When the sun has still not risen and it's hovering around freezing outside, it's not easy getting out of bed. But when you know Mount Everest could be visible, it's not so hard. I peeped out of the window and saw it was totally clear, even in the pre dawn light. I ran outside and saw a whole panorama of mountains. Which one was Everest?
It turns out that Everest is not the one that looks highest because of the angle and distance. That's Makalu. Everest is the one to the left with a long sloping face covered in snow. The sun was about to rise and a guide hurried us to the top of a small hill for the best views. As the first rays hit the mountains it was truly breathtaking. A gale blew on the hill giving a wind-chill factor of well below zero. It felt like we were at the mercy of the elements.
After breakfast it was time for farewells. I was the only one continuing up the ridge to Phalut; the others were taking another route back down. It's 21 km and no lunch stops so the lodge had made me a potato lunch. It was all packed up so I couldn't see what form this potato lunch took and decided to let it be a surprise.
As Nima and I set out, we had the best weather so far and skies were clear until after midday. There were superb views of the whole Everest range as well as Kanchenjunga as the path wound up and down through valleys and grassy hills with not much growing at this altitude except stark denuded trees. We stopped for some biscuits while gazing at Everest, possibly one of the best picnic spots in the world. Later we stopped again for some peanuts in an idyllic clearing much to the bemusement of a herd of grazing yak.
At Sabargram there was a teahut but nobody in attendance so I unwrapped my 4, yes 4, new potatoes. Luckily, I had brought extra supplies. Around 2pm the clouds rolled in again and it got very cold. The final uphill stretch was tough and I was relieved to arrive at the hut which was almost totally shrouded in a white blanket of fog. I got into my sleeping bag fully clothed after braving another quick sluice in cold water.
There were no other tourists around and the friendly couple who ran the place invited me to keep warm by the kitchen fire while dinner was being prepared.
I woke early, but there were no views because of fog, but I couldn't complain after such a great day yesterday. I had a warming porridge in the same smoke-blackened kitchen, the only illumination being the oblique rays of early sun piercing the gloom.
The trek on the final day was as different again as all the others. We had a long slow descent through dense mysterious bamboo forests which eventually gave way to fern and early blooming magnolia as we crossed small waterfalls, bringing the ice melt down to the valleys. There was also a glorious riot of red rhododendrons.
The path then wound up and down offering fabulous views across the valley to the neighbouring state of Sikkim. Agriculture started to dominate, mainly potatoes and peas. The water was flowing freely here, not frozen like where we had come from only hours before, and so we had to cross several bridges and ford streams via precarious stepping stones.
We stopped for lunch in Rammam and were greeted by local school children whose playground had one of the best views I have ever seen. Our last night was spent in a lodge at Sri Khola by a fast-flowing river and finally it was warm enough for a shower. After a final day's walking of 31kms I really needed one!
The last day involved only a short walk to catch a jeep back to Darjeeling. After five days away from the madness of Indian cities, it was a culture shock all over again.
Although the Singalila trek is popular and not that difficult, it still felt like a real privilege to have visited those places and seen such dramatic Himalayan peaks with my own eyes.