Soft and wispy uninhibited fog enveloping the lush green mountains of northern West Bengal, is a sight to behold. Pair it with the rustling leaves and gentle crisp breeze, it feels like the atmosphere is singing a lullaby. The majestic mountains, with unmatched beauty and abundant natural trails house some of the most stunning trekking trails in West Bengal that show a completely different side of the state. By Trinetra Paul
Can you imagine another state boasting a striking blend like West Bengal that harbours the forests of the Sundarbans, coasts of Bay of Bengal, the red soiled lands of Shantiniketan as well as the majestic Himalayas?
The meandering hilly roads that lace this part of the Himalayas, lead to the far flung northern reaches of the region. From rugged snowy paths leading to Sandapkphu or the dense green forests of Dooars and Neora valley, north West Bengal treks are wonders to be experienced at least once.
Upon arrival at New Jalpaiguri (NJP) railway station or Bagdogra airport, the door to the majestic eastern Himalayas opens up. Family favourites like Darjeeling, Ghoom and Kalimpong, to quaint getaways like Lava and Lolegaon or the foothill beauties at Jaldhaka and Suntalekhola, there are more ways than one in which this part of the state will stun you at every turn. Fair warning – keep your cameras ready as it is bound to get difficult choosing the best view.
North Bengal is strewn with hill stations and quaint mountainous hamlets that offer the ideal weekend vacation. But for adventure enthusiasts looking for the added dose of adrenaline, the state offers some easy to moderate trekking and hiking trails that fall short of words. On one hand, where the famous Sandakphu trek will take you to the peak of the Sandakphu pass and you can marvel at the tallest mountains of the world; the Bamunpukhuria trek offers stunning views of the forests and tea gardens.
Here are some of the best places to go trekking in West Bengal
Sandakphu, Phalut trek
At an altitude of 3,636 metres in Darjeeling district of West Bengal, the Sandakphu trek is for both nature lovers and adventure seekers. It offers incandescent views of the ‘Sleeping Budhha’ range like no other. The trek will take you along the Singalila ridge, traversing through the Singalila National Park and hence it is also called the Singalila trek.
Once you set out on the journey, you will agree that it is indeed a wonderland for trekkers. Where else can you see the four highest peaks of the world— Mt Everest, Mt. Kangchenjunga, Mt. Makalu and Lhotse.
The spectacular view of the Kanchenjunga, looking like molten silver, and its family including other peaks that form the mighty ‘Sleeping Buddha’ range, glistening under the morning sun, makes the entire journey a breathtaking experience. The sublime nature, pure atmosphere and the tranquility all around— if there is something called Nirvana, then this place truly embodies it. The Sandakphu peak is the highest in West Bengal and attracts trekkers and visitors from all over the world.
The trek begins from the town of Manebhanjan at an elevation of 2,150 metres in Darjeeling. You can avail a taxi from NJP station or Bagdogra airport and easily reach the town. It is about 26 kilometres from the main Darjeeling town and will take about an hour and fifteen minutes via cab. The 32 kilometres trek from here takes about two to three days and goes through small villages and isolated clusters of huts. Three kilometres in, you will reach Chitre from where it’s a steep climb.
Look out for exotic wild animals like the Red Panda, barking deer, leopards and more in the Singalila National Park. If you are visiting in spring then Rhododendrons and Magnolia are sure to colour your route beautifully. En route, pause at the peaceful Meghma monastery and let your mind flutter while the wariness of the climb fades away. Further into the trek, at an altitude of 10,400m, be ready to get stunned by the Kalipokhri Lake– the mysterious lake of sacred black waters.
Once you reach the top, the panoramic view is simply mind-numbing. Those willing to push the limits more, an onward 21 kilometre trek will take you to Phalut which is another far reaching spot but has a comparatively flat terrain.
While returning, you can take the same route or opt for other offbeat routes via Gurdum and Srikhola and arrive at Rimbik where there are ample transportation options that can take you to Darjeeling.
Neora Valley trek
Imagine walking through verdant greenery with soft sunlight sieving in, trying to make its way through the mesh of thick green canopy; occasional squeaks from the wildlife and the omnipresent scent of the mountain filling up the air. The Neora Valley trek from Kalimpong district gives a glimpse of this untamed wilderness that envelopes the Himalayan foothills.
The trek goes through the pristine forests of Neora Valley National Park. Spread across an area of 88 square kilometres, it reaches an elevation of 3,200 metres in the north while in the south it borders the forests of Jalpaiguri that connect it with the famous Chapramari forest, Gorumara National Park.
The Rachela pass marks the highest point in the park with an elevation of over 3,151m and marks the junction of Sikkim, Bhutan and West Bengal. The Neora Valley trek up to the Rachela pass is an easy one compared to the Sandakphu trek. It begins from the quaint offbeat hamlet of Lava, about 30 kms from Kalimpong.
Begin the journey with a trek to the Chaudapheri camp. The road from Lava to this spot meanders with 14 sharp hairpin bends, hence rendering the place its name. Continuing the trek through bamboo and pine forests, after much ascending and descending, comes the PHE camp after which Aloobari marks the last leg of the trek up. The path is strewn with wild medicinal plants, orchids, strawberries and exotic wildlife including the rare Red Panda, Red-headed Bullfinch, Satyr Tragopan and many more interesting birds and animals.
The last bit of the tiring climb to Rachela Pass unravels the unparalleled views of the world’s third highest peak, Mt. Kanchenjunga, Nathula range, Nathula pass, Bhutan ridge and the towns of Darjeeling and Gangtok. While here, one stroll through the Rhododendron forests to Ruka will transport you to a different world away from all the woes of life. The return leg of the journey is a steep downhill climb via the villages of Todey and Tangta. The place is an easy gateway to Dooars region’s Jhalong and Bindu.
The best time to embark on this trek is during the winter or spring as the flowers are in full bloom and the air is cold and crisp. Lava is easily accessible by road from NJP, Bagdogra and Kalimpong and you will be able to complete all formalities to enter the national park here. There are jeep safaris as well that take tourists inside the national park. There are several trek routes to Neora Valley that start from Suntalekhola, about five kilometres from Samsing in the Dooars region.
Samthar- Purbikhola trek
Nestled in a far flung corner of Kalimpong district is the scenic village of Ponbu. Devoid of the din and hustle of the city, Ponbu offers one of the most fulfilling and gorgeous views of the Kanchenjunga. Trekking from the Samthar village, the hamlet falls eight kilometres on the route to Purbikhola.
Samthar marks the beginning of a number of trekking routes which are intersected by cascading waterfalls and sprawling tea plantations. The trek is quite an easy one that goes through the undulating heels and overlooks the mighty Teesta River below. The blissful air fills the mind and rejuvenates the soul as the trek to Ponbu and onwards to Purbikhola reveals mesmerising sites and sceneries at every turn.
The natural trail takes about three days to reach Purbikhola and is the perfect escape from the touristy cacophony. Lose yourself amidst the music of the forest and experience the grandeur of the Teesta River from upper Ponbu.
The best time to go on this trek is during the winters. Samthar village is easily accessible by road from NJP railway station and Bagdogra airport. One can also take a drive down the scenic routes of Rili and Sinji valleys from Kalimpong. Those coming from Lava will have to take the route via Loleygaon which goes through oak, pine and juniper forests.
Bamunpukhuri Jungle trek
At a distance of about 30 kms from Siliguri, it is one of the best treks in West Bengal. Located just beside the serpentine Rungsung river, the Bamunpukhuri forest is one of the state’s most stunning hidden gems that connects you with the majestic Himalayas.
Replete with bountiful natural beauty, the journey begins from Gridhura and the trek leads you through the dense forest and aromatic tea gardens. When compared to the Sandakphu trek, this is quite an easy one and anyone looking for a different experience amidst the north-eastern Himalayas can easily set out for the lush greenery of the Bamunpukhuri forest.
The best time to visit the place is during April to June or in the winters. The different seasons of tea harvest can be witnessed and the weather is ideal for all the walking. Gridhura is just a drive away from NJP station or Bagdogra airport and can be accessed by road round the year.
Another quaint and offbeat trek in West Bengal is the picturesque Phalut- Srikhola—Rammam—Gorkhey trail. The scenic route from Phalut to Gorkhey is as breathtaking as it gets. Giving a sneak peek into the simple life and culture of north Bengal, a homestay experience in Gorkhey is unmatched.
The trek from Srikhola to Rammam is about 12 kilometres. After the initial uphill climb the path flattens as it enters the dense forest. The moss clad trees, herds of rhododendrons, towering oaks, chestnuts, pine and more add colour to the canopy and forest floor in myriad shades. The vibrant hues of the wings of the Himalayan Monal, Emerald Dove, Maroon Oriole and other birds make the forest trek an experience to cherish. Rammam is a sparsely populated village inhabited by Nepalese and Sherpas who mostly engage in potato, maize and millet farming.
The next leg of the trek— from Rammam to Gorkhey, at a height of over 2,346 metres, is eight kilometresand goes through the hidden village of Samanden which comprises potato farmers. The five to six hour trek finally takes you to the tranquil Gorkhey village which is situated at the border of Sikkim. The gentle lapping of the Gorkhey Khola stream provides the most soothing atmosphere to unwind. The stream is a tributary of the Rammam river. Experience local culture and ways of life by staying at one of the few homestays that are run privately. You can also enjoy some local beer by the stream and see your time pass by without any worries.
The return leg of the trek is equally serene. Descend via Samanden to Ribdi or take the route that goes to Bhareng from Gorkhey. Both are well connected by roads that can take you to NJP or Siliguri station.