Singalila National Park is a national park of India located on the Singalila Ridge at an altitude of more than 7000 feet above mean sea level, in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal . It is well known for the trekking route to Sandakphu that runs through it.
The park was declared a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1986, and was made an Indian National Park in 1992. The region had long been used as the trekking route from Manebhanjhyang to Sandakphu (the highest peak of West Bengal ), and Phalut.
Political Geography: The park is located in the Darjeeling subdivision , Darjeeling district , West Bengal, India. It is bordered on the north by the state of Sikkim and on the west by the country of Nepal .
Physical Geography: The park is part of the Eastern Himalayas . The Singalila Ridge , which runs roughly North to South and separates Himalayan West Bengal from the other Eastern Himalayan ranges to the west of it. The two highest peaks of West Bengal, Sandakphu (3630 m) and Phalut (3600 m) are located on the ridge and inside the park. River Rammam and River Sirikhola flow through the park.
Human history of the park : The park has no significant history of human settlement. However, small settlements have grown up along the trekking route to Sandakphu and Phalut. There is a reasonably large village at Kala Pokhri, around the lake of the same name. The Singalila Ridge was used as an approach route by the first documented mountaineering team which unsuccessfully attempted to climb Kanchenjunga in 1905. The team was led by Jules Jacot-Guillarmod and the famous occultist Aleister Crowley.
Biomes : 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 m to 3000 m, and the temperate biome exists in the altitude range of 3000 m to 4500 m.
Thick bamboo, oak, magnolia and rhododendron forest between 2000 and 3600 m cover the Singalila Ridge. There are two seasons of wildflower bloom - one in spring (March - April) when the Rhododendrons bloom, and another in the post monsoon season (around October), when the lower forests bloom (Primula, Geranium, Saxifraga , Bistort, Senecio, Cotoneaster and numerous orchids). Sandakphu is known as the "mountain of poisonous plants" due to the large concentration of Himalayan Cobra Lilies (Arisaema) which grow there.
Mammals: The park has a number of small mammals including the Red Panda, Leopard Cat, Barking Deer, Yellow-throated Marten, Wild Boar, Pangolin and the Pika. Larger mammals include the Himalayan Black Bear, Leopard, Clouded Leopard, Serow and the Takin. Tigers occasionally wander into the area, but do not have a large enough prey base to make residence in these forests feasible.
Birds: The park is a birder's delight with over 120 species recorded including many rare and exotic species like the Scarlet Minivet, Kalij Pheasant, Blood Pheasant, Satyr Tragopan, Brown and Fulvous Parrotbills, Rufous-vented Tit, and Old World babblers like the Fire-tailed Myzornis and the Golden-breasted Fulvetta. The park is also on the flyway of many migratory birds.
Reptiles and Amphibians: The endangered Himalayan Newt frequents the region, and congregates around the lakes of Jore Pokhri, Sukhia Pokhri and nearby lakes to reproduce. Jore Pokhri and Sukhia Pokhri are within 20 km of the park boundary, and are protected wildlife sanctuaries.
The major issues at the park are trash collection on trekking routes and ensuring minimal damage of flora by trekkers, as flora at such high altitudes tend to grow really slowly. Grazing of yak and cattle from neighbouring villages can also be a problem. Forest fires can be a threat to the park, especially in Spring when the accumulated debris from winter can be a hazard. A forest fire swept through the national park on March 6, 2006.Even though the national park has a resident Red Panda population of only about 20 - 25 members, Project Red Panda (funded by the Central Zoo Authority) chose Singalila National Park for reintroduction of Red Pandas from its captive breeding program at the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park in Darjeeling, mainly due to reasons of proximity. Two females, Sweety and Milli, were released in November 2004. Milli was killed by a leopard, but Sweety adapted to the wild and gave birth to an offspring - the first such successful re-entry for Red Panda.The reintroduction was filmed by noted Indian filmmakers Rajesh Bedi and Naresh Bedi. The documentary, named Cherub of the Mist, won the Best Conservation and Environmental Film at the 29th International Wildlife Film Festival in Montana.
The two seasons to visit the park are in Spring (March - May) and post Monsoon (mid September to early December). The park is closed to tourists from June 16 to September 15 every year on account of the monsoons.
Birding: The Singalila National Park is one of the most popular birding spots in the Eastern Himalayas, since it attracts a large number of birds due to its seasonal blooms. Blooming seasons are the best times to see birds.
Lodging: Sailung Tea House is a small cozy place to stay while at Meghma. There are two roomed guest houses and trekkers' huts at Tonglu, Gairibans, Sandakphu, Phalut, Kala Pokhri and several other locations in the park, run by the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council. Numerous guest houses and lodging are available at Manebhanjan. The preferred way to visit the park is to stay in Darjeeling and camp inside the national park.
Nearest airport: Bagdogra Airport, Jalpaiguri district, West Bengal
Gangtok Helipad, East Sikkim district, Sikkim
Narrow gauge: Ghum, West Bengal
Standard Gauge: New Jalpaiguri, West Bengal
Nearest highway: NH 31A (Sivok - Gangtok) passes through Darjeeling (which is 1.5 hours by car from Manebhanjan)
Nearest town: Manebhanjan - the access point for Rimbik and Tumling, the gateways to the park
Nearest City: Darjeeling