This morning, while skimming through the newspaper, I came across a news report about Himalayan Rhododendrons. I must tell you, I was surprised to see any mention of these flowers in the news. Nobody talks about them, so few know about them.
Yet, if you ask me, they’re one of the grandest experiences in the Himalayas.
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.
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
However, not on every Himalayan trek will you experience the splendours of rhododendrons. 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. You also need to plan your trek well in advance, because these groups get full in no time.
Which is why my email today is about the Best Treks to Experience Himalayan Rhododendrons.
I’ll tell you which treks to choose, when to time them and which sections of the trail to watch out for.
Let’s first start with how to time your trek to experience rhododendrons in India.
When do rhododendrons bloom?
Rhododendrons bloom only between late winter and early summer, which means they bloom between late-February and until 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 Feb 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 4 greatest treks to see Rhododendrons in our country.
Which are the Top 4 Rhododendron Treks of India?
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, 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 Goechala Trek
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 trekkers 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 a fairytale in spring. The lake is surrounded by rhododendron trees that stand out 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 its 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 till 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. 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 the 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 Trek
4. Brahmatal Trek
The Brahmatal trek is our latest rhododendron love. And with good reason. 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.
“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.
Trekking under a canopy of rhododendrons on the Brahmatal trek. Picture by Gourab Nandy
“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
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.
A grey hooded warbler rests on a rhododendron tree on the Deoriatal trek. Picture by Expert Birder and photographer, Ajit Hota
If you’d like to trek during the rhododendron season, plan now, in January. Even February is too late.
If you have any questions, drop in a comment below. We’ll get back to you.