Singalila National Park at the extreme northwest of West Bengal forms the border with Nepal and is a high altitude protected forest. The popular Sandakphu trek is through this Park. Thick bamboo, oak and rhododendron forest between 2000 and 3640m cover the Singalila Ridge which runs roughly north to south. Treks begin at Manebhanjan which is 30 kms from Darjeeling. The popular birding trek is from Manebhanjan (2100m) to Sandakphu (3640m) and back with halts at Gairibans (2620m) or Tumling/Tonglu (3000m).
The areas vegetation may be broadly classified as temperate and alpine vegetation stretching right up to the snows. The avifauna is a unique mix of Himalayan and Indo-Burmese forms. The mountainous terrain, criss-crossed by innumerable streams supports a subtropical humid climate leading to tree growth beyond the snowline unlike in the Western Himalayas. This has created an unique eco-system populated by plants, birds and mammals which are hard to find anywhere else in India. The diversity and beauty of rhododendrons is a feature of the area.
The national park falls in the Indomalaya ecozone, and the biomes corresponding to the ecozone which are present in the park are:
Eastern Himalayan subalpine conifer forests of the Temperate coniferous forests biome
Eastern Himalayan broadleaf forests of the Temperate broadleaf and mixed forests biome
Himalayan subtropical pine forests of the Subtropical coniferous forest biome
The subtropical biome roughly exists in the altitude range of 1800 to 3000 m, and the temperate biome exists in the altitude range of 3000 m to 4500 m. [This paragraph from Wikipedia]
The Park is divided into two Ranges (i) North Range (Rimbick) and (ii) South Range (Maneybhanjyang). Within this two ranges there are four beats namely, (i) Gairibas, (ii) Sandkphu, (iii) Rammam and (iv) Gorkhey.
Satyr Tragopan - the signature species of the area
Singalila is the place for difficult and hard to find birds. The checklist for the area contains over 160 records. Here Blood Pheasants and Satyr Tragopans vie for attention with Brown and Fulvous Parrotbills, Rufous-fronted Tits share the rhododendron forest with Fire-tailed Myzornis and Golden-breasted Fulvettas ~ in a word Singalila is ultimate in exotics and must be on every birders trip list.
How to reach:
The Park is approached from Darjeeling or Siliguri, West Bengal. While it is possible to drive up to Sandakphu on very rough gravel roads, treks from Manebhanjan with halts at Tumling, Gairibas and Sandakphu is the preferred alternative for best birding. The whole trek should take 5-6 days if you want to spend some quality time.
There is now a 4WD motorable road to Sandakphu, so one can hire a cab down to Manebhanjan and Darjeeling via Tomling and Tonglu if needed. The drive on the gravel road, however, is very arduous.
Where to stay:
GTA Tourist Lodges and/or Trekkers Huts are located at all strategic halts, this being a very popular trek route.
Tumling (Nepal): Shikhar Lodge, Tumling. Contact Keshav Gurung: Ph +91-9232695120, 9564797551
Gairibas: Gairibas Trekkers' Hut (Very basic). Bookings can be made through DDT, GTA, Silver Fir, Bhanu Sarani, Darjeeling. Ph: +91-9832375065
Sandakphu Peak: Sherpa Chalet Lodge (Nepal). Ph: +91 9332599261, 9933488159
[Note: 1. I have stayed at all three above and they seem like the best choices. 2. No special permits are required for stay in Nepal]
Kali Pokhri (3110m) has various budget lodges which serve good local cuisine.
Entry Permits: Permit for entry into Singalila National Park is required. Available at Manebhanjan.
Altitude: 2000 meters to 3640 meters
Best Time: November to March
1. Singalila is a high altitude park. Some visitors may need acclimatization at lower heights .
2. Rain is never predictable, give yourself some extra days to make sure that a trip is not wasted.
1. In the hills of the wild Alder in search of Pan’s companion by Sumit Sen