First of all given the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic, I don’t think you must do any treks until April 30. We have already suspended treks till April 15th, but that could go on slightly longer. So even if you have planned a trek, either on your own or with a trekking organisation, drop the plan.
The COVID-19 disease is already on to us. As I write this (March 18), there are 148 positive cases in India. 3 people have died. Infections are spreading like wildfire. As the numbers increase, somehow thinking that the infection may not reach us (or has not already touched us) would be very foolish.
As I see it, a lot more people are infected by COVID-19 than it appears. Perhaps in thousands. As a country, we must be on a war footing to manage this crisis.
I am not an expert on how to manage diseases. But I can use my common sense to talk about how to think of trekking.
┃Do you trek in the times of COVID-19?
Yes and No.
Yes, you must trek. Trekking has tremendous benefits for the mind, body and spirit. Especially in these stressful times. Trekking can help soothe the nerves, it can help sort our thinking. A few quiet moments on a trail can really boost your energy. If you are cooped up at home, with a work-from-home situation, then a trek can make you feel happier. It boosts your immunity and gets the hormones back in circulation.
But these are treks that you do on your own. These are treks that you do not go in groups (or with your friends). These are not Himalayan treks. These are treks that you do out of your own city.
These are treks where you take your own car or motorcycle, find a spot around your city and just do it for the benefits it gives you.
This is not the time to go on group or Himalayan treks. That can happen in the future.
In a group with unknown people (and even with friends) you don’t know who is carrying an infection. Worse, the group may bring the infection to the mountains — where the disaster can be enormous.
┃What about Himalayan treks? When do we do them?
As harsh as it sounds, leave out the early summer months this year. If you have already registered for a trek in late April or May, let it stay. Wait and watch. See if things improve. If things get better go on and do the trek. If they don’t, postpone your trek to a later date in the year.
On the other hand if you are thinking of a future trek, plan for Himalayan treks only from June onward. By then we will know if we are truly out of the COVID-19 mess or deep in it. Hopefully, the world by then will know how to deal with this unknown virus.
│What are some of the Himalayan treks to think about from June onward?
Right off the bat, think of treks in Kashmir. As our registrations show, Kashmir seems to be in a geography where we think COVID-19 cannot touch us. It is all psychological. There is little logic in it. Yet, trekking in Kashmir could be the perfect balm for the ravaged mind (we have reopened trekking in Kashmir).
The Tarsar Marsar trek is perhaps the prettiest trek in our country. Picture by Raghavendra SN
Among the Kashmir treks my personal favourite would be the Tarsar Marsar, followed by the Kashmir Great Lakes. I love Tarsar because it is a more complete trek than the Kashmir Great Lakes. I find it has more scenery changes. It is more pristine as well. And also the chance to camp intimately besides two of Kashmir’s most beautiful lakes is hard to pass on.
Kashmir Great Lakes is perhaps the most beautiful trek in our country. It’s tough, it’s challenging, the terrain is rugged at times. But all the effort is highly rewarded! Picture by Rajesh Shetty
For the die-hard adventurer, there is the Warwan Valley trek in Kashmir. If you are an experienced trekker, have done high altitude treks before, then the Warwan Valley trek is an adventure that you must do. I have done lots of treks but I have not done a trek like Warwan in my life. The scenery boggles your mind.
Further South, the great Hampta Pass trek in Himachal is a trekker’s favourite. So is the Bhrigu Lake trek and the Beas Kund. Then in Himachal think of the Pin Bhaba Pass if you can take on a bit of a challenge. It is another favourite of mine just for the colour changes.
A makeshift bridge on the Pin Bhaba Pass Trek. Picture by Jagadeesh DM
In Uttarakhand you have the perennial favourite — the Valley of Flowers trek — especially in July and August when the flowers bloom.
Approaching the Valley. Picture by Pravin Sekhar.
│What is happening at Indiahikes?
At Indiahikes we have tweaked our policies. We have made cancellations, rescheduling and shifting for the next two months very flexible. This gives trekkers a lot of flexibility without worrying too much about any money loss. With the Covid-19 hanging over our heads we wanted to give trekkers as much bandwidth as possible.
I want you to keep something in mind about Indiahikes. We are the safest organisation in India. We will always put the safety of trekkers and the safety of our people over everything else.
When we put out an advisory, we keep safety over everything else, including our commercial interests. Which is why you’ll notice me talking about treks in June and not earlier.
When we suspend a trek, we don’t do it because there is a government directive. We do it because we keep everyone’s safety in mind.
On a personal note, our mountain folks are devastated that the possibility of treks in peak seasons are looking bleak. Their income, livelihood depends on these treks.
Can I urge you to register for our future treks now? It will give our mountain folks a ray of hope to hold on to. As I have mentioned before, we have made our cancellations, shifting policies very flexible. You will be at little risk with your registration.
│Stay connected with the trekking world
I’ll leave you with a final note: In these troubled times it is important to stay connected with the trekking world we love. Stay tuned to our trek stories, articles and videos. At least for some moment it will take your mind off things.
Meanwhile, you will continue to find news about treks on our website. You will find no let up on our social media posts about current trek stories. Also, trek news, stories, new Do-It-Yourself treks and articles about treks are constantly going to be put up on our website. If you visit our website everyday, you’ll find something to read in this depressing phase.
Stay safe and stay fit.