Singalila National Park
Singalila National Park is a reserved forest area located at the Singalila ridge in Darjeeling district. This is a high altitude park spanning between 7,900ft to about 12,000ft covering an area of 78.6 square kms. This is in fact the highest altitude park in the state of West Bengal.
It was initially a wild life sanctuary and later made into a national park in 1992. The whole of Singalila range and the national park has long been part of the trekking route to Sandakphu and Phalut.
Singalila national park has two ranges. The southern range starts shortly after Manebhanjan and extends through Tonglu, Tumling, Gairibas, Kalipokhari, Bikheybhanjan and all the way up to Sandakphu (11,909 ft) and beyond to Phalut (11,811 ft). Sandakphu and Phalut are the two highest peaks of Singalila range.
For visits to the park, this route is most popular to tourists. There is also a gravel road for jeeps that goes through the park along this route up to Sandakphu and Phalut. The northern range of the park is accessible through Rimbik. To the north of the park is Sikkim and to its west is Nepal.
You will see the first sign of the main entrance of Singalila National Park at Tumling (altitude 9,600 ft). Shortly thereafter (about a km towards Gairibas), you will come to the large archway of the entrance. The trek and the gravel route passes through the gate and the park. Singalila National Park is popular to the tourists from all over the world for it amazing flora and fauna, and the stunning view of the Himalayan peaks including the Everest and Kanchenjunga.
Plantations in Singalila National Park
As you trek or drive through the park, you will pass through forests areas full of oaks, ferns, silver firs, bamboo and flowering plants like rhododendrons, wide range of orchids, magnolias, primula and several other types of flowering plants. During March to April, rhododendrons (of around 20 different types) bloom in different colors all across the park.
If you come during October-November, you will see large varieties of Orchids. There are over 600 varieties of orchids bloom in Singalia, the largest concentration in any single geographical area in the world. During this time, you will also see the ornamental primulas having formed carpets of flowers in the lower forest areas.
Animals & Birds in Singalila National Park
Singalila National Park has some of the rarest and exotic animal life. Many of them are high altitude animals that are found mostly in the Himalayas. One of my favorites here is the Red Panda. I have been lucky to have come across one face to face. It ran towards a tree. I followed it and could finally take its picture as it was climbing the tree.
A survey in 2015 revealed that there are only 32 Red Pandas in Singalila National Park. Secondly they usually spend the day time on tree tops and come down to look for food after dusk. So chance of sighting one is quite rare. They are herbivorous, a special and rare species of beer and have fondness for bamboo leaves and fruits.
Other fascinating animals within the small species include the barking deer that look like small deer with short horns but bark like dogs, the fearless yellow throated martens that look like large cats, the long tailed Pangolins that roll up the trees, wild boars and so on. You can also see the rare lizards here like amphibians Himalayan Newt. They reproduce in the nearby lake areas of Jorpokhri and Sukhiapokhri.
There are also exotic larger animals in the park like the Himalayan black bear, clouded leopards and such. Occasionally even tigers can be seen in the park. There are over 120 species of birds recorded in Singalila National Park. Some of the unique ones in this place are the Himalayan and Indo-Burma species. While the complete list is endless, some of the popular birds in the park include long tail minivet, blood pheasant, black throated & brown parrotbill, robins of many types, cuckoo, slender billed babbler, satyr tragopan, fire-tailed myzornis and lot more.
How to see birds & animals
Note that unlike a forest in the plains, Singalila National Park is a high altitude forest in steep mountains. The gravel (boulder) road that passes through it is the only place which is accessible to human beings. So you need to see all the flora and fauna here mostly from the roadside. You can not venture into the forest because there are deep gorges that can be dangerous.
However at some places the landscape opens up on either side of the road with wide plateau or meadows which are of course accessible. One of the best places for bird watching is between Singalila entrance at Tumling and Gairibas, near a place called Batasi. However there is an Armed Border Force camp here and photography is prohibited around the camp. But you can still stay clear from the camp site and take a few pictures of the birds.
View from Singalila National Park
You get breathtaking views of the Eastern Himalayan peaks from various places along the route through the park. As you move up towards Sandakphu, Kanchenjunga appears to be closing in and come face to face with you. From Sandakphu, you get a panoramic view of the snow range that stretches for over 300kms from Nepal in the west through Sikkim and Bhutan to all the way up to Arunachal Pradesh.
You get mind-blowing sight of some of the highest peaks of the world including Everest, Kanchenjunga, Lhotse and Makalu. Visit Sandakphu Experience to know what this place offers.
Best time to visit Singalila Park
There are two great seasons to visit the park. One is during Spring (i.e. from March until May) when the flowers like rhododendrons and orchids bloom in full, and then again after the monsoon is over (i.e. between October and early December) when the snow peaks show in their dazzling beauty in a clear blue sky.
Note that the park is usually closed during the monsoon time (between mid June to Mid September). Even during April and October, there may be occasional showers. This entire stretch is notorious for unpredictable rains. So keep one or two days more for the visit than what may be required in an ideal case. This is to ensure that the rain doesn’t spoil the whole party. And for the same reason, carry a raincoat or umbrella.
From Tumling onwards, it can get very cold particularly during the winter. Even in April you may get snow in places like Sandakphu. So carry adequate woolens, caps and gloves. Always wear sturdy but comfortable pair of shoes.
How To Take Singalila National Park Safari
One way is to go through a Darjeeling based Tour Operator. They will organize all logistics for you including vehicle, guide, stay and entry permit. Alternatively if you want to manage on your own, then you can come down to Manebhanjan from where the jeep safari actually starts. Also serach for tour operators in the WildTrails App who supports this nationa park
It’s a small village town at the base of the Singalila ridge. You can reach Manebhanjan from Darjeeling via Ghoom and Sukhia by taxi or shared jeep. The distance is 26kms and it takes about 1 hour 15 minutes by road from Darjeeling.
From New Jalpaiguri (NJP) as well as Bagdogra airport, Manebhanjan is about 100kms by road. You can get pre-paid reserved taxis from both NJP and Bagdogra. It takes about 4.5 hours to reach Manebhanjan from both these places. From NJP however you can also take a shared taxi (usually a jeep type vehicle) up to Sukhia and then take another one to Manebhanjan. This is much more economical compared to reserved car. But change over time could be uncertain.
Once you reach Manebhanjan, you can take a 4-wheel drive vehicle like a jeep or a Land Rover. The Land Rovers here are vintage 4-wheel drive vehicles that were once used by the British. Only handful of them (around 40 nos.) are still remaining in this part of the world and maintained by their owners.
From the jeep stand at Manebhanjan, you can get a jeep or a Land Rover for a safari to the Singalila National Park. The Land Rovers Association publishes the fares. The vehicles can also go up to Sandakphu (about 4-5 hours depending on number of breaks you take) and beyond to Phalut (another 2.5 hours).
All are required to take a permit from the forest department before entering the core area of the park. Foreigners need to show their identity proof at the Manebhanjan check post. There is an entry fee (Rs. 100/- per person) to be paid. This permit can be either taken from the Forest Department office at Manebhanjan or at the entrance to the National Park about 1km from Tumling.
For complete details about the sanctuary, exact location, kind of animals, birds & reptiles you get to see there, best season to visit, how to book a wildlife package for this sanctuary, how to reach there, which saafri gate to take, also recent sighting details for all popular sanctuaries & tiger reserves, and LOT MORE, download our app – WildTrails India – available both on Android and iOS
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