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Old 15th April 2013, 14:09   #1
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Default Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_13531.jpg

Elephants are large creatures. Elephants are best observed in the wild, though elusive that way, but, while doing so, especially at a close range, the last thing one can probably do is to irritate it. Its a well known fact, we also knew, while we were watching the wild semi grown trunky at a distance of around 10 meters or so, in complete silence, from a wildlife department approved open Gypsy, with the knowledge that all our cellphones are switched off. That knowledge and silence was shattered within a moment by a ringtone from an alternate cellphone that we had not accomodated for.

But before we get back to this story, there is another awe inspiring large object that has fascinated people from our part of the world since generations. The chance or the opportunity to be able to see it with one's own eyes is equally elusive, given that for most part of the year, cloud, fog, rain could come in between it and the point of observation and remain there for days. Am speaking of Kanchenjungha, the name itself draws reference to it being very large.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1066.jpg

Drawing on the theme of largeness, its always said that higher problems requires higher solutions. So if Cloud, fog, rain, comes between oneself and the high peak, why not elevate yourself to where the clouds seem to be below mean sea level, allowing for almost a clear line of sight between the Kanchenjungha and the place. There is one place in India, high enough, so much, that two countries share the location without a visible border. The roads that lead to this location, is a torturous trekking route, where people spend almost 3 days to reach, cris-crossing between India and Nepal many times over . The alternate being Land Rovers that makes its way on rocks and slopes where parking brakes dont hold, as the tyres slide down. So reaching this destination is also regarded quite far fetched, but once done, one is rewarded with not only a mighty view of the Khang, but an entire snow clad himalayan range, including the mount Everest. Am speaking about Sandakphu.

Lastly, Mahindra Scorpio is in comparison, is regarded quite a large vehicle in our part of the world. The 4wd versions of this vehicle is very few and far between. Couple this to the combination of mHawk engine and a Rocky Beige paint theme, one is looking at an ultra rare breed. The effort that went into acquiring one was a garguantan task in itself.

This thread/ travelogue is an attempt to knit this combination of elusiveness together into one package, but before I begin, would like to draw attention to this thread which started it all.

http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travel...ll-phalut.html (Destination Sandakphu, the Land Rover territory. Update - another trip till Phalut)

Now that, have experienced this first hand, hats off to Blackpearl for having attempted this and also succesfully conquered this without much prior information to benefit from. I would not have been able to do it, without having gotten information from him, besides every person I have spoken to said, that it cannot be done on anything other than a short wheel base Land Rover. Some said there is a permit requirement. Some said, army will stop you. Even at the start of the climb at Monebhanjan there was someone saying this vehicle cant make it, likewise at Chitrey. All I knew was that this guy had done it so many times, why should I trust a naysayer.

Coming back to the story. For quite a few years that I have observed while growing up, have heard people give stories of Sandakphu to my parents. As much as they love the mountains, they used to gorge on photographs of the mighty peak taken from Sandakphu. They would never miss taking a glimpse of a picture of Kanchenjungha taken from Sandakphu at the tourism center at Darjeeling. The long demanding trek or the equally torturous and bumpy ride in a leaf sprung Land Rover would each time be a dampener. But rather than that, we knew, there was something else as well. When they were relatively younger, they had two small kids and the prospect of taking them through this, that too without proper medical facilities to bank on, kept them away from actually progressing Sandakphu any further than the wishlist stage. But each time, we would head to the mountains, each time the view of the Kanchenjungha would appear blocked, Sandakphu discussions would come up. Alongwith it the myth, that many people have, that from Sandakphu, not only is the Himalayan range panoramic, but the chances of catching the peak is almost sure shot.

So naturally, when I heard from Blackpearl that he made it, the thought came to my mind that I "WILL" take my parents there. I asked a few folks, showed them the thread, most of them brushed off saying this was just a one-time luck thing. But Blackpearl repeated it. I started making up my mind. But the timing wasn't shaping up. The common convenient time for taking a few days off would never frame up. Have seen the thread, that its mostly done in a splash and dash fashion, did not want it that way. Wanted the parents to enjoy it slowly, stage by stage with adequate energy reserve each day. So the common time happened to be the second week of April 2013. Probably 2-3 weeks later than what would have been ideal. But then, it doesn't matter. Lets do it, was the call.


But the vacation requirement too shaped up in a funny way. Figured out that the way we were planning, barring the two whole days spent in travelling between Siliguri and Kolkata, if we staggered climbing up San'phu in two stages in two days (From Siliguri) and added another day for going to Phalut and heading back to Siliguri, would require leave till Wednesday if one started on a Saturday. Then the thought came back, why join back office on a Thursday? Just two working days of the week. Besides would going to Phalut and coming back to Siliguri in one day be a little too much on old bones. Now if two days were added another three were coming up as free as part of the next weekend. The opportunity was to add a destination. That destination was decided to be Dooars into our tried and tested WBFDC at Murti. Then came another realisation, should we return to Siliguri from Sandakphu and then head to Murti, or there is an opportunity to squeeze another hill destination there! With each day and destination added, the luggage requirements would also increase, so would the load.

As stated earlier, We figured that we will make it to Sandakphu in two stages, but where would the first halt be. Stopping at Mirik is not something my father would look forward to, he doesn't like the place much. Stopping at Monebhanjan wasn't promising either. There was a possibility of stopping over at Jorepokhri near Sukhia. But everyone agreed that the best would be to head into the climb and stop over at Tumling, one-third distance between Monebhanjan and Sandakphu. In that way the bumpy section of the climb will also be distributed across two days, as well as give opportunity for acclimatisation.

Then there was a possibility of Marengo not being able to make it, so we had to factor in alternate arrangements, depending on the stage of failure. If the 4WD failed to engage at the start, we would call the whole thing off, the alternate bookings were made at Jorepokhri. If Marengo failed to make the final climb till Sandakphu, would come back to Tumling after exploring Sandakphu on foot. So with all these thoughts, backup reservations were also kept handy.

The intermediate destination between Sandakphu and Murti was decided to be Kolakham, which is slowly coming up as a off-the road destination, requiring 8 kms of off road driving.

With all these factors, features, a final tour plan evolved. As it is said, the secret to a good vacation is the time spent in planning for it beforehand. The alternates should be equally interesting. Whether or not we make it according the plan, fun should remain, albeit with a little lingering feeling of defeat, but who cares!

This was the plan

Day 1 - Drive to Siliguri
Day 2 - Drive to Tumling
Day 3 - Drive up to Sandakphu
Day 4 - Drive to Phalut and come back to Sandakphu
Day 5 - Drive back from Sandakphu to Monebhanjan and then head to Kolakham via Lava, Kalimpong and Ghoom
Day 6 - Drive to Murti
Day 7 - Take two jungle Safari's from Murti, one at Gorumora National Park and another at Chapramari National Park
Day 8 - Drive to Samsing and then back to Siliguri
Day 9 - Drive back home

Essentially we wanted do this loop in a clockwise direction

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-untitled1.jpg
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Old 15th April 2013, 15:04   #2
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Default Re: Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on a Land Rover territo

Day 1 - Drive to Siliguri
As we generally follow these days, the route to take to Siliguri for us was the Siuri, Dumka, Bhagalpur, Purnea, Dalkhola route. Usually takes upto 13 hours of elapsed time.

But this time, due to unavoidable situation, the first stop enroute had to be our home itself. Rather than starting at 4am, the start was delayed to 5. So the breakfast stop was accomplished at home itself. The negative point was that we would have to thus make up by driving non stop to the usual second stop at Messanjore. We did just that.

Took the Barddhaman, Bolpur route. Instead of going straight through the internal route to Siuri, decided to take the Ilumbazar, Dubrajpur route to Siuri. Someone mentioned in another forum that the road was much better now. So was hoping to make it to Siuri in a fast forward mode, only to be disappointed by the same usual potholes and a slow ride past Dubrajpur. However, was able to make up for lost time on the stretch between Siuri and Messanjore. From Messanjore the ride was super till pattabari. Then beyond Pattabari was surprised with a much better stretch to Dumka. Dumka to Bhagalpur was also okayish apart from a few culverts being in state of being re-made and thus requiring diversions to be taken till Hansdiha (40 kms from Dumka). However to our surprise we entered Bhagalpur exactly at the same time as we made it last time, starting one hour late (although there was an additional stop that time). Bhagalpur to Dalkhola was also effortless, although BP Dalkhola played spoilsport with a super slow service. Dalkhola to Siliguri again was uneventful, apart from a flying landing at the end of 4 lane to 2 lane road at Islampur. Goodthing about Marengo is that it always lands with both the front and rear wheels hitting the ground simultaneously, or maybe that I do not lift-off helps prevent a nosedive!

Reached Siliguri at exact 12 hours since start of the day with around 2 hours of stoppage time.

Day 2 - Drive to Tumling

Loads of excitement, apprehensions regarding the day ahead. But the dampener is that, will have to drive till Monebhanjan before that. Mirik was despatched in almost an hour from Siliguri. Picked up some breakfast/snacks and water supplies to last 3 days for 5 people. Each minute ticking adding to the restlessness. Then Mom decides to take a stop at the lake, just for the sake of it. Had tea, took some snaps, then head upwards again.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0795.jpg

There is a road on left to Monebhanjan after Pashupatinath, but a local asked us not to take it as it is in a bad state and instead asked us to head to Sukhia and then go to Monebhanjan from there, which was the usual route suggested by blackpearl and co. Each KM driven from Sukhia to Monebhanjan (6 kms) was ticking very slowly over. Keeping left on all the forks at Monebhanjan, was finally at this milestone! (Although a policeman kind of a person remarked "ye gaari nahi jaayega")

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-dsc09948.jpg


Shifted to 4WD Low straight away. Marengo was loaded and did not want to fry a new clutch. Only worry was that the first few kms (3) to Chitrey, although steep, had good surface, which is not too recommendable to switch to 4wd on a part-time 4x4 on. But since there would be frequent hairpins, I knew this would not create any major issues, instead the benefits were manyfold. The second and third gears took us up.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0806.jpg

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0807.jpg

A man at Chitrey asked us where we were heading to, looking at the fact that we were heading for the rocky road. He remarked, "yeh gaari nahi jaayega", quite good for the confidence. The rock strewn road was bumpy and being in low range helped keeping speed to lower than idling speed of first gear without having to use the clutch.

But the sights were breathtaking right from the start.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0812.jpg

Rhododendrons in full bloom

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0814.jpg

Within 2 kms from Chithray came up Lumeydhura village. It was customary to stop there for a cup of tea. But looking at the expression of all the people there, looking at a non-Land ROver on this route, decided to just drive past, mainly to avoid my confidence taking any further hit.

Surprisingly got adjusted to this new way of driving. Had even given way to couple of Landrovers coming the opposite side with surprised looks on their drivers as well as passengers and even the landrovers themselves, by going two wheels up on the mountain side. The scenery however was fast changing to a dream one.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0808.jpg
Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0811.jpg

At one point, was climbing up a slope with a crest. On reaching the crest, could not see the road emerge from under the bonnet. Instead, it was the sky beyond the bonnet, could not see the road ahead. Then inching a little forward, saw that the road was indeed going straight but shifted to the left by 50 meters or so. Had to jut out the head to see the road curve left and drive! See Below.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0819.jpg


Around 1 hour and 10 minutes from Monebhanjan, had reached Tumling. Turned out that from Tonglu to Tumling had taken the trek route instead of the usual landrover route. But this was more scenic as we were told later.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0828.jpg

Stayed at Shikhar Lodge (popularly known as Niladi's lodge), known for their fantastic hospitality, which we also experienced. Right from the greeting with this one smiling at us.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0837.jpg

Hey Landy, I am Marengo, a Scorp and I dont sting!

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0839.jpg

Atleast I know one thing in this well, the Solex Carb!!

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0822.jpg

I relate to this sight quite well too, although no one takes photographs when I spend time with the car in my avatar!

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0824.jpg


A little walk upwards to the point to watch the sunset, but, there is no sun to see, only clouds.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0869.jpg


The Rooms, very basic, very cosy.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0831.jpg

Thats me with the Welcome cup of tea

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0842.jpg

The next day would take us to Sandakphu, but will Marengo be able to make it on the last 2 kms of extreme steep climbs with tight hairpins. Well, rather than those thoughts, it was actually the cold that was biting us and was not sure if we would survive till the morning!
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Old 15th April 2013, 23:09   #3
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Default Re: Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on a Land Rover territo

Day 3 - Drive to Sandakphu - A day of a Broken Myth

One of the sweetness in waking up in a remote area/village is that one wakes up to the call of the rooster. We had the same experience here, only catch to this was that, it was the alarm on the cellphone (in rooster mode), cos when we woke up, the Real Rooster was still in his sweet morning dreams.

The plan was to take a pre-sunrise walk to the viewpoint (marked by two bamboo poles and a few prayer flags being hung between them - refer the Dog pic) prior to the rise of the sun, to catch a glimpse of the snow clad peak from Tumling itself.

We did wake up. The non heated room was too cold for us, add to that, we were coming directly from the summery plains, hence no time to acclimatise. Took a shivering walk up the mountain slope to the viewpoint, accompanied by the Lodge dog. But what do we see there? Clouds everywhere.

Lot of cold wind, but no sign of the sun or the snow peaks. The Dog was also praying for us, by tugging at the prayer flags. In the end, even he was disappointed.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-dsc00053.jpg

Three of us, My Dad, Dog and Me, went down to the Lodge to have some breakfast when someone broke a shocking news to us. They have been in Sandakphu for the past 3 days and did not see the peak at all. Infact according to the locals, the peak was not visible since the last 10 days. But wasn't it said always, that Sandakphu is so high above, that the visibility it offers of the mountain peaks, is immune from Cloud interference?

Quote:
Originally Posted by 1100D View Post

But each time, we would head to the mountains, each time the view of the Kanchenjungha would appear blocked, Sandakphu discussions would come up. Alongwith it the myth, that many people have, that from Sandakphu, not only is the Himalayan range panoramic, but the chances of catching the peak is almost sure shot.
Well that is only a myth. My father proudly told them, we also have a record, Kanchenjungha shows itself to us!

I was like, what is this old man saying? We dont need to make these tall claims, instead we need to lie low and pray that our trip should not turn out to be a disappointing one. As it is, coming 12 kms from Moneybhanjan to Tumling on a treacherous surface, even on a soft sprung SUV is not my idea of fun. So was just hoping that his bragging does not really result in us seeing only an overcast sky at Sandakphu.

Anyways, with a little low on energy (after hearing the fellow travellers Sandakphu experience) started our onward journey to Sandakphu, 21 kms away. On these surfaces, maintaining 10kms per hour is tough.

The road was lined with Rhododendron trees at this time of the year. Eyes had a feast, but the road below were made of thorns, read rocks.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-dsc00060.jpg

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-dsc00062.jpg

Within 1 km of leaving Tumling was at the Gate of the Sangalila National Park. Had to pay for the entry ticket, but not before some of the local Landrover drivers came back to see a new sight, Marengo. They inspected Marengo, one remarked that this is too long, another said this is too low, another said too wide. I wanted to say, "too powerful" but then restrained myself. Even till this point there was not a single person who had given me an encouraging story, apart from Blackpearls travelogue.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0879.jpg
Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0880.jpg

Gairibash was the next villege enroute, 6kms away, with a dense forest in between. Had a Landrover leading us on this real tight stretch.

However for the first few kms, I was blindly following the path it was taking without looking at any other options. Thought that the ride was anyway quite bumpy. But then, noticed that the Landy was not really utilising some of the softer rock surfaces, or smoother opportunities to drive on. Decided to pull back, then start again on my own, my own path. The ride was smoother, faster, more definite. Pictures of the route.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-dsc00063.jpg

This was taken on the way back on the same stretch

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1096.jpg

As we enter Gairibash, we had caught up with the Landrover again, which had jumped and bumped all the way till this point.

There are a few army checkposts enroute, where they need to take down your details. Gairibash is one such point. It also offers opportunity to have a cup of tea before going onwards to Sandakphu.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-dsc00068.jpg

The next major milestone on route is Kalipokhri 6kms away. Kali stands for black and Pokhri means pond or a water body. But the road rises steeply right from Gairibash. The boulders and rocks on this stretch were also loose, with many missing, creating gaping drops on the road. Some of the hairpins had the disarrayed arrangement of sharp rocks, allowing for a very restrictive path, in some places one needed to drive on the rocks. Being careful not to graze the sidewall of the tyres against the sharper rocks.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-dsc00092.jpg

Yaks on the way.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-dsc00091.jpg

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-dsc00098.jpg

Kalipokhri came up within the next hour.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0883.jpg



From Kalipokhri a few Kms up the road is Bikheybhanjan, the final village before the "save the best for last" final 2km ascent to Sandakphu. This is the steepest stretch of the entire route. However the steep ascent only lasts for 1 km from Bikheybhanjan and a final 400meters before reaching Sandakphu.

This has steep and tight switch backs.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0886.jpg

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-dsc00106.jpg

Was somehow able to make it through all of them on the way up without needing to reverse.

This was shot on the way down but should give a fair idea of what was driven up on!

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1086.jpg

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1088.jpg

We reach Sandakphu around noon.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0888.jpg

But there are too many a cloud blocking a view of the gorgeous mountain peaks. So one really is not assured a view of the Khangchendzonga at Sandakphu, contrary to the saying thats prevalent.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0891.jpg

Sherpa Chalet Lodge at Sandakphu is the preferred stay at Sandakphu. It has rooms that has windows overlooking the mountain peaks on a clear day.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0898.jpg

Marengo was parked here so that the Landrover drivers dont miss seeing for themselves.

Last edited by 1100D : 17th April 2013 at 22:33.
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Old 16th April 2013, 23:45   #4
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Default Re: Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on a Land Rover territo

Day 3 continued at Sandakphu

Sandakphu, highest point in the state of West Bengal in India at 11929 feet, situated in the Sangalila National park, promises an exciting view of the highest peaks in the Himalayan range, but, on a clear day!!

Being one of the ultimate hill destinations, above the clouds, turned out to be just as vulnerable to cloudy interference, as a lower hill station. Overcast sky apart, there was not a hint of the windy climate, the place is famous for. The Indian flag at the army outpost just about managing to flutter, whereas usually, it stays horizontal with the heavy wind, that is like identity of the place.

Had gone to the army post to enter details of Marengo. The very gentle armyman informed that Marengo is the best looking vehicle to make it to Sandakphu! Probably that's akin to the change of perceptions of something that has met with success, because till about 2 kms to Sandakphu, the world ridiculed Marengo, with the absolute surety that it will not be able to make the final climb (which actually was no great shakes).

Anyways, spent the afternoon lazing around, walking around, there was not much to take pictures of. The place itself was quite non-descript without the view to the pristine peaks.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0899.jpg

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-dsc00120.jpg

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-dsc00130.jpg

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0894.jpg

It was getting colder. The owners daughter-in-law suggested that we try Yak Meat for dinner. We decided to give it a shot too. However, the apprehension was that at a high altitude like this, did not know how the body will react to a new food, especially in the case of my Dad. Thankfully we were fine, the preparation was excellent.

Hit the bed, with an expectation that next day morning the sky will clear up. As during dinner time, we did hear the wind and a lot of moths had started to appear, a sign that things would clear up next morning, according to the locals. Retiring to the heavy "Lape" (comforter) was just too inviting.


Day 4 Morning

The Sunrise was said to be taking place these days at 5:30pm. Set up the Alarm at 5. Having to leave the comfort of the comforter ("Lape") was not at all motivating for any reward, but still managed. Reaching the Window, found that the entire area was covered in dense mist. Couldn't even see Marengo parked a few meters ahead down below. This was a severe blow to all the knowledge.

It rained a bit at night, generally when it does, the next day has a clear morning.
There was a heavy wind the previous night, generally when it does, the next day has a clear morning.
There were the presence of moths at night, generally when it does, according to the locals, the next day has a clear morning.

Besides Sandakfu is up so high. We had been to a place called Thambi View point in 2011 with Marengo at 12000 ft (refer pic below), the Kanchenjungha made itself visible there atleast in the early hours of the morning, despite a usual overcast condition prevalent during the time. So was hoping for a repeat.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_3727.jpg

Despite all the definite signs going for the peaks to show themselves, the result was absolutely opposite. So for the benefit of the readers, dont read too much into all the popular beliefs people have, most of it does not work!

Kept awake, hoping that the clouds clear. They were actually. Then suddenly it started getting worse. To the point there was no more hope for the day.

Day 4 Drive to Phalut

Had breakfast and planned to hit the onward route to Phalut, to comeback to Sandakphu by evening. Somehow two female trekkers got hint of Marengo going to Phalut. They requested us to drop them there. We were not short on Seats but having someone in the third row seat on a terrain like this in a vehicle like this, is sure not going to be comfortable for that person.

So we set out with 7 onboard.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-dsc00128.jpg

The road to Phalut was narrower, at points just enough for Marengo to squeeze through. Surface was worse with more rocks that had been dislodged from their setup. The hairpins were tighter, though slope wasn't much.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-dsc00224.jpg

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0929.jpg

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-dsc002461.jpg

Some pics of the landscape

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-dsc00151.jpg

Lonely Trekker on his way.
Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-dsc00165.jpg

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-dsc00171.jpg

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-dsc00182.jpg



There was this location with a very narrow passage restricted by bushes on both sides. Have left scratches all over the body of Marengo. Not sure if the scratches will go, but dont mind them, they are visibly unlike normal traffic scratches and looks quite macho!

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0907.jpg

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0908.jpg

Reached Phalut after 2 hrs of driving. Again about 10kmph average.

Pic of all the passengers posing against the Phalut trekkers hut.
Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0910.jpg

Reaching the Trekker's hut (picture above - but no board proclaiming the same), was shocked by the shabby and dark interiors of it. Thankfully we were not planning staying there. Had ordered for a lunch of Noodles while we go checking out an interesting place called "teen simana" around 1 km drive uphill.

The drive uphill was very scenic, full of Yaks of different shapes and sizes. On reaching the 1km distance, found ruins of some setup and abolutely not a soul in sight. Was atleast expecting a few army guards. Walked up a few flight of stairs, and could not find anyone, but then as I turned back, I realised why this place was called "teen simana". Unfortunately I did not carry the camera while walking upwards. However this picture will depict it.

Teen Simana means border of 3 states, Nepal, Sikkim and West Bengal. Its denoted by rocks placed on the ground. See pic.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0914.jpg

Shot a few pics then drove down to the trekkers hut.


The food was almost ready. But when they served it, the noodles turned out to be "Wai-Wai"!

Anyways, it was getting fast dark, and clouds were getting lower and lower, we decided to head back to Sandakphu.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0932.jpg

View of Switchbacks on the way back.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0924.jpg

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0925.jpg

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-dsc00253.jpg

Reached Sandakphu exactly 2 hours from start at Phalut. But this day, Sandakphu was covered in thicker fog. No Wind, very tight visibility.

Anyways, the son of the owner of the Sherpa Chalet had arrived today, he heard about a Scorpio having made it to Sandakphu. He wanted to meet us and see the vehicle. The difficulty for them is that, no manufacturer sales person would be willing to bring a vehicle to them for the sake of assuring them that their vehicles will make it to Sandakphu. Marengo's presence was an opportunity for them to try out what a modern 4x4 can do. They wanted to try it out and was impressed with the ease with which it operates despite the size. I too had expressed a desire to drive a landrover (a petrol one) in the terrain its supposed to be operated on. They complied and how!!

The Landrover experience

The vehicle I would get to try out is this.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0956.jpg

I almost stopped in my tracks the moment I saw this. A ultra shortwheelbase pickup!! These are rare cars. Generally pickups are stationwagon length, longwheelbase (same as 5 door Landrover). But this was shorter than the usual SWB passenger Landrovers in the area.

Getting into the vehicle, first took a good understanding of the controls, but that was not to be.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0972.jpg

For the start, there was one lever with a red knob. It was a 2WD-4WD toggle. Another short lever with Yellow knob,, from the description they gave, it seemed like a diff lock, as they said that the rear axle vibrates when you press it! Besides it also had a either-or relationship with the red-knob stick.

Then comes the gears! Extreme left up, reverse. A little less (than extreme) left up is first. Then second does not fall in-line below first, its somewhere on the left down, you have to search it. Realised that the 3rd and 4th are up and down from neutral position respectively as usual. So to search for second you have to keep moving left from natural neutral with a pressure downwards till it slots in somewhere and you have to do it fast enough so as not to loose momentum that you gained on first!!!

Anyway, the pedals had a super feel and it started at first crank. Moving up in first on the rocky trail, it was time to shift to second, in the time it took to search second, the vehicle almost came to crawling speed. Moved the lever up, thinking am hitting first, but instead it went to third and the entire vehicle revolted and sputtered dead in the most unstately fashion.

Now the vehicle is on an upslope, press brake, shift heel right as one would do on a Fiat, only to find the length of my foot not long enough. Okay, move foot a little right, thumb on the brakes, shift heel to press accelerator, thumb slips off pedal, but somehow car starts as I have twisted the key, and pressed the clutch as well. Shift the gear lever left and up, bingo it slots, release the clutch fast and whoo I am travelling backwards that too quite fast. In the mellee, to still keep the engine running, I press the brake with the left foot (as the right foot is on the accelerator), only to realise that it will stall again, right foot comes off again, crosses the left foot from underneath it and presses the clutch, prevents stalling and also managing to halt. I have never ever stopped a vehicle cross legged!

Anyway, surprisingly after this incident there was not a single hiccup. I found exactly where all the gears were. The steering had feel, which our power steered cars cant match and had surprisingly low effort. The sound of the petrol engine, absolute "makhkhan". Had taken it offroad, I mean "off the offroad trail" and was surprised at the relative ease at which it took to the slopes. Only the ride was bumpy and the vehicle was not able to maintain direction because of the bumpiness at a little higher speed.

I was asked to speed up to reduce The bumpiness and it reduced as the car gained speed only to have directional vagueness. Moreover could not motivate myself to subject the vehicle to the abuse to increase my own comfort.

Having driven Willy's Jeeps, my preferred offroader will be a petrol Willys, without hurting any sentiments of anyone.

But I did have a fun time with this. Especially the older petrol engines have their own charm.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0962.jpg

Anyway, right after the Landrover experience got to see someone drive a Bullet Thunderbird 500 to Sherpa Chalet. It was a member of another group we are a part of, the "Kolkata offroaders". The evening was spent chatting with him regarding his escapades.

It was getting colder and colder. No signs of the weather clearing up next morning. Made plans of starting early next morning on the descent back to Monebhanjan, our next destination was Kolakham, we had not done adequate research on ways to reach there apart from the fact that its near Lava and have to drive through Kalimpong to reach there. So was looking at a good 8-9 hours of drive time on road, first 3-4 hours of that will be to travel the 31 kms to Monebhanjan

With these thoughts we hit the bed. Sandakphu as a destination, turned out quite damp (pun intended).

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0938.jpg
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Old 17th April 2013, 23:32   #5
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Default Re: Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on a Land Rover territo

Day 5 Sandakphu

While going to sleep the previous night, was a little dejected, there was no hope of catching a glimpse of the peaks, on top of that, there was this thought of having to descend through some of the steepest, roughest and tightest series of hairpins on the way back the next day. A lingering thought coming to the mind was that, on the descend, for moments where a downshift (or shifting to reverse) would be required, one would need to press the clutch and that would set the vehicle on a uncontrolled roll into the slope, which could make it fly off the drops or cliffs, unless accompanied by a tap on the brake at just those moments of clutch application. Add to that the prospect of needing to reverse up a steep slope at the hairpins without any forward roll. Decided, that I wont take chances to see if I can make Marengo take turns in one go, instead, in places where I am not certain, I will reverse up with adequate roll-off area in the front. In other words, was a little scared as we went to sleep, and probably the prospect of seeing the Khangchedzonga had vanished into a far corner of the mind. Then came thoughts about my father bragging to the trekkers at Tumling about the peaks showing themselves to him, was laughing to myself.


Soon, did not realise, woke up to my wife saying that Kanchenjungha is visible! For a moment I thought I was imagining things in my sleep. Then the words repeated. Realised that I wasn't hearing in sleep. Lifted the cell to see the time, it was 4:50am. Yet did not believe, thought it was just a joke. But she is not one of those prankster kind, I am. Walked to the window in the shivering cold, in just t-shirt and shorts, vibrating like the Direct Injection diesels that frequents these places. Well where? Dont see a thing, then noticed, yes, it is indeed there in a silhouette mode. Here is the first view of the first light in the morning.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0978-copy.jpg

Closer look.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0979.jpg

Kept vibrating like the DI diesel, but unlike those, instead of settling down to a warm idle, vibrations increased as the redness from the Sun made its appearance.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0982-copy.jpg

Khangchendzongha was indeed showing himself to us.


Time to dress up and head below. Marengo needs to pose!

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_0996-copy.jpg


A few yards to the east on the India side, the Mt Everest was also beginning to show itself.
Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1057.jpg

Marengo and his new two-wheeled friend with Mt Everest and Khangchendzongha.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1080.jpg

Here is the splendour of the peak along with Mt Kumbhakarna.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1046-copy.jpg

Sandakphuites bow down to the new sensation in their village, Marengo with a Khanchendzongha halo

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1029.jpg

Day 5 - Drive to Kolakham
As part of the plan, today was also the day we make a descend and then move to a new location for the night, Kolakham. However neither my father nor me made any attempts to analyse either the distance or the time it will take to reach there. The place does not even feature on google maps.

However, what we knew is that its very close to Lava, around 8-10kms away translating to around 20mins drive. Lava is about 1 hour journey in a hired MUV from Kalimpong. Kalimpong itself is about 2 hours away if travelled in a hired MUV from Darjeeling, so it would probably be the same from Sukhia. Then add 15 minutes to travel from Monebhanjan to Sukhia. Around 4 hours on the descend from Sandakphu to Monebhanjan. Add to that 1.5 hours of stop time for breaks/lunch etc. So in essence we were looking at a 9 hr journey to Kolakham from Sandakphu. Assuming we find the right way to the next town at every town without any time loss.

Hence the plan was to start by 7:30am so as to reach Kolakham by 4:30pm, so that we do have adequate daylight left to be able to explore Kolakham within the same day.

But then, the sights offerred by the pictures above, kept us at Sandakphu till 9am. Thankfully the Mt Khanchenjungha kept himself visible till we took the turn from Sandakphu. Somehow right after taking the turn, the peak also vanished from view.

The Drive down was uneventful but painfully slow. Mainly because we were very cautious on the hairpin descends, deliberately reversing back on the tighter ones with adequate room. Besides on the descend the speeds were also tending to rise on the rough rocks, which wasn't too promising.

Had a last good look at the flower lined roads.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-dsc00391.jpg

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-dsc00402.jpg

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On the way up, we gave this customary stop at Lameydhura a miss, mainly to avoid people asking questions and cluttering our mind with their opinion. This time the expression of the folks standing there was different. So decided to stop. The tea is highly overrated!

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1099.jpg

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We saw this at Chithrey, the point till which the tarmac roads exist. Probably Marengo would have told it, that the journey actually starts where the road ends!!

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1100.jpg


Had reached Monebhanjan with a drive time of 3 hours, so more or less we are now on the original target (just 30 mins behind schedule). But we reached Lava at 4pm!! This, given that we had mixed up the road to Lava at Kalimpong and lost about 15 minutes there and another 15 minutes was lost within Kalimpong town traversing only about 2 kms.

Here is the detail

From Monebhanjan, drove to Sukhia, refuelled there. Then drove to Ghoom and from there to Teesta. From Sukhia to Teesta a distance of around 41 kms was traversed in 1 hour. It was all downhill, and at most points the vehicle was running away in second gear with no throttle inputs. From Teesta, the road climbs again to Kalimpong, and then descends to Lava.

Some pics of the picturesque route.

Sukhia to Ghoom

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-dsc00427.jpg

Ghoom to Teesta

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-dsc00429.jpg

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-dsc00435.jpg

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-dsc00436.jpg

Between Kalimpong and Lava

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-dsc00444.jpg

Now with all the talk of Sandakphu being high above the clouds, our journey to Kolakham was seeming like a steady descent. But the travel brochure for Kolakham proclaims a breathtaking view of the same peak. Given the clouds we saw at Sandakphu, the altitude we lost in the travel, we knew there was a thin chance of the brochure statement to redeem itself.

Now since we had made good time and the final destination only 8kms away. Decided to have some momo's to munch on, in a restaurant there.

There is a jeep stand there and took the chance to ask the driver of a hire jeep (a Mahindra Marshall) for directions. The guy says, upon hearing that we want to go to Kolakham that scorpio cant go, its a very bad and tough road. I said, I have just been back from Sandakphu. He did not seem to recognise the place, but mentioned, that this road is worst. Then another fellow driver came up and joined the discussion telling me stories of how one scorpio which attempted it, had a broken its brake in attempting to get there. Then he started pointing me to the 4WD lever in his marshall and said that vehicles with this sort of a lever can only get there. I mentioned that I dont have that lever in my Scorpio, they laughed. I said just give me the direction, if my vehicle does not go, I will probably think of employing you, besides its just 8km. Both of them said its actually 14 kms. Then gave a very vague direction. Only thing I could make out was that I have to make a acute left turn at the Lava jeep stand and then drive down and look for a kuchcha road on left.

Took the almost u-turn left and drove down about half a km till a junction emerged. Asked a person there and he mentioned very clearly, drive about 300-400 meters, there will be a kuchcha road on left, drive for another 100 meters you will get a fork, take the road on left that goes down, then drive 8 kms to reach Kolakham. Then he mentioned that the surface is indeed bad, just to be careful.

So took the road as he described. The road entered the Neora valley forest. The surface was again broken rocks (see below)

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-dsc00454.jpg

Shifted to Lowrange gears again to allow easier slow speed control on the normal gears, without having to tax the left foot.

However there were a couple of forks, some of which had direction board for "Neora Valley Eco Huts" and on the others you just had to trust your drivers instinct. There was not a single human in sight for the entire distance, neither a sign of any facility. About 7kms later there was a hairpin left, with a gate on its apex with the letter NVJC (Later came to know that it means "Neora Valley Jungle Camp") on it, but no humans in sight. Did not drive through the gate, but instead took the hairpin and drove on. 8km crossed, about 100 meters from that, one hut was visible a few meters down. Thankfully this place turned out to be Kolakham. Our reservation was at "Kolakham Retreat" and to get to it, this was the way!

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1102.jpg

Had no other option apart from driving up in reverse, to allow my mother to safely alight and move backwards towards the cottage, as well as easier removal of luggage from the back.

The cottage had two rooms on top. My Parents room

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1106.jpg

Our room was a duplex with a cute sleeping area on top

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1111.jpg

The temperature out here seemed to be much higher in comparison to the previous few evenings that we experienced. There were frequent power cuts. Soon it started raining and we asked for Marengo to be parked somewhere safer. They arranged for Marengo to be parked down below near the managers house. The night was spent in a mildly cold atmosphere with sounds of occasional rain and the forest.

Last edited by 1100D : 18th April 2013 at 01:16.
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Old 18th April 2013, 22:53   #6
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Default Re: Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on a Land Rover territo

Day 6 Kolakham

Kolakham (6500ft - substantially lower than Sandakphu), being situated overlooking the Neora Valley National Park is said to offer a view of the Mt Kanchenjungha and in addition to that, offers a chance for taking nature walks into the forest offering good chance to catch up on wildlife and birdwatching.

If time permits its also a destination from which one can go and visit changey falls. For us, Kolakham was only a night stopover, so we did none of this. We thought that a short walk taken into the wilderness is enough for a Red Panda to come and say hello to us, but probably the Panda wasn't too interested.

The first wake up statement again, for the second consecutive day was that the Mt Kanchenjungha was visible. Could not believe the ears again. When almost 12000ft showed us the peak only once in all of 3 days, what chance would 6500 ft have! (that too in 1 day)

But, it was indeed true.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1114.jpg

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1115.jpg

The little one woke up right beside the Kanchenjungha from the upper floor of the duplex.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1119.jpg Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1122.jpg

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1137.jpg

It was indeed amazing and a testimony that nothing apart from luck works, when it comes to be able to see the majestic peak.


The "Kolakham retreat" cottage from down below. Balcony overlooking the peak.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1141.jpg

However, as cool as the cottages look from outside or inside, the doors, interestingly are quite flimsy, with the latches either difficult to operate,misaligned or loose. The service at the Kolakham retreat is also quite amateur, though we did not complain due to the homely setup they have. The manager is very difficult to understand or make understand.

For example, an interesting event happened while we were on the way to Kolakham and driving through the forest with no one to ask for directions. We found no direction boards enroute for "Kolakham Retreat". There were a few boards for "Neora Valley Eco Huts Kolakham" though.



Quote:

My father asked the manager on whether we should follow the "Neora Valley Eco Huts" direction,
He clearly said "no, come straight", whereas the road has distinct forks both leading straight.

I took over the cell. Asked him if "Neora Valley Eco Huts" and "Kolakham retreat" are situated at the same place,

He said "no, continue straight!"

I asked "which straight?"

(Okay doing it in the actual language spoken as far as I recall - just for the fun of it)

He said, "jo rasta seedha aata hai" (take the road thats coming straight)
I repeated "yahan do rasta seedha jaa raha hai, ek upar or ek niche (here there are two roads going straight one up and one down)
He repeated "saab seedha wala pakro aur kuch mat poocho" (take the straight one dont ask anything else!)

I asked him about the "Neora Valley Eco Huts" board pointing downwards, he said that is different.

Gosh! we were in the middle of the forest with nowhere to go now. Then a bulb glew


I asked him if Kolakham is the name of one place, he said yes.
I asked him ""Neora Valley Eco Huts" Kolakham mein hai na? ("Neora Valley Eco Huts" is in Kolakham?)
He said "yes!"
I asked him "Kolakham Retreat Kolakham mein hain na" (Kolakham retreat is in Kolakham?)
He said "yes"
Then I asked, "dono ek hi Kolakham hai na" (Both are same Kolakham?)
He said "yes"
I asked him then if I follow the "Neora Valley Eco Huts" boards should I reach Kolakham retreat?
He said no!!!

At the verge of banging my head, I asked him a final question

"Agar "Neora Valley Eco Huts" ka board follow kiya to Kolakham reach karunga to?" (If I follow the boards to "Neora Valley Eco Huts" will I reach Kolakham?)
He said "YES!!"

Then I asked "Us Kolakham mein Kolakham retreat hai" (Does that Kolakham have Kolakham retreat?)
He said "Haa saab, par wo raste ke us paar mein hai, wahan pouchenge to hamara jaga nahi aaye ga" (Yes but its on the opposite side of the road, if you reach there you wont reach our place)

Then I asked "agar hum ""Neora Valley Eco Huts" ka board follow kare, aur ant mein rasta cross karle, to aapka jaga aaye ga?" (If I follow boards to ""Neora Valley Eco Huts" and then cross the road after reaching there, will I reach your place)

He said "haan, wahi to bol raha hun, dono ek jaga nahi hai" (yes that is what I am saying two are different places)


Another instance, after dinner on asking the manager if someone can help us cleaning the center table, he himself took the center table outside and then he started hitting that on the ground (as if flapping a car floor map on the ground) to clean it of the dinner debris.

So if anyone is planning a stay at "Kolakham retreat" make sure to ask for the manager!

Anyways the better place to stay would be "Neora Valley Jungle Camp". (pic below - overlooking both the jungle as well as the peak)

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1133.jpg


Day 6 Drive to Murti

Soon it was time to leave Kolakham and head to the plains. Next destination is Murti.

8kms through the forest to Lava took longer as we stopped for some snaps.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1144.jpg

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1159.jpg

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-dsc00516.jpg

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-dsc00524.jpg

From Lava, Gorubothan was around 40 odd ks, where the plains begin. Gorubothan to Damdim was freshly laid tarmac, 13kms and came up fast. From Damdim, its the usual NH31/31c to Chalsa a distance of around 15kms. Right turn at Chalsa (on NH31) and drive for about another 5 kms to reach Dhupjhora. A left turn at Dhupjhora and driving for 3 kms on a nicely laid road with one (or two) narrow culverts, one almost reaches the Murti river bridge. The WBFDC bunglow, Banani, is situated just before it.

Some pics on the route

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1169.jpg

Final few kms on the hills

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1171.jpg

Beside the tea gardens near Damdim (what a name)

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1174.jpg

We reached Murti from Lava within an hour and half.

Our reservation at Murti is for the next two nights. This day being a Thursday, the forests are closed to visitors. So would have to laze the day around.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1177.jpg

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-dsc00569.jpg

Another thing to note here, we were told that own vehicles are not allowed in the forests. Even permission applications are not entertained. This is something we found hard to digest. The vehicles allowed entry into the forest are private yellow board Gypsy's. Felt that this is one way of forcing people to hire these things. Although these vehicles, being petrol powered and open, have their own advantage inside the forest but that is a separate discussion. I am sure there must be a proper authority to approach for the forest permit for personal vehicles.

Then the WBFDC bungalow, strangely does not stock anything other than basic food. Even soft drinks are not stocked and any request for it, promptly two local shops outside are pointed to. Those shops are extortion rackets charging in some cases upto 40% above MRP. Pretext? Well, they have to transport these from Chalsa and then their is refrigeration cost. Even simple Sandwiches were not served though it features in the "approved" menu card. In other words, it appears that something is amiss with the current management at Banani.

However as we go into the night, we do so with thoughts of catching up the early morning Gypsy safari to Gorumora National Park.

Last edited by 1100D : 19th April 2013 at 01:08.
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Old 20th April 2013, 02:51   #7
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Default Re: Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on a Land Rover territo

Day 7 Forests Near Murti

Waking up early again and as if by a newly acquired habit, rushed to the window to check for the peak, but instead saw a few Gypsy's parked down below. They had these Rhino-XX codes beside them, where XX stands for the Rhino No, based on the serial number it was registered with some authority that controls allotment of vehicles as the move into the forest.

Thankfully the vehicle we got allotted seemed to be from the original lot of Japanese Gypsy's with original fitments, while others were jazzed up, some with fender extensions though the axles were the narrow-track ones (looking rickety in the process).

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Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1207.jpg

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As per our original plan, we were the first at the Gorumora forest gate. The vehicles move in the forest in the order they arrive at the gate, or the order they leave the watchtowers. So being first, especially early morning after a closed forest day increases the chances of spotting. We infact spotted this Elephant right away, but then the shrieks and noise from the other visitors in other Gypsys trailing us, drove him inside the forest.

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From the Gate we were taken to the first watch tower called the "Jatra Prosad watchtower". We saw a few Peacocks, one of which was on its impressing duty.

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A few wild boars that would have been of particular interest to Obelix

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1233.jpg

And a few bisons in a far off distance which we could not really recognise as such.

From Jatra Prosad we went to the Rhino point, saw another peacock in its dance

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Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1259.jpg

However some of the tourists from other vehicles were actually failing to observe silence. For example, some ladies from one Gypsy started chatting up their forest guides as to their pay package and duty hours, kids let loose. Infact so much noise that wild life is sure not to show up from the watch tower.

We moved out in disgust when we saw a group of these guys.

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We headed back to the Bungalow.


Our next forest ride would be in the evening so had time to kill. Took Marengo down to the River bed for fun. Though the army has cut trenches on the usual routes to get to the bed, it should not be a problem for an offroader (or a softroader) to make its own way!

Marengo quenching its thirst after all the offroad fun it has had.

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Evening time it was the turn to visit Chapramari National park. We were not the first vehicle here,

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1304.jpg

Different Gypsy but proper widetrack MG410W

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Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1312.jpg

But upon reaching the watchtower was extremely disturbed by the fellow visitors failing to observe silence, instead some of the younger folks were actually having a party to themselves. No chance that wildlife would show up. Left the place.

On the way to the next point, just outside the Chapramari National park, found this herd, a full family.

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We stood there, engine off, watching them from a very close distance. They too aware of us, but totally okay with our presence. Thats when the opening sequence of this story happened with this one!!

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_13251.jpg

Thankfully the other visitors were still in the previous watchtower and did not start for the onward journey soon. But as soon as they arrived, the noise drove the elephants in again.

Went for the last stop on route through a forest to some wilderness camp, but found out that the visit there was mostly to witness a tribal dance session, again involving sound in the forest. Did not stick there for long, came back to the bungalow.

Our trip, mostly over.

Last edited by 1100D : 20th April 2013 at 03:11.
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Old 20th April 2013, 13:47   #8
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Day 8 - Drive to Siliguri

As I mentioned in the last post, the trip was almost over. All that needed to be done is to drive to Siliguri, a drive of an hour or so, for the night and a long drive back home the next day. So naturally, that hours drive apart, the challenge was the utilisation of the rest of the day.

A little walk around Murti saw the morning off. At 11am it was time to say bye bye to Banani (the WBFDC cottage). Right after loading Marengo up, we decided to branch off to a place called Suntalay Khola and Samsing before hitting Siliguri.

Drove to Chalsa, Samsing/Suntalay Khola is on the road straight ahead curving left. Suntalay Khola would come up after 25 kms. The initial few kms meandering through the Goodriche tea gardens and last 4 kms being under the shade and lining of pine trees.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1428.jpg

At Suntalay Khola, outside vehicles are allowed till 1 km of it. Beyond this vehicles are allowed only with permission or if you have a booking with the WBFDC bungalows there. We decided to walk it, we had all the time in the world today.

The Pedestrian bridge at Suntalay Khola

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Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-dsc00747.jpg


The Nature education and wilderness center and herbal message center at Suntalay Khola, interestingly it was closed for the day

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Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1389.jpg


Soon it was time to head back to Marengo. The 1 km seemed long, especially walking upslope.

Marengo with the tea gardens at Samsing.

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Soon we were at Chalsa and a right turn lead us to Siliguri, even driving super slow the distance was being made up fast.

Some pics of these amazing creatures as we entered near the Sevoke region.

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Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1437.jpg

A customary pic of this legendary bridge. We had byepassed the Coronation bridge in all our journey and did not want to displease it altogether (we would need it to continue allowing us to use it)

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1460.jpg

Soon we were at Siliguri. A painful evening, being back to a data network and tons of e-mails that had accumulated over the last 1 week. Makes you wonder, whether people who sent them, have any real clue of life!

Retired to bed early, will have to wake up early, very early, but instead of the motivation of catching up the peaks or some wilderness, it was the sight of the long diverse drive back home. Would have looked forward to it, if Marengo had magically transformed itself to my Ikon 1.6 nxt.

Day 9 - A painful drive back

All the talk of starting early, none of us could motivate ourselves strong enough to start before 6:15 am. Its the latest we have started on a journey between the two cities. Also ensured that with all the strain that the last few days put on us, we did not drive for more than 1.5-2 hrs at a stretch, took 6 stops, mainly for my Mom who has recently caught up diabetes. Had a sumptuous Bengali lunch at Marks and Meadows Santiniketan. Yet, we reached home by 6:30pm, an uneventful drive back. Apart from a delicious drive between Pattabari and Messanjore meandering through semi hills, taking a little under 12 mins to cross 15 kms, including truck hold-ups, with a 2 ton SUV, those who know the area would know what I am talking about.

Conclusion of the story.

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1065-copy.jpg

It was fantastic, all checklist items ticked. My mother, after her diabetes discovery would never have thought of Sandakphu. Dad probably did, but not with his wife.The views were excellent, though not really totally upto the mark, but breathtaking anyway. Some myths broken, some records, regarding Khanchenjungha showing itself to us, maintained.

In all Marengo was not the first new vehicle to get there, but it was certainly the first one without exposed door hinges to make it there. I am not even adding CRDi, Independent front suspension, power windows, bluetooth connectivity and steering mounted audio controls. Good that it also came back one piece!! (With a few bush rashes that is)

Sandakphuites bow to a new sensation that showed up in their area - Marengo!

Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on Land Rover territory-img_1029.jpg
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Old 20th April 2013, 13:58   #9
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Thread moved from the Assembly Line. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 20th April 2013, 20:31   #10
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Let me be the first one to congratulate you on this awesome write up with some great pictures. Your topic made rethink about visiting North Bengal and the Himalayas yet again. I would love to explore Sandakphu by self driving but since i don't own a SUV it restricts me from doing so. Last November i did Kolkata- Darjeeling- Pelling- Holong and back to kolkata. This was the first time i hit the Himalayas by self driving. But believe me once you do a Himalayan drive you become addicted to it. I can feel your every bit of happiness reading this topic.

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Old 20th April 2013, 22:38   #11
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Let me be the first one to congratulate you on this awesome write up with some great pictures. Your topic made rethink about visiting North Bengal and the Himalayas yet again. I would love to explore Sandakphu by self driving but since i don't own a SUV it restricts me from doing so. Last November i did Kolkata- Darjeeling- Pelling- Holong and back to kolkata. This was the first time i hit the Himalayas by self driving. But believe me once you do a Himalayan drive you become addicted to it. I can feel your every bit of happiness reading this topic.

Thank You. SUV is not at all a requirement for most terrific destinations. I have an almost 9yr old Ikon 1.6 and its explored quite a bit of North Bengal and Sikkim in some cases through very bad road conditions. I am yet to visit Holong, but its on my to-do list.

Since you mention Pelling. Look this up, its close to Pelling but awesome in terms of mountain view, Yangtay.

http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travel...er-2009-a.html (Ikon takes us to Yangtey (in December 2009!))
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Old 20th April 2013, 23:01   #12
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Originally Posted by 1100D View Post
Thank You. SUV is not at all a requirement for most terrific destinations. I have an almost 9yr old Ikon 1.6 and its explored quite a bit of North Bengal and Sikkim in some cases through very bad road conditions. I am yet to visit Holong, but its on my to-do list.

Since you mention Pelling. Look this up, its close to Pelling but awesome in terms of mountain view, Yangtay.

http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travel...er-2009-a.html (Ikon takes us to Yangtey (in December 2009!))
Thanks for the link. Yes you are correct there are many wonderful places at Noth Bengal which do not require a SUV. I mentioned SUV for doing Sandakphu, apart from that i have also done few rough stretch in my Etios at North Bengal too.
I would like to ask you one thing that do you have a hill endorsement license? As one of my friend was fined at Darjeeling for not having it. Few days back i inquired about the same at Hooghly R.T.O but they told they only issue it to those who have heavy Vehicle license with minimum 2 years of experience. My license is approximately 10 years old but its for light motor vehicle + geared/non geared 2 wheelers so i cant get it. Do you have any idea whats the correct procedure for us?
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Old 20th April 2013, 23:06   #13
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Originally Posted by Samba View Post
Thanks for the link. Yes you are correct there are many wonderful places at Noth Bengal which do not require a SUV. I mentioned SUV for doing Sandakphu, apart from that i have also done few rough stretch in my Etios at North Bengal too.
I would like to ask you one thing that do you have a hill endorsement license? As one of my friend was fined at Darjeeling for not having it. Few days back i inquired about the same at Hooghly R.T.O but they told they only issue it to those who have heavy Vehicle license with minimum 2 years of experience. My license is approximately 10 years old but its for light motor vehicle + geared/non geared 2 wheelers so i cant get it. Do you have any idea whats the correct procedure for us?
No Idea, hearing it the first time. Not sure if its required for private vehicles, or its just a ploy at Darjeeling.
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Old 20th April 2013, 23:32   #14
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Default Re: Sandakphu Phalut Kolakham - Unleashing a Mahindra Scorpio on a Land Rover territo

hope you enjoyed your stay. The route is very dear to heart as family, especially my late uncle made their first earnings (with landrovers) from these route ending to become one of biggest figure in Darjeeling.

That landrover is made, its not original pickup. There are 28 left now out of some 500+ that were brought in Darjeeling. As you can see most are in very shabby state. They are paperless, with no tax payed for decades.

And you will be shocked at their asking prices.

Give my Regards to your family, hope they enjoyed as much as you did.

-K
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Old 21st April 2013, 00:14   #15
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That landrover is made, its not original pickup. There are 28 left now out of some 500+ that were brought in Darjeeling. As you can see most are in very shabby state. They are paperless, with no tax payed for decades.

And you will be shocked at their asking prices.

Give my Regards to your family, hope they enjoyed as much as you did.

-K
Well when I saw this one first, I initially thought it could not be a short wheelbase pickup. Moreover its distinctly newer than the usual ones there. Then the owner said that this was imported directly from UK by the previous owner, a bishop in a church in Darjeeling, in late 80's, the papers indicate its a Pickup Short wheel base. The canopy was a local addition. I got an indication of what would be his asking price!!

My parents enjoyed the trip very much but then at one point was a little scared due to the remoteness of the place and the lack of medical support if required.
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