Phalut Chiwabhanjang Trek

For this trek, it is more convenient to enter from Phalut that lies near the trijuction of Nepal, West Bengal and Sikkim. This route lies on the ridge of the razor-edged Singelila range that defines the boundary between Sikkim and Nepal. Phalut is approachable from Darjeeling by road. Just near Phalut is Toriphule which remains covered with beautiful yellow flowers most parts of the year and is in fact the real trijunction. The highest point on this route is a point called Singelila at an altitude of 3686 m (12089 ft) and after which the whole western range of Sikkim is named. The mighty Khanchendzonga range forms a part of the Singelila range and is named after this barrnen spot.  I fail to comprehend how the mighty range has been named after this desolate spot. High intensity winds batter Singelilacontinously to such an extent that gravel tend to become flying missiles. One notices with surprise how the few flags on this hilltop manage to sur­vive. From Singelila one can see Mt Kanchendzonga towering above and in the distant east the Chola range. On the west are the rolling hills of Nepal and far down below the Nepal village of Cheng Thapu can distinctly be seen. And far far away you can even see Mt  Everest. In fact from many points of the Singilela range you are treated to sights of both  Kanchendzonga and Everest. A fall on one side may land you a few hundred metres into Sikkim and a fall on the other side deep into Nepal. On the Singelila range the air is in a continu­ous state of turmoil. The clouds sometimes get shepherded from the Nepal side to Sikkim and sometimes it is the other way round.

One accosts yaks on almost every turn peeping curiously as you pass by. Yaks form the mainstay of the livelihood of the few people who stay here. In fact the people are here because the yaks are here. Yaks are used for their milk, meat, skin and hair. These are mostly sold at Darjeeling and its surrounding areas. Yak milk is very thick and the yield is barely a litre an animal per day.  Yak milk is converted to cheese and butter.

During the winters when this area becomes snowbound and bereft of any vegetation, the yaks are moved to lower altitudes. During late spring, when the heat and the flies become intolerable the yaks begin their journey back to the upper heights.

During my visit, at the yakshed near Singelila a wizen faced old man wearing high Tibetan boots and a dirty black robe girdled at the waist came forth to greet us.  Yaks were obviously his great enthusiasm in life. He smelt of them too. In one corner sat his wife vigorously shaking a goatskin bag. Milk is filled first in the goatskin bags and after it has curdled after a few days, the concoction is shaken to get the butter. From a  transistor radio – which seemed so out of place here and almost an anachronism – the disembodied  Hindi number “Cholikepecheykyahai …….” was being played: our Bombay film industry was even trying to break the stillness of this wilderness.

Chiwabhanjang which forms a pass to Nepal is about a three hours walk from Phalut. At Chiwabhanjang are two small lakes known as Bhut-Pokaris. An inspection bunglow stands in ruins at Chiwabhanjang as a mute testimony of the British presence here in the old days to keep off the Nepalis from attacking Sikkim. It is also possible to reach Chiwabhanjang from Uttrey in Sikkim in about three hours but the trek from Uttrey to Chiwabhanjang is very steep.