Nanda Devi National Park Trek – A revolving door of imagery
The Nanda Devi National Park trek can be best described as a revolving door of imagery. This glacial basin is tucked away towards the the north east corner of Uttarakhand and its rich biodiversity has been well-registered over the past century. In 1988, the Nanda Devi Sanctuary was classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and rightly so. The beauty of the terrain is punctuated with the heavenly presence of rhododendron, birch and jupiner forests.
The trekking trail takes you to the heart of a glacial basin, which is a geographical phenomenon. The valley formed by glacial erosion is characterized by a congregation of flower beds and several endangered species of animals and plants. The trail winds through quaint villages that sit snugly at the foothills of a mountain, dense jungles, scree-laden steep slopes and exciting ridge walks. There have been regular sightings of musk deer, black bear and blue sheep and the occasional cameos by a snow leopard.
Cauldron of Beauty:
By formation, the Nanda Devi National Park acts as a cauldron of beauty. The region doubles up as a watchtower, from where you can observe and take stock of the Great Himalayan peaks that serve as a protective cover to the landscape, thus making the trail largely inaccessible. The following are the peaks visible throughout the trek: Bethartoli (20,839 feet), Dunagiri (23,182 feet), Changabang (22,519 feet), Trishul (23359 feet), the massifs of Nanda Devi East (24376 feet) and Nanda Devi West (25646 feet). Nanda Devi West is the highest peak in India, in the sense that it entirely lies within our boundaries.
Whom is this trek meant for?
The Nanda Devi National Park trek is classified as a moderate – difficult trek. There are considerable altitude gains and losses throughout the trek. The circular trek starting from and ending at Joshimath is characterized by an altitude gain of more than 7000 feet within five days, with Day 1 and Day 2 featuring arduous hikes. Hence, this trek is meant only for experienced trekkers with supreme physical fitness.
Your experience and skill to navigate through narrow uphill and undulating slopes will be put to the test. It’s recommended that you do this trek with a technical guide. Day 5 is especially tough since you will be experiencing an altitude loss of 5384 feet in a single day. The narrow pathways are very similar to the ones in the Buran Ghati trek.
What are the risks involved?
The Nanda Devi National Park trek has quite a few tricky sections. You will be trekking up to an altitude of almost 14,000 feet and the dramatic altitude gains and losses are tough for even seasoned trekkers. There are chances of being hit by Acute Mountain Sickness which can be avoided by going on a course of Diamox. On Day 4, you will be camping at the Dharansi Pass. As is the case with any mountain pass, in case of medical emergencies, there are no easy exits.
How difficult is the trek?
The Nanda Devi National Park is classified as a moderate – difficult trek. The steep climbs and the narrow pathways that wind through undulating ridge walks, making this a trek that requires technical guidance, experience and skill.
The unmarked trail on Day 5 through dense jungles is a difficult section and can be navigated only with the help of a local guide. Trekking at an altitude of 13,000 feet can be taxing with regular altitude gains requires a decent level of fitness. Hence, this is a trek to be attempted by trekkers with a few high-altitude treks under one’s belt.
How to prepare for the trek?
This trek requires high levels of fitness-cardiovascular and core strength. Apart from covering 10 km in 60 minutes, do exercises that strengthen your core. Consider HIIT training regime for a trek like this one.
Author: Ajay Nagaraju
This trail was explored and documented by Tanmay Bain, Trek Leader, Indiahikes.
How to get there?
How to reach the base camp: Joshimath
Buses and private cabs are available from Haridwar. Due to the road conditions, the average time taken to reach Joshimath is between 10 to 12 hours.
The next day, early from Joshimath to Lata. The fare for one person is Rs. 85 for shared jeeps. Booking a whole jeep will cost you Rs. 1100. The distance from Joshimath to Lata is about 32 km. The grocery shop at Lata is the starting point of the trek. Joshimath is at an altitude of 6952 feet.
Nanda Devi National Park Trek
Day 1: Drive from Joshimath to Lata
- Altitude gained: 6150 feet to 6952 feet
- Distance covered: 32 kms
- Average time taken: 1.5 hours
Reach Joshimath from Haridwar or Dehradun. The average time taken to reach Joshimath is between 10 to 12 hours. From Joshimath, take permission from the DFO to go ahead. You can procure your rations, vegetables and other basic needs from here.
The next day, start early from Joshimath to Lata. The fare for one person is Rs. 85 for shared jeeps. Booking a whole jeep will cost you Rs. 1100. The distance from Joshimath to Lata is about 32 km and will take about 1.5 hours. The grocery shop at Lata is the starting point of the trek. Joshimath is at an altitude of 6952 feet.
Trek from Lata to Belta
- Altitude gained: 6952 feet to 9281 feet
- Distance covered: 4.08 kms
- Average time taken: 4 hours
Your trek starts from here. You will pass through small village huts. After 1.04 km you will find the last water source for the day. The village huts end there. As you trek, you will enter a patch of light forests of pine and oak trees. At a distance of 3 kilometres from the start, there is a large rock and caveat at an altitude of 8970 feet.
From here, you can see the Barmal and Durpata peaks of the left side and the Dhauliganga river flowing below. There is a clearing for 200 metres and then you once again enter a patch of forest area. Belta is at a distance of 1.08 km from this point. The campsite will be here (in between the jungle) with a water source nearby. It takes at most 3 hours from Lata to Belta.
Day 2: Trek from Belta to Latakharak
- Altitude gained: 9281 feet to 12359 feet
- Distance covered: 3.18 kms
- Average time taken: 4 hours
Start your trek early in the morning to enjoy the view of beautiful Himalayan flowers as well as the variety of birds. Today the trek will be a steep climb of about 3078 feet from Belta for a distance of 3.18 km. After a distance of 2.77 km from Belta, you will come across a beautiful view of Nandaghunti and Bethartholi at 188 deg (11949 feet).
From here, Latakharak is just a few minutes away. At Latakharak, you will come across a very old hut. Have lunch here and then go to visit Shenikharak. Shenikharak is 2 km away from Latakharak. Nanda Devi is visible from here. It takes a maximum of 4 hours from Belta to Latakharak.
Day 3: Trek from Latakharak to Jhandi Dhar
- Altitude gained: 12359 feet to 13657 feet
- Distance covered: 2.09 kms
- Average time taken: 2 hours
Today is the shortest day in the entire trek, where you will be covering a distance of only 2.09 km. You will gain an altitude of 1298 feet. After Latakharak, there is no tree line. Go through the ridge line. After 400 metres from Latakharak you will find two routes- one going to Shenikharak and the other going to Jhandi Dhar. Take the one on your left. Go through a ridge line. You can see Miandi peak and Durpata on the left for 2 hours to get to Jhandi Dhar. You find a water source within a proximity of 100 m.
Day 4: Trek from Jhandi Dhar to Dharansi Pass
- Altitude gained: 13657 feet to 14537 feet
- Distance covered: 4.69 kms
- Average time taken: 4 hours
Today’s trek is thrilling and offers an exciting prospect for trekkers seeking an adrenaline rush. The beauty and density of the floral scenery is very much prominent today. The trail is both narrow and steep. You’ll need to tread carefully in those section that are riddled with moraine. The views of the Greater Himalayan Peaks will keep your spirits high. Start early as the ascent is very steep. In addition, you will have to descend the same distance.
From Jhandi, the trail is full of surprises. Climb for 15 metres at an angle of 41 degrees. The pathway is very dicey, tread with care. After 1.55 km, you will reach the top. You will find some cairns over there. From there, you can catch a glimpse of these peaks: Trishul, Bethartholi, Devtholi, Mrigthoni, Maiktoli, Devimukut, Devisthan and Nanda Khat at 166 deg. In the West, you can see Chaukhamba and Nilkanth. Altitude of the place is 14537 feet and is the highest point of the entire trek.
After about 100 metres, you can see Nanda Devi. You will reach Dharansi top after a steep descent. The trail is as narrow as 1 feet. Height of Dharansi top is 14424 feet. The campsite is 600 metres from Dharansi top. You will pass by an old hut as you descent. There is a water source at this point. This is at an altitude of 14101 feet. This is a good spot to have lunch here. Post lunch, continue walking towards Dharansi Pass. It is 500 metres from the campsite. There is a temple at the pass.
From there, the Nanda Devi view is amazing. Apart from Nanda Devi, Neelkanth, Satopanth, Chaukhamba, Kedardome, Dunagiri, Hanuman, Maiktoli, Devimukut, Devisthan, Bethartholi and Dibrugheta are also visible. It is about 3 km from Dharansi Pass to Dibrugheta. From the pass, it is a complete descent. You can see the Deodi river flowing and may spot a few wild animals. The place can be further explored. Pitching a tent there is not allowed without prior permission.
Day 5: Trek from Dharansi Pass to Tolma
- Altitude gained: 14537 feet to 8585 feet
- Distance covered: 11.32 kms
- Average time taken: 4 hours
Today’s trail is a virgin trail amidst dense jungles and it’s advisable not to venture into this terrain on your own. A local guide can help you wade through the thick forest cover. Since it is a 11.32 km trek, it’s important to get off to an early start. Till Jhandi top, the route is the same. From Jhandi top, take the route on the left. Trek for 1 km from Jhandi Dhar and you will enter a dense forest. After a distance of 8.7 km from Dharansi pass, you will come across a really beautiful hut. Tolma village is 2.62 km from this hut at 10308 feet. 2 km from the hut, you will find two trails, follow the West facing trail. Tolma village is only 700 metres from here at an altitude of 8537 feet.
Day 6: Trek from Tolma to Suraithota / Drive to Joshimath (Distance-3 km).
It takes approximately 1.5 hours to cover the 3 km distance to reach Suraithota. About 1 km in the trek, you will come across the sight of the flowing Dhauliganga river. From here, the trail descents to Suraithota. The trek ends at Suraithota. Take a shared jeep to Joshimath. The fare per person is be Rs. 135 and Rs.1400 for a car booking.
Get trek fit!
How to get fit for the Nanda Devi National Park Trek:
Nanda Devi National Park is classified as a moderate – difficult trek.The steep climbs and the narrow pathways that wind through undulating ridge walks makes it mandatory to have assistance from a technical guide. Trekking at an altitude of 13,000 feet can be taxing and requires a decent level of fitness. Hence, this is a trek to be attempted by trekkers who have already done a few high-altitude treks.
You can begin by jogging everyday. From Day 1 to Day 5, you will be gaining and losing an altitude of about 7000 feet covering a trekking distance of 30 kms. This requires decent levels of fitness to walk these long distances comfortably, especially since you’ll be trekking at an altitude of over 13,000 feet. It’s recommended that you take frequent breaks while ascending steep slopes.
Ideally, you should be able to jog 5 km in 35 minutes before the start of the trek. It takes time to be able to cover this distance in the given time. Start slow and increase your pace everyday. Swimming, cycling and stair climbing without too many breaks in between can help too.
Working out indoors
If you can’t go out and jog because of time and space constraints, here’s a video you can use to work out indoors.
This is another area you should work on. You will need to build strength in your muscles and in your core body. You can do some squats to strengthen your leg muscles. Do around 3 sets of squats, with 8 squats in each set. Apart from this, you can add planks and crunches to your work out.
Another aspect that will help you trek comfortably is flexibility. For this, you can do some stretching exercises – stretch your hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors, lower back muscles and shoulders regularly. Carrying a backpack, however light, can become a strain after a while. These exercises will help you to be in good shape before the trek.
What to pack?
What to take on the Nanda Devi National Park trek
The Nanda Devi National Park trek has some difficult sections but they can be managed with some professional help and preparation. Carrying a trekking pole is definitely helpful.
- Trekking shoes: There will be several slippery patches on the trail, and you will need trekking shoes with good grip. Sports shoes will not be comfortable enough. You can watch this video to learn tochoose the right trekking shoes. You can get Forclaz 600 from Decathlon.
- Backpack (40-60 litres): A backpack with sturdy straps and a supporting frame. Rain cover for backpack is essential.
- Three warm layers: At the campsites, especially the higher ones, the temperature after sundown will drop to around 2-6 degrees. You will need at least three warm layers (two lights layers such as fleece and woollen and one padded jacket) for this trek.
- Two trek pants: One pair of pants should suffice for this trek. But you can carry one spare pair in case the first one gets wet. Wear one pair and carry one pair.
- Three collared t-shirts: Carry light, full sleeved t-shirts that prevent sun burns on the neck and arms.
- Thermals (Optional): Those who are more susceptible to cold can carry thermals to wear at night.
- Sunglasses: Sunglasses are to prevent snow blindness. There might be snow closer to the lake, so carry a pair of sunglasses.
- Synthetic hand gloves: One pair of fleece or woolen hand gloves. One pair of water proof/resistant, wind proof gloves.
- Balaclava: You may use woolen scarves instead as well.
- Socks (2 pairs): Apart from two sports socks, you can take a pair of woollen socks for the night.
- Headlamp/LED torch: Mandatory
- Trekking pole: Watch this video to understand why you need a trekking pole.
- Poncho: When it rains, a poncho will cover you from head to your knees and also cover your backpack.
- Daypack (20 litres): If you are offloading your backpack, you will need a smaller backpack to carry water, medical kit and some light snacks.
- Toiletries (Sunscreen, moisturiser, light towel, lip balm, toilet paper, toothbrush, toothpaste)
- Cutlery: Carry a spoon, coffee mug and a lunch box. We insist on trekkers getting their own cutlery for hygiene reasons.
- Two water bottles: 1 litre each
- Plastic covers: While packing, use plastic bags to compartmentalise things and carry few extra plastic bags for wet clothes.
Mandatory Personal Medical Kit
- Diamox – 10 tablets (to prevent AMS)
- Crocin – 6 tablets (fever)
- Avomine – 4 tablets (motion sickness)
- Avil 25mg – 4 tablets (allergies)
- Combiflam – 4 tablets (Pain killer)
- Disprin – 6 tablets (headache)
- Norflox TZ & Lomofen– 6 tablets each (diarrhea)
- Digene – 10 tablets (acidity)
- Omez/ Rantadine – 10 tablets (antacids)
- Crepe bandage – 3 to 5 meters
- Gauze – 1 small roll
- Band aid – 10 strips
- Cotton – 1 small roll
- ORS – 10 packets
- Betadine or any antiseptic cream
- Moov spray (aches, & sprains)