'I believe any trip in search of wildlife can be coupled with physical activity and elements of cultural diversity to form a thrilling opportunity '
John H.Eickert

Some of you may know, 50 years ago this month, an ambitious Sherpa boy, and the gentle son of a New Zealand beekeeper became the first physical humans to summit the highest peak on Earth. Fewer will know, Everest was found to be the highest point from India! An Indian geographer sitting in a small room and reviewing readings taken near Darjiling found Peak 15 to be the highest point on Earth. The year was 1852. The British were impressed with themselves, and renamed the mountain for a fine British gentleman who never ever set foot anywhere near his mountain. The rest, as they say is history. No matter if you prefer the British name, the Tibetan, the Nepalese, or the Sanskrit the original trekking route to Chomolungma (Everest) began in Darjiling.

It is still possible to trek from Darjiling to Tumlingtar and the Khumbu retracing history. It is a long and exhaustive trek through the terai foothill country of Nepal. A shorter more practical route can take a trekker from Darjiling to Sandakphu. There are a number of possible routes to a high point, which has great views of Chomolungma, Kanchendzonga, and Chomolhari in Bhutan. The best weather is in March and November. The mixed forest of rhododendron, oak, and pine is a bird lover’s bonanza. The magnolias bloom in April and May. This is a good place to encounter cobra, watch your step. Two slithered across the track on different occasions on my tour. It is possible to see pigeons, falcons, thrushes, sunbirds, peafowl, flycatchers, minivets, and orioles. The weather is warm and trekking not as rigorous as in Sikkim or Ladakh. This is a favorite trekking area for college students from lowland India, sharing the trail with them can be its own adventure. For the most part this is also the extent of the wildlife in the area.

Darjiling is still a wonderful hill town, famous for its tea and the terminus of the Darjiling Himalaya Railway. It is also the gateway for traveling into Sikkim. It is possible to encounter wild elephant and tiger near here, but such encounters are becoming increasingly rare. Avoid this area during the monsoon. The storms blowing in from the Bay of Bengal last for months. The spring and fall are the best times for trekking.

Next month we will trek in Sikkim an overview of the high altitude trek into Kanchendzonga base camp. Kanchendzonga is the third highest mountain on Earth and the trail to base camp is difficult. In the coming months I hope to encourage everyone to find a trek to personal ability and go. There are a wide variety of treks available in India, something for everybody. India is a special country and deserves months of your attention WHEN you go. The great mountaineer, Reinhold Messner, said, “in life, it is not what you have, it is what you have done.” I couldn’t agree more. Take the time and take your time. Happy hiking!

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