Friday, 23 April 2010

Singalila Ridge

Saturday 17 April: Yuna, Sebastian and myself hire Artpan, a local guide, who takes us by shared jeep to Rimbick (7,500 feet) where we start the five-day Singalila Ridge trek.
Day one is a quick momo brunch at Rimbick then a tough 12 mile stint over bridges and up steep switch-backs to pretty Gorkhey at 10,170 feet (3,100m). Altitude sickness usually kicks in at 2,500m and it's not long before I'm puffing and blowing like an old steam train. We spend the night at Gorkhey where Tongba or millet 'wine' is made by pouring hot water into large bamboo jugs of fermented grain. Served as an aperitif, the brew is sucked up through a bamboo straw and surprisingly the first mouthful tastes just like dry fino sherry. Our jugs are filled twice more extracting most of the alcohol from the mash. This heady brew and a wood-oven cooked dinner of dhal bhatt (dhal, potatoes, rice and vegetables) ensures we all sleep like babies.
Day 2: Just 10 miles today we pass through undulating misty rhododendron woodland and reach Phalut, 11,830 feet (3,606m), for lunch, dinner, rum toddy and B&B.
Day 3: After 17 miles we reach the summit at Sandakpu, at 11,929 feet (3,636m) it's two and a half times higher than Ben Nevis. In our draughty, damp, cold and wind-swept hut we weather out the night's noisy storm.
Day 4: At 5:30 am we are rewarded by clear views of Kanchenjunga (28,169 feet), India's highest and the world's third highest mountain, and Three Sisters to it's left. I also get my first ever glimpse, through the haze, of a distant Mt Everest (29,029 feet). After a breakfast of chapatis and jam it's a 15 miles hike along the ridge. We see various shaggy-bellied yaks grazing the fresh new shoots of the high pasture then pass through pretty tea-house villages to reach Tumling (2,900 feet), just over the border in Nepal. The hut is a delight with hot bucket showers and we have jugs of Tongba, a dinner of dhal bhatt, (too much) rhododendron wine and B&B, all for just 310 Indian Rupees (about £4.60) each.
Day 5: From Tumling it's all downhill to Maneybhanjyang and jeeps back to Darjeeling - it's been good preparation for the high Himalayas.
Photos of the Singalila Ridge trek.
Friday 23: From Darjeeling an early morning five-hour jeep ride, all downhill, takes me to the heat of Siliguri and the bus for the Nepal border where I change for an overnight bus (17 hours) to Kathmandu.

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