#100DaysInHimalayas: Dispatch from Singalila National Park

“It was like God had pulled a curtain back for two hours.”  
Singalila Forest West Bengal
Singalila’s forests of oak and bamboo are home to wildlife such as the clouded leopard, pangolin, Himalayan black bear, blood pheasant, and golden eagle. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

Singalila National Park’s lush temperate and alpine vegetation is a dramatic shift from the stark, rugged terrain of Ladakh’s Himalayan stretch, where wildlife photographer Dhritiman Mukherjee and music director Shantanu Moitra kicked off their #100DaysInHimalayas project a month before. Between February and December 2016, the duo will make a series of trips in the Himalayas covering reaches running from Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh, and into the neighbouring foothills of Nepal and Bhutan—and they’re taking National Geographic Traveller India along for the ride.

Their second trip takes them to Sandakphu, the highest peak in West Bengal, known for its legendary sunrise and sunset. Moitra and Mukherjee had braved gloomy March skies to drive up the ghastly motorable road to Singalila National Park (49km/2.5hr from Darjeeling), pitted with loose boulders and steep hairpin bends. “Suddenly we moved above the clouds, the sun came out, and right in front of us were Mount Everest, Kanchenjunga, Lhotse, and Makalu,” said Moitra. “It was like God had pulled a curtain back for two hours.”

Sandakphu is treasured for its exclusive view of four of the world’s five highest peaks—all except K2 in Karakoram, Pakistan—and the lofty Himalayan sweep from Nepal to Arunachal Pradesh. “Dhritiman went crazy clicking, all kinds of lenses came out,” Moitra said, recalling the sunset. “He was confused [between what to photograph] because Kanchenjunga was on one side, and a rare bird was on the other.”

Fire Tailed Myzornis Bird

The fire-tailed myzornis roosts at different altitudes depending on the season. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

Rhododendron Flower West Bengal Singalila National Park

“The rhododendron makes it look like the mountain is on fire,” Moitra said. “It has special relevance for Bengalis as Tagore often used these flowers in his poems.” Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

Singalila is in full bloom between mid-March and end-May, with blushing rhododendrons, virginal magnolias and vibrant orchids. The blooming begins earlier at lower altitudes, which means that the Sandakphu peak flowers later in May. “It’s a very happy time in the Himalayas,” said Mukherjee, who has visited the park nearly 30 times since his first visit in 1994. The Sandakphu-Phalut trek, named after the two peaks, criss-crosses the India-Nepal border—an impressively harmonious experience, Moitra said. Travellers tarry at tea stalls, often run by Nepalis, which also have rooms for stay.

Land Rover Singalila National Park

The terrible road is made more tolerable by the vintage cars that ferry travellers—Land Rovers from the 1950s that sometimes still have the original engine. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

Keep posted for updates from Mukherjee and Moitra, as this mountain bromance yields stunning photos of the Himalayas’ stark beauty, and stories of its charming people. Missed the previous dispatches? Read more on #100DaysInHimalayas.

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    Saumya Ancheri is Assistant Web Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. She loves places by the sea, and travels to shift her own boundaries. She tweets as @Saumya_Ancheri.

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    Dhritiman Mukherjee is as elusive as the animals he photographs. His photographs have appeared in National Geographic Traveller, The New York Times, Lonely Planet, WWF, UNESCO, Birdlife.

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