PC: Swarup Dey
Think of a much-needed break from the commotion of city life, think of unwinding in the surreal unparalleled beauty of the Himalayas, think of an authentic cultural experience in Northeast India, and the popular vacay spots come to mind! But what if there is a destination off the beaten track with fewer tourists that offer a bit of everything of the above-stated affair?
Leave your anxieties and worries at bay, laze around and get lost in a Himalayan reverie, amidst lush green thickets punctuated with wildflowers and rhododendrons, where time moves at a snail's pace and there is no rush to be anywhere.
Gorkhey, a little village in the valleys of the Himalayas, snuggled between the borders of Darjeeling and Sikkim, is yet to be on the tourist radar. If you have a love for remote places and barren panoramas then you are in for finding the elixir!
This snug little village is uspoilt and untouched by the fast-paced urban frenzy, so much so that electricity has not yet reached the place, except for a few homestays which have the facility of power inverters and generators. With scenic cliff-top huts flanked by stretches of rhododendrons and 'laali guras', Gorkhey has nearly thirty families dwelling in the village, dependent on the farm produce.
The place is inaccessible by vehicles as there are no motorable roads to the village, leaving out trekking as the only option to get there. This getaway promises you with one of the most picturesque and scenic trail routes in the eastern Himalayas, with the view of four of the five highest peaks of the world including the majestic Mt. Everest, Makalu, Kanchenjunga, and Lhotse, along with the Three Sisters and many other peaks of Nepal, Sikkim, Tibet and Bhutan in one single stretch of snow.
The Best Time To Visit
If you want to catch the rhododendrons in their full bloom, the months of spring (March to May) will be the best time to make this Himalayan trek. At this time, the skies are clearer with a slight nip in the air and the entire valley decks up in fresh vibrant blossoms of the wild 'laali guras'.
Rolling green hills with flocks of sheep on its slopes, in the middle of nowhere, is truly a sight to behold. Other than that, there is really no wrong time to make this trek. It is a year-round spot but it is suggested to avoid the monsoon months, as the weather gets erratic and the trail gets hazardous to trek on.
Trek Essentials - Make sure you pack insulated thermals and trekking shoes to help you keep warm and cozy in the cold weather. A walking stick is a must to help you trek on the gravel roads.
Difficulty Level - For someone with zero trekking experience, the level of difficulty should be moderate to easy.
Day 1 - Day 2: NJP/Bagdogra to Darjeeling:-
Reach Darjeeling, by means of a rented car, from the closest railhead - the New Jailpaiguri Railway Station or the closest airport - the Bagdogra Airport in Siliguri. Take the day off and explore the lush green tea plantations nestled on the slants of this mountain town.
Darjeeling- the 'Queen of Hills', located in the laps of the Himalayas, is a notable tourist destination from all over the world. The place is a winter wonderland with snow-capped mountains as its backdrop, gushing waterfalls, picture-perfect sundowns over pristine peaks, the crisp mountain air and a vast wilderness that is guaranteed to leave one breathless.
Don't miss to catch the sunrise from the top of the Tiger Hill and if the sky is clear, sneak a look at the mighty and shimmering Kanchenjunga towering over the golden skies. The town also hosts elaborate monasteries and has rich Himalayan cuisine and cultural traditions. Go for an aimless stroll on Chowrasta or pick up some souvenirs from the local markets. A trip to Darjeeling would be incomplete without sipping on its world-famous tea or taking the joyride in a Himalayan toy train which dates back to the early 80s.
Day 3: Darjeeling to Tumling:-
The following day, get to the small village of Manaybhanjyang from Darjeeling by means of a two-hour-long drive. The village lies just outside the Singalila National Park. The trek starts from Manaybhanjyang on the wild and rugged forest trail where patches of oak trees and rhododendrons will be there to keep you company.
The trail leads to Tumling which is about a 5-6-hour walk. At this point, on one side the beautiful panoramic views of the Darjeeling town peek out and on the other, the entire Kangchenjunga range is visible. To brush off the day's exhaustion, spend the night at this friendly homestay, run by the Gurung family.
Day 4 - Day 6: Tumling to Upper Sepi:-
When done with your breakfast, start the trek from Tumling to Phedikhola via Gairibas. Spend the night in one of the homestays of the Dukpa settlement in Phedikhola. Start your next day by following the trail from Phedikhola to Upper Sepi via Namla forest through the enthralling valley of springs and waterfalls. You will need to traverse through the gravel roads amidst hills and forests, staying in village upon village. There is a cave at Namla to explore and the localites here belong to the Rai and Sherpa communities. Each night offers a unique experience with the cultural exploration at these Nepalese and Sikkimese homestays.
Day 7 - Day 8: Upper Sepi to Timburey via Gorkhey:-
The next day you continue to trek upwards to reach your destination. Gorkhey, a picture postcard of a place, enveloped in thick pine forests and rhododendrons will surely leave you with an experience not easy to forget for a long, long time!
Pulchritudinous landscape panoramas, peaceful surroundings, glistening rivulets flowing down the valley and the home-like tribal hospitality at the homestays can amount to moments and memories you may hold on to and cherish for a lifetime. Stay overnight at Gorkhey and revel in its sheer beauty. The next day, trek along Ramam via Samandin and spend the night at a local homestay run by the Tamang family in Timburey.
Return Journey: Timburey to Darjeeling:-
This will be the last day of your Himalayan homestay trekking circuit. From Timburey, follow the trail to Rimbeek via Srikhola. From here, it is a four-hour drive through to Darjeeling, which marks the end of your trek.