High up on the mountains amidst the lovely pine trees, the blanketing snow and the
High up on the mountains amidst the lovely pine trees, the blanketing snow and thesweet intoxicating smell of the wild lies a little piece of paradise called the Singalila Ridge. An outdoor adventure quite unlike any other, this trek is not for the faint of heart. It will test you, petrify you and push you beyond your limits. But once you find yourself near the end of the trail, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you are one of the few people to have witnessed the finest of what the eastern Himalayas can offer.
I underestimated the difficulty of this trek and decided that a pair of sneakers would be sufficient for the journey – I highly recommend you do not follow my example! You really do need a pair of sturdy trekking boots for this one. The weather in this part of the country is unpredictable and you never know when you’ll be walking in snow, ice or slush! During your hike, I recommend dressing in layers to keep yourself warm and comfortable. Mornings are alarmingly cold, but as the sun rises, the afternoon can get quite warm if you’re dressed in thermals and jackets.
My family and I set out for the Singalila trek directly after we finished the Goecha La trail (You can never get enough of these mountains!). So our journey started from Base Camp – Dzongri. At the time, the route hadn’t been accessed for a few years and we didn’t meet a soul the entire trail. This was quite a contrast from the crowded route and friendly faces that we met along the Goecha La trek.
Singalila is bound to blow you away with its beauty. This trek is one of eastern Himalayas’ most scenic routes and is as captivating as it is strenuous.
As soon as your trek begins, you will pass through a gorgeous stretch of meadows where you will come across grazing sheep and the occasional shepherd with a lamb on his back and a sheepdog by his side. I even chanced upon an adorable little lamb huddled behind a rock, fast asleep. These lovely meadows then give way to forests of juniper, rhododendron and silver fir, and the path makes its way to the Rathong River.
As we ascended and gained more altitude every day, the air thinned and I found myself getting breathless. What I realised about these mountains is that they constantly try to trick you. Just when you begin to congratulate yourself on reaching the top of one particularly steep climb, it’s almost as if the mountain is looking back at you and laughing, because there will be another slightly steeper crest in front of you. My exhausted brain was certain that the chirp of every passing bird was a joke at my expense as it watched me gasping for breath and struggling at every uphill turn.
The sudden steep trails were slippery with ice and the gusts of wind made breathing and walking a difficult task. It was up to us to just keep putting one foot in front of the other and focus on the path. At one point, I was lagging behind, lost in my own world. I didn’t realise that the rest of the group had gone way ahead. In a panic, I took the wrong turn and landed up at a dead end! After a few seconds of blind fear I sat down on the side of the trail and blew my whistle repeatedly. It took my very worried guide just a few minutes to locate me and after that he made me walk in front of everyone and kept casting weary glances at me. I would not have liked to be lost in those treacherous mountains, however beautiful they may be!
Our route took us from Dzongri to Pangding, Gomathong and onwards to Lam Pokhari at 4,600m. En route, we stumbled upon an other-worldly icy lake nestled between the hills, with no sign of any living creature around. It looked like the perfect setting for a horror movie, and I had never felt my heart beat faster! We stood there for a while, soaking in the eerie feeling of this desolate yet beautiful place, but soon, it was time to get going.
Some of the stretches of the trek are completely snow bound, and when we were not panting with exhaustion, we had a blast in the snow! Up along the snowy ridge, we even saw the tracks of a snow leopard. The guide assured us that these animals were extremely shy and wouldn’t venture in sight. We were told, however, that the cat was probably watching our every move.
Tip When traversing through snow patches, wrap your feet in plastic bags so your socks don’t get wet.
On the stretch between Gomathang and Lam Pokhari we caught sight of the Kabru Range, with Everest prominent in the skyline! The trek also includes a steep vertical climb towards Dafey Bhir La or the Pass of the Pheasant. From here, we got a brilliant panoramic view of the whole of Sikkim and the mountains of Tibet and Bhutan.
On the third day of our trek, the weather took a turn for the worse and we found ourselves in the throes of a snowstorm. My black sneakers complained at every step, and it was in the middle of that storm that I fully understood the meaning of “chilled to the bone.” We could barely see two feet ahead of us and this terrifying situation lasted almost two hours. The snow and hail completely covered the track and we got lost more than once. After a couple of hours of blindly searching for some cover, we finally stumbled upon an abandoned shepherd’s hut. Our guide and porters broke open the door and we hurried inside. The relief I felt when I sat down in the warmth of the hut is indescribable. Our guide quickly got a fire going; we huddled around it together and sipped on hot chai to warm ourselves up. Our cook whipped up some pakodas in a flash that tasted delicious with the chai. I don’t think I have never enjoyed a meal more!
One of the highlights of the trek was walking along the ridge on the Indo-Nepal border. We could literally stand with one leg in Nepal and the other in India! It was quite an exhilarating experience!
On the final leg of our journey from Dhor to Chewa Bhanjyang, we crossed beautiful farms inhabited by yak herders. We crossed a hill which was filled with yaks, grazing peacefully and occasionally kicking up some grass. I’ll never forget the sight of two adorable baby yaks frolicking together while their mother watched us suspiciously from a distance. It took every bit of will power I had to not run up to them and cuddle with them!
Finally, our arrival at the camp of the SSB security force marked the end of our surreal journey through the mountains. Our route to Uttarey took us through a dense rainforest filled with a rich variety of colourful flowers and exotic bushes. The only downfall was that the muddy path was full of leeches! Make sure you’re legs are completely covered while you’re passing through this area.
At the small town of Uttarey, we camped out near the ruins of an old monastery. It was almost time for me to bid adieu to the peace and solitude of the eastern Himalayas. In all honestly, I was a little relieved. The mountains, though beautiful, are not too kind. I enjoyed my last night in the cold mountain air in the company of a huge, black mountain dog while I tried a glass of the local millet beer. We sipped our warm, delicious beer at a local watering hole where an old man, curious about our sunburnt family, decided to interrogate us. That night, our cook celebrated the end of the trek by making a delicious pizza for us – the perfect meal to welcome us back to civilisation!
Saying goodbye to the mountains is never easy. With a heavy heart, I wrapped up my sleeping bag for the last time. I would miss the constant company of Khangchendzonga and the tittering of birds every morning. If I could call a place paradise, this would be it. This trek taught me that beyond fear lies a whole new world full of adventure and thrill that only the mountains can offer.
A few words of advice for anyone who chooses to make this journey – travel through the mountains with an open mind, a soul that yearns for adventure and a heart that is ready to fall in love with the wild!
Air Nearest airport: Bagdogra (133km/ 3.5–4hrs). Taxi to Pelling ₹4,000–4,500
Rail Nearest railhead: New Jalpaiguri (136km/ 3.5–4hrs). Taxi as above
Road From Siliguri head for Yuksom, via Teesta Bazaar, Melli, Jorethang, Legship and Tashiding. The 141km/ 5.5hr journey by jeep costs about ₹5,000–5,500. From Yuksom, return the same way by bus or taxi. As taxis are few, book in advance for a pick-up either in Siliguri or at the Jorethang Bus Stand takes about 5hrs from the Siliguri Bus Stand