With the beginning of a new decade, I thought I’d take the opportunity to share some thoughts with you.
As 2019 passes by, we enter a new era of trekking.
Let me reflect on what I have noticed in the past decade. And then I’ll throw in some predictions for the future.
1. Trekkers have changed. In the decade of 2000 – 2010s it was still die hard trekkers who trekked in India. Bengalis and Maharashtrians were at the forefront. Trekkers were older by age. Women were few. Trekking organisations were unheard of, except Youth Hostel who ran the same route year after year.
2. Trekking changed post 2010. Indiahikes came in. A new generation of trekkers took to trekking. They were from the new age, global industries. They were younger. 21-30 was the main age group. It still is.
3. New treks dominated the decade. It was an exhilarating decade of discovery of great new treks to do. For the first time Kashmir became a possibility for trekking. Uttarakhand blossomed with the majority of the new treks; Roopkund, Kedarkantha became blockbusters. Himachal Pradesh led with the creme of treks — Rupin Pass, Buran Ghati, Hampta Pass. Sikkim and West Bengal chipped in. Sadly, Ladakh with its local cartelisation hardly saw any growth.
4. Women took to trekking. Women broke free from the shackles of doing anything adventurous. They took to experiencing the outdoors, living in the wild, travelling single and free. At Indiahikes 35% of trekkers are women.
5. Women also took to the outdoors as a career. What was only a preserve of the males was broken by women taking to the outdoors as a career. If men could rough and tumble, women could be as good. 25% of Indiahikes Trek Leaders are women, and growing.
6. Trekking became cheaper. Trek fees remained more or less static for most of the decade. Indiahikes fee hikes were minimal. Other organisations followed suit. This opened trekking. It became easier to do a trek. Trek fees finally became lower than travel and gear cost.
7. Safety became important. With little help from the government, it was left to organisations to bring in more safety to the sport. Indiahikes was at the forefront but other organisations realised the importance. Basic safety equipment became standard in most treks. Oxymeter, Microspikes, Radios, Oxygen cylinders became the norm.
8. Environment concern was no more lip service. The new age modern India cared for the country and planet. Green Trails movement of Indiahikes allowed trekkers to express their solidarity for a common concern. Trekkers picked litter, segregated waste and donated money with an unheard of generosity.
9. Trek equipment became cutting age. India caught up with the rest of the world and often surpassed it. India started to use world class trek equipment and flaunt it. Tents, sleeping bags, backpacks and shoes. No more looks of envy towards foreign trekkers. Airport conveyor belts showed as many backpacks as trolley cases.
10. Trek wear became fashionable. Thanks to stores like Decathlon, trek wear became fashionable. No more track pants or hunter boots on treks. Trekkers wanted to feel and look good on a trek. Colours were coordinated and trendy. Clothes became more fitted. Synthetics replaced cotton. Dry fit became the norm.
11. Altitude sickness was replaced by experience. Trekkers’ fetish for doing treks that went higher and higher was replaced by a more mature outlook towards trekking. Trekkers started experiencing treks of different kinds. Trekkers wanted to see treks in different seasons — autumn, spring, winter. Unbelievably, winter became more popular than summer as the peak trekking season. Meadows, lakes, forests and flower treks became popular. Our treks in Kashmir, Himachal and Uttarakhand in July, August and September which did not boast of any big mountains or passes became as popular as our high altitude treks.
12. Weekend treks became popular. Weekend trekking slowly started to gain traction, especially out of main metros. Now every weekend trekkers head to the hills to unwind and become part of the trekking circle. It is a growing tribe. At Indiahikes our weekend treks go full almost all weeks of the year.
What do I expect in the next decade? I’ll stretch myself with some predictions.
1. Explosion of people taking to the outdoors. Trekking will stop being a niche sport. Trekking is already becoming an alternative holiday. As most regular hill holidays are saturated beyond a point, trekking is the only option to see the real India. Growth in trekking is opening new trails for trekkers to trod on. I predict Spiti, Ladakh, Western Himachal, Central Uttarakhand, Kumaon to come into prominence.
2. Some trek zones will get saturated. On the flip side some trek zones will get too crowded. Trekking will no longer be fun with thousands of trekkers on the same trail. Roopkund got a breather with the Govt banning camping on the meadows. Stok Kangri is now out of bounds. Other trails could witness similar fate.
3. Other states will join trekking. States like Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, especially states with good forest cover will start attracting trekkers from other states. Beach trekking will grow. Our country will be explored like never before.
4. Trekking will get fragmented. Trekkers will look more from a trek than just trekking. Treks that give importance to mind, body and spirit will have a separate audience. At Indiahikes, our experiential learning division, which focuses on learning from the outdoors, has witnessed the highest growth at the end of 2019.
5. Families will trek together. As the millennial generation become older they are getting married and have children. At Indiahikes trekkers who trekked with us 8-10 years earlier are now bringing their children on treks. Our family groups have had exponential growth in the last two years. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more families on treks than individual trekkers in the near future.
6. Indians will take to international treks. As India becomes more global, international treks will no longer be treks in Nepal. Indians will take to trekking across the world. In 2019, Indiahikes ran an experimental group of trekkers to Georgia, near Russia. It ran full.
7. More regulations from the Government will be in place. As trekking becomes mainstream, the government will bring in much welcome measures to facilitate trekking. At Indiahikes we already see a change in culture. The top bureaucrats of the country are open and welcoming to make trekking easier.
8. Technology will play a big part in trekking. With the ease of network availability, cheap data, technology will play a big part in the trek experience. Dedicated apps that help in discovery of treks, map reading, location finding will make trekking more fun and involving.
9. DIY trekking will no longer be restricted to die-hards. With easier accessibility and ease of information, technology and experience, trekkers taking to the mountains on their own, with a group of friends or alone will become mainstream. It will not be uncommon to see trekkers carrying a tent, sleeping bags roughing it out on their own. Do-it-yourself trekking is here to stay (DIY).
10. Very high altitude treks will see increasing footfalls. Treks that go above 16,000 feet will have more adventurers. This will be fuelled by a whole new generation that has been brought up trekking in the mid altitudes. With better gear, technology and information very high altitude treks will no longer be difficult to mount.
So those are my reflections and predictions.
If you have been part of the trekking circles for a while, I’d love to hear your observations too. To share your thoughts, drop in a comment.
Happy New Year 2020.