Over the years, I notice that trekkers have developed a deep love for Dayara Bugyal in winter.
Ever since we first opened it in winter 2017, trekkers have fallen in love with the wintry charm of this trek — the lovely snow-draped oaks and maples, the soft glow of early morning sun on the white meadows, the icy lakes and ponds, the towering Gangotri ranges that accompany trekkers like sentinels from the first day to the last…
Today, I thought I'd chat with some of our team members on what they love about the Dayara Bugyal trek in winter. They all put forth some compelling reasons to do this trek in winter. Let me take you through them.
Why we love the Dayara Bugyal trek in winter:
1. The snow-laden forests on Day 1 and Day 2
“The first thing that comes to my mind are the forests of Dayara Bugyal,” begins Dhaval Jajal, a Senior Trek Leader and Filmmaker at Indiahikes, who spent two winters leading the Dayara Bugyal trek in 2019 and 2020.
“The forests become extremely beautiful in winter. Especially in peak winter months of January and February, the boughs of the trees are heavily laden with snow. Every time you shake a branch, you’ll feel soft powder snow drizzle over you. It’s an incredibly romantic setting,” says Dhaval.
Peak winter settings in the forests of Dayara Bugyal. Picture by Dhaval Jajal.
“Even if there is no snow in early winter, the angle at which light falls through, especially in the mornings, is extremely charming. Since you’re headed in an easterly direction from Raithal to Gui, you’re directly in the path of the slanting rays of the sun. It lights up the maple and oak leaves around you with tremendous colours,” adds Izzat Yaganagi, Head of Experiential Learning at Indiahikes, who has been to Dayara Bugyal in winter multiple times.
The initial forest walk from Raithal to Gui in the early morning light. Picture by Sudheer Hegde
But that’s not all. “This is not a continuous forest walk like you see at Deoriatal-Chandrashila or Brahmatal. There are multiple openings throughout the forest, which make for nice breaks in scenery. It’s very similar to the celebrated clearings of the Kedarkantha trek. We even camp in these clearings,” adds Dhaval.
The Indiahikes campsite at Chilapada. Picture by Akshay Aralikatti
2. The frozen Gui and Barnala Lakes
Not many treks allow you to experience walking on a frozen lake. Kedarkantha has Juda Ka Talab on the Sankri route, but it’s too crowded in winter, often losing its charm. The Brahmatal trek has Bekaltal and Brahmatal. Bekaltal is rarely frozen, since it lies at a relatively lower altitude. Brahmatal is perhaps the only lake that you get to see in a frozen form.
On the Dayara Bugyal trek, though, you have two lakes that are frozen — the Gui tal (which you camp very close to) and the Barnala tal, which you come across while trekking from Barnala to Chilapada.
“Gui is literally like a skating rink in the middle of nowhere. In peak winter months of Jan and Feb, it’s frozen with a thick, almost unbreakable layer of ice. Even though it isn’t very big, it’s a very thrilling experience to walk on it,” shares Izzat.
When it isn’t frozen, it's like a piece of sky on earth. It’s a cool blue surrounded by snow.
The half-frozen Gui tal in winter. Picture by Sudheer Hedge
Barnala is extremely picturesque too, especially when it is frozen. Trekkers love to spend time by this lake, just reflecting on their experience. “There’s a Nag Devta temple by the bank of the lake, which adds a certain spiritual charm to it,” shares Izzat.
The frozen Barnala tal in winter. Picture by Deep Thakkar
3. The biggest expanse of snow you have seen
Once you exit the treeline, you come to the much-awaited alpine meadows of Dayara. “I have been to at least 5 different winter treks. But I have never seen such a vast expanse of snow,” shares Dhaval, who has led trekkers to Brahmatal, Kedarkantha and Deoriatal in winter.
“When I first stepped in the meadows of Dayara in peak winter, I was wowed by the view. It was miles and miles of undulating snow. It looked like a field of vanilla ice cream! There’s not a single tree or a plant or a rock that obstructs the snow. It’s just velvety snow for as far as your eyes can see,” he adds.
Ant-like trekkers in the vast meadows of Dayara Bugyal in winter. Picture by Dhaval Jajal
You’re not likely to see this much snow on any other winter trek. “This is the kind of snow that brings the child in you alive,” adds Izzat. “Every time I have been there, I have made all my team members just close their eyes and fall backwards in the snow. The kind of weightlessness and glee you feel when you sink into soft snow is amazing,” she smiles.
“The number of snow slides on this trek while descending is a lot! You don’t get to see or experience that many snow slides on any other winter trek, not even on higher altitude treks like Rupin Pass and Buran Ghati,” she adds. “I admit these are not big slides, but just short fun slides that are such a joy!”
4. An expedition-like summit climb in snow
The climb to Dayara top in winter gives you an almost expedition-like feel. First comes the overwhelming rush of emotions upon seeing the snow-blanketed meadows; then comes the adrenaline surge of climbing to a Himalayan mountain top!
“From upper Chilapada all the way to the summit is extremely beautiful. I remember, we started our summit climb in the early hours, when it was still dark. We could only see the snow at our feet, under the gleam of our headlamps,” says Lakshmi Selvakumaran, head of the Experience team at Indiahikes, who trekked to Dayara Bugyal in winter 2019.
Trekkers making it to Dayara Top under the light of their headlamps. Picture by Munendra Rana
“At the break of dawn, we started seeing snowflakes glistening like diamonds all around us. As we climbed higher, the vast expanse of snow opened up around us, getting grander and grander every minute. The enormity of the snow covered landscape really hit me when the sun came out fully.
“Added to that, we started seeing the big peaks that Dayara Bugyal is known for. Mt Bandarpoonch was right in front of me, almost at a touching distance. The Gangotri ranges were glowing in the morning light. It felt very surreal to walk in these settings, feeling the warmth of the sun and seeing the alpenglow on the mountains,” shares Lakshmi.
Izzat, here, shares another perspective. “In peak winter, the climb becomes quite a challenge. I remember that we had to use ropes to secure the trail. The technical guides were cutting steps in snow, while we waited to climb with the ropes. It felt like we were climbing Everest, full with a queue at the Hillary Step and everything,” she laughs.
This is indeed a reality of trekking to Dayara Bugyal in winter. The difficulty becomes a notch higher, and requires you to be fit and agile to deal with high snow.
“Several times, the snow is so deep that you cannot proceed beyond a point. But the good thing with Dayara Bugyal is that even if you just reach the meadows and return, you have a wonderful sense of accomplishment. That doesn’t happen on most other winter treks if you are forced to leave halfway,” he says.
5. The easiest winter trek for beginners
Despite the winter challenges, we have always maintained that the Dayara Bugyal trek is too rewarding for the least amount of effort put in. That makes it the best trekkers for beginners in winter.
“You hardly cover 5-6 km everyday. The ascents and descents are gentle. The rewards come to you quickly. Yet, you climb to a high point of around 12,000 ft. You experience snow. You see some of the best views reserved for very few people in our country. It spoils trekkers too much, if you ask me,” admits Izzat.
No other winter trek gives you such views and rewards with such ease.
Dayara Bugyal has always been a favourite at Indiahikes. Be it among beginners, or among the most seasoned team members. Many of us have done the trek multiple times, and still never tire of it. Which is why we even built our own campus at the start of the trek in Raithal. It is our home in the mountains that we always wanted.
True, it has always been a heart-melter in summer. But in a winter setting, you have one of the best snow and mountain experiences in the Himalayas. The snowscapes are unmatched and the trek is truly the biggest expanse of snow in winter.
So if you’re a beginner looking to trek in January or February, my top recommendation would be Dayara Bugyal.