Back in 2016, when I first planned my trek to Rupin Pass, I learnt a fascinating fact.
From the Rupin valley, if I climbed over one of the cliffs on my left, I’d land up in the Pabbar valley, which would take me straight to Buran Ghati! I was just a few walking-hours away from another stunning trek in our country.
This left me mind-boggled. How could two incredibly great treks be next to each other?
Despite being in adjoining valleys, the terrain, the grasslands, the mountains, the forests looked so astonishingly distinct, that it was hard to believe they were in the same country, forget in the same 50 km radius!
However, I notice that trekkers don’t really see the differences in these two treks when they’re choosing a trek.
They often choose just one of these two treks, not even considering the other. They think if they have done Rupin Pass, they do not have to do Buran Ghati, and vice versa. This is extremely silly!
If you do Rupin and don’t do Buran, then I think it is one of the biggest mistakes you are making as a trekker. Rupin and Buran together are two of the greatest treks in Indian trekking.
Let me tell you what is great about these treks.
Buran Ghati: What makes it a great trek?
“If I have to sum it up in a sentence, Buran Ghati is a flawless trek. The landscape is so perfectly laid out, that not a single rock is out of place,” says Arjun Majumdar, the founder of Indiahikes, who explored this trek and put it on the map. It’s no surprise that even though we opened the trek only in 2015, it shot up in fame within a year.
Trekkers loved it for the thrill of rappelling down an ice wall at 15,000 ft. They loved the resemblance the trek has to so many of their favourite Himalayan treks. “Turn left and you’ll remember the bugyals of Roopkund. Turn another way and you’ll see the vastness of Kashmir. Look a bit beyond, you’ll see the Hampta Pass. Every section of this trek is reminiscent of another great Himalayan trek. It’s like doing all our great treks all at once,” says Sandhya UC, the co-founder of Indiahikes.
This film will tell you why we all love Buran Ghati:
Rupin Pass: What makes it a great trek?
The Rupin Pass trek needs no introduction. It’s one of the flagship treks of Indiahikes, a legendary adventure we opened way back in 2009. From then until now, this trek has not lost sheen one bit. Rupin Pass has everything you need from a great adventure. If Buran is flawless, Rupin Pass is perfection.
The entire trail is what anyone looks for in a great trek. You have superb culture, eye-popping mountain scenery, great campsites, a thrilling pass crossing, and if it wasn’t enough, the surprises on the Rupin Pass trek are legendary. It is a unique trek so full of surprises, that when you finish the trek you are left gasping. You cannot predict the scenery even during the last hours of the trek.
If Buran Ghati has rappelling, the Rupin Pass gully crossing at 15,000 feet is the highest form of adventure you can get on treks. The pass-crossing gives you a sense of thrill that no other of our 15,000-er can match up to.
This deep-dive video is something that will let you immerse yourself in the Rupin Pass trek:
But let me break the treks apart. I’ll take you through each section of the trek. As you will see later, each of these sections matters a lot.
I am going to start with the drive. That’s because most trekkers don’t even talk about it. They treat the drive as if it is something they have to get done with. For both Rupin and Buran they are missing out on one of the most memorable experiences of their lives.
Drive to Jiskun (Rupin Pass) vs Drive to Janglik (Buran Ghati)
“Hmmm… If we still had the old route to Rupin Pass, starting from Dhaula, then I would have easily chosen the Buran Ghati drive as a better one. But now, we are starting the Rupin Pass trek from Jiskun, which means both mountain drives are the same, until the last 20%,” says Arjun.
Straight out of Shimla, you are getting into exquisite mountain scenery. It just keeps getting better as you get past Theog. The drive then takes you straight into the heart of Himachal’s apple country. Apple orchards with forests every now and then line the entire drive. The drive is splendid all the way until Rohru. And then from Rohru, when you thought it couldn’t get better, the drive just knocks you over with its beauty!”
But the Rupin Pass drive has an exceptional experience in store for trekkers — a drive across Chaainsheel Pass.
“For me, the drive over Chaainsheel Ghati on the Rupin Pass route remains one of the most memorable mountain road journeys. I could not keep my eyes off the scenery for even a moment. I have never driven through such stunning forests before. Even at the Chaainsheel pass, my jaws dropped at the meadowy landscape. Even though I was rushed for time I had the vehicle stop just to soak in the scenery,” says Arjun.
“For me, even if you don’t do the Rupin Pass trek, but you’ve done the Chainsheel Ghati road journey, you’ve had a terrific experience,” Arjun says.
This is where Sandhya rolled her eyes.
“The drive to Janglik on the Buran Ghati route is equally stunning. The coniferous forests and ancient villages are not something you see everyday. If that doesn’t excite you, I don’t know what will!” she says.
How do the campsites compare?
Buran Ghati — Janglik, Dayara, Litham, Dhunda, River Camp, Janglik, Dayara, Litham, Dhunda, River Camp, , Dayara, Litham, Dhunda, River Camp, Barua
“When you reach Janglik, you’ll want to make a home there,” smiles Izzat Yaganagi, head of our experiential learning team, who was part of the exploration team to Buran Ghati (Read her exploration notes here). Janglik is a tiny hamlet, largely untouched by modernity. Apple orchards decorate the backyards of homes. The people, the language, the culture — they’re as genuine as they might have been centuries ago. Barua, which is where the trek ends, is as endearing as Janglik.
From Janglik, each of the campsites on the Buran Ghati trek — Dayara, Litham, Dhunda or the River Campsite — could classify as the best campsites on any Himalayan trek. “They seem hand-picked, with stunning mountain sceneries on all sides. There’s not a single campsite, where you might think, ‘We could have camped 100 ft ahead.’ They’re that flawless. Just for the campsites, I’d go to Buran Ghati,” says Arjun.
The tiny hamlet of Janglik. Picture by Arjun Majumdar
Our Dayara Campsite on the Buran Ghati trek, amidst the beautiful Dayara Meadows. Picture by Rupalee Kulkarni
The Dhunda campsite, from where you attempt to cross the Buran Ghati Pass. Picture by Sandhya UC
Rupin Pass — Jiskun, Jhaka, Saruwas Thatch, Lower Waterfall, Upper Waterfall, Rontigad and , Jhaka, Saruwas Thatch, Lower Waterfall, Upper Waterfall, Rontigad and Sangla
When you start Rupin Pass from Jiskun, you’re already at a terrific vantage point. The view of the Rupin Valley, bedecked with layers of pine trees, and the turquoise waters of the Rupin river meandering in between is stunning!
“When you’re welcomed by this view, you’re already in love with the place,” says Sandhya. But it is the next village, Jhaka that steals your heart. Jhaka is a traditional village steeped in Himachali culture.
After these two villages, every campsite that follows in the U-shaped Rupin valley takes your breath away. Saruwas Thatch is the first spot where you get views of the famous Rupin waterfalls. You are camping in the meadows next to the river. Fed by the waters of Rupin, this small grassland is replete with flowers.
Further ahead, you reach Lower Waterfall and then the Upper Waterfall. Both of these would qualify for the Top 3 Himalayan campsites of all time. So dramatic are the settings that you could camp for days together and not get enough. “Just witnessing these campsites is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” says Sandhya. “I am constantly in an internal struggle to add an extra day to the trek, just to stay at these campsites!”, added Sandhya.
The last campsite at Rontigad has a completely different flavour, with lush grasslands and snow-capped mountains all around. As we mentioned earlier, the drama never ends.
(Read here about how we choose campsites on Himalayan treks)
The hanging village of Jhaka
Approaching the lower waterfall campsite on the Rupin Pass trek. Picture by Antara Naik
The Rontigad campsite after crossing the Rupin Pass. Picture by Anirban Banerjee
Crossing Rupin Pass vs Crossing Buran Ghati
This is a very tough one. We’re debating perhaps two most significant pass-crossings for trekkers in the Indian Himalayas.
Buran Ghati: What is the pass-crossing like?
Buran Ghati is known throughout the trekking circles for the hair-raising descent from the pass. Even the most experienced trekkers have their hearts in their mouths when they look down from the pass at a sheer drop beneath their feet.
“The approach to the pass, the rappel down at 15,000 ft, the snow slides, and the descent to the river camp, these make for a grand adventure. I cannot take anything away from it,” commented Arjun. “Even in Autumn, when the snow is less, getting off the pass to the bottom of the wall is a heart stopping adventure.”
The snow wall at 15,000 ft, which trekkers have to rappel down to descend from Buran Ghati. Picture by Syama Krishna
Rupin Pass: What is the pass-crossing like?
The Rupin crossover, on the other hand, is one of the most extravagant days of trekking on any Himalayan trek. You start your climb in the wee hours of the morning from Upper waterfall. Within a few hours, you hit the massive snow fields of Rata Pheri, which are so vast that you cannot take in the view with one panoramic sweep. As you walk on and on, the fields stretch farther and farther.
The Rupin gully is another adventure altogether. The gully is narrow, sheer and tunnel-like. Every footstep echoes, your voice is amplified manifold. You tread carefully not to disturb the loose stones. Scrambling through the gully is adrenaline pumping. For the 30-40 minutes that you’re there, you are on the most adventurous moments of your life.
Trekkers standing atop Rupin Pass while a few trekkers make their way up the gully on the right side. Picture by Anirban Banerjee
Once you reach the pass and the first gust of wind hits you in the sudden openness, it’s magical! Looming in the distance is an imposing view of the Kinnaur Ranges. Stretching beneath your feet is a vast landscape, where you can trace the altitude change with just your eyes — you see the snowline ending, the grasslands opening up and realise you still have a few more hours of adventure ahead of you.
The snow slides from the pass add to the adventure, which extends all the way till the snowline ends. Frankly speaking, the pass-crossing day is like a 3-day adventure packed into 10 thrilling hours.
The narrow, near-vertical gully that marks the way to Rupin Pass. Picture by Vishwas Krishnamurthy
Buran Ghati vs Rupin Pass – Head to head
1. Forest sections: Right on Day 1, the Buran Ghati trail climbs into a thick oak and pine forest. This trail is an absolute treat, with streams running across the trail and the woody scent of the forest. The next forest section is the most astonishing one — an entire forest of silver birch (bhoj patra) trees. These forests are utterly rare and you’re not likely to see such large tracts of such ancient trees.
The lovely forest trails on the way to Dayara, on the Buran Ghati trek
In comparison, the Rupin Pass trail has one of the most enchanting fir forests in between Jhaka and Udaknal, but it doesn’t last long. It whets your appetite, yet leaves you hungry for more. Unfortunately, it never gives you more forests.
Dense fir forests after Jhaka. Picture by Vishwas Krishnamurthy
2. Meadows and grasslands: This is something that Buran Ghati boasts of. Right from the time you exit the forests on Day 1, all the way until the base of the pass at Dhunda, you’re walking through exquisite meadows and grasslands. They are a few of the best meadows in all of Himachal. The fact that you camp in these meadows at Dayara is the cherry on top!
The undulating meadows of Dayara on the Buran Ghati trek. Picture by Leo Saldanha
Rupin Pass has great meadows too, especially between Saruwas Thatch and Lower Waterfall. They are exquisite. On the other side of the pass, this is where Rupin scores over Buran. There are more grasslands to walk on! Shepherds from many parts of Himachal throng to these grasslands with their herds.
The Rontigad campsite in the heart of the meadows towards Sangla. Picture by Sabyasachi Manna
3. Strikingly photogenic trails: When we think about Buran Ghati, we think “This is what calendars are made of.” The landscape is postcard perfect, Swiss Alp-like. Even the worst photographer can make this trek look good in photographs. Especially when trekkers reach the Dayara meadows. Everyone’s camera is out. Nobody wants to forget that moment, that view.
Buran Ghati is one of the most photogenic trails among all our Himalayan treks. Picture by Chetan Gupta
Rupin Pass, on the other hand, is a photographer’s muse. It has so many moods and moments that it can leave even a professional photographer exasperated. With its surprises it has too many elements to photograph. The ancient culture of the villages, the forests, the gliding Rupin river, the snow fields, the gully, the grasslands, it just goes on and on! We are yet to see a photographer who has done justice to what Rupin has to offer.
The Rupin valley is hard to photograph, yet it is one of the most picturesque treks. Picture by Vaibhav Jain
4. Absolutely unpredictable trails: “This is the signature reason to do the Rupin Pass trek. You just cannot predict what you’re going to see next. From Jiskun, you cannot see Jhaka and you have no clue what it’s like. From Jhaka, you don’t know what Saruwas Thatch is like. From Saruwas Thatch, you have no clue what the Rupin Waterfall looks like. From Lower waterfall, you don’t know what Upper Waterfall is like. From Upper Waterfall, you have no clue what the pass crossing is like. Every twenty minutes, the trail is new. It’s unpredictable and catches trekkers by surprise. That’s one of the biggest reasons why we love Rupin Pass,” he says.
Rupin Pass has a surprise in store every 20 minutes, with unpredictable landscape. Photo by Karthikeyan V
Buran Ghati, on the other hand, has long-distance views. You can see the trail extending for miles ahead of you. You can see the next campsite as tiny yellow specks from a distance. You can even see the pass from the Dhunda campsite. In that sense, you know what’s coming at every point in time, except perhaps the surprising drop from the pass and the first “wow” moment when you see the Dayara meadows.
The Buran Ghati trek has long-distance views, that allow you to see far ahead, and also far back into the trail. Picture by Anirban Banerjee
5. The riverside experience: The Rupin river is something every trekker forms a deep connection with. Right from the base camp, you are always on the riverside until you cross the pass. Sometimes you see the river angry, sometimes you see it gentle, sometimes you hop, skip and jump on small rocks over the river and as you approach the pass, you see the birthplace of the river. You form such a strong bond with the Rupin river that at the end of five days, you feel a heavy heart to leave it behind.
“Rupin is the most beautiful river that I have seen. It is so full of character and colour, that I fell in love with the trek just because of the river. It gushes, glides, meanders, falls down waterfalls, dives under snow bridges. Every moment I marveled at its colours. I even wanted to name my daughter after the river!” recollects Arjun.
Rupin is one of the most beautiful rivers, with so many moods and shades. Picture by Madhu
On the Buran Ghati trail, even though you’re trekking beside the Pabbar River, you’re high on the mountain side, with the river almost hidden below you. There are sections where the river gushes past your trail, but the sense of connection is not as strong as with the Rupin river.
The source of the Pabbar River, Chandranahan Lake. This is one of the few places where you trek close to the Pabbar river. Picture by Vidhya K Pai
6. Waterfalls galore: When you trek at Rupin Pass in June or in early September, the entire valley is resplendent with waterfalls. In the glacial valley between Saruwas thatch and lower water fall, you’ll count over a thousand waterfalls cascading down the brown walls to meet the Rupin river. No other trek gives you such a fantastic setting.
The number of waterfalls that you see in the glacial valley at Rupin after Saruwas Thatch is mind-blowing. Picture by Regina Tang
Buran Ghati, on the other hand, doesn’t have waterfalls, but does boast of the Chandranahan falls, an imposing sight from Litham campsite. You even go to the Chandranahan lake, the source of river Pabbar. That makes for an experience in itself.
There’s a drastic difference in the difficulty of both the treks. Buran Ghati is easier on the legs. The days are short, the pass crossing is not too demanding. Yet it is a trek that climbs to 15,000 ft. It requires about a month of preparation. Very fit beginners can attempt this trek.
Rupin Pass is a grade more difficult than Buran Ghati. Even though the days have been split into shorter distances, the pass crossing day is long and challenging. It is something that will test your endurance and your mental strength. You must prepare for it for at least 2 months before attempting the trek. We also suggest it to those who have done at least one Himalayan trek before.
I think the verdict is simple. Both of these treks are terrific adventures that every trekker must do. Buran Ghati is a trek for your heart. It has the ability to charm you endlessly everyday and yet thrill you with a life-changing adventure.
Rupin Pass, on the other hand, is a complete trek. It has everything you want out of a trek. It is perfect in every aspect. Yet, the surprises of the trek leaves you wanting for more. When the trek gets over at Sangla, you wish it did not get over.
If you haven’t done either of these treks, then your Himalayan trek experience is incomplete. Don’t treat these treks as an ‘either’ or ‘or’. Do both of them. Rupin and Buran, out of the many, two of the greatest treks we have to showcase in the Indian Himalayas.