world. I had just come from Kanchenjunga, the third highest where I had also seen Makalu, the 4th on a ridge as we were heading to the south base camp of Kanchenjunga. I had been to Mt. Everest’s great North Face on the Tibet side a few years earlier on a trek to the base camp. I had taken a mountain flight from Kathmandu to get an overview of Everest and Lhotse from the air that same year. Now it was time to see them all, on one trek.
The drive to Maney Bhanjyang the start of the trek takes roughly about an hour or so. Once there you check in with your passport at the border station then it’s onward straight up.
Tsering my guide left me in a guesthouse in Maney Bhanjyang while he went to grab his pack at his house close by.
We started the walk straight up and within an hour we were at the Chitray Buddhist Temple. Inside a picture of the Temple’s Lama, with the Dalai Lama and that perpetual smile.
We carried on stopping for some lunch an 1.5 later. Some hot noodle soup with local spinach, some spicy dried chillies and some friendly conversation with Indian tourists going in the same direction. They enjoyed the cool to cold temperatures, a relief from the heat of their hometown of Kolkata.
Moving on we passed more Buddhist monasteries, the low clouds and fog dropping a shroud over the ridge and making it impossible to see anything but 50-100 meters in front of us. No Himalaya, no Kanchenjunga-we kept moving.
By 4pm we were at your destination for the day Tumling, actually crossing the path into Nepal, forgetting to set my watch ahead 15 minutes I would be exactly that much early for the hike up the hill for our first sunrise the next day. I didn’t even think about the time change and I didn’t expect Tsering would be so correct.
I was shown to my room with an attached bathroom-convenient and luxurious compared to my time spent in the Kanchenjunga region of Nepal.
Off my room was a shared balcony that looked beyond the ridge into the vast hills of Nepal. The clouds rolled over each other. I sipped on some hot yak butter tea and ate a few biscuits while I sat outside and soaked in the view and atmosphere. To me the Himalaya is just not the Himalaya without this strange salty brew that somehow feels nourishing and comforting. It’s also believed to help the body adjust and cope with high altitude.
Tsering said I should come downstairs at 5:30 to sit by the fire and stay warm while we waited for dinner.
The host Nepali family kept a metal bowl on the floor in the kitchen dropping hot coals into it from the kitchen fire. It was conveniently placed near our feet where our hands would have close access.
Tsering was excited to pour me some of the family’s raksi, the local home-brewed alcohol of the Himalayan region of Nepal and India. I have tried raksi on many occasions but this was the first time I tried the pink style-made with some rhododendron leaves.
It looked pretty but tasted like most any other raksi I’ve tried before with that familiar burning sensation in the throat but an overall warm feeling inside. My glass no matter how empty it got was quickly topped off.
I am always careful to watch my alcohol intake at high altitude and try to balance the hospitality shown to me with restraint as the effects are much stronger the higher up you are. I was numb by the time we were served dinner.
One of the other guides on the route joined us for dinner with his porter who happened to be deaf. They had a great bond and were like brothers. We chatted about the usual things, each other’s country, trekking, the mountains before we all retired for the night. The next day we would make our way up to the top of Tumling/ Tonglu at 3070 meters for my first look at the grand theatre of four countries that all shared the greatest mountain range in the world-the Himalaya-on the Singalila Ridge.
The latest issue of Far East Adventure Travel Magazine features my account of a 5 day trek of India’s great Singalila Ridge. Sunrise Spectacle Over Himalayan Giants the cover story of the latest issue. To subscribe and get your copy, simply go to the iTunes App Store, search Far East Adventure Travel-download the app and subscribe. Don’t forget if you have any questions or comments please send me an email at email@example.com. I would love to hear from you.
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That’s it for this week’s edition of Far East Adventure Travel The Podcast. For the next two weeks I will be on the road cycling the whole island of Taiwan and giving you updates on my travels and progress. Until then this is John Saboe, safe travels and Namaste!
Podcast music:”Raga Bageshri” by Ashok Pathak (http://www.ashokpathak.com)
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