I am often asked about a dream list of treks – Himalayan treks I would want everyone to do. It is almost like making a dream team of the best cricketers of the world. It is an impossible task!
Here, I have tried to put together a motley group – treks that I feel are a class apart. Many of them could be names you have never heard of. Look them up in more detail on our list of treks.
To make things easier, I have classified the treks under their best seasons. This will help you narrow down your choices easily.
Late Winter: Mid March until Mid April
Both treks come alive when they are under a blanket of snow. Yet, when the first whiff of spring drifts in late in March, a sprout of green erupts around the snow. The contrast between the snow and green is what makes trekking in this season special.
Deoriatal is a trek that needs to be timed to perfection. You must do it when the Rhododendrons are in bloom. That’s between the last week of March and the third week of April. Looking down the slope at Chopta, or even around the lake at Deoriatal, is like finding a hillside on fire. Shades of scarlet, vermillion, red and pink streak the forest. The summit climb on snow is great too. From the summit the views leave most trekkers thunderstruck. You are standing in the lap of the highest mountains in India, all within touching distance.
Kedarkantha, on the other hand, is a personal favourite of mine. I have not seen many treks that turns into a fairyland as Kedarkantha does in April. This trek is always special because of its clearings. Not many treks in our country have such pretty clearings, especially in this number. Early in spring when these clearings are still under snow, the grasses around the clearings burst alive with their new shoots. It is a vibrant green around a snowy setting. Camping in these settings is when you feel truly blessed.
Spring: Mid April until Mid May
In May, especially around the second week, the Gaumukh Tapovan trek is the trek to do. What makes it special is the startling views of Mt Shivling and the Bhagirathi sisters. Add to that the spectacular sunrises and sunsets. It is common to see great sunsets and sunrises in the mountains, but the ones on this trek are the best I have seen!
Most trekkers, of course, attach a spiritual ring to this trek. Getting to Gaumukh, the source of River Ganga, is indeed a religious experience. Somehow anyone on the trek feels a strong draw to this.
Spend time as close as possible to the mouth of the glacier. Look out for the massive ice blocks – as big as cars – that fall with thunderous roars from the lip of the glacier. The sound echoes through the gorge. This is regular business at Gaumukh.
Another trek to do is the Pangarchulla summit. Again, this trek has to be timed well. You need snow to climb the summit. Without snow, the trek becomes difficult with many exposed boulders. So in April until mid May, when the snows are high, is when you should go. Apart from being stunningly beautiful (a lot of the trek is on the Kuari Pass trek route), this trek is meant for the adventure seekers. Getting to the summit gives you a strong adrenaline rush. But it does require a good amount of stamina and strength.
Summer: Mid May until June
For the coming summer, I am going to introduce some treks that you may not have heard of much. The regular treks are far too crowded to make them attractive.
In June, head to Buran Ghati, the latest favourite of our trekkers. What you’ll particularly like about this trek are the grand visuals that meet your eye everyday. The meadow of Dayara, where you camp, is calendar material. As you progress through the grasslands of Litham and further on to your high altitude camp at Dhunda, the alpine visuals are incredible. As you climb higher, the nervous tension of an impending pass crossing will linger about. When you finally get to the pass and look down the vertical wall of Buran Ghati, it is what true adventure is all about!
Another trek that I highly recommend is Rupin Pass. In mid June when the country is reeling at 40°C, the snowfields of the Rupin Pass transport you to an Arctic world. Besides the adventure of the pass crossing, the scenery on this trek changes every hour! Sometimes you need to look back just to get your bearings right!
Added to the changing scenery, this trek has few of the best campsites. Camping at the foot of the Rupin Waterfall, at Dhanderas Thatch, is an experience by itself! Another favourite campsite is Ronti Gad on the other side of the pass; it is rare to get such pretty campsites while trekking in India where you’re surrounded by gorgeous ranges of Kinnaur.
Prepare well though, it is not an easy trek.
Post summer, monsoon: July until Mid September
When rain heals the parched earth of our country, head to Kashmir. Kashmir Great Lakes trek or Tarsar Marsar. Both are great treks. I can hardly pick one over the other. But what sets trekking in Kashmir apart is the landscape. The only thing common about trekking in Kashmir and anywhere else in India is that we are still in the Himalayas. Everything else is different. Being at a higher latitude, the trees and the terrain are very different. The meadows and grasslands of Kashmir, which look as if landscaped by hand, stretch for miles. But really, it is the lakes that you really look for in Kashmir. Both treks boast of super alpine lakes. Camping beside these lakes, staring at the aquamarine colours with snow patches feeding them is an experience of a lifetime.
Note: I am aware of the strife in Kashmir. The state often comes to a boil in a few hours. A normal street can become a stone pelter’s paradise. This can scare any trekker. If you want to stay clear of Kashmir, yet want to trek post summer, then there are two other treks that I would suggest. Make that three. I just can’t resist the Bhrigu Lake trek, which is short and easy, but an utter delight.
The Bhrigu Lake trek near Manali gets as close to the splendour of Kashmir meadows as it possibly can. The trek has one of the best grasslands in our country. But I love this trek for another reason. The terrific mountain views of some of the major summits in Himachal Pradesh are unreal. Sitting down on the meadows with this view right before my eyes is what makes me fall in love with this trek.
I’ll follow this up with the Hampta Pass trek, which is right around the corner from Bhrigu Lake, again starting from Manali. This is a more strenuous affair but makes up for all the effort put in with its changing scenery. Cross the narrow snow-filled Hampta Pass and you are in Lahaul. On the other side is a dramatic difference in scenery. The lush green is replaced by a mountain desert, yet not totally brown. These visuals are spectacular.
On the Hampta Pass trek, trekkers also get an opportunity to go to Chandratal. I have always felt the bonus of Chandratal is a reason to do the trek. Some mountain sceneries lack words to describe them. This is one of them.
Moving into Uttarakhand, the Valley of Flowers is a classic trek that is superb only when it rains. That’s when the valley comes alive with flowers. When you get to the valley, say in mid July, you could be greeted by a layer of blue wild flowers. Get there few weeks later, the layers could change to purple or mauve. It is never the same flower that you see. They sprout in waves, one wave at a time all the way till September. Trekkers often imagine that they are going to be sloshing about in the rain all the time on this trek. That’s not true. I have seldom seen rain falling for the entirety of a trek.
Autumn: Mid September until October
This is another dramatic season. The colours of the mountains change rapidly in three or four weeks, starting towards the end of September. The lushness of the monsoon is replaced by a golden brown. Somewhere early in October the higher regions of our treks also see the first winter snowfall. With it comes a crispness in the air that lifts the haze around the mountains. This is when you get the best mountain views. Mountain peaks are sharp, the colours vivid. Of all the trekking seasons in our country, I find autumn the best. The crowd on the trails is drastically low too.
Roopkund is a trek that you must think of doing between mid September until the mid of October. Roopkund is India’s most popular trail in summer. In autumn when it gets even prettier. This is the time to see the splendours of Roopkund. With its terrific forests, the prettiest high altitude meadows and a super adventure of climbing to Roopkund at almost 16,000 feet, I don’t think any trek can get better than this. Look out for one of the best sunsets of your life at Bedni Bugyal.
Goechala in Sikkim is another high altitude trek which is superb at the same time. Prone to much rains, Goechala is relatively dry during this period. Goechala is again a classical beauty. The trek takes you right to the foot of Mt Kanchenjunga, which is the world’s third highest peak. It is not everyday that trekkers get to gaze at such big mountains from such close quarters. Even outside Kanchenjunga, there are are other big mountains to see on the trek. Which is why I call it the big mountain trek.
What I also like about Goechala is the variety on the trek. Right from tropical forests where you spot waterfalls, to the high altitude rhododendron forests, to the open grasslands you get everything. In addition you move into higher zones of glaciers and moraines. Most trekkers go for the big mountain views, but I would say, go for the variety.
Early winter: November until December.
In November Kuari Pass will get you with its mountain views and its superb forests. You’ll see the closest views of Mt Nanda Devi, India’s highest summit. This view of Nanda Devi, an isolated mountain, standing tall over the Gorson meadows is rare. Some of our trek leaders tell me that Kuari Pass is definitely one of the prettiest treks that they have done. I give a lot of importance to what they say — because they have seen treks! This trek is superb until the last week of December.
Another trek in India that is great in early winter is Sandakphu. You’ve got to be careful about timing your trek to Sandakphu. People go there to see the views of the sleeping Buddha, which is the Mt Kanchenjunga massif. On the other side, three other eight thousanders stand tall — Mt Everest, Lhotse and Makalu. When such is the premium on views, timing the trek to perfection is important. November until December is the time to do it. The views are clear, sharp and a delight for photographers. The Sandakphu trek is prone to fog, mist and cloudy conditions. Which is why though this trek is open all through the year, I would want you to do the trek when your chances of these great summit views are high.
Incidentally, there is no other trek in India that gives you views of four 8,000 meter summits. In fact in the world there are only two other treks that give you that. One of them is in Pakistan and the other is our very own Gokyo Ri-Everest Base Camp trek in Nepal.
Winter: January and February
January and February are true winter months in our country. This is when snow falls the most. Trekking on snow-covered ground is a great experience, but also a difficult one. Water in most streams dry up. Camping grounds become invisible under the snow.
My two recommendations for these months are actually for early 2018.
Brahmatal is a little known trek in Uttarakhand. It is a beauty still doable in January and February. I admit, the higher reaches of the trek are going to be under snow. Yet, despite the snow, it is possible to inch your way to the top of the ridge from where you get astounding views of Mt Trishul, Nanda Ghunti and Chaukhamba. The snow-lined Brahmatal with its little shrine is delightful in its isolation. Trekkers love this trek for its pristine forests, lovely walks under oak trees, and of course, the snow.
Another trek that you cannot afford to miss is the Talle Valley in Arunachal Pradesh. Ok, this is not your usual Himalayan trek. This is a trek through tropical forests, through settings that are like in the Jungle Book. The culture and heritage that you see on this trek is almost unbelievable. Getting to see ancient Apatani tribe and their customs is something like finding lost treasure. This is one trek in my list as well! Don’t miss it.
So then, these are my recommendations for the year. I had to leave out many that I really love. If you think I have not covered a trek that definitely deserves to be in this list, throw in a comment below.