Did you know that out of all the 35+ Himalayan treks that we run, there are just 5-6 treks that steal all the limelight?
I was doing some studying and found something interesting I want to show you.
Take a look at this chart. It shows you the ranking of treks by their popularity. I got this from our website stats, with over 2.5 years’ data. So it’s a long-standing trend.
You’ll notice that on the right side, there are just 5 treks hogging all the limelight, constituting for a whopping 50.7% of trekker interest — that’s Kedarkantha, Brahmatal, Dayara Bugyal, Sandakphu and Deoriatal-Chandrashila.
I must admit, these are 5 treks with the longest seasons as well. They are open around 7-8 months a year. Even then, the popularity is completely disproportionate.
On the left side, you’ll see the more seasonal treks, which are accessible only 3-4 months a year — these are our higher altitude treks like Rupin Pass, Goechala, Buran Ghati and our monsoon treks like Kashmir Great Lakes, Valley of Flowers and Hampta Pass.
What makes me sad is that there are so many such terrific treks that trekkers lose out on because they go with the popularity trend. The criteria to choose a trek has become “What’s popular” rather than “What’s a good trek.” This does more harm than good.
Trails like Kedarkantha have become so crowded that we shudder to look in that direction now. Thankfully, at Indiahikes, we changed our Kedarkantha base camp and route entirely to avoid the crowd. Trekkers have gone gaga over this new trail!
While popular treks have their place, trekkers are absolutely unaware that they may be able to do treks that are equally good, perhaps better, minus the crowd.
I don’t want you to make the same mistake as others.
Which is why I’m listing down great alternatives to some of the most popular (read: crowded) treks.
These alternatives are as beautiful if not more beautiful than the popular treks.
So if you’re planning any of the popular treks, just close your eyes and choose the alternative.
Look out for my personal notes in this colour, they will help you make a better decision.
Avoid Kedarkantha — instead do the Phulara Ridge trek
What trekkers love about Kedarkantha is the sense of adventure they get when they climb to the summit. It’s one of the most precious moments when they reach the top and get greeted to a 360 degree view of the Garhwal Himalayas. They spend all but 20-30 minutes at the top, at 12,500 ft, and start their return.
“Imagine being able to stay at the summit for 5-6 hours! You can walk along with that 360 degree view for almost an entire day’s trek. That’s what the Phulara Ridge trek allows you to do,” says Suhas Saya, who explored the Phulara Ridge trek in April 2017.
Unknown to many, Phulara Ridge is a sister trek of Kedarkantha. When you stand at the Kedarkantha summit, there’s a ridge line that stretches all the way from the summit and heads in the direction of the Swargarohini Massif. This is the Phulara Ridge. It’s a whole trek on its own, and it’s extremely rare to come across such long ridge-walks in our country.
The trail starts alongside the Kedarkantha trail. The best part is, just as you take the deviation to Phulara Ridge on the trail, you leave the whole crowd behind and have the entire trail to yourself.
“I would do the Phulara Ridge for the campsites as well. Earlier, I was mesmerised by the campsites on the Kedarkantha trek. But two campsites on the Phulara Ridge have blown my mind. That’s Bhoj Khadi and Phustara. I am yet to come across campsites as beautiful on other treks!” continued Suhas.
So if you’re planning Kedarkantha, avoid it. Go to Phulara Ridge instead. Get a better experience, minus the mad crowds of Kedarkantha.
Note: Phulara Ridge is open only in May and June. In April, the ridge cannot be trekked on. There’s too much snow. So time your trek correctly.
Avoid Brahmatal — instead do the Ali Bedni Bugyal trek
Brahmatal has boomed in popularity over the past two years. And trekkers love it for just one big reason, the jaw-dropping views of the mountains around — the alpenglow on Mt Trishul and Mt Nanda Ghunti during sunset, the two high altitude lakes, and the lovely ridge line connecting Tilandi to Brahmatal.
What if I told you, the Ali Bedni Bugyal trek gave you all this and more? Frankly, the way I see it, Ali Bedni Bugyal is the mother of Brahmatal. For us at Indiahikes, it was the first trek that introduced us to these mind-numbing views of Mt Trishul and Mt Nanda Ghunti. It’s hard not to feel a lump in your throat when you’re standing at Ali Bugyal, staring at the Trishul massif in front of you. It’s a place where the mountains come to life and engulf you with inexplicable feelings.
But that’s just one highlight of the trek.
The Ali Bedni Bugyal trek takes you to some of the most spectacular alpine meadows of our country. It usually takes a lot of climbing to get to such meadows. But here we have Ali Bedni — just a day and a half of trekking, and you’re at the meadows. You even get to walk through the famous meadows on Bedni.
If trekkers love the sunsets on the Brahmatal trek, then the sunsets on the Ali-Bedni is even more spectacular.
If you ask me, I’d pick Ali-Bedni Bugyal any day over Brahmatal, for the variety and the lack of crowds.
Note: If you’re planning the Brahmatal trek for the rhododendron experience in March-April, don’t worry about it. The Ali Bedni Bugyal trek goes through the same forests and you’ll be treated to the same rhodos.
Avoid Deoriatal — instead do the Kuari Pass trek
I almost feel bad asking you to avoid Deoriatal, because it’s a trek very close to my heart. It was my first Himalayan trek! But the situation is such that this trek is becoming more and more crowded with time. While the forest trail is still isolated and pristine, the experience towards the end of the trek is more like a picnic. As you get to Tungnath, you start seeing tourists and not trekkers, some with loud music. There is litter all over the place and at times unruly crowds. That’s a real eye sore on this trek.
What trekkers love on this trail is the view of the big mountains right from the Deoriatal lake. I must admit, it’s hard to come across any other trek with such big mountain views. But there is one trek that stuns you with even bigger mountain views. What’s more you start seeing them right from Day 1.
I’m talking about the Kuari Pass trek.
“I’ve done almost all treks on the Indiahikes list, but I have never seen any trek with as up-close views of mountains as the Kuari Pass trek. I almost couldn’t complete the trek, because I was rooted to every spot I stood at. Mt Nanda Devi, India’s highest mountain, is very prominent on the trek. On the other hand Mt Dronagiri, is always with you on the trek. It is one of the most aesthetic mountains I’ve seen. And then you have Hati Ghoda Parvat, Mt Kamet, India’s second highest mountain. Not to forget Mt Chaukhamba. I haven’t seen any other trek with such views, even Deoriatal pales in comparison,” says Dushyant Sharma, our senior most Trek Leader.
Frankly, all of us at Indiahikes are vying to go to Kuari Pass. It’s an old trek, needs no real introduction, but hasn’t climbed up in popularity because it was closed for over a year. Now that it’s open, you should really seize the chance and go for this trek.
Note: Kuari Pass is actually a popular trek. However, it was closed for sometime. Not too many people know that we have reopened the Kuari Pass trek. Once the word spreads, finding available dates will be difficult. So if you want to trek to Kuari Pass, plan now.
Avoid Buran Ghati — instead do the Gidara Bugyal trek
It surprises me that Buran Ghati has grown so quickly in popularity, even overtaking its neighbouring trek with a legacy — the Rupin Pass. (I have a strong feeling it is this video that has made it outrageously popular.)
The biggest attraction of Buran Ghati is that it is a grand buffet of all our best treks — it has the meadows of Kashmir, the adventure of a pass-crossing like Rupin Pass, the cultural experience of Har Ki Dun. Unfortunately, this trek has become crowded too, almost creating a Hillary Step-like crowd at the pass. It’s no fun, climbing all the way to the pass and waiting in a queue at 15,000 ft to rappel down.
Here, I have a surprising alternative for you — the Gidara Bugyal trek.
Gidara Bugyal too, is a stunning mixture of a lot of our great treks. To begin with, the meadows will immediately take you to the Satsar meadows of Kashmir. Some meadows are even reminiscent of the untouched meadows of Warwan Valley in Kashmir.
Unknown to most trekkers, the Gidara Bugyal trek also has a day-long ridge walk, much like the grandeur of the Phulara ridge walk. Additionally, it has up-close views of the Gangotri massif and the Yamunotri range, something you get to see only from Dayara Bugyal. The trek is challenging as well. It is marked moderate-difficult. So, adventurists will love this trek. If that’s not enough, it is a completely secluded trail, with few of the best campsites we have.
If you’re planning a trek in June, leave Buran Ghati. Go to Gidara Bugyal. You’ll come out thanking me for this suggestion.
We don’t have too many dates available to this trek. We were just able to allocate a few dates to this trek. Book early to get a slot on this trek.
Note: Don’t be fooled by the “bugyal” in the name. Gidara Bugyal is a trek as challenging as Buran Ghati and requires an equal amount of fitness. It climbs up to almost 14,000 ft, and will test your endurance.
Avoid Kashmir Great Lakes — instead do the Tarsar Marsar trek in Kashmir
Kashmir Great Lakes is a trek that needs no introduction. It is the prettiest trek in our country. The alpine lakes, the three mountain passes, the meadows, it’s hard to find any other trek that comes close anywhere in the country. It can only be another trek in Kashmir that can come at par with it.
And so it is! “When we explored Tarsar Marsar in 2015, we were stunned. Here was a trek, as rewarding as the Kashmir Great lakes trek, yet hardly trekked on! We saw three stunning lakes, some of the most charming flower-decked meadows and felt the adventure of crossing two mountain passes as well,” says Arjun Majumdar, the founder of Indiahikes, who explored the Tarsar Marsar trek.
What’s more is that, “you camp right on the banks of two very picturesque alpine lakes — Tarsar and Sundarsar. Even on the Kashmir Great Lakes trek you cannot do that. I’ve seen trekkers sitting on a rock, beside the lake, reading a book, or just having quiet conversations. That kind of luxury is hard to find on the KGL trek,” says Sandhya Chandrashekharayya, our co-founder, who explored both the KGL and Tarsar Marsar treks.
I don’t think I need to say much beyond that about Tarsar Marsar. The trek has had a bit of bad luck — out of 5 years of its presence, we have been able to open it only for 2.5 years or so because of unprecedented situations in Kashmir. But this year looks to be the year when we will be able to run it smoothly.
Note: Time this trek in August to see the astounding number of flowers in the Jagmargi meadows. The experience of walking in those meadows is surreal!
Avoid Hampta Pass — instead do the Pin Bhaba Pass trek
Hampta Pass is a trek from the days of yore. It is one of the oldest trails in our country. Unfortunately, it shot up in fame a few years ago, after trekking in Kashmir became uncertain. It immediately opened up a great possibility for trekkers — especially because it can be done in the same months as the Kashmir treks. As pretty as it is, it has become one of the most crowded trails of our country.
What trekkers love about the Hampta Pass is the dramatic crossover from the greenery of Kullu to the stark desert colours of Lahaul, an experience rare to find in other crossover treks. But I have a 4K version of this trek for you as an alternative — the Pin Bhaba Pass trek.
Pin Bhaba is a mountain pass that crosses over from the lush greenery of Kinnaur to the striking pink and purple deserts of Spiti. The contrast in the landscape is so vast and so sudden that your eyes take time to get used to it.
As a pass crossing, it’s also a terrific thriller. It takes you to an altitude of almost 16,000 ft, definitely not a trek for those starting out on trekking. You really need to be very fit before you do this trek.
“For me this is easily one of my top 3 treks,” says Arjun Majumdar. “It reminds me more of Kashmir than even Kashmir does. The grasslands of Muling and Khara are very Kashmir-like. Then Day 1 of the trek in the forests above Kafnu is one of the best first days of trekking I have done. But the day I stood on the top of the pass and saw a pink valley below me, not any other colour, but pink, I had to admit, I had not seen anything like this before!”
Culturally too it’s one of the best experiences, as you get to see the ancient culture of Spiti. You end your trek at Mudh, and drive through Kaza and Kibber, few of the remotest villages of our country.
All in all, if you ask me to choose a pass-crossing in Himachal, I’d always pick the Pin Bhaba Pass trek — such power-packed experiences are hard to come by.
Note: Pin Bhaba Pass is considerably tougher than the Hampta Pass trek. Prepare doubly well for the trek.
That brings me to the end of my list.
Frankly, I have many more treks I would like to cover. So I’m just going to add everything in a table below. It will help you get a quick glance of good alternatives.
A Quick Glance at some Great Alternatives to Popular Himalayan Treks
All these treks are hidden gems in the trekking world. I hope you experience them and treasure them as much as we do at Indiahikes.
If you need help planning any of these treks, drop in a comment on this page.
I’ll leave you with that for now.
Happy trek planning! 🙂