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Old 29th May 2017, 22:22   #1
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Default Breakin' The Ice: Phalut Winter Trek, Darjeeling

The wooden floor creaks. Foot steps reverberate into a hollow tone. The snow beats outside, rain drizzles and the wind howls.
And the flame of the candle, stuck at the mouth of a beer bottle, flaps. It blows thin, sounds like fluttering and looks like it will be gutted but relaxes and glows again. Through the condensation in the windows, more fog is seen.Evening resembles night as the snow batters down.And a couple of silhouettes that of a human and a dog - appear in the frame..the dog wagging its tail and looking at its master. And both are heading towards the only accommodation at Phalut - the trekkers hut - where the bathroom mug has an inch layer of ice, icicles hung from the tinned roof and beer bottles are boiled in water to be consumed. Hostile may be an understatement to describe the situation at Phalut, but it presented with an invaluable experience.

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Phalut, early morning..after a fresh dusting of overnight snow. Running water supply does not exist in the Phalut Trekkers hut. Saw the hosts boiling bottles of beer that had gotten frozen before drinking. The water in the toilet jar had an inch of ice on the top.

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Prayer flags and Kanchenjunga at Sandakphu.

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Pandim range, as visible, a little after Jhaubari

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Pictured here, the guide Nima. Very first evening beyond Chitrey.Ominous dark clouds..Later rain and sleet.

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Little girl. At Bhikheybhanjan.

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Sunrise from Tumling. At all the places I had stayed overnight - Tumling, Sandakphu and Phalut - I witnessed the sunrise on the Kanchenjunga range everyday. January is super cold, but it rewards with domineering views.

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A group of students from Sikkim walking towards the Phalut viewpoint

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Phalut trekkers hut. Coined the ride behind it as the 'backbone' ridge.

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Undulating meadows. Always barren. Always burnt. Always winter.

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View from the Phalut trekkers' hut.

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Descending towards Gorkhey. Basking in the sunshine, little beats of sweat disappear before they are dried up by the wind.Cultivation fields are barren..they grow only potatoes in the cold. A little dusty, here and there, now and then, you find that farmer looking after the underground harvest.

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Through the veil.

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Jannu remains my favourite peak, its striking 'chair' like pose and impressive steep face, always finds its way into my threads.

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Decending from Phalut, the walk is through a maze of young bamboo shoots and magnolia and rhododendron trees.The magnolias and rhododendrons are silent now but the snow in the shadows, over the leaves, branches..and sometimes in the sunlight that glistens the surface is heartwarming. After a brisk 2 hours and 15 kms walk through this steep descent of forests, appears a clearing that presents the whole view of Gorkhey.

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In the backdrop of the Himalayas.

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Last edited by sayakc : 9th June 2017 at 11:23.
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Old 30th May 2017, 20:18   #2
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Default re: Breakin' The Ice: Phalut Winter Trek, Darjeeling

(Continuing from the first post)

First Day

A couple of days back, late in the afternoon and after a brisk hailstorm at Manebhanjan we walked and climbed past Chitrey with the guide Nima resembling a mountain goat against the black sky and I following him at a distance. Breathes draw sharp and long and forces me to pause very frequently. Earlier in the day, I got down at NJP railway station, rented a cab, breakfasted at Kurseong Tourist Lodge and alighted at Jorebungalow and after 2 more cab rides landed up at Manebhanjan. Ideally I would have wanted to spend the night at Manebhanjan. But, time was short and so started the dizzying walk as we crossed Chitrey in the first hour, reached Lameydhura for a quick tea break and then the light was lost, for we had started late.
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Blue hour.Blue hour results are a little different than the golden hour. But it has freshness of a Rooster's call. And after a night of deep sleep with a mind that was conscious, but again not fully so, this is the view that I woke up to. At Tumling.

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A little more light.

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Some more. That golden hue very commonly seen.

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Close Up.

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One more.

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Golden to white transition. Tumling was flooded with light streaks.

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The last mile to Sandakphu. Evening breeze blows cold. Sun light rests on the hill tops. Hand gloves are a must, for fingers get frozen.

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Makalu. Everest clouded.And Lhotse barely visible.

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Azure skies rest on the Kanchenjunga range.

So with a head torch that Nima carried we walked through unmarked trails, blistering cold wind blowing..Sometimes the lights of Darjeeling appeared when we were walking on the ridge..but in the shortcuts,there was darkness of the night, for there was no moon to be seen. It hung thick, and through the barely visible torch light, saw light rain and sleet fall. At 8 in the night..steep, cold and muddy path we reached Skhikhar Lodge..and after an hours rest beside the fireplace, with tea and refreshments and dinner..I slept like a log until the alarm clock rang through the darkness. And when I woke up, saw the blue hour unfolding - The Kanchenjunga range, pale and white, clean and clear standing before my eyes.

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An awesome walk, Sandakphu to Phalut - those 20 kms seem to have gone by so fast. The morning walk was through verdant forests, copious amounts of sunshine and snow,up and downhills paths working together in perfect balance.

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Samanden

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Phalut meadows

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Trees on the meadows are leafless and 'branch'less. Most are dead. People say its due to the heavy winds.

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Rammam.

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Potato cultivation.

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Girl at Rammam.

Last edited by sayakc : 9th June 2017 at 11:24.
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Old 30th May 2017, 20:51   #3
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Default re: Breakin' The Ice: Phalut Winter Trek, Darjeeling

Second Day

After a breakfast of Tibetan bread and to accompany it - tea and bad cigarettes and morning silence with breaks from roosters and birds and sunshine and pine trees and the whole mountain range now burning white and bright - we descended from Tumling to Gairibas. Patches of snow lighting up in the sunshine, trickles of water flowing when the sun was a little stronger and the steady downhill path made for a carefree, fulfilling and happy walk..as I was swinging the trekking stick in the air, watching only for the pebbles and large rocks that lay astray. Deep pine forests and panoramic mountain ranges, we walked fast and hard for the distance was long..sweat drips, but vanishes before it reaches the temple, dried by the cold..Around 4.30 in the evening I reached Sherpa Chalet at Sandakphu.

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Snow dusting on rhododendron leaves.

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View towards Phalut while walking towards Gorkhey.

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Snow on the trail.

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Jannu from Phalut.

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A Prayer stone. Upwards of Chitrey.
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Rhododendrons camouflaged by snow.

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Her Majesty..Kanchenjunga

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Maggi and Tea break at Gorkhey.

Last edited by sayakc : 9th June 2017 at 11:25.
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Old 30th May 2017, 21:19   #4
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Default re: Breakin' The Ice: Phalut Winter Trek, Darjeeling


Third Day

6 o clock next morning and I was up watching another spectacular sunrise over the Everest and Kanchenjunga ranges. Sandakphu was covered in white. Dustings of snow above and black ice beneath and hence walking was risky. Managed to find a quaint spot with prayer flags flying above and surrounded by green conifers and sat in silence, shooting the transition of colours. Everest, Makalu, Lhotse resembling pyraminds sitting close to each other; Chomo Lonza, The Three Sisters panoramic. Toasts, omelettes, tea and (again) bad cigarettes later, we walked through the Ale camping grounds and up and down the paths, sometimes plunging into deep forests that opened up into a clearing and meadows, now brown and dry and spaced with snow and wind. Trees are bare, leafless and barks are pelling off. The Chauris come to these places to feast upon grass but now fodder is absent and Chauris have disappeared. Just to listen to the wind and solitude I sit for a while and wonder in April when there are more tourists and flowers and insects and birds.

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After noon, the clouds take over and its dark and dull and sad and walk feels slow and depressing..Little rain starts, fierce wind blows and in some more time we find ourselves entering the dark, ill lit hall of the Phalut trekkers hut. Hung from the wall is a photo of "INS Vipul - Missile Vessel Squadron". I order for maggi and tea. Tea is liquorless, odourless and very, very sweet. Maggi is forgettable. Rest of the evening I sleep in the cot, wearing smelly clothes and watch the candle flicker and flutter as the wind and snow takes over.
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Everest Group from Sandakphu

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Kanchenjunga from Sandakphu

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Last edited by sayakc : 9th June 2017 at 11:26.
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Old 30th May 2017, 21:54   #5
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Default re: Breakin' The Ice: Phalut Winter Trek, Darjeeling

Day Four

After overnight slow had raided Phalut, I make my way through the snow and climb to the view point. Very, very unique. The high point of Ghosha appears like a hurdle in all the photographs. A mule track actually exists and runs from Phalut to Gosha to Varsey. Apart from Rangpo and Sillery Gaon area this is another border crossing traverse from Bengal to Sikkim. Orange sun make the snow around Phalut burn like gold. After a quick breakfast we descend through trenches, forests and land up in Gorkhey. Its a gradual and even path from Gorkhey to Rammam and then all the way downhill to Srikhola. A 30 kms walk completed in 7 hours.

Breakin' The Ice: Phalut Winter Trek, Darjeeling-_dsc0631.jpg
Chomo Lonzo, The Three Sisters and Everest Group. In the foreground, the road towards Phalut.

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Green hills

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Climbing towards Sabarkum.

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The hill in the distance is Gosha, Sikkim

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Walking towards Gorkhey from Phalut.

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Village hut at Gorkhey

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Potato harvesting

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The trail is infectious. And even though its painful, it always beckons ...Back to the mountains, the valleys, forests, streams...where you can hear its gurgling rivers, howling winds, rustling leaves...its cold, its warmth ...one journey and its rippling return journeys later, its a symbiotic existence of the trail and the traveller.


Itinerary
Day One:
Overnight train from Sealdah to NJP to Manebhanjan (Shared Cab). Manebhanjan to Tumling (Walk)
Day Two: Tumling to Sandakphu.
Day Three: Sandakphu to Phalut
Day Four: Phalut to Srikhola via Gorkhey, Samanden, Rammam and Rimbik

Guide Cost: Has shot upto Rs. 700 per day (Jan'17) from 400 per day (in Mar'16)
Total cost ~Rs 9000

Last edited by sayakc : 9th June 2017 at 11:26.
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Old 9th June 2017, 14:53   #6
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Default re: Breakin' The Ice: Phalut Winter Trek, Darjeeling

Thread moved out from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section). Thanks for sharing!
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Old 9th June 2017, 15:36   #7
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Default Re: Breakin' The Ice: Phalut Winter Trek, Darjeeling

Captivating description of the real beauty of the place. Treks are as attractive to the trekker as they are sleep-inducingly boring and slow to the trek blog reader. You managed to write in a manner that left me reading this all the way through.

Thank you. Well-deserved 5 stars.
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Old 9th June 2017, 15:53   #8
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Default Re: Breakin' The Ice: Phalut Winter Trek, Darjeeling

Superb writing and pictures. Rated 5 stars. Two days to Sandakphu is quite good is what I have heard. People usually take at least three days. Sandakphu and Phalut are very close to my heart, though I have never trekked. Plan to do at least the Phalut to Srikhola trek in this lifetime

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[/i][/i][/i]Attachment 1644265
[/i][i][i][i][i][i]Trees on the meadows are leafless and 'branch'less. Most are dead. People say its due to the heavy winds.
Some of them are dead due to vultures sitting on them, not too sure though.

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Old 9th June 2017, 21:58   #9
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Default Re: Breakin' The Ice: Phalut Winter Trek, Darjeeling

Went through your thread in one go, Sayak.... very well written with mesmerising photographs.

Thanks for taking me along on this wonderful trek.

Warm regards,

Siddhartha
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Old 10th June 2017, 15:12   #10
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Default Re: Breakin' The Ice: Phalut Winter Trek, Darjeeling

Beautiful pictures and wonderfully written. You had excellent weather and the view of the mountains was awesome. Thank you for sharing.

One more item added to the list of things to do "soon".
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Old 10th June 2017, 18:38   #11
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Default Re: Breakin' The Ice: Phalut Winter Trek, Darjeeling

Beautiful narrartion. I have always wanted to visit this place but circumstances never makes it possible. Hailing from Sikkim, this is only a few hours away, attempted once from Gorkhey in West Sikkim but aborted due to lack of time, drove to Sandakpu once and attempted to drive to Phalut but returned 10 kms short with a twisted front propeller shaft of the Thar Crde. Hope I get my dreams realised soon.
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Old 12th June 2017, 10:43   #12
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Default Re: Breakin' The Ice: Phalut Winter Trek, Darjeeling

Fantastic as usual. Read through it it one go and drooled over the pictures. Rated a very deserving 5 stars.
I have my eyes set on this trek from quite some time. You just added fuel to that fire.
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Old 12th June 2017, 11:57   #13
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Default Re: Breakin' The Ice: Phalut Winter Trek, Darjeeling

Thank you SS-Traveller. Coming from a D-BHPian like you, it definitely feels great.

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Captivating description of the real beauty of the place. Thank you. Well-deserved 5 stars.
Dear Blackpearl, I am fully aware of your explorations around the area and driving to Sandakphu/Phalut is a matter of nerves and skill - which you have in abundance. Very glad that you liked the thread. Wonderful hilly villages are Upper Srikhola, Gorkhey, Samanden. Monsoon, winter - call it - anytime you get that feeling.

As far as vultures and winds - responsible for tree deaths are concerned, I do not have much idea. Just quoted the guide


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Originally Posted by BlackPearl View Post
Superb writing and pictures. Rated 5 stars.
Some of them are dead due to vultures sitting on them, not too sure though.
Thank you Siddartha.
Quote:
Originally Posted by siddarthab View Post
Went through your thread in one go, Sayak.... very well written with mesmerising photographs.
Dear Shantonob,
Thank you. I too went through your thread on South Sikkim, beautiful captures of the birds.

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Originally Posted by shantonob View Post
Fantastic as usual. Read through it it one go and drooled over the pictures. Rated a very deserving 5 stars.
Definitely Doctor. I think driving to Sandakphu requires more skill and nerve than walking.

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Originally Posted by Dr_MNC_SK View Post
Beautiful narrartion.Hope I get my dreams realised soon.
Yes Feluda, weather was awesome. Clear till 1 PM every day. Excellent sun and minimal clouds. Evenings were off course typical hill like - cloudy, misty, cold.

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Beautiful pictures and wonderfully written. You had excellent weather and the view of the mountains was awesome. Thank you for sharing. .
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Old 12th June 2017, 13:19   #14
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Default Re: Breakin' The Ice: Phalut Winter Trek, Darjeeling

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Originally Posted by sayakc View Post
As far as vultures and winds - responsible for tree deaths are concerned, I do not have much idea. Just quoted the guide [/i]
Lol, even I don't have much idea. I too quoted this from a local in Phalut
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Old 12th June 2017, 22:54   #15
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Default Re: Breakin' The Ice: Phalut Winter Trek, Darjeeling

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Originally Posted by sayakc View Post
... Orange sun make the snow around Phalut burn like gold. After a quick breakfast we descend through trenches, forests and land up in Gorkhey. Its a gradual and even path from Gorkhey to Rammam and then all the way downhill to Srikhola. A 30 kms walk completed in 7 hours...
Thank you Sayak! I just completed reading your travelogue for the second time. It's wonderfully written with equally stunning photographs. It's quite interesting to know that you could see Mt. Everest so clearly from Sandakphu.

I am curious to know about your trekking gears for this winter trip including approximate cost. Also, how much weight did you carry in your backpack during the trek?

Thanks,
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