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The Complete Guide to Sarchu Circuit Trek

Sarchu Circuit Trek is a two-week wilderness trek that is very demanding as it involves traversing remote gorges, river crossing, and crossing high passes. Very few people cross this trail each year. One has to be self-sufficient on this trek. For 2 days on the trek, you would go through Zanskar villages and can get an idea of the Zanskari culture. One can see the magnificent Phugtal Gompa. You would be greeted by "Jhulley" all along the way.

Short Itinerary

  • This is a two-week wilderness trek that is very demanding as it involves traversing remote gorges, river crossing, and crossing high passes. 
  • Very few people cross this trail each year. One has to be self-sufficient on this trek. For 2 days on the trek, you would go through Zanskar villages and can get an idea of the Zanskari culture.
  • One can see the magnificent Phugtal Gompa. You would be greeted by "Jhulley" all along the way.

Trail Information

As I was having lunch and resting at Bharatpur I was thinking over the next part of my journey.

Surely, I won't get lucky again and find another group trekking over Phitse-la into Zanskar (as most trekkers would take the conventional route over Shingo-la into a Zanskar - a route I had done a couple of years ago). Since it is not a frequented route would there be any trail? How difficult is route finding going to be? Would there at least be Gaddi shepherds along the way? I knew that I had to cross the Lingti River and is that something I could do alone (without rope/harness as guidebooks recommend). After the exertions of the previous 4 days did I have enough energy to do this stretch solo.

As I was wrestling with these questions the options I was mulling over:

Should I hire a couple of mules (horseman) to carry my backpack - the horseman would cook the food. Should I hire a guide/porter who could carry some load from by backpack and that would ensure that I at least have a companion in case of emergency. Should I go for this solo.

Well, if I had to hire mules I had to go to Keylong/Darcha a 3-4 hours drive. I almost did this. I did enquire a few cars which stopped at the dhaba but they were reluctant to give me a ride.  Then, I tried the 2nd option of hiring a porter. Luckily a group from Calcutta had just come there after finishing their Mt Yunum expedition and I talked to a porter from that group. He asked me for Rs 500/day and said that he could not travel alone with me as he needed another porter for company. So, I needed to hire 2 porters. Now that was too much for me.

I did not want to spend the night in the dhaba so I decided to go for it solo. I had rations for 4-5 days. I would reach lingti river by 2nd day and so if I had to turn back I would still have rations enough to return. So, having reached the decision of going solo the next question was "How do I get to Keylong Sarai ?". I could either trek to this place (and that would be about 2 hours) , once I find the trail (which was not apparent to me) or I could hitch a ride (about a 30-45 min ride downhill). Again as luck would have one of the truck drivers who had stopped at the dhaba for lunch agreed to give me a ride to Keylong Sarai. I got off near the GREF post near the bridge at Keylong Sarai at about 5 p.m.  I asked a GREF personnel as to where the trekking trail was. He did not know but pointed in a general direction behind the GREF post. Checking my map I knew that the campsite had to be close to the Yunam river, which was flowing close by.

I hauled my backpack and climbed the hill behind the GREF and continued in the general direction parallel to the Yunam river. There was no clear trail, but off and on, one could spot what seemed like a trail. After about 30 mins one could see areas where folks had camped. I continued for the next hour till I reached a flat grassy area close to the river which seemed like a good campsite. There was good clean, from a stream by the river, at this location. 10 mins further along there was a side stream which was flowing with such force that it did not seem like a good idea to cross it. Well, then that was it for today and I started pitching my tent at about 6:30 p.m and was hoping to cook some hot dinner before it got dark. Just when I was thinking the day is over Murphy chose to strike. I took out my MSR stove, connected it to the tank, primed the stove and tried lighting it with my gas lighter.That did not work. I cursed my luck as I had forgotten to get a matchbox. Well I did not want to sleep hungry and it was getting darker by the minute. So, I took out my headlamp and ran all the way back to the GREP outpost. When in crisis one somehow finds the energy. I reached the outpost in about 40-45 mins. There was a truck driver there and few other GREP personnel. I told them of my situation and pleaded with them for a box of matchsticks. The truck driver gave me half-a-box and some other personnel gave me a nearly full box of matchsticks. It was close to 7:30 p.m and I had to find my way back to the tent so I ran back. Halfway back it was already dark. Switched on my headlamps and found my way back to my tent by 8:15 p.m. By the time I had my maggi & soup for dinner and cleaned up it was past 9 p.m.  In the mountains, especially when one is away from civilization, the slightest miss in planning tends to get magnified and the impact can be severe.

Keylong Sarai (4510 M) to Lingti Plains (4400 M)

After the excitement of the previous evening I decided that I should have some extra rest this morning. But try as one may, with the bright sunlight streaming in, it is difficult to sleep beyond 7 a.m/ 7 : 30 a.m. It was around 9/9.30 a.m before I packed and got moving. Today was supposed to be an easy day (as per the guidebooks). First hurdle - stream crossing.

To my pleasant surprise I saw a Gaddi shepherd standing on the side of the stream. He welcomed me to his shelter and made me some tea which I gladly had. Had some conversations with him and took some photos . I tried to confirm some directions with him towards Lingti but he did not know. However, he did point me in the general direction, which is follow the river and then go towards the left by the Lingti river. After spending half an hour with him I was on my way again.

The trail is parallel to the Yunum River. On the other side of the river one could see the stretch of the Leh-Manali highway leading to Sarchu, running parallel to the river.The majestic mountains overlook both the trail and the road on the other side. One can see an occasional truck moving on the road in the distance. The walk is not difficult in terms of the gradient, but is a tiring one in terms of the distance. After about 2-3 hours of walking I could see the "fixed camps" at Sarchu with the mountains in the backdrop.

Lingti Chu meets the Yunam River the trail veers to the left and then follows the Lingti Chu upstream.The terrain from here on is undulating and one has to cross 2 or 3 side-streams (nothing major), which feed into the Lingti Chu, before one reaches the Lingti plains. I reached the junction of Lingti Chu/Yunam river around 1:30 p.m. After walking a further 30 mins - 45 mins one can see the Lingti plains in the distance but it would be another 3-4 hours before I reached the Lingti plains around 5:30 -6.m.



First view of Lingti plains

As one reaches the Lingti plains one can see the "gaddi shepherds" high up on the slopes of the hills. There is also a "Dhoksa" - cowherd encampment - at Lingti plains where one can see over a hundred yaks. I camped near this"Dhoksa". The yaks in the Dhoksa were tended to by the Ladakhi ladies in the Dhoksa and there were about 10 shelters in which these Ladakhi ladies lived. I was famished after the 9-10 hour walk and asked one of the ladies if I could get something to eat. I got some tea (with "sattu") , and 2 rotis, which had probably been made that morning, to eat along with curd (a treat I did not expect..). All through the evening (till about 8-9 p.m) the ladies were busy milking all the yaks (or dris...). That evening I decided I would not cook, given the late "roti meal".

Lingti Plains (4400 M) to bank of Lingti River

I awoke in the knowledge that I had to cross the Lingti River today. The "Ladakhi cowherds" were again busy this morning - churning the milk, collected in huge wooden caskets, with mighty wooden churners, each of which was about 5 ft tall, that required massive effort for each churn. Got some early morning tea, fresh & tasty paneer and several glasses of "lassi" for breakfast before I set off at 8 a.m. I would have travelled only about an hour beside the Lingti river when, to my pleasant surprise, I saw a camp with 3 horsemen. I stopped by their tent. As luck would have it, these horsemen were also going the same way - towards Padum over Phitse La - to pick up a trekking group by Aug 10th. They were to return the same way and head upto Chandrataal. They offered me breakfast and also offered to take my rucksack on the horses, which I obviously accepted.

This was a welcome break as I could now have a more relaxed walk, sans my rucksack, for the next 4 days upto Khangsar. About an hour later, once the horsemen had packed their tents and loaded their horses, we set off once again. There were a few more minor stream crossings (and my foot slipped in one of the streams and I got quite wet  ) on our way to the bank of the Lingti river. In about 2-2:30 hours we reached the banks of the Lingti River and decided to camp, around noon, on a flat, grassy plain beside the river. The views from the campsite were awesome and seemed right out of a picturebook. If an artist were to conjure up a vision of a "picture perfect" landscape, for his masterpiece, all he had to do was to take a photograph of the surrounding landscape and see if he could match it.

Bank of Lingti River to Chumik Marpo (4750 M)

The idea was to cross the Lingti river early this morning when the flow of water would be lesser. So, the horsemen got up early by 7 a.m. Two of the horsemen were off to gather the horses. One horseman (who doubled up as the cook and a wonderful cook he was) and I waited....and waited and WAITED for nearly 2.3 hours before the horsemen came back with the 20 horses. The horses had crossed the river and wandered off and it took a long time for the horsemen to even spot the horses, herd them together and get them back. They had to wade across the river multiple times and it was about 10 a.m by the time they returned.

It was another 1 hour before the horses were saddled up, loaded and ready to leave.By 11 a.m the wide Lingti river, flowing with rapid force was a challenge to cross. The boots got garlanded around my neck, trousers got folded upto the thighs, and I followed the last of the horses into the icy-cold river. As luck would have it the last 3 horses played truant and decided to ford the deeper part of the river. When I was three-fourths of the way down I realized that the water was really deep and I had to balance myself against the gushing force and step carefully on the rocks in the river bed. 5 more steps pushing myself perpendicular to the strong current, conjuring up every last bit of strength I had, and I was in more manageable part of the river, before I crossed over to the other side. Thank God I did not have the backpack on else crossing would have been even more difficult and I would have had to resort to going further upstream (where the water levels are supposed to be slightly lower). Once across, the terrain almost reminded you of scenes from "old western" classics.

The trail follows along the Lingti Chu river and then veers left following the river, which goes through a deep gorge, leading onto some spectacular landscapes. The river, snaking its way through the mountains, with the snow capped peaks in the distance is a sight to behold. Did I forget to mention that to reach this paradise one had to cross a few more icy-cold streams after Lingti.

At around 3:00 p.m, after about 5-6 hours of walking, we established camp amongst these surreal surroundings. I thanked God for giving me the opportunity to see the beauty of His Nature.This was the last camping site in the Himachal pradesh state (Lahaul region ). From tomorrow onwards I would be in JK (Zanskar area).

Chumik Marpo (4750 M) to Zingchen(4480 M) via Phitse La (5250 M)

Today was going to be the big day. Set off around 8:00 a.m and got a head start of about 30-45 mins on the horsemen. The day started off well with view of colony of marmots. It was a tough and relentless climb. The initial trail was high above a small side stream and then the trail ascended in a continuous stretch. It was surprising to see a number of wildflowers growing at this altitude. The views of the mountain ranges and the snow capped peaks along the trail provided the revitalizing tonic for the tired legs. After nearly 4 hours of climb the Phitse La was in sight marked distinctly by the numerous prayer flags. I was left speechless, spellbound and mesmerized at the views from Phitse La. All around, the complete 360 degrees, one could see mountain ranges (not just peaks). Right in front one could see a peak with a hanging glacier. My joy knew no bounds, like that of a child who had been given all his favourite toys in one go. I kept pirouetting about, savouring in the views of the mountain ranges, first on one side and then another. I should have been sitting down, tired after the labours of my arduous climb, but, believe me, I could not sit for a minute in my excitement. Such was the beauty, magnificence and grandeur of these views that it both numbs and refreshes you at the same. It is at times like these that one wishes that time stand still. But time never does . So half an hour later came the horsemen.

Normally, these horsemen are unflappable characters. But even they could not hide their joy atop the pass. So much so, that they decide to rest for half an hour before proceeding downhill. Finally, I reluctantly tore myself away from the pass at 1 p.m and started the descent. It is a steep descent down the pass, much steeper than the ascent.


Phitse la

Tip : Based on this gradient it is advisable to cross the pass from Lingti to Zingchen as opposed to the reverse direction. Also, in snowy conditions the descent might be more dangerous so please ensure proper gear.

After the initial steep descent to the base of the pass the trail eases out a bit and continues high above the stream (Phitse Chu river), which passes through gorges, before evening out a bit near the campsite at Zingchen. It was 4:30 p.m, 3.5 hours walk from Phitse la, before I reached the campsite at Zingchen , which is marked by large stone cairns.


Zingche camp from top

Zingchen(4480 M) to Purne/Khangsar (~3700 M)

Normally this stretch is done over 2 days. However, we decided to do this in 1 long day. The horsemen would drop me (or my load) of beyond Yal and proceed further, while I proceeded further on towards Purne/Khangsar. As I was having breakfast there came a horseman from Tanze. His horse had wandered off into the mountains and he had been searching for it since 5 a.m in the morning and it was close to 8 a.m now. He was hungry so shared with him some of the dry fruits/raisins which I had and the horsemen gave him some "roti".

I started around 8:00 a.m. The trail ascends from Zingchen and continues high above the Phitse Chu river. From this high vantage point, one can get beautiful panoramic views of the route from Phitse la, which once traversed the previous day, and the snow-capped peaks and mountain range ahead. After about 30-45 mins on the trail, the trail splits. You can either follow the mule track on the upper trail which continues to traverse the upper ridge ( a trail I was recommended to take by the horsemen) or there is a steep descent into the valley and one follows the stream through the gorges. I chose the latter.

As I made the steep descent I found an interesting rodent in the shade of the rocks. As one tries to find a way through the gorge one has to keep hopping and jumping across the stream. Compared to the bright sunlight on the trail in the top of the ridge, the gorge has an interplay of sunlight breaking through the dark shadows cast by the ridges, on either side of the gorge. The stream and the gorge end up in the village of Tanze (3900 M). The Tanze to Purne stretch is part of the more frequented Darcha-Padum trek (Trans Zanskar trek), one which I did in 2009. Slowly the Darcha-Padum trek is being consumed by road construction on both the Darcha and Padum side. At the end of the gorge was a very interesting contraption. If you have not guessed it from the pictures, it is a "Sattu" grinding machine powered by the stream flowing down the gorge. I believe this is what is termed as "HydroPower".

It was a 2.30 hours walk from Zingchen to Tanze, which I reached by approx 11:00 a.m. After some refreshments, I crossed the bridge at the end of Tanze and from here on the trail continues on the same side of the Kurghiak Chu river (the trail is on the left side of the picture) till one is close to Purne.



It is a 5-hour walk from Tanze (3900 M) to the bridge across Kurgiakh leading to Purne/Khangsar (~3800 M). Enroute one crosses the village of Karu, Tetha (~3900 M) and Yal.After about 15 mins from Yal the horsemen came and gave me my rucksack. I thanked them and parted ways. Hauled my rucksack back up, after nearly 4 days of respite, and descended to the bridge leading to Purne.

Close to the bridge is the confluence of the Kurgiak and Tsarap Chu rivers. Purne is on the banks of Tsarap Chu. It is a popular and busy camping ground and a favorite pit stop, especially among the French trekkers. Trekkers usually camp here and make a side trip to Phugtal Gompa. As you follow the trail the sight that strikes you the most is the massive boulders that lie in the Tsarap River. These boulders force one to imagine the destruction they may have caused when they rolled down the scree slopes.


Tsarap Chu

Mules (especially with loads) could not walk the trail from Purne to Phugtal 2 years back as one had to go through real narrow trails. However, now the trail had been widened, a result of trekking demands, so that mules can go all the way upto Phugtal. This had robbed the trail of a bit of its beauty and charm compared to 2 years back. High above (about 80m) on the slopes of the mountain on the other side of the river one can see another trail cutting across the mountains.

This is a route used by the villagers/monks to go to a nearby village (I think Kyalbok) instead of coming all the way to Purne. If you are having a rest day at Purne then this is a trail one can explore. The trail might be broken (was 2 years ago) and there will be stretches where the trail is a complete landslide/scree zone. The terrain both above and below the scree slope looks like a slide and if you slip (and you are most likely to unless you are experienced enough to cross it, and I am no expert to advice you how) you would land straight down amidst the boulders in the Tsarap river 80-100m below. It is useful to have a walking stick to cross such a terrain. I found it downright dangerous when I attempted to cross it 2 years back and looking at it now, it still sent shudders down my spine.

This scree slope reminds me of the scree slopes & the miniscule ledges one traversed during my trek to Tilicho Lake, a 2-day detour from Manang during the Annapurna Circuit Trek, in Nepal. I often wonder how the villagers and the monks cross it regularly. The term "Rugged mountains" is the one that most describes the nature of these Zanskar mountain ranges. Nothing exemplifies the "Ruggedness of the mountains" more than the jagged rock faces that one encounters all along the trail to Phugtal. The sheer brutality of the surroundings dwarfs you and one feels a certain sense of powerlessness whilst admiring the beauty of the harsh landscape.

The setting of the Phugtal gompa would always leave its mark on any visitor. One catches the first views of the Phugtal gompa, when one is about 100m from the bridge leading to the Gompa. I have had the good fortune of seeing a number of monasteries both in India and Nepal in the past few years. However, none has left its imprint in my mind as much as Phugtal has. Maybe that is the reason I am drawn to visit this Gompa again. It is a sight that leaves one captivated.


Phugtal Gompa

There is nothing ornate about the gompa, but there is a certain purity even to the whitewashed walls of the monastery which exudes a sense of calm. The gompa is set amidst the white limestone cliffs, in contrast to the stark brown cliffs surrounding it, and the greenish tinge once sees higher up in the mountains. When one sees the bridge one might be lulled into thinking that you have reached the gompa. However, there is a short, steep climb which still has to be done before one reaches the gompa. The magnificence of the sight of the top of the gompa set within a cave/recess in the mountains is one that has/will be etched in my mind forever. I could exhaust reams of paper (am still part of an earlier generation which wrote on paper ) extolling the beauty of this place but I will stop.

TIP : For getting good photographs of the Phugtal gompa one can continue (on the same side of the bridge) on the trail towards the village of Yugar.

I went upto Yugar, took some photographs and returned. This detour cost me about an hour and half (later in the day I would realize the importance of this hour.).

I went to the gompa by noon and was invited up for some food / tea & some donation :) by the monks. There were classes going on for the budding Llamas. The photographs from this terrace (where the classes are going on) would be ones which would vy for top spot in any landscape photography contest.

TIP (for trekkers): You can keep the Phugtal Gompa as a day trip from Purne/Khangsar and take the well trodden path towards Padum via Khalbok, Pipula, Itchar, Reru, Mune. This would take you 2 days and the road construction extends to Reru (and beyond).

After spending some time in the gompa I left by around 1 p.m towards Tantak. One first has to find his way through the narrow stairs and passageways of the gompa. Once I managed to find my way, often ducking to avoid low beams, through the living quarters of the gompa I had a steady climb to the chortens (see the trail on right hand side 3 pics above), adorned with numerous prayer flags. You get a good bird's-eye view, of the entire route from this vantage point.

From here one is entering "gorge country". The trail winds it way, high above, the course of the Tsarap River. For the next 6 kms, which took me close to 2 -3 hours I followed this winding trail, till I reached a break in the main trail, indicated by a log blocking the trail. There are a few side streams along the way (which one can use to fill water ) and at least 2 or 3 spots which can form ideal rock/cave shelters (as evidenced by the charred remains of some firewood).

There are some very interesting formations one observes along this stretch of the trail. This particular one below reminds me of a series of giant "Choco Bars".
At this point I will take a small aside, and recount to you a seemingly innocuous piece on conversation I had with a villager from Yal, whom I met on the trail from Yal to Purne. This person had informed me that a week back a bunch of yaks were taken across Nial Kontse La/gotund La and about 2-3 days prior a group with mules had gone across the same path. This information was very useful because in the course of the next 3-4 days (when I met no one on the way) everytime I saw mule shit or yak shit on the way, especially in the areas where the trail was not clear, I knew was on the right track.

(Moral of the story: Spotting Bullshit/Horsheshit often guides you on the right path in life :) )

But I decided to proceed. I slipped and slided my way back to the main trail. It had taken me well over an hour to get back on the main trail. It was about 5:30 p.m and I was thinking that from here on it should be easy going. Could not have been more wrong. I had walked about 10 mins when I found that another 20m of the main trail had been washed off and this time there was no route up the hill. I went down a slippery descent close to the river and clambered back up to the main trail.

It was another 2 km and another hour before I reached a wooden bridge. The trail continued on the same side of the river and I was in a quandary over whether to cross the bridge or continue along the trail. I consulted the Leomann Map (sheet 3), which I carried in my trouser pocket all the while, and the Lonely planet Guide : Trekking in the indian Himalayas . As the map indicated Tantak and the Kontse-La base was on the other side of the river I crossed the bridge. It was after 7 p.m and getting dark. The trail ahead on seemed like a narrow ledge on the side of the mountain. I had at the max 30min of light. I took a chance and marched on along the trail. Soon, it was dark and I was walking on a narrow ledge, halfway up the mountain, balancing myself against the mountain slope. I could hardly see beyond a few metres but I had to keep walking as there was no place I could camp. With the river thundering below me I hoped (or rather prayed) that the campsite was not be far off. I put on my headlamp. It was already 8 p.m and my legs were getting weary.

I stumbled along for another hour, often precariously along the ledge till I saw the silvery side stream hurtling down a gorge in the mountains. From the way it thundered down it was clear that there was no way I would be able to cross it. I thought to myself "OK - it seems like I would just have to spend the night under some huge boulder". However, as I approached the gorge and descended a few metres to get closer to the stream, I could not believe my luck. There was a bridge (a typical shepherd construction) across the stream. I crossed it and then again up a narrow ledge. It was 9:30 p.m. I decided that this was enough for the day (and night -:) )and I have to camp. I found a spot,

Rest day the first thought as I got up in the morning was to find out where I was. From my tent I had spectacular views. But soon I realized that my tent was at a highly exposed location.

Tantak / Base Kontse La  to other side of Gotund-La via Kontse La  & Gotund La

Today was the big day, the day I would have to cross 2 passes (Niala Kontse La and Gotund La). I started by 7:30 a.m. As one ascends up the trail one gets stunning views of the Zanskar ranges.

About an hour up the ascent there is a potential camping spot, with a trickle of water. I was happy when I saw this potential campsite as it meant, that in case I had to return from the pass, for any reason today I did not have to go back all the way from where I started. One can also see the Tantak village in the distance. As one goes higher the village appears like a speck in the mountains. It was nearly a 4 hour climb to the Niel Kontse la, which is marked by the traditional Buddhist prayer flags and a yak skull (with horns).

The view of the blue river,the dark green cedar trees on its banks,snaking its way through the mountains,with Tantak village and the bright green barley fields in its midst is a picture that will remain etched in my memories.


Tantak from Neil Kontse La

It was an arduous climb to the pass.It was an arduous climb to the pass. As I climbed up to the pass, I often had to take a 10 to 30 second breather, after I had counted down 50 or 100 steps. There were times when I was not sure of the route and had to do a short recce, sans my backpack, before I could proceed again.

There are times they say, when your will, more than your body takes you forward. Today was one such day. I assure you that a harsh kindergarten teacher, would not have given his ward an imposition of counting upto 50 or 100 as many times, as I did today. It was nearly 11:30 by the time I reached the pass. I could have sat at the pass for the whole day lapping up the magnificient views of the Zanskar ranges, but I had another pass to cross. After a 30 minutes rest and pampering myself with an energy bar I was on my way again by noon. After the pass, initially, I could not find the trail. 

To add to my anxiety I saw dark black clouds in the distance on my far left and it started snowing slightly. Notice the dark clouds in the pic below compared to the one taken about 30 mins prior. Somehow, I found the trail and increased the pace of my walk, to as fast as I could (nearly broke into a run). The fear which gripped me most as soon as it began snowing was that if it continued snowing, the trail would no longer be visible. When mother Nature gives you early warning signals of bad weather you heed it. So when I way that I summoned up every ounce of energy in my body and walked as fast as I could I am not exaggerating. The trail contours the sides of the mountains without much loss of elevation. The sky behind me considerably clearing up, coupled with increased fatigue, ensured that my counting ability often terminated well below 50 and the breathers increased from seconds to a minute. The contouring trail ends in a short steep climb to the Gotund La. It was a three-and-a-half-hour walk from Niala Kontse La to Gotund La (5040 M), again marked by the traditional buddhist prayer flags and horns.

What to Take on Your Trek

Trek backpack

Trek backpack

No, stuffing it all in isn’t the right way to do it Packing a backpack correctly saves precious time that you might waste trying to find your things later. It is wise to spend some time on learning what really goes into packing a backpack.

What should I pack?

On a trek, you only get what you take. Something as simple as a forgotten matchbox can cripple your cooking plans throughout the trek. So, it’s essential to prepare early and prepare well. To begin with, make a checklist. While shopping, remember this thumb rule - keep it light. “Every item needs to be light. This ensures that your backpack, on the whole, stays light,” says Sandhya UC, co-founder of Indiahikes. Balancing out heavy items with light ones isn’t going to have the same effect as having all light items. “Always opt for good quality, light items,” says Sandhya.

How much should my bag weigh?

“Your backpack for a weekend trek should weigh between 8 and 10 kg,” explains Arjun Majumdar, co-founder of Indiahikes, “To break it down, your tent should weigh around 2.5 kg, your sleeping bag, around 1.5 kg, and the ration, stove and clothes should constitute the other 5 kg.” The best way to plan is by concentrating on the basic necessities – food, shelter and clothes. Gather only those things that you’ll need to survive. Do not pack for ‘if’ situations. “That’s one of the common mistakes that people make – packing for ‘if situations’. It only adds to the baggage that you can do without on a trek,” says Sandhya.

One good way to go about it is to prepare a list of absolute essentials. Start with the most essential and end with the least essential. That way, when you feel you are overshooting the limit, you can start eliminating from the bottom. Another tip is to be smart while packing clothes. Invest in light. wash and wear fabrics. "Replace a sweater with two t-shirts," adds Sandhya. Layering is the mantra when it comes to trekking. Refer to Sandhya’s clothes list to pack smart.

Trekking hack

Trekking hack

How to pack

The thumb rule for this one is to eliminate air spaces. Make sure that everything is packed tightly, especially clothes and jackets, as they tend to take up maximum air space. Put in all the large items first. Then squeeze in the smaller ones in the gaps. This ensures minimum air space. A good way to pack clothes is by using the Ranger Roll method.

Click on the image to view the Video

Where to pack

BottomSleeping bag: Make this your base layer. Sleeping bags tend to be voluminous, but do not weigh much. They’re perfect for the bottom of the bag. Tent: Just like the sleeping bag, even tents are voluminous and light. Keep the tent poles separately and place the fabric at the bottom of the backpack.

MiddleHeavy jacket: Roll up the jacket in a tight ball and place it in the middle of the backpack, close to your back. The middle region of the backpack should always have the heaviest items. You can store other things like rations or mini stoves in the middle. Other clothes: Roll other clothes and place them in the remaining space, to fill air gaps.

TopWater: Water, although heavy, needs to be easily accessible. So put it in the topmost region of your backpack. Medicine box: This is another component that you wouldn’t want to be scavenging for when in need. Poncho: It could rain at any time in the mountains. So, ponchos should be accessible easily. Also, having a waterproof poncho at the top of the backpack provides additional waterproofing to items in the bag.

Trek backpack essentials

Trek backpack essentials

How to Get Fit for Your Trek

Cardiovascular endurance

The secret to ascending any trail lies in building your cardiovascular endurance. You can begin by jogging everyday. Ideally, you should be able to jog 4 km in 20 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. Strength 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.

Working out indoors

Author: Sathyanarayana V

He is a solo trekker and has been trekking the length of the Himalayas since the last 7 years.