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Old 24th April 2019, 12:22   #1
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Default Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD

Well, if you follow the 4x4 & travelogue section of the forum, you would know the Sandakphu has been one of the favourite destination for 4x4 enthusiasts in the eastern part of India. The route provides enough challenges to us & our 4WD vehicles to keep us engaged throughout. My dear friend Blackpearl has done this route many times in his Bolero & Thar (both 4WD) and had given us a rough idea of what to expect.

To rewind things a bit, we did an almost similar circuit early 2016 which has been documented here (Weekend Trip to Darjeeling in a Duster AWD)

Last time we had cut short our trip due to inclement weather. We did not go on the same road again since I had experienced the road conditions there & did not want our monocoque AWD to go through such bad roads for 31 kms. This changed last year when my wife, Meghna, went for a 7 day trek to Sandakphu & told me that the roads have transformed & have been concretised till Gairibas, which is around 19 kms out of those 31 kms. Since, the roads were improved till Gairibas, we decided to give Sandakphu a try.

Could not do it last year, as we had already planned a Bhutan trip (Beautiful Bhutan in a Duster AWD) in October & Meghalaya (Mesmerising Meghalaya in a Duster & Thar) in January. So with the extended weekend of Good Friday on the horizon, we planned this trip.

An opening picture with beautiful Rhododendrons

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-opening-rhod.jpg

Day 1 : Kolkata to Darjeeling

We got to know that quite a few bhpians were leaving for a group West Sikkim trip the same night as ours. We thought of joining them till Siliguri. Accordingly a time of 1930hrs was fixed at Dankuni toll. We left our home at 6.30 and were the first ones to reach Dankuni toll. Slowly the cars started rolling in and finally by 2015hrs everyone was there. After some tea & selfies, we embarked on the journey at 2030 hrs. The convoy of 8 cars moved forward till Moregram where the dinner break was planned. We reached Moregram at 0030 hrs and the team had dinner. Meghna & I had some rolls packed from home which we had on the go & therefore skipped the dinner. By 0130 hrs we were back on the road for the journey ahead.

Convoy parked at Moregram Dhaba

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-morgram-parking.jpg


We found Jam as we approached Farakka & the convoy broke away in small groups of 2-3 cars which made there way wherever they found space. Farakka delayed us by an hour an half. Moving on, Malda was in worst shape with truck traffic lined up till the byepass cut. After some delay there, we crossed and reached Raigunj where our friend Abhishek as waiting for us to regroup. Some members had gone ahead to check the road conditions of the alternative road that we had to take since there was another road block at Islampur as per GMaps and a local driver. We followed them as they had shared their live location. Finally after 14 hrs we reached Siliguri. Bid goodbye to the convoy & started our journey to Darjeeling. Stopped at Margarets Deck for breakfast

Margarets Deck

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-margeret-board.jpg

The Hanging Deck

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-margaret-hanging.jpg

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-margaret-balcony.jpg

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-me-margaret-balcony.jpg

Breakfast

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-sandwich.jpg

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-hot-chocolate.jpg


We reached our accommodation at 12 noon and checked in. After a small nap we went to the Mall at around 1700 hrs. Roamed around for 1.5 hrs and settled down at Glenary's at 1830 hrs. Enjoyed the live performance & dinner & left for our AirBnB by 2130 hrs. Slept early for the Sandakphu trip next day.

Accommodation

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-t-rooms-me.jpg

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-t-rooms-meghna.jpg

Glenary's

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-glenarys-name.jpg

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-glenarys-open.jpg

Meghna at Glenary's

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-meghna-glenarys.jpg

Fish Au gratin

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-fish-augratine.jpg


Walk back to our AirBNB

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-i-love-darj.jpg


contd..

Last edited by PapaBravo : 24th April 2019 at 14:07.
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Old 24th April 2019, 15:33   #2
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Default re: Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD

Day 2 : Darjeeling to Sandakphu

Got up early in the morning to see the mighty Kanchenjunga. Walked a bit to the view point to see the peak. All the pictures are taken by phone hence not of high quality.

Kanchenjunga

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-mt-k.jpg

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-mt-k-2.jpg


We started from Darjeeling at 8 after having our breakfast. Reached Maneybhanjan from where the climb to Sandakphu starts at around 9.15.

Approached the SSB office to buy the tickets to Singalila National Park. The person their enquired us about the vehicle we would take and we told him that it is going to be our private Duster 4WD. He suggested talking to the LR association (which runs Land Rovers up & down the peak for tourists) once.

So, there is a new issue at Sandakphu now. A week earlier bhpian Point Zero had gone till Tumling on this route and the local LR drivers were not so happy about that. We already had this update from him. We went to the LR association booth & found nobody their. After waiting for 30 minutes and asking around we got hold of the person in-charge. He told us that these days they discourage private cars to go up since it hampers their livelihood. He gave us the tickets citing that their is a shortage of Land Rovers on that particular day due to rush and hence he will allow us to go up. This looked strange but I did argue much with him. For anyone planning to go to Sandakphu in their private cars, please keep this in mind that the LR association could put in some obstacles in your plan.

Well, with the tickets in place, we started for our journey. The road till Gairbas is steep but made of concrete can be done in 2WD without much fanfare. We first crossed Chitrey. Chitrey/Upper Chitrey is quite an underrated place. The meadows are beautiful.

Hulk at Upper Chitrey (Looks like Windows XP background, doesn't it)

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-windows-xp.jpg


We didn't spend much time here since we did not know how the route after Gairibas would be. The vistas on the way were beautiful.

Vistas

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-cow.jpg

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-yak.jpg

With Rhododendrons

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-hulk-rhod.jpg

When you can't see the road right ahead of you but can see the path ahead

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-road-no-view.jpg

LR At Gairibas

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-lr-gairbas.jpg


We reached Gairibas and enquired an LR driver about the roads ahead. He warned us of the craters with boulders and bad slush and that it would be very difficult to take the duster to the top since even LRs are facing difficulty on the slush stretches. Keeping that in mind, we started our jouney on the broken roads.

On the way

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-otw-1.jpg

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-otw-2.jpg


We soon encountered the slush which the LR driver was talking about. It was really bad with deep ruts made due to LRs driving thru it multiple times. Some of these Slush patches were on an incline & we had to carry speed in order to not get stuck. Do not have a photo since we were too busy driving but here is a screen grab from a video.

Slush

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-slush.jpg

The condition of tyres after some patches

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-mud-wheel.jpg

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-mud-car.jpg


These slush patches did not leave us till the very end of our journey. We spotted Kalipokhri and stopped for a small photo session.

Kalipokhri Lake

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-kalipokhri.jpg

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-kalipokhri-2.jpg


We soon got close to the top and got our first view of Sherpa Chalet, the place that we were going to stay for the night.

Spot the hotel in the picture

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-sherpa-chalet-far.jpg

Another 3 kms to go

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-bhikeybanhajn.jpg



contd..

Last edited by PapaBravo : 24th April 2019 at 15:36.
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Old 24th April 2019, 17:07   #3
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Default re: Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD

Day 2 continued

The gradient of the inclines & switchbacks on the last stretch is very high. You realize the value of a low ratio gearbox here. There is stark difference on how you take those inclines in a vehicle with 4L and one without it. With 4L you can go slow and crawl up the inclines. With Duster AWD, even with the short 1st gear, the gradient is so high that you have to revv it hard in order to move up. Therefore, to tackle these switchbacks you have to carry a lot of speed and taking those switchbacks at such speed is not that easy. The boulders & craters add to the problem and it becomes impossible to avoid underbody hits. By around 11.30, we were at the top of Sandakphu with some underbody hits.

At the top

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-sandakphu.jpg

At Sherpa Chalet with a LR

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-shrpa-chalet-lr.jpg

Another one

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-lr-top.jpg

Another one with a Bolero 4WD. Hulk was the only vehicle on top with power windows

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-sherpa-chalet-bolero.jpg


Sherpa Chalet is very basic & since we booked it last moment we got a very modest room. There was a small solar powered lamp & a CFL which got electricity from 6pm to 9pm. Running water was not an option. And the room was 2 ft bigger than the bed. Well, all this wouldn't have caused much issue with us since we have stayed at basic accos earlier & we know that Sandakphu is not a place where even daily supplies are difficult to reach, but the Kerosene odour & smoke out the coal pit has filled the area and it got a bit suffocating. We went out on a small stroll to get whatever oxygen we could at 12000 ft.

A friend accompanied us for a while

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-meghna-dog.jpg

Some more pictures while on a stroll

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-meg-me-sphu-1.jpg

Left over snow on the roof of Sherpa Chalet

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-shrpa-chalet-snow.jpg

View from the top. This was beautiful.

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-view-top.jpg


We reached back our room and I slept off early without any dinner while Meghna had the Chicken dish that Sherpa Chalet offered. It could be the altitude that we could not sleep very well that night. Got up at 4.30 to see the most famous sunrise fro Sandakphu and saw this

You can imagine the peaks behind the clouds because that is what we did

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-mountain-range.jpg

The view we were expecting. ( From 1100Ds travelogue, a Sandakphu regular himself)

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-img_6662.jpg


Without any view, there was nothing to keep us on the top for more time and we thought of exploring more on our way back to Maneybhanjan. We started at 8am from Sandakphu on our downhill journey. Encountered fog and rain while coming down but found coming down easier than going up since we did not have to carry speed on the tight switchbacks or the downhill slush patches.

The temperature shown on MID at 8 am

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-1-deg.jpg

Foggy descent

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-fog-down.jpg

The road far away

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-road-thread.jpg

Another shot of the narrow road

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-narrow-road.jpg

Encountering Rhododendrons again

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-rhod-duster.jpg

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-rhodo-red.jpg


We reached Gairibas offroading here & there and were happy to see the concrete road. Stopped there for Maggi & Coffee.

Maggi & Coffee at Gairbas

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-maggi.jpg

Travelling on steep but smoother roads

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-road-heaven.jpg

The RED ROAD of Sandakphu

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-red-road.jpg

At Singalila National Park Gate, Tumling

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-singalila-national-park.jpg

Last edited by PapaBravo : 25th April 2019 at 11:03.
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Old 25th April 2019, 09:31   #4
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Default re: Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD

Since we had left early, we had enough time to go slow & explore the places that we had left while going up. We stopped at a small lake by the side of the road. It was too foggy for any good pictures but here are some



Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-road-ahead.jpg

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-hulk-woth-clouds.jpg

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-lake-hulk-.jpg

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-lake.jpg

We moved on & made a long stop at Upper Chittrey. The topography of this place has green meadows which can mesmerize anyone.

A lone Chorten

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-chorten.jpg

Prayer Wall

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-wall.jpg

Then some of us

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-meghna-i-1.jpg

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-meghna-view.jpg

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-meghna-wall.jpg

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-me-.jpg

The road goes along the Indo-Nepal border

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-driving-along-border.jpg

If you see on the right side of the image you will find a border stone

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-hulk-border-stane.jpg

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-border-stone.jpg

We were down at Maneybhanjan shortly and saw this board

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-bikers-not-allowed.jpg


Our next stop was Hotel Jagjeet, Mirik. It is a good hotel & our regular stop on the last day of the hill trip.

Mirik Lake from the room

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-mirik-lake.jpg

We went for a small walk in the Mirik market in the evening, came back & had early dinner. We had planned a 4am departure the next day to Kolkata in order to avoid traffic at Matigara/Siliguri. We were on time and left Hotel at 4am. Siliguri which is around 40 kms from Mirik, was crossed at 5. Farakka delayed us by an hour which was nothing unexpected. Had planned meeting bhpian starter around Farakka as he was on his trip to Arunachal from Bangalore, but Farakka jam caught us so bad that we could not meet. Stopped for brunch at Moregram around 11.30 and reached back home at 4 pm. 12 hours from Mirik to Home, much better than our onward journey. Overall it was a great trip. Hope you guys enjoyed reading the travelogue as much as we enjoyed the trip.

Keep travelling

Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD-highway-back.jpg



Cheers,

Pawan

Last edited by PapaBravo : 25th April 2019 at 10:34.
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Old 25th April 2019, 11:10   #5
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Default re: Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD

Mod note: Thread moved from Assembly Line to Travelogues. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 25th April 2019, 11:23   #6
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Default re: Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD

The Duster is one of the most capable vehicle for taking on the most treacherous terrains like these. Slush or Gravel or inclines, it takes on them without much ado as I have seen quite a lot of times.

Thank you for a wonderful and crisp trip report there and with captivating images from the hills!
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Old 25th April 2019, 11:57   #7
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Default re: Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD

Wow! Every time I see a Duster at the Sandakphu top, I get more convinced about the real prowess of the car. Obviously, the capable driver adds to it. I didn't face that much slush during our trip in October, 2018. Sad that you didn't get a glimpse of the mighty mountain peaks from the top. But what is more bothering is the dynamically changing scenario at Manebhanjan by the LR association. It seems that I have to cancel my plan to Phalut in May. Hope, the situation improves by that time.

However, a crisp travelogue as usual from you. My longing heart for hills almost compelled me to read it at a single go as soon as I got the link. Keep travelling, keep sharing.
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Old 25th April 2019, 12:30   #8
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Default re: Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD

Awesome Travelogue Pawan Da, too bad you could not see the majestic Himalayas.
From your writings I think the day I will be able to purchase a 4x4 by that time the LR association will stop all the private vehicles.
The worst thing now is that they do not allow bikes any more.
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Old 25th April 2019, 12:37   #9
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Great travelogue and pretty pictures. I had trekked this route in November and seen the road up close. I admire your driving skills in tackling some of the worst rutted sections. I own a Duster AWD but would hesitate to take it up this route.
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Old 25th April 2019, 14:04   #10
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Awesome! Rated at 5 star. Though unwillingly, as personally I prefer Mars to 5-star but there is no way of rating Mars.
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Old 25th April 2019, 14:13   #11
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Beautiful travelogue. Crisp description, beautiful pictures, thoroughly loved reading. I think the timing of spring with those rhododendron bloom is picture perfect.

Just for the season, I am curious, why didn't you consider visiting Yumthang.
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Old 25th April 2019, 14:56   #12
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Default re: Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD

Thanks for the lovely pics and report. Brought back memories for me.

Quote:
Originally Posted by PapaBravo View Post
[b][center]You can imagine the peaks behind the clouds because that is what we did

Without any view, there was nothing to keep us on the top for more time and we thought of exploring more on our way back to Maneybhanjan.
Exactly the same thing happened to me last year. I was at Sandakphu as part of Land Rover 70th anniversary drive. The visibility was down to 50ft, so I had no idea what we supposed to see until I saw the pics inside the hotel there.

Regarding the LR Association, I thought they were planning to ban all the ancient LR vehicles because they were too old to ply. What happened to that plan?

Last edited by Samurai : 25th April 2019 at 14:59.
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Old 25th April 2019, 16:39   #13
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Default re: Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD

Quote:
Originally Posted by paragsachania View Post
The Duster is one of the most capable vehicle for taking on the most treacherous terrains like these. Slush or Gravel or inclines, it takes on them without much ado as I have seen quite a lot of times.

Thank you for a wonderful and crisp trip report there and with captivating images from the hills!
Thank you paragsachania !! Duster is quite capable offroad indeed.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Blooming Flower View Post
Wow! Every time I see a Duster at the Sandakphu top, I get more convinced about the real prowess of the car. Obviously, the capable driver adds to it. I didn't face that much slush during our trip in October, 2018. Sad that you didn't get a glimpse of the mighty mountain peaks from the top. But what is more bothering is the dynamically changing scenario at Manebhanjan by the LR association. It seems that I have to cancel my plan to Phalut in May. Hope, the situation improves by that time.

However, a crisp travelogue as usual from you. My longing heart for hills almost compelled me to read it at a single go as soon as I got the link. Keep travelling, keep sharing.
Thank you Debojyoti. Seeing Kanchenjunga from Darjeeling but not from Sandakphu was a downer. Hope that the LR situation improves although I highly doubt it right now.

Quote:
Originally Posted by SVK Rider View Post
Awesome Travelogue Pawan Da, too bad you could not see the majestic Himalayas.
From your writings I think the day I will be able to purchase a 4x4 by that time the LR association will stop all the private vehicles.
The worst thing now is that they do not allow bikes any more.
Thanks Souvik. Your bike trip to Sandakphu looks difficult now. Even if it was allowed,the last 3-4 kms would be a tall task due to road conditions.

Quote:
Originally Posted by 1100D View Post
Awesome! Rated at 5 star. Though unwillingly, as personally I prefer Mars to 5-star but there is no way of rating Mars.
Lol. Thanks Anirban Da !

Quote:
Originally Posted by Thermodynamics View Post
Beautiful travelogue. Crisp description, beautiful pictures, thoroughly loved reading. I think the timing of spring with those rhododendron bloom is picture perfect.

Just for the season, I am curious, why didn't you consider visiting Yumthang.
Thanks a lot Thermodynamics !! Yumthang would have been too much of travel for a 4 day trip from Kolkata. Also, we were not there just for the Rhododendrons but for the view as well.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Samurai View Post
Thanks for the lovely pics and report. Brought back memories for me.

Exactly the same thing happened to me last year. I was at Sandakphu as part of Land Rover 70th anniversary drive. The visibility was down to 50ft, so I had no idea what we supposed to see until I saw the pics inside the hotel there.
Thanks Samurai ! I have gone through your great report on the drive. Since you have been there, I am sure you understand how difficult it was for a vehicle without 4 low to make it up there.

Quote:
Regarding the LR Association, I thought they were planning to ban all the ancient LR vehicles because they were too old to ply. What happened to that plan?
Some Boleros have already made it to the group but the old Landies are still running. I don't think they are going to phase out these anytime soon.

Cheers,

Pawan
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Old 25th April 2019, 19:45   #14
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Default re: Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD

Am jealous, very jealous!
So all i can say is, a fiery red Duster will look better with the red Rhododendrons.

Jokes apart.
Kudos to your driving skill for doing this trip all alone without the help of any backup vehicle. Excellent pics and write-up. Loved reading it.
Rated 5*.

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Old 26th April 2019, 10:51   #15
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Default Re: Sandakphu: The highest peak of Bengal in a Duster AWD

Ther road to Sandakphu top looks scary to me. I have seen many videos of AWD vehicle negotiating that tough patch. Great to see Duster AWD negotiated this route nicely.

Thanks, PapaBravo for a crisp report with amazing photographs.

Last edited by khan_sultan : 29th April 2019 at 06:39. Reason: VDOs = videos
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