Top 5 Rhododendron Treks in the Indian Himalayas

Top 5 Rhododendron Treks in the Indian Himalayas

Category Season Wise Guides Guides To Choose Treks

By Swathi Chatrapathy

2024-02-11

Across the world, tourists and travellers make a beeline to see blooming flowers, whether it is cherry blossoms in Japan, tulips in Amsterdam, or, closer home, the Valley of Flowers. Yet, most trekkers miss out on one of the grandest experiences in India: blooming rhododendrons!

In mid-March, just as the spring season swirls its way into the Himalayas, rhododendron buds begin to shake off residual winter snow. Over the next two months, until early summer, rhododendron flowers set the mountainsides ablaze with striking hues of scarlet, pink, purple, and red. It’s a sight that you’ll rarely see, yet it’s a sight that you’ll never forget.

These flowers bloom only at certain latitudes, between 80°N and 20°S, in a few parts of the world. But their largest presence is in the Sino-Indian Himalayas. Within India, it is spread across Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, and Nepal, with the maximum concentration of the flowers being towards the east.

There are a total of 187 species of Rhododendrons in the Indian Himalayan Region. A pathway surrounded by rhodos on the trek from Deoriatal to Syalmi. Picture by Yogesh Shinde

While the attractive red-coloured flowers are seen between a wide range of altitudes (3,500 ft and 10,500 ft), there are other species—light pink, purple, and blue—that you see between 10,000 and 13,000 ft, especially towards the edges of the meadows (like at Khullara or Bedni Bugyal).

However, you will not experience the splendour of rhododendrons on every Himalayan trek. Only some of our treks display this once-in-a-year phenomenon. You need to know which trek to go on and how to time your trek. It would help if you also planned your trek well in advance, because these groups get full quickly.

When do rhododendrons bloom?

Rhododendrons bloom only between late winter and early summer, which means they bloom between late February and late-April.

You’ll see rhododendrons in full bloom anywhere between late Feb and early May, based on the region you’re trekking in. In this picture, you see a rhododendron tree in full bloom on the Sandakphu trek. Picture by Sharat Kolke

In the Uttarakhand region, you’ll see rhododendrons blooming from late February until the middle of April. The flowers are at their peak between mid-March and mid-April.

In Sikkim, Nepal, and North Bengal, you’ll see blooms from early April until early May. They are at their peak in the last two weeks of April and early May.

Based on these timings, these are your five greatest treks to see rhododendrons in our country.

Click on the image to view the Video

Which are the Top Rhododendron Treks of India?

1. Goechala 

It’s no secret. Goechala is a trek that is known for its rhododendrons. “People come from all over the world to see the rhododendrons on the Goechala trek. It’s a huge attraction,” says Arjun Majumdar, the founder and CEO of Indiahikes.

Yellow rhododendrons with a monastery in the backdrop at Tshoka. Picture by Sourav Mukherjee

What’s special is that it is not a fleeting section of rhododendrons on the Goechala trek. “You’ll start seeing your first rhododendrons after the Bakhim campsite.

“But the gem of it is after Tshoka. The stretch between Tshoka and Phedang, between 9,000 ft and 11,000 ft, is THE rhododendron belt. You see pink, yellow, scarlet and red rhododendrons. There are stretches where you’re walking in a tunnel of rhododendrons. Sunlight diffuses through these flowers magically, forming unreal colours in the forests. It’s the most remarkable rhododendron experience,” says Arjun.

A dark-rumped rosefinch perched on a rhododendron on the Goechala trail. Picture by Sahana

View the Goechala Trek

2. Deoriatal-Chandrashila

The Eastern Himalayas of Sikkim and North Bengal are well-known for their rhododendrons, but not so much the Western Himalayas. Which is why the Deoriatal Chandrashila trek, with its abundance of rhododendrons, is a trekker's delight. We call it “The Goechala of the West.”

And the trek lives up to its eastern sister to the T. Right off the bat, you enter a beautiful rhododendron forest, which delights you with trees heavily laden with rhododendrons. Within 2-3 hours, you are welcomed by the Deoriatal Lake, which is surrounded by rhododendron trees blazing in shades of crimson, magenta, and bright pink.

Rhododedron trees painting the mountains pink, below a towering Mt Chaukhamba on the Deoriatal-Chandrashila trek. Picture by Manasa Gollapinni

“There’s a quiet trail that circumambulates the lake, taking you through a drooping canopy of rhododendrons. You’ll see flowers above you, on either side of you, and even below you. The trail is a carpet of fallen rhododendrons. It’s one of the most beautiful hours you’ll spend by the lake,” says Vivek Saini, Slope Manager at Indiahikes, who has spent the longest time serving as our slope manager in this region. 

You would think it is hard for the trek to match up to Day 1, but the forests from Deoriatal to Rohini Bugyal and further onto Chopta will leave you weak in the knees. Rhododendrons come at you in surprising clusters.

A rhododendron tree in full bloom on the Deoriatal Chandrashila trail. Picture by Amandeep Singh

In fact, from the Baniya Kund campsite to the summit, you see a few of the best pink rhododendrons. "Given that this section retains snow all the way until late-April, you’ll see a glorious contrast of pink flowers against white snow," says Vivek. It's truly a photographer's delight.

If you are lucky enough, you’ll also get to spot the ultra-colourful Himalayan Monal scampering about in the rhododendron shrubs.

The forest section is an absolute visual treat with treetops sprinkled with snow. In early March, rhododendrons are in full bloom. Picture by Yogesh Shinde.

View Deoriatal Chandrashila Trek

3. Ranthan Kharak

The Ranthan Kharak Trek is our latest rhododendron love. And with good reason. The trek is replete with rhododendron trees for almost two entire days of trekking. The trail between Namik and Bajimanian campsites has tall rhododendron trees, with the classic scarlet flowers blooming all along the trail. On the next day too, you are treated to rhododendrons until the Chopu campsite.

The best part of this trek is that it doesn't have the crowds of Deoriatal or Goechala. You have enough time to immerse yourself in the forests, acquaint yourself with the lovely rhododendrons, observe how they thrive under the shade of oak trees, and more.

Our initial team to Ranthan Kharak got a chance to witness them in full bloom.

On the other hand, the lack of crowds keeps the forests brimming with birds. Our exploration team spotted several species on the trail, including multiple Himalayan monals.

For us, the fact that it is in the Kumaon region, where there are no other well-known treks, and that it has terrific mountain views, shows us that this trek has a lot of good things going on every day. It's a trek you must not miss.

View Ranthan Kharak Trek

4. Sandakphu-Phalut Trek 

Sandakphu is a trek that has so many great things going on, but when you trek in the Rhododendron season, everything else takes a backseat. It is hard for other treks to compete with the arresting view of the Kanchenjunga range and the Everest range in front, with a canopy of rhododendrons below.  

Very similar to Goechala, the Sandakphu trail’s rhododendrons is an experience that is well-documented. It is something that Singalila National Park is known for.

A walk in the flower-strewn forests on the Sandakphu trek. Picture by Shayak Ray Chaudhuri

"The best rhododendron sections are between Samanden and Molley. The last stretch of this walk is entirely through rhododendron forests. The flowers are completely red and pink here. If you time your trek right, you'll be trekking in a sea of pink," says Akshay Upreti, Slope Manager at Indiahikes, who has spent several months in the Sandakphu region. 

The initial section from Aal to Gurdum is also a rhododendron forest. Not only do you see dark pink and scarlet flowers, but you also see light pink, white, and yellow flowers on this trek.

Rhododendrons spread across the hills on the Sandakphu trek. Picture by Nikhil Jain

View Sandakphu Phalut Trek

5. Brahmatal Trek 

Brahmatal is a trek that will strike you with rhododendrons almost as soon as you start the trek. The basecamp of the trek, Lohajung, with its neatly planted rhododendron trees along your sitting area, gives you a small peek into what is in store for you on the trail. 

Trekking under a canopy of rhododendrons on the Brahmatal trek. Picture by Gourab Nandy

"You are treated to the best rhododendron experience on the very first day of this trek as you climb towards Gujrani. This is one of the densest rhododendron forests I've seen. Our Gujraini campsite is also in the heart of rhododendron forests. It makes for a terrific setting in April," says Gourab Nandy, Slope Manager at Indiahikes, who spent the entire rhododendron season in 2021 in the Brahmatal region.

"If that was not enough, one of the most magical rhododendron experiences is at Bekaltal. Even though the density of the flowers isn't too much, the entire lakeside is strewn with pink petals. Trekkers love sitting by this lake and sharing stories," he adds.

Trekkers sharing stories sitting by the Bekaltal lake. A rhododendron tree blooms lusciously in the foreground. Picture by Gourab Nandy

The rhododendron experience carries on until the last day on this trek, where you see the last of the rhododendrons towards Khorurai.

View Brahmatal Trek

Special mentions: 

1. Rhododendron trees towards Patangnia Ridge on the Chirbatiya weekend trek: When it comes to forest trails, this trek is hard to compete with, especially on a weekend. While you see a few rhododendon trees initially on the trail, as you climb towards Patangnia top, you see big, tall rhododendron trees towards the ridge. They look outstanding during sunset, with big mountains in the background.

It's a treat to see such rhododendrons on a short weekend trek like Chirbatiya. Picture by Jothiranjan

2. The forests near Khullara on the Kuari Pass trek: Just as you reach Khullara, the edges of the meadows are laid out with short rhododendron trees. These trees have lighter rhododendrons, more pink than red. They’re laid out in neat lines, and you get a chance to trek beside them.

Light pink rhododendrons are typical of the Kuari Pass trail. These are shorter trees growing at higher altitudes. Picture by Pritish Bhanushali

3. The section between Nayata and Raithal on the Dayara Bugyal trek: On your last day, as you’re descending from Nayata to Raithal, you’re treated to some lovely rhododendron trees. These are classic red and deep pink rhododendrons. While the number of trees is not too large, the density within some trees is mind-boggling. 

Sections of Dayara Bugyal are blooming with rhododendrons in spring

4. The forests near Bedni Bugyal on the Ali Bedni Bugyal trek: On this trek, look out for the forests between Gheroli Patal to Bedni Bugyal. You’ll come across a good section of rhododendron trees here, especially along the edges of the meadows.

The trail towards Bedni Bugyal in spring. Picture by Jothiranjan

In Conclusion 

Experiencing rhododendrons is rare in our country. Given that they grow only at certain altitudes, specific latitudes, and weather conditions, they are hard to find, not just in our country but anywhere in the world. They are a protected species everywhere. 

So when you have a chance to see them in such resplendent forests, in their natural habitat, and in such abundance, it's an opportunity you must not let go. 

And if you’re a birder or a photographer, then more so. With flowers come birds and butterflies, and as our bird expert says, it's one of the best seasons for bird watching. 

If you'd like to trek during the rhododendron season, plan now before it gets too late.

If you have any questions, drop in a comment below. We'll get back to you. 

Swathi Chatrapathy

Chief Editor

About the author

Swathi Chatrapathy heads the digital content team at Indiahikes. She is also the face behind India's popular trekking video channel, Trek With Swathi. Unknown to many, Swathi also writes a weekly column at Indiahikes which has more than 100,000 followers.

A TEDx speaker and a frequent guest at other events, Swathi is a much sought after resource for her expertise in digital content.

Before joining Indiahikes, Swathi worked as a reporter and sub-editor at a daily newspaper. She holds a Masters's in Digital Journalism and continues to contribute to publications. Trekking, to her, is a sport that liberates the mind more than anything else. Through trekking, Swathi hopes to bring about a profound impact on a person's mind, body and spirit.