Sandakphu Trek

Sandakphu is the highest peak in West Bengal, India. It is can be visited as trek as well as by road in 4 by 4 jeep. The article covers the following


Sandakphu is the highest peak of Singhalila Ridge in Darjeeling district of West Bengal and lies on India-Nepal Border. It is located in the Singhalila National Park. One of the Base camp for the trek is Manebhanjan. Manebhanjan is approximately 1 and half hours drive from Darjeeling, one of the famous tourist destination in West Bengal, East part of India.

How to reach

Sandakphu can be reached by
  • Air - The nearest airport is Bagdogra. From Bagdogra airport you need to take a taxi to the base camp Manehanjan. The taxi needs to be hired from the airport taxi stand. Payment needs to be done at the taxi stand and officer will provide you a pink color reciept. Since its approximately 1.5 hours away from Darjeeling the major tourist center, they will charge you additional amount. We were charged around Rs 2500 in May 2019 for WagonR taxi.
  • Road - You need to take a bus to Darjeeling. From Darjeeling you can get shared taxi to Manebhanjan - approximately Rs 50 per head.
  • Rail - Reach Silliguri railway station and then take a taxi to Manebhanjan or Darjeeling.

Day 1 - Manebhanjan base camp

We took early morning flight from Bangalore and reached Bagdogra airport around 10 am. From Bagdogra airport we took direct taxi to Manebhanjan. The route to reach Manebhanjan is same towards Darjeeling. You will start enjoying the mesmerizing views of Himalayas after an hours drive from the airport. We had small halt and had some breakfast at a local joint. Slowly we will start following the Darjeeling Mini Railway tracks. Once we reach Simana Bazar, the taxi took a left turn for Manebhanjan. The right side road leads to Darjeeling. The last ATM of SBI is located at a village few meters ahead of Manebhanjan. It is advisable to take halt and withdraw cash if you are doing the trek on your own. We reached Manebhanjan at approximately 1 pm.
We were shown our room and served hot lunch comprising of potato vegetable, rice and daal.
The rooms are cozy and has attached bathroom. They provide warm and thick blankets.
Most of the rooms in this area are budget accommodations and  one should not expect luxury accommodation till you reach Darjeeling or Siliguri.

Masterji introduced us to our guide. Neema , who was young lad and Masterjis ex-student.
At evening, we went around the market and explored the local school and its playground.
There are many shops where you can do last minute shopping before starting the trek, basics like toothpaste, soaps, biscuits,  etc. Some shop offers, trek bags, shoes, ponchos etc.

There are few local eateries, where you can relish momos, noodles, tea, pakoras etc.
We enjoyed tea, noodles and bhel at a local shop and returned back to Masterjis hotel.
We were served hot freshly cooked food for dinner. We had hot water bath before going to bed. Please note during the trek, we have no facility to have bath till we reach Gurdum.

Day 2 - Manebhaijan - Chitrey - Meghma - Tumbling

We woke early morning and got ready and guide came to receive us.
Masterji had informed us that the guide will be carrying two trek bags,but  the guide informed us that it will be only one bag. We had carried two bags at night we reduced unwanted things and fitted everything in one bag. The extra luggage was kept at masterjis place. The extra luggage has to be picked up on your way back.

We started our trek. Few meters ahead, there was Singhalila forest department check post. We had to share our personal id and make entry in the register with our details and emergency contact numbers. 
Note: Tourist are not allowed to make entry in the forest alone as chances of one getting lost in the jungle are high.

Chitrey village is at distance of 2 to 3 km from the forest department office. This part of the trek is very steep and difficult. The steepness gradient is approximately 8 to 9 and is good to check your calf muscle strength. Our guide took the shortcut route which is even steeper and takes you through the pine forest. One can take a cab from Manebhanjan to Chitrey and avoid the difficult part of the trek. 
Once we approached Chitrey, we were greeted by pleasent sight of holy shrine surrounded by coloured flags hung on strings. It's a perfect photography spot and you forget all the body pain for a moment.
We had breakfast at a small hut and proceeded ahead. Our guide took us through lush green slopes and at times we were almost walking through the clouds. It was one of the amazing experience in this trek. At one point, we were walking on the ridge with valley on both sides. Suddenly strong wind came blowing all the clouds towards us and we were deeply enthralled. As if we were walking in the clouds.
After walking through the forest for another 4 to 5 km, we reached the village Meghma at approximately 1 o'clock in noon.
The sight of Meghma village will make you fall in love with it. The landscape perfectly fits in the 1/3 photography rule and is every photographer delight. We had our lunch at one of the local huts. One should bear in mind that enroute day time food menu will be omlete bread, noodles soup or noodles. As it was day one, we relished the noodles and omlete.
At 2 pm, We started the trek to Tumbling, after hearty wholesome meal. The weather was warm and sky was clear.
Funny fact - our son insisted to wear his thick jacket and gloves. We had held him back from wearing it from the morning. 
Miracle happened and within couple of minutes, the entire area became foggy. Cold wind started blowing. We immediately had to remove our jackets, gloves and caps etc.
Later we came to know from locals, that it becomes windy and foggy by 2 pm. So it's advisable to start the trek early morning.
We reached Tumling at 4 pm, and checked into the hotel. We were offered a spacious room and we happily jumped inside the cosy blanket. We were called for teanand we joined others in the dining area. Luckily we asked about the room rate and to our surprise it was almost 2.5 times of what we were quoted by Masterji. 
We had carried only Rs 22,000 and we were in a fix. There are no ATM available enroute. We moved to a smaller room with not so good view as we wanted to manage with what amount we had carried with us.

We were joined by YHA group in the same hotel. Everyone gathered outside the hotel to catch a glimpse of Annapurna Range. It was cloudy and we were not able to see much. However it proved to be good introduction session with the team.
After tea and snacks, we decided to stay in cost blanket for sometime.
Dinner was served at 7:30 pm. We had dinner and crashed in bed.

Day 3: Jaubari, Garibas Kalipokhri

We had breakfast and started the day early at 7:30 am. After few meters, we hit forest check post. We were supposed to make entry and buy tickets of Rs 100 each. 
It seems there are two routes to reach Kalipokhri 
1) through Jaubari to Garibas - 5 to 6 km
2) through the forest to Garibas- 7 km
Our guide Neema took us through Jaubari village. We were walking along the edge of mountains and were surrounded by valley on one side. It was clear sky day and weather was pleasant.  Three kilometres down the line, we hit a checkpoint of Indo-Nepal border. We are supposed to make entry in the register.
On our way we spotted few wild horses chasing each other on the trail.

Once we reached Jaubari village, we were greeted by herd of jet black piglets. It was a sight to remember.

After talking a small tea break at Jaubari, we took left turn and started walking down the hill. The road is full of small rocks and one needs to carefully put each step ahead. We were wondering how four by four wheeler traverse this road and one four by four wheeler came and proved us that it does cross the road without any problem.
As the road came to an end we spotted, mobile towers and Indian army camps. Our guide informed us that we have reached Garibas. He asked us to take a small break and some snacks at small hut. We sat on yaks skin inside the hut and had our tea and veg momos. After the short break, we were all prepared to climb the 3 km steep climb. It consists mostly of curved steep road through the forest. This is the second out of three difficult secsions in the trek. As per multiple articles found on net, propability of spotting red panda is high in this region. We did not spot any red panda but we're happy that we completed it in approximately 1.5 hours.
I regretted, not practising inclined walk on treadmill. And going ahead made a point to do it twice a month atleast.
At the foot of the hill was small hotel in hut which offers lunch. By now we had reached our saturation limit of eating Maggi noodles but had no option.
We finished lunch and started walk again. We were happy to know that the road was flat most of the parts, but it was another 7 km to complete before 4 pm and reach Kalipokhri.
We were walking along the border of mountain with valley on another side. My 9 years old son was exhausted and was wondering if he would complete it. I wanted to maintain a steady pace so I continued walking ahead. We could spot white roderderons on the way.

Ultimately, we reached Kalipokhri at approximately 2:40 pm. We were joined by trekking group of Trek the Himalayas towards the end.
The View of lake at Kalipokhri is amazing and it's first sight also tells you - No more walking or climbing for the day.

We started taking pictures of the lake and suddenly, the clouds started pouring in from no where. In splits of seconds, the lake was invisible and it started raining. We ran towards the lodges and selected one with indoor toilet facility. Most of them at Kalipokhri had detached toilet.
We had snacks and relaxed for a while. Later we had early dinner and crashed in bed immediately. 

Day 4: Sandakphu

After having a heavy breakfast, we left Kalipokhri. The distance to Sandakphu is approximately 5 to 6 km. 
First 2 to 3 km relatively flat road and the later part is steep and comprises of the third difficult part.
On the way we spotted some yaks grazing by the village.

Frist 2-3 km road is mix of few villages. Since it was month of May, the roderderons at the lower parts of the trail had withered. As we approached Sandakphu, we started spotting few roderderons on this road.

We reached the foothills of the steep incline and took a tea break. Our guide recomended us to eat something ifnwe were feeling hungry as there is no food source until we reach the top. We were able to enjoy sight of a pet mountain goat while having the tea.

After the break we started our climb. Initially it was set of steep steps. The density of Rhododendron bloom increased as we climbed them.
 By now my son was equally tierd and was walking along with us. There were times when we were walking on a ridge with valley on both the sides. One side filled with dense clouds and other filled with dense forest of coniferous trees. Nature at its best.

After taking several short breaks, I was about to break down. To encourage us our guide Neema showed us the mountain top with few hotels sprawling on it. We some how pulled ourselves to the top.

As we reached the milestone - SANDAKPHU - 0 KM, each one of us were in hurry to take snap shot of that memorable moment. There was a fleet of 4-4 wheeler approaching the peak at the same time. We were super excited that we could make the top before the 4-4 wheelers.

And we did it just in time by god's grace. We could spot the fellow trekkers down the mountain steep still climbing their way up.

As we reached the top, my husband finalized the hotel room with view of Annapurna Range. We checked in hotel and suddenly, it started raining heavily. Later in evening, we went to the view post to get view of the Annapurna Range and realised that both trek groups had left quiet late and experienced hails. It had rianed hails in afternoon.
It was too windy and we were stuck in the view post for 15 to 20 minutes. We were fortunate to meet Indian army soldier in the view post and he informed us that the skies are clear early morning from 4 am to 2 pm afternoon. Later it becomes windy and cloudy. So it's advisable to start early and finish the trek by 2 pm. Once the wind speed reduced, we reached back our hotel. We had dinner and went to bed. We were able to spot view of sleeping Buddha - Annapurna Range for a short while in morning at 4:15 am.

Day 5- Gurdum

We had early breakfast and left to our next destination. We were joined by YHA group and Trek the Himalayas group. It's a downhill of 12 km with very few spots of flat road. 
We were able to spot roderderons bloom in the downhill patch at last.

As we descended, everyone took a short break. There was a 1 km stretch of  dense bamboo jungle, we traced our way through the bamboos on both sides.

We reached the hotel at approximately 1 pm.As the food was getting ready. We very eager to have bath after 5 days of sweating and requested for hot water buckets. After bath, we were served food. The YHA group stayed at the same place and we enjoyed the evening snacks and few games with them. The hotel has a well maintained garden with colorful eye-catching flowers.

At night, everyone danced post dinner. It was fun to be away from home and enjoy in midst of nature.

Day 6: Rimbik and Darjeeling

We were informed by our guide that the next stay will be at Srikola another 4 km downhill. However we came to know that Rimik town is just 3 km away from Srikola and one can take shared taxi to Darjeeling from Rimbik.

As we reached Srikola we could hear the steady flow of river water gushing through the stones.
We reached Srikola at around 9:30 am. Srikola is a small village on banks of the river and is good option for laid back stay at foothills of Himalayas.

Our guide Neema was insisting that we stayed there are it would mean commission for him for the stay. We were keen to reach city. We crossed the bridge over the river and had some heated argument with him and started asking for taxis at local hotels. None of them were ready to provide us taxi details as per their internal rules agreed with guides.

We had to pursue our guide that we will give him his days commission and he lets us reach Rimbik. After walking for another 2 km, we got a jeep who dropped us to Rimbik. We booked taxi to Darjeeling, it started at 12 noon. We had soup and momos for lunch at near by local hotel and waited for taxi.

At the end, we sat in taxi and reached Darjeeling at 5 pm.
That marked end of our Sandakphu Trek.

To summarize we completed 55 km trek in 6 days, with almost 40 km uphill in 4 days.

Masterji - Local Contact in Manebhanjan

Masterji or Mr Chettri is a local resident of Manebhanjan and is retired principal of local school in Manebhanjan. He has a local hotel in his house and provides meals for the first night halt in Manebhanjan. He also arranges the following for the trip at minor commission.
  • Four wheeler if you opt to go by road
  • Hotel stay at enroute locations
  • Local Guide for trek

Note - The commission is minor amount which will be passed on to him as good will from the expenses of the guide, four wheeler or hotel stay.

Why I would recommend Masterji.
Master means teacher, in Hindi, one would add ji while referring to someone with respect. Since he is retired as principal of local school, he knows most of the local guides and drivers. Most of them have been his students. So it's a safe bet to get the bookings done through him.

Local guide for trek

There is a local guide office where you need to do the full payment. We did our payment at evening. It's approximately Rs 2500 for 5 days.  This is standard rate which will be displayed at the office.
Your personal details and route etc are registered at this local guide office.

Pros of hiring guide

The guide will help you carry one trekking bag and be your porter during the journey.
The cost of the trip is reduced by 30% if you go on your own with guide instead of group.
You can leave early morning and trek at your own pace. If you are i a group, you need to follow the group timings. There are always people in the group who are late for no reason.

Cons of hiring guide:

The guide will try to ensure you stay at certain accommodations are they have their commission.
Its fun to be with a group and do some group activities. In case of natural calamity its safer to be with a group.

Things to remember:

  • Masterji quoted, that the porter will carry two bags. However it's only one bag which porter carries for you. 
  • As per details available on internet, the room rate was approximately Rs 200 per person per night. I had confirmed with masterji. However when we reached Tumling, we realised the room rates are approximately Rs 500 per person per night. Plus food charges. So carry cash along with you.
  • Last but not the least, the hotel owners only accept currency notes without a single crease. So ensure that the cash you carry is newly printed notes.

Astronomy Camp with Vijay Kapoor

Astronomy Camp with Vijay Kapoor

Astronomy camp is the latest buzz word  in parenting circle. It had been quite some time, we were planning to attend an astronomy camp. Ultimately we decided to attend one with Vijay Kapoor in Feb 2019 at Chiguru Farm.
This article covers the following topics

Vijay Kapoor

Vijay is a multi talented personality. He is an astronomy enthusiast, Photographer, Artist, marathon runner, etc. The list is endless. By profession Vijay is an IT Professional.
Vijay runs astronomy camps in Chiguru Farm on weekends. He has hosted a telescope in Prestige Shantiniketan apartment complex multiple times on multiple astronomical events such as eclipse, bloody moon, planets spotting etc.
Vijay ventured into astronomy 5 years back. He has completed few short course from various international Universities.

Best season for planets and star gazing:

Ideally from November to February as the skies are clear.
However, there are few very clear nights in Summers also.


The astronomy camp is conducted in Chiguru Farm,  Bilikal Forest, near Kanakpura. This place is approximately 70-80 km drive from Whitefield Bangalore. And takes around 2 and half hours from Prestige Shantiniketan, Whitefield to reach by car.

Chiguru Farm

Chiguru means tender, fresh leaves in Kannada and is an apt name for an organic farm venture. The Chiguru farm is owned and run by Raghu who has ventured in organic farming after a successful career as an IT professional. The place was a banana plantain farm initially. Raghu has converted the place into multi crop ( vegetables, crops and fruits) farm which can yield multi seasonal crops throughout the year. Raghu has hired local cooks to preserve the identity of the local culture. This also helps the local  villagers with side income.



Chiguru Farm has few rooms available and they need to be booked in advance.


Most of the participants opt for tent stay for the astronomy camp. Vijay provides you tents, sleeping bags, tent mats/bed and tent lamp at very nominal cost. We owned one tent for many years and had never used it in India. Our 9 years old son was very excited to unfold & setup tent for the first time. So we had carried our own tent.

Things to carry:

  • Light jackets as it becomes cold at night and the farm is surrounded by wilderness.
  • Shorts or three fourths for day time and full pants specially for kids at night.
  • Set of clothes to change for next day
  • Light snacks for munching if any
  • bottled water is provided at the farm. However you can carry your own supply
  • Medical kit and medicines if any
  • Torch
  • Toothpaste and tooth brush and other toiletries.

Lunch and pottery session

Previous evening, Vijay sent us pictures of the telescope and other apparatus packed in case. My son was super excited to see the telescope. It is recommended to leave Whitefield Bangalore at around 10 am. As we crossed electronic city and entered the rural area we could see many farms and small villages. The camp begins at around 1 pm in noon, with a sumptuous organic vegetarian lunch. We being hardcore non-vegetarian, were a little skeptical about the vegetarian food option. However, Raghu and his team of cooks proved us wrong. Some of the local kandadiga savouries were finger smacking good. Post the lunch, we strolled around the farm for sometime. Then Raghu took us for tractor ride around the farm.
We had a brief pottery session, where a local Potter helped us make small clay pots on the wheel. Kids were all excited and they started mingling easily with each other. Needless to say also along with the dog and it's puppies in the farm.

Tent and Telescope setup:

Around 3:30 pm, Vijay asked us to assemble in the open ground and gave us a briefing on tent setup. He demonstrated the same by hosting his tent. In less than an hour or so all tents were setup.  Vijay started his Telescope setup. As expected the kids started hovering around him. He was patient and explained us in simple words, what each part ment and it's importance in the telescope. He also explained us how the telescope uses the geographic location ( latitude and longitude details) are entered in the telescope. This helps the telescope find location of the stars and planets automatically. It was quite interesting. This was followed by hot pipping cup of tea or coffee.

Sunset point

At around 5:30 pm, we along with Raghu marched towards the sunset point. It's at relatively higher altitude within the farm. We could see the sunset, amongst the banana plantain. Raghu continually updated us on his research and day to day struggles in organic farming  in India. Many of our myths on organic products, were demystified by Raghu.

Astronomy quiz and campfire

Vijay conducts an astronomy quiz for kids and adults later in the evening. It is a basic quiz for kids to understand what solar system, planets and other heavenly bodies are all about. He also uses this time to brief the team members about the days plan. The list of expected planets and stars spottings and their tentative timings. We were informed, that we will be able to see moon and it's crators at night 10 pm. Later around 5 am in morning, we would spot Saturn and Jupiter.  We were little concerned, if the kids will get up at 4:30 am. However the kids proved us wrong later.

After the quiz, Raghu setup the campfire and we enjoyed some fire grilled onions, sweet potatoes, corns and pineapples. This was followed by sumptuous, organic vegetarian dinner.

Star gazing at night and early morning

Around 9:30 pm, we assembled near the telescope in the ground. Vijay set up the telescope to view the moon and it's crators.  Parallelly he had also set up a camera on tripod, to capture the star trail. We could see the moon's surface and it's various crators clearly. He also explained us about the multiple star constellations. Unfortunately, it was cloudy and we had to wrap up the sigthing after some time. We all woke up at 4:30 am, to watch the planets. Luckily the sky was clear and we could see Jupiter and Saturn. Then Vijay focused on the planets rings and few spots. It was an enlightening experience for us to witness crystal clear images of planets literally at a hands distance.
Glimpses of the moon's surface through Vijay's telescope.





Star trail

A star trail is a type of photograph that uses long exposure times to capture the apparent motion of stars in the night sky due to Earth's rotation. A star-trail photograph shows individual stars as streaks across the image, with longer exposures yielding longer arcs. Camera Setup and Processing: Follow these steps to try this method:
  1. You will need to turn on your camera's Long Exposure Noise Reduction setting.
  2. After doing so, focus your lens per the steps in the Focusing Your Lens at Night Section.
  3. Next, select your composition and try an exposure time between 30 seconds to 3-4 minutes with an ISO of 600-800 and take multiple picture. Approx 2 hrs. Or more. More time .... Better trail.
  4. Software to Stack all captured pics: StarTrails. Very easy to work on StarTrails software.

Deep sky photography

The basic process for capturing deep-sky images is this: You shoot multiple, long-exposure photographs with your DSLR through a tracking telescope mount. You then combine the images together to improve the signal to noise ratio. For more details please connect with Vijay or join relevant Astronomy Event.

Morning farm visit and breakfast

Next morning, few of the enthusiastic team members, got up to witness the sun rise at 6 am. I was laying around in the tent for some time. I woke up with fright when I realised, the farm dog was trying to approach the tent.

We were served tea and coffee. Later, we went for farm walk. Raghu explained us the various crops and his strategy to have multi seasonal yield to reduce the risk of natural disaster to crops. He also showed us various organic insect repellents used in the farm. We spotted few birds as well. We were also given tour of the organic fertilizer shed. He also explained why they had placed the borewell and natural water collection tank at lower altitude within thr farm. All these things were well planned and thought through. The kids enjoyed swinging on the banyan tree.  We savoured the idli sambhar for breakfast and called it end of the day at farm. There were few farm grown organic products for sell.