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Singalila Ridge Trek

October 2018

“You know…. there are some people…. who do this… on their honeymoon!” A group of women sit on a low rise wall to catch their breath. I laugh with them at how we are all struggling with the trek. The rest of their group appears. There’s fifteen of them all together, including a young teenager. I guess if I were to choose between a family holiday and a honeymoon, I'd definitely prefer to suffer on a family holiday!


It's day 3 of the Singalila Ridge Trek. We are in the Himalayas on the border that divides North East India and Nepal; An underrated route that offers spectacular views of Mount Everest and Kanchenjunga; A trek we found by accident and that was unplanned in our itinerary. I still don't know if this was a blessing or a curse.


We are at Sabargram which stands at 3,585m above sea level. Oxygen is low and severely affecting my ability to walk quickly. “We’d better stop for the night,” says Sachin, our guide. We’re only halfway to our destination of the day, Phalut, and it was 3pm. The sun sets at 4:30pm. I feel ashamed of slowing us down so much. We walk a bit further to a village called Molley, leaving behind the large family discussing how they were going to manage the night sharing one large bedroom with only one toilet between the fifteen of them.


My legs are burning. The rest in Molley was necessary. We've covered around 45 km since day 1 and my body just isn’t used to the altitude, nor the amount of climbing we are doing.


The first day is a trek of 13km from the starting point at Manebhanjan to Tumling. The second day is a long climb up to Sandakphu. By day 3 my glutes, legs and hips are burning in pain and the cold nights pierce through no matter how many layers I wear.


We dress and go for breakfast.


The Burns

“Eat up, eh. You need lots of calories, eh,” is Sachin’s advice every morning. The day starts at 5:30am with the worst sound in the world, the iPhone alarm. Layers pile on our already layered bodies and we head outside to join other trekkers. Some people set up tripods whilst others find a spot to snuggle up in the cold. But we’re all facing the same way, patiently waiting for the great ball of fire to rise over the horizon. As light starts to brighten the sky, the rays hit the jagged peak of Mount Kanchenjunga and slowly creep down the rest of the holy untouched mountain. Despite the cold that always seeps into my bones, the early starts are worth it for this view.


After eating the several items that Sachin insists we eat for breakfast (porridge, bread, pancake, boiled egg and tea) we set off on the route.


From Molley to Phalut, the view of the mountains is as clear as ever as the skies are blue and free of obstacles. The views are amazing, but I can’t take it all in fully to enjoy it. I’m too busy huffing and puffing, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other as if I were on my way to Everest Base camp in the snow. Unlike Sachin.



He skips along as if he’s walking along the beach, explaining how he started trekking the route at 18. He started off as a porter carrying loads of up to 15kg for trekkers who wanted their gear to be available at each stop. Under the weight of such luggage, he’d had to have regular rest stops, and his clients would be waiting for their luggage when he finally arrived each evening. One day he decided enough is enough and became a guide himself. As we settle into our accommodation in Gorkey, Sachin is reunited with friends - other guides. After many years of trekking the route, he knows all the stops, all the homestay owners and all the other guides.


Night caps

In the tiny town of Gorkey, the signature drink is tongba. To help warm up each night we are encouraged to drink either raksi or tongba. Both are alcoholic based drinks made of home grown, organic ingredients. The best thing about this is that there are no hangovers. So we drink and the burning sensation, as the liquid slides down my throat, is welcoming.


We mingle and get to know other trekkers in Gorkey.


“It’s amazing that there are these places we didn’t know existed!” We are sat with a small group of Indians around the fire at dinner, sharing our sense of awe at the natural beauty that is Singalila. The area is so underrated that even Indians are new to it.


Sachin drinks so much that he no longer understands English very well and that’s when you know it’s time to get to bed.


After dinner, we head to bed without a shower. It’s too cold and the water is freezing. Jon, my partner on this trek, has a growing headache centred between his brows that had started before dinner. He lays down but is unable to sleep due to the pain. “I’m going to blow my nose,” he says suddenly, trying to breathe through his semi blocked nose. Sitting up, he inhales sharply, and blows his nose with all his might. “Aaarrrgghh!”


Startled, I ask what is wrong. “MY EARS!” The force of trying to blow out air through his blocked nose, pushed the air out through his ears. His ears are equalised releasing the pressure that was on the eustachian tube. Rookie error for a veteran trekker. Unsurprisingly, his headache is now gone and he falls asleep instantly.


Homerun

Day 5 is our last full day of trekking. And I’m now feeling fitter and stronger than ever. Ironic that I should feel like this when it's time to go! I’ve adjusted to the altitude and my legs, although still tired, have recovered and are coping with the climbs much better. We reach our destination, Srikhola, but Sachin knows of a better place to sleep a further 5km. With my new legs, I’m happy to continue trekking. We make our way under the blue sky between the lush, green mountains.


We enter an amazingly beautiful village. Timburi. With its colourful bungalows, vegetable patches, fruit trees and herbs, it is something out of a fairy tale. It was the perfect setting for a final night on the road. It’s been a tough journey but I made it!


At our final dinner we are joined by more Indian trekkers. Some are regular trekkers enjoying the scenery and fresh air. Others are not so regular. A couple join us and explain how they’re first-timers. What a destination for your first trek!

They sit opposite us and introduce themselves. “It’s our first ever trek,” says the lady looking cold and tired. “It’s actually our honeymoon!” her new husband exclaims. If they survive this, they'll live happily ever after, I'm sure of it.



 

Tour or Explore


Verdict: Explore

On the trek we saw some large groups who had arrived at the homestays and many seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. However, it's definitely a great an experience if you explore the trail independently. If you're unsure and prefer the safety of a guide, a guide can be hired and it'll give you a much more personalised trip as they can adjust the route to your preferences.


We travelled with Sachin who has been trekking this route for 22 years. I'd highly recommend him as a guide. He has great knowledge of the area and will make sure you feel comfortable during the trip. If you would like to contact him to book a trek, please contact me and I'll send you his information!

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