How Trekking Changes When New Treks Open Up

When we started Indiahikes in 2008, our vision was simple. If trekking had to grow in our country, then information about trekking had to grow first.

People had to know where to trek, how to trek. At that time, trekking was a sport restricted to only a knowledgeable few. Himalayan treks were as good as going to a foreign country.

That’s how we started to document treks on our website. Very soon we built a good library of information. People started loving it! Finally, here was information that people could use to do treks on their own, including Himalayan treks.

This, though, catapulted us into another problem. Even after putting together all our collective experience, the number of treks we knew was limited. Even our extended community of trekkers knew only that much. Trekking would not grow if more treks were not discovered. New treks had to be brought out.

Treks not only had to be brought out but had to be made familiar in a warm friendly manner. There was always an air of uncertainty and difficulty surrounding treks. Expert advice was aplenty, but not the arm around your shoulder that showed you how to do the trek.

That, essentially, was the problem with Indian trekking. It was not that trekking was new to India. But most treks were out of reach of common man.

There was another strange affliction among serious trekkers. They only took on difficult or extreme treks. Treks like the Mayali Pass, the Kalindi Khal or Auden’s Col were celebrated. It left most trekkers admiring such treks but seldom stepping out of their homes to just walk in the mountains.

In 2008 when we started Indiahikes, trekking was in a state of void; a stalemate. It desperately needed a change. We wanted to change that.

In fact that’s how our oganisation’s name came about. Because we wanted our country to trek, we decided to call our organistion “Indiahikes”. We wanted to name our organisation based on the vision we had for ourselves and for trekking.

That’s why from the very start, exploration was an integral part of Indiahikes. We wanted to bring out treks for people to do. We thought this would bring about a behavioral change in people.

The 3 behavioral changes that we were looking for were:

a. Remove hesitation around trekking. Opening treks, writing extensively about them, not just with information but to talk about the goodness of the treks would bring down apprehensions around trekking. It would get people to start trekking.

b. Remove the “altitude” attachment from treks. We didn’t want trekkers to aim for higher altitude treks to do as their next trek. We didn’t want treks to be attached to an achievement of the ego. There were glorious treks to do at every altitude, even in the forests and beaches.

c. Remove the herd mentality of doing treks that were popular. Trekkers since years had got too used to doing treks they were familiar with. Experimenting with treks was the only way to move trekkers away from popular trails. This would avoid crowding of trails. At the same time they would get to enjoy a broader variety of treks.


Today we talk about 10 other lesser known treks that Indiahikes popularised in Indian trekking

These are treks that slowly brought about behavioral changes in trekkers.

1. Dayara Bugyal (documented 2010)

This was our first step in moving laterally. It was not a high altitude trek. It was a trek with meadows as its attraction. We wanted to see if trekkers could be moved away from the “altitude” affliction.

Result: It took Dayara Bugyal many years to gain traction. Our initial efforts at showcasing this trek did not draw much attention. It was only in 2017 when we opened it as a winter trek that Dayara slowly caught the imagination of trekkers. Later, trekkers started trekking on it in other seasons.

Today, 3 years later, Dayara Bugyal is the most popular trek for families and children.

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The meadows of Dayara under snow in winter. Picture by Sudheer Hegde

2. Everest Base Camp Via Gokyo Ri, Nepal (documented 2014)

It is strange we are talking about a trek in Nepal for a study in behavioral change. EBC is probably one of the most popular treks in the world. It was one of the most crowded as well. Around 1,20,000 people do the trek through the regular Tengboche route every year.

We were surprised that on a slightly parallel route, the Gokyo Ri, the number of trekkers was one tenth — and what’s more, the parallel route offered grander big mountain views, 5 alpine lakes, terrific pass crossings and some great summit climbs. You could also combine it with the traditional route on the return to get the best of both worlds.

We wanted to see if we could change people’s behaviour towards a less crowded route. That was the start of our push towards popularising the EBC route via Gokyo Ri.

Result: We have not met with much success here. Though some trekkers in India have started favouring the Gokyo Ri route, globally the traditional Tengboche route is still the most popular.

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A view of the Gokyo village from Gokyo Ri. The Gokyo Ri route is much more rewarding than the main EBC route. Picture by Geet Tryambake

3. Pin Bhaba Pass (documented 2016)

We wanted to move trekkers away from the riskier Pin Parvati Pass route. The trek had a lot of exposed sections where even a small slip could result in the death of a trekker. Not many were aware of the dangers.

The Pin Bhaba Pass offered little risk but came with better views than the Pin Parvati Pass. The crossover from the greenery to the deserts of Spiti was stunning.

Result: It took more than two years for the trek to gain traction. However, since 2018, the Pin Bhaba Pass has become one of the most sought after crossover treks at Indiahikes. Our groups get filled within weeks of opening. Hearteningly, the traffic on the Pin Parvati Pass route is dipping.

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Picturesque Mulling campsite and the Bhaba river. Picture by Abhishek T S

4. Mukta Top (documented 2018)

It was an experiment to see if people would take to treks that were very close to each other. In future traffic from crowded trails could be weaned away if this experiment was successful. We didn’t want to make such an experiment with a popular trail. Both Dayara and Mukta Top were new trails — this made them perfect for an experiment on a small scale.

Even though Dayara Bugyal was in close proximity to Mukta Top, the trek offered terrific visual variety in its forests. This was a rarity. The summit views were stunning too.

Result: Mukta Top took time for trekkers to understand. They could not imagine we were focusing on the ‘variety’ in the forests. However, by 2019 trekkers started spreading the good word about Mukta Top. The trek saw a whopping 783% jump in trekkers in 2019.

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View of the Mukta Top summit along with terrific view of the surrounding peaks. Picture by Assad Dadan

More than anything, our experiment was successful. Trekkers did not see Mukta as a close proximity trek to Dayara Bugyal. They saw it independently for what it was. This gave us the confidence to open Phulara Ridge next to Kedarkantha.

5. Chhattisgarh Jungle Trek (documented 2018)

We were keen to see if trekkers would do treks outside the Himalayas. The Chhattisgarh Tourism board was very keen to open trekking in Chhattisgarh. The state had an ignominy of Maoist terrorism surrounding it. As Indiahikes they knew we could change trekkers’ perception.

Along with the Chhattisgarh Tourism board, we explored a region in the buffer zone of the Achanakmar Wildlife Sanctuary, close to the source of the river Narmada. We explored another wonderful trail inside the Guru Ghasidas national park. In this trail animal sightings were common.

Result: Trekkers who were used to Himalayan treks had their attention piqued. This was a new experience. More than 200 trekkers experienced the beauty of this region in the short window that we opened the treks.

The treks are yet to find as much success as our Himalayan treks. The Guru Ghasidas National Park trail that trekkers were beginning to love was closed by the forest department. It was made a tiger corridor.

Early signs show that treks outside the Himalayas can be as popular.

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Walking on the river beach on the Chhattisgarh Jungle Trek. Picture by Sandya U C

6. Khopra Ridge Trek, Nepal (documented 2018)

This was another experiment to see if trekkers could be moved away from crowded trails. Our Annapurna Base Camp trek in Nepal was drawing a good number of trekkers.

Could trekkers be weaned away from the popular trail in a foreign country like Nepal?

Our exploration team brought out the fabulous Khopra Ridge trek. You could see more than 23 famous summits of mountains of over 7 and 8 thousand meters on this trail. The fantastic cloud formations on the trek along with the trek to Khayar Lake at above 15,000 feet were terrific attractions.

The Khopra Ridge trek was significantly better than the Annapurna Base Camp trek.

Result: Trekkers were tentative at first. But a few brave trekkers decided to explore the trek. They were ecstatic. The word started getting spread around. In 2020 before the pandemic hit our country, our Khopra Ridge trek showed more bookings than the Annapurna Base Camp trek.

Our experiment to wean trekkers away from a crowded trail in a foreign country was successful.

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Mt Dhaulagiri as seen from the Khopra Ridge trek in Nepal. Picture by Krunal Patel

7. Deoban (documented 2018)

We wanted trekkers to walk on other weekend treks outside Nag Tibba, which had developed cult status.

Our treks every week were getting booked out. Nag Tibba, our flagship trek, was getting crowded day by day. We wanted to see if our successful experiments to wean trekkers away from a crowded trek would be possible even on a weekend trek.

Deoban was a trek near Chakrata. Deoban, as its name suggests, had large tracts of Deodar forest, our indigenous coniferous trees.

Result: Deoban saw an immediate interest in trekkers. They were hesitant at first but willing to try out a new trek. Indian trekkers had matured. Gone were the days when only the name of a trek attracted trekkers. Deoban saw multiple groups doing the trek in the short span of 3 months that it was open in 2019.

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Trekkers walk on the lovely meadows amidst the Deodar trees on the Deoban trek. Picture by Afreen Jaffer

8. Sainj Valley (documented 2019)

To reconfirm our thoughts about weekend treks we wanted to try out a similar experiment in Himachal Pradesh. The popular Prashar Lake trek with its road access was getting increasingly crowded and no longer fun.

We explored the Sainj Valley near Mandi in the Great Himalayan National Park. It was called the Pundrik lake trek earlier, but the lake was not its main attraction. The trek went into lovely recesses of the valley through splendid clusters of forests and clearings.

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Lovely meadows in the clearing amidst the pin forest on the Sainj Valley trek. Picture by Ravi Ranjan

Result: Though trekkers have so far loved the trek, it has not caught their full imagination yet. Our experiment in Himachal Pradesh needs to continue with the Sainj Valley once the pandemic is over. It is too early to draw any conclusion yet.

9. Gidara Bugyal (documented 2019)

This was an experiment to remove hesitation around a new trek. Gidara Bugyal, we knew, was the crown jewel of meadow treks. But trekkers didn’t know that.

For years the trek has been inaccessible because of its remoteness. Only a few trekkers have stepped on it. Now, with its documentation, it was open to all.

Result: We have not opened it to the public yet. We ran a few unscheduled teams to test the response to the terrain. The initial response, as we expected, has trekkers already in love with it.

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One of the most beautiful ridge walks in the Himalayas on the Gidara Bugyal trek. Picture by Nitesh Kumar

10. Atsunta Pass Trek in Georgia (documented 2019)

Were Indian trekkers ready for a trek in another country? A country few had heard the name of, or knew where it was on the map?

India had changed considerably since we started Indiahikes. Trekking had now become a mainstream sport. Was India ready for trekking outside the country? We wanted to test it with a trek that was not in the popular countries like the US, France, Italy, Austria or Switzerland. Could a not-so-popular country get trekkers to trek in its land?

Indiahikes explored the superb Atsunta Pass trek in the remote corners of Georgia, bordering Russia. In the Caucasus mountains, the grasslands were the grandest we had come across.

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That’s Sandhya, our co-founder in the flowering valleys of Georgia. Picture by Arjun Majumdar

On our return from the exploration in July 2019, we announced the trek within the next month, before the trail closed for winter. It was the quickest we had announced a trek in Indiahikes’ history — that too in a foreign country where visa, flight tickets had to be booked.

Result: Though we announced only one group, and just one month before the trek date, the group ran full in its very first batch! Though it is too early to tell, it looks like India is ready to trek internationally.


Conclusion

These 10 relative unknown treks have gained in popularity over time (or could gain). These are not our blockbuster treks like Kashmir Great Lakes or Kedarkantha. But these treks have played a big role in our experiment to change trekkers’ behaviour.

Trekkers in India are now more willing to experiment with different genres of treks; they are moving away from crowded trails; they don’t mind trekking on unheard trails. These are the results of our experiments.

These 10 treks that I wrote about today are galloping faster than our popular treks. Their rate of growth is higher at close to 50%.

In our work if we are able to bring about behavioral changes, then the work is extremely rewarding. In the 12 years of Indiahikes’ existence, one of the many reasons that make us proud is how we have been able to bring about perception changes in people.

Is there any other behavioral change that you would like to see in trekkers? Advice us with your suggestions in the comments section below.

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27 thoughts on “How Trekking Changes When New Treks Open Up

  1. On a tad tangential note, the behavior or rather the mindset of trekking needs to change.

    Trekking isn’t to show oneself “cool” as they are following the growing culture. It’s about respecting nature by not messing up with trash, not taking things for granted. I am no biggie when it comes to trekking as we have many experienced folks, but it’s more of a way of life than a 5 or 10 day camping/hiking.

    Damn, I could literally experience a 180 degree shift (for the good) in me as a person before and after my first trek. It hits the way of life morally in literal sense.

    I just wish one day there is no requirement for green trails – all trekkers are disciplined enough and manage their own trash. I just wish..

    1. I think so too. There must not be a requirement for an entity like our Green Trails to manage the ecology of our trails.

      On the other hand I’m positive in ten years time we won’t need one. I see the government taking a lot of proactive steps.

      Arjun

    1. There are many …. And age is no bar. It’s all in the mind. I , at 66 , have done a few moderately difficult ones. And be the leader for your classmates.

      1. Indiahikes has truly been an organization that has focused on the larger objective. It has helped to expand the industry as such and gave so many Indians the brilliant experience of finding their true selves in those high mountains. As they say, “you only need to find yourself, for everything else, there’s Google”. This would not have been possible without exploring new treks, making them informative, bringing them in the realms of people’s homes. Inspiring.

  2. Hats off to the leader and his explorer IH .The best thing about this co.is to readily share its info box and that’s the only way we could promote outward Bound.
    Yes, we must resist beaten paths/bher chaal and experience wilderness than come all the way from home only to make the wilderness with noice pollution and garbage.
    Am afraid even the apex body is still indulging in taking up the ‘Mule’s track'( Everest)having a piggy ride on poor sherpa on a fixed role.(may refer my article-‘ Everest Pvt Ltd Co’, which these organisations are shy to publish). They have still not changed/improved behaviour,even after decades of Govt/Tax payer’s hard earned money for free lunches.
    Keep it up and explore new vistas.

    1. Sir, you always embarrass us with your warm comments. But you are right. It’s senseless to continue exploiting the heavy duty ‘mule tracks’.

      Arjun

    2. I love the idea of a forest trek! We usually have wildlife safaris like Jim.Corbett etc but no forest treks! It would also be so great to have leasurely mountain treks which are more like a relaxed walk in the mountain meadows and not high altitudes and easy on the legs and lungs …could you suggest some easy beginners treks for people like me who love nature but dont really like climbing..also i m.37 yrs and need to work on my.cardio fitness!

  3. Somehow when talking about treks in India, we generally mean Himalayan Treks. However this needs to change – like the start you made in Chattisgarh. Like are many treks in other states as well – MP, Maharashtra, Karnataka …. There is a need to take such short duration/weekend treks nearer home to the masses which will surely ignite more towards this adventure.

    1. We have actually explored a lovely tail in the Sanjay Dubri National Park in Madhya Pradesh in association with the MP tourism board. The trail is awaiting clearance from the forest department.

      I’m hoping we’ll be able to open it up as soon as we see a reduction in the pandemic. This winter would be great!

      Arjun

  4. Thankyou Arjun for putting up such a nice piece of information.
    The approach to bring about behavioral changes about Trekking is very interesting and necessary.
    Specially like the point on “Remove the “altitude” attachment from treks”.

    Khopra Ridge Trek and Gidara Bugyal has caught my attention.

    Hope we can soon resume Treks

  5. The idea of reducing the impact on popular treks is congratulatory. For years trekkers thronged the popular trekking destinations without even looking at other relatively lesser known but equally or more beautiful treks. I have been fortunate to have seen Sainj in the good old days before the advent of Hydel Project over there as I have a close relative living in Sainj.

    Regarding the behavioral changes I am personally in favour of simple rustic set ups rather than everything laid out set ups. There is yet still a lot to say about the garbage that is being left behind including at South Col on Everest and hence the clean up expeditions.

    Gokyo Ri is on any day more wonderful than the Thyangboche route. Starting treks in foreign locations is again a welcome move. IH keep it up and good wishes.

  6. I have been inspired for such a long time from afar (Sweden) with your frequent messages and stories, though I haven’t had the pleasure yet of joining one of your treks. Wouldn’t it be a dream to in some way or another export your concept to neighbouring countries? It would be fabulous to have a Chinahikes, Pakistanhikes or Iranhikes. I am sure there must be enthusiasts like you in these countries who just haven’t dared to make these kinds of visions real yet?

  7. Instead of lukla, many times I thought of going through another route to reach lukla by another 15 days trekking. U r exploring Post Lukla alternative.

    Wao!

  8. Just waiting for the treks to open…The Himalayas I suppose are a much safer place than the civilisation…

    Very good insight to treks which I had either not heard or noticed…

    Prasad

  9. Dear Arjun,
    Your description has awaken memories, When the treks will be opened, this is such a long wait, can’t bear it further more. Will those wonderful days will be back? Now the occasional mails from HI make me to remember that, once upon a time, we were trekking.

  10. The most important behavioral change that I would like to see in the trekkers with the help of Indiahikes is taking the Green trails initiative seriously.
    If I can be honest with you, this is one of the main reason why I only trek with Indiahikes and I truely thank you for introducing this initiative amongst the trekkers some of whom are normally firt timers.
    Having said that, I am very disappointed that the trekkers don’t take this seriously and it could be because of the lack of the efforts taken on your team to emphasize the importance and the need to keep the mountains clean.
    One suggestion from my side is that before we start the trek and when at the base camp, your team can arrange a good orientation session for the team with perhaps a short documentary on the work the Green trails team have done and what could happen to our future generations if this is not taken seriously now.

  11. Indeed a well documented perspective. You have been serving the Indian trekking community with purpose. Your editorial team is doing a wonderful job. Indiahikes will be remembered for its clean & simple approach to trekking. Keep it up.

    1. Indiahikes has truly been an organization that has focused on the larger objective. It has helped to expand the industry as such and gave so many Indians the brilliant experience of finding their true selves in those high mountains. As they say, “you only need to find yourself, for everything else, there’s Google”. This would not have been possible without exploring new treks, making them informative, bringing them in the realms of people’s homes. Inspiring.

  12. Thanks for penning this down. Today, I came to know about Chhattisgarh Jungle Trek of which I had no idea earlier, that Indiahikes runs it. Having done the Himalayan treks, it would be quite thrilling to have an adventurous trek in the National Parks as well. I look forward to doing it with Indiahikes once the dates are opened for it.

  13. Thank you Arjun for this lovely article, and indeed it has been nothing less than a revelation with the explorations of the beautiful trails IH has gifted to the world.

    We did Mardi Himal and Khopra Ridge back in Oct ’19 without any support staff, and it was all possible thanks to IH from whom I came to know about Khopra Danda. While the entire crowd was heading towards ABC in the APAC region we 3 were the only souls trekking in those verdant forests. And the views and forests of Khopra and Mulde just left us awestruck.

  14. I have done the Mukta Top Trekking with Indiahikes in June 2019. It was my first trekking, at the age of 60.
    I have noticed that your team of Trek Leader, Guides, porters, etc. take extra care in managing waste produced by trekking. If any trekker who was not having that much awareness about littering, I am sure, that person will never throw waste anywhere, after completing your single trek.
    Looking forward for my next trekking experience with your team, in the year 2021.
    Krishnakumar