We did a Darjeeling and Sikkim road trip in the month of March 2021, this travelogue is part of it. Another travelogue will be shared on that complete trip, for now I will focus this travelogue on Sandkphu adventure.
It all started on Valentine’s day. Normal way of celebrating valentines day -> take your spouse/gf/bf for a candle light dinner or gift, etc. JEEPers way of celebrating -> take your JEEP on a offroad trail with 50+ JEEPers and form a heart with your JEEP. Here is a video of that trail:
Couple of JEEPers were discussing about their plan of going to Sandakphu in March and we got interested and wanted to join them. As usual next step is joining a whatsapp group which had some 20 people in it. Frankly spoken Sandakphu was never in my mind, glad that it happened, one of our most memorable drives. Everything was getting planned and next usual step started. People dropping out, due to issues with leaves and pandemic, fair enough. Finally 4 JEEPers were confirmed and we were one of them.
After driving through 9 states and clocking 2800kms on the odo, we reached Siliguri, the first point for all 4 JEEPs to gather. Had our first lunch together at this amazing place called as Timboor which had recently opened up.
After filling our tummies to chicken and veg thalis, we started our ride towards Manebhanjyang. Manebhanjyang is full of dorms and homestays, typically for trekkers who start from here for trekking Sandakphu. Checked into a decent hotel, and everyone started getting frozen (-5 degC, a Bangalore those days was around 25 deg C, a drastic temperature difference!). We decided to start at 8am sharp and went to bed. Morning everyone was super exited and quickly had our breakfast.
Sandakphu; which means “height of poison plant´´, got its name due to vastly grown poisonous aconite plants in the region. Apart from being home to one of the most poisonous plants on earth, Sandakphu is well known to offer mistic view of 4 of the 5 highest peaks in the world – Everest, Kangchenjunga, Lhotse and Makalu.
First thing we had to do was organise passes for our JEEPs, got to know that they don’t allow 4X2. So 2 JEEPs were not permitted and rest 2 could go. The other JEEP didn’t want to do it, so it was finally my JEEP that was going to Sandakphu. Rest 6 members in the group booked a Land Rover and we 3 (me, brother and wife) would take our JEEP. Local Land Rovers don’t allow anyone else to go, since it reduces their income, in our case since we booked a Land Rover, they allowed us. Paid 1000 for the entry pass and started out journey!
It was a 31km drive which will take roughly 3-4 hrs for our cars, Land Rover guys can do this in around 2 hrs depending on traffic. Yes, there is hell lot of traffic on the way to Sandakphu, lot of vehicles and to make things worse, at most of the places there is just enough space for 1 vehicle to pass. Please be advised, this terrain is not for regular 4X2, even for soft offroaders like JEEP Compass it is difficult if you don’t have people around you to help navigate and support. This 31km drive taught me things about my car which I didn’t know even after driving it for 20000kms!
While we bought passes to Sandakphu, lot of Land Rover guys came to us and tried discouraging us from doing it, told us scary stories of cars getting stuck, breaking down on the way and what not! We JEEPers were determined to do it and believed in our machine and decided to take it. Our Land Rover driver was very helpful, he said he will support us in scaling it but he was apprehensive of this vehicle crossing Gairibas.
So we started the journey, the first few kms was full of steep climb and crazy curves. Good thing was it was paved and also the tar had good grip.
Didn’t spend lot of time here, basically our Land Rover driver Sanjay had stopped at Chitrey to ask if I am still comfortable driving the vehicle or if I have changed the mind. After getting my feedback, we started moving on. Our next stop was supposed to be at Meghma Monastery, the road from Chitrey to Meghma is full of cement road and is well laid.
After taking some pictures at Meghma Monastery, we started again towards Gairibas. Meghma Monastery to Gairibas is again cement road but is quite steep. I think this is where we climb majority of the ascent. The roads are narrow and steep, we were praying all the time that we don’t get any vehicle on the opposite side. Stopping here would be a nightmare, at some places I felt the hill ascent was around 45 deg! Finally 3 after we started from Manebhajyang, we reached Gairibas. The real fun would start from here, post Gairibas there is absolutely no roads at all. Its full of boulders, sand, mud, slush, everything that posts a challenge for a soft offroader. Just about a km away from Gairibas, I started getting stuck. The road was full of boulders and my car was getting stuck. Frankly spoken, I am an amateur at off-roading, have done couple of trails with BJC (Bangalore JEEP Club) but nothing that can challenge me and the machine. Just when I was stuck, 3-4 Land Rovers gathered and started shouting at me, lost all my confidence here. Started burning clutch, this is when a Co-JEEPer Prasad came to my rescue. He took the driver seat and everything started moving again! After lot of pushing, navigating around boulders and huge rocks, we reached Kalipokhari.
Reaching Kalipokhari is one hell of milestone, but from Kalipokhari to Sandakphu is next level. Since it had already started to get dark and freeze, the slush on the road was starting to get frozen. This makes things way worse, mix of frozen ice, slush and boulders is what you never want to experience, especially when you are on highway tyres! After driving for 45mins to an hour, we used to stop for 15mins for clutch and engine to cool down. We noticed that the engine power was getting derated at higher temperatures, so cooling the engine for 15mins helped a lot. Furthermore, natural Air Con (was around 10 deg C outside) around us helped to cool the clutch faster.
The last 2 kms before Sandakphu is completely steep, and full of loose sand and mud. There is hardly any grip here, to make things worse, the road is narrowest here.
Our Land Rover broke down, the clutch apparently had some issues. Some other LR helped our co-travellers reach Sandakphu. Sanjay arranged for some tools and got his machine ready in an hour, its so amazing how much these guys know about their machine. They lack proper technical education but can repair the vehicle on top of a mountain with minimum tools and spares! They are literally born with LR’s around them, Sanjay had started driving LR when he was 16.
At 5pm, we reached Sandakphu, had started snowing at Sandakphu. Things would have gotten worse if we had reached half an hour late, fresh snow turns black ice in the evening. All other LR’s which had reached few hours ago were shocked seeing our vehicle make it to the top.
This is the first Jeep Compass that has scaled Sandakphu. A TrailHawk has done it in the past, but that has higher GC and low-end torque than Jeep Compass
We were super hungry, since we had not eaten anything after our breakfast, all the stress during the journey had drained our energy levels. Had some hot thukpa and chai. Went to bed after dinner and some rum to warm our body.
Woke up at 4am to watch sunrise and sleeping Buddha. Weather was nice to us, very less fog but was quite freezing. It was still snowing, all the efforts of reaching Sandakphu and bearing the cold weather paid off. We had an amazing sight of Sleeping Buddha.
After having a sumptuous breakfast, we started driving back to Manebhanjyang. Sun was shining, which means all the snow from previous day had already melted. But the bad news is the road was slushy at few places, which thankfully wasn’t much.
It took us around 30mins to reach Kalipokhari.
After having second round of chai (its amazing how much chai one can have when the weather is cold!), we started to Garibas. I am normally a filter coffee person, but given the fact that the only coffee that is offered in the hills is awfull instant nescafe, I prefer black tea. On the way back, at least 4-5 LR’s stopped us and asked if we had actually made it to Sandakphu. The sense of happiness in responding YES to them cant be described in mere words.
At around 11am (had started at 9am) we reached Manebhanjyang. Apart from few scratches on bumper and door panels, our Jeep returned clean. We had new set of Yokohoma Earth1 tyres on our Jeep, these performed really well. At few places when sharp rocks hit the side wall of the tyre, we were scared that we had damaged the tyre, but nothing had happened apart from rubber getting scratched. These are highway tyres, but they performed like AT tyres, taking on black ice, snow, slush, rocks and boulders, sand, etc. One of the difficulties we faced was, long wheelbase and turning radius of compass. At places where there was a sharp turn and steep ascent, it was difficult to take a turn and gain momentum right after that.
This image shows how the ascent started right after the turn, the long turning radius makes things worse in such cases. LR on the other hand, had quite small turning radius, this helped them manouver much easily. So long turning radius vehicles which want to scale Sandakphu need to keep this point in mind.
– Veeresh Anehosur
Bangalore Jeep Club!