Over the past few months, I've noticed that most trekkers don't know what autumn in the mountains looks like. Is it snowy? Is it too dry? Is it green? Will there be flowers? Will I get views?
I get so many such questions from people planning treks in September, October and November.
I realise that we haven't really shown trekkers anywhere, exactly what autumn looks like — How the forests look, what the meadows are like, what the mountain views are like, what the sunsets and sunrises are like.
So today, I'm showing you what autumn looks like through some terrific photographs taken in autumn. All of these photos were actually shot by trekkers in the months of September, October and November.
These are not highly edited photos, so you can safely assume that the colours of the mountains are as vibrant as you see in the photographs.
1. The meadows of Ali-Bedni Bugyal in October
The meadows of Ali Bugyal at sunset. Picture by Sandhya UC
Most trekkers assume October to be dry and browning. Look at the photo here. That’s nor really the truth. The meadows are so full of life that you will find it hard to see such colours in other seasons. Add to it the splendour of golden light during sunset and sunrise, and this is what you have!
2. Greenery at Ali Bugyal in October
The meadows of Ali Bugyal in autumn. Picture by Shruthi Navarathna
If you notice the above two photos, they are more or less shot at the same location. The only difference is the time of the day, and the weather. The meadows are a moist honey-coloured hue. It’s a pleasure to walk on them bare feet! As you climb higher up on the same trail, the trail turns from green to yellow to orange to red.
3. Colours on the Har Ki Dun trek in October
The valley towards Maninda Tal on a bright autumn day. Picture by Biman Dey Sarkar
Har Ki Dun is one of those treks that is incredibly beautiful at any time of the year -- spring, summer, winter. Autumn, too, has its own charm. The entire valley takes on an apricot hue, be it the grasslands, the forests or the mountainsides. The teal blue river in the valley adds to the charm.
4. The Swargarohini Massif seen on the Har Ki Dun Valley
A clear view of the Swargarohini Massif from the Har Ki Dun Valley. Picture by Gautam Doshi
It’s not just the Har Ki Dun valley, but also the mountian ranges around. You get the best views of the Swargarohini massif in autumn. "The clarity of the view makes you feel like the mountain is much bigger and much closer," shares Sandhya UC, co-founder and COO of Indiahikes.
5. Fall colours in the forests
The forests of Ghairoli Patal on the Ali Bedni Bugyal trek in autumn. Picture by Piyush Sharma
It's true that meadows and mountain views are stunners in autumn. But the forests are no less. Most of the lower forests, of oak and maple trees, are bursting with colours in autumn. Go late in September, you'll see them yellowing. Go in October and you'll see a striking orange. Go in November and you'll walk on a copper-coloured forest floor. It's magical in any of these months.
6. Vibrant clearings in autumn
Morning light in a beautiful clearing on the Kedarkantha trek. Picture by Swathi Chatrapathy
Kedarkantha is known for its clearings. They're extremely charming, lined by coniferous trees with soft undulating grass in between. But it's not just Kedarkantha. Even Kuari Pass, Gidara Bugyal and especially Ranthan Kharak have lovely clearings. The best part is that you camp in several of them!
7. The most vivid skylines during sunset and sunrise
Sunset seen from the Chandrashila Summit. Picture by Vivek Saini
When we talk about colours of autumn, it's not just the land, but also the sky. We have never seen as vivid sunsets as we have seen in autumn. There is a science behind it too.
"During this time of year, weather patterns allow for dry, clean air to sweep across country, and more colors of the spectrum make it through to our eyes without getting scattered by particles in the air, producing brilliant sunsets and sunrises that can look red, orange, yellow or even pink," says this website, on why sunsets and sunrises are more vivid in autumn.
8. Dramatic skies give rise to dramatic silhouettes
Picture by Ashish Chopra
When we conduct our photo contests in the months of September, October and November, we have seen the maximum number of silhouette shots, each one more striking than the other. What makes them magical is not the silhouette, but the spectacular skylines that usually form the backdrop.
9. Surreal colours and hues on big mountains
The Chaukhamba Massif seen from the Deoriatal-Chandrashila trek. Picture by Sayantan
On treks where big mountains dominate the scenery, the experience is something else altogether. Be it the Deoriatal-Chandrashila trek in Uttarakhand, the Sandakphu trek in West Bengal or the Goechala trek in Sikkim, all of them make for stunning mountain-viewing experiences. Take the next few pictures for instance.
10. The Kanchenjunga Range (Sleeping Buddha) seen from Sandakphu during sunset
Sunset from Sandakphu over the Sleeping Buddha. Picture by Kartik Vasan
Sandakphu is one of the most rewarding treks to do in autumn. Not only do you see the Kanchenjunga range at close quarters, but you also see the Everest, Lhotse and Makalu peaks in the same frame. In an otherwise rainy and cloudy region, you get stunning, clear views in autumn of all these mountains.
11. Up-close and squeaky clear views of big mountains
Mt Pandim as seen on the Goechala trek. Picture by G Hassan Kumar
Goechala is one of those treks that can be done only in two seasons -- summer and autumn. It's closed off at all other times of the year because of weather constraints. But out of the two open seasons, if you have to choose, September-October would be the season to choose. Given that the trek is all about the big mountains, the best time of the year to experience them is autumn, much like you see Mt Pandim in the above picture.
12. Mt Bhrigupanth and Thalaysagar seen from the banks of Kedartal
A heavenly view from Kedartal. Picture by Padmanava Sen
Kedartal is one of those few treks in Uttarakhand that takes you to a cauldron of big mountains. It's not just the views though. The setting is so magical, with the blue waters of Kedartal forming a gorgeous foreground for the mountains. In the morning hours, when the water is still, the reflection of the mountains in the water is so clear that it's hard to tell which one is real -- the mountains or the reflections.
13. Another stunner of a view -- Mt Nanda Devi seen from the Kuari Pass trail
An all time favourite picture of Mt Nanda Devi from Gorson Bugyal. Picture by Vaibhav Jain
There's a certain reverence attached to Mt Nanda Devi. Being able to see such approximate views and with such clarity is a possibility only in autumn months of October and November, and only from a trek like Kuari Pass.
14. The Bhagirathi Peaks on the Gaumukh Tapovan trek
A dramatic walk towards Tapovan, with the Bhagirathi peaks looming over trekkers. Picture by Dhaval Jajal
Much like it's neighbour, Kedartal, Gaumukh Tapovan is another trek that gives you up-close views of big mountains. Mt Shivling, Mt Meru, Mt Sudarshan, the Bhagirathi sisters -- all of them are your constant companions on this trek. "I've never experienced such clear and intimidating views of these 6000+ metre peaks like I did in October at Gaumukh-Tapovan," shares Dhaval Jajal, who shot this picture. '
15. Colours of Spiti in September
Clear skies on the Pin Bhaba Pass trek in September. Picture by Ashish Bhatt
The Pin Bhaba Pass trek, on its own, is an incredibly dramatic trek. The crossover from Kinnaur to Spiti is a splendid one, where you see surreal colours immediately upon crossing the pass. The colours and mountains around are more pronounced in September, when the skies clear out and leave behind only snow-capped peaks set against desert-like landscapes of Spiti.
16. One of the most popular trekking locations, unrecognisable in autumn
Walking towards the Upper Waterfall Campsite on the Rupin Pass trek. Picture by Jason Lim
Very few people know of the beauty of Rupin Pass in autumn. In summer, most of the alpine sections above 11,000 ft are buried in snow. But in autumn, when the snow is washed off, you have a completely raw experience of the alpine sections, right from the Upper Waterfall camp, across the pass and towards Rontigad.
17. True autumn colours of Sikkim seen at Dzongri
The colourful grasslands around Dzongri. Picture by Somaditya Ghosh
The Kanchenjunga National park, in which the Goechala trek is laid out, is a riot of colours in autumn. Especially once you cross the treeline is when you see the real colours, as you step into the grasslands towards Dzongri. The entire trek, even around Samiti lake has unbelievable hues of orange, vermillion and crimson, which you have to see to believe.
18. Dayara Bugyal in stiriking autumn colours
A lone trekker appraoches Dayara Top in autumn. Picture by Vinod Krishna
Most trekkers have seen Dayara Bugyal resplendent with greenery and wild flowers. This is ususally how it it in summer. They have also seen it in winter, when the meadows are buried under snow. Very few have experienced the other side of these meadows, where they are a gorgeous shade of honey. Set against a forget-me-not blue sky, these meadows make for one of the rarest experiences in autumn.
19. The best ridge walks are in autumn
Trekkers take in the view of the Swargarohini massif and surrounding peaks from Phulara Ridge. Picture by Nitesh Kumar
When it comes to ridge walks, Phulara Ridge takes the cake. With over 5-6 hours of walking on a ridge, this makes for a tremendous mountain-viewing experience, especially in autumn when there's nothing between you and the mountains. It's a rare privilege to be alongside the Garhwal Himalayas, at eye-level, for so many hours together!
20. The meadows of Gidara Bugyal in November
A view of the Gidara meadows in November. Picture by Izzat Yaganagi
In November, when we explored a different route to Gidara Bugyal, we were stunned when we stepped into the Gidara meadows, not because of the vastness or the remoteness, but because of the striking autumn colours. It was a golden brown as far as our eyes could see, turning reddish-brown towards the peaks.
That brings us to the end of this photo story on what trekking in autumn looks like.
To sum it up, trek in autumn for four reasons:
1. Crystal clear skies
The monsoons wash the skies of all hanging dust and haze. The air in the mountains becomes crisp and squeaky clear, making Autumn the best time for mountain views. Big mountain views are at their best. Every fold, every crack is seen with full clarity.
Long distance views are also at their best. You see mountains that you never knew existed if you were trekking in spring or summer.
Some of my favourite views from autumn are, Tapovan with Mt Shivling towering over, Dayara and Gidara Bugyals with their 270 degree mountain panorama, the Phulara Ridge walk and Sandakphu with long distance views.
2. Very little chance of weather disrupting your trek
I have also noticed that we get very little weather disruptions on our treks in the months of October and November. Summer sees afternoon showers every day while winter and spring tend to get sporadic snowfall. Autumn weather disruptions are almost unheard of. Again, an after-effect of clear skies. If you want guaranteed great weather, a rarity in the Himalayas, choose autumn.
3. The colours of Autumn
If spring is the time for flowers, autumn is for the colours of leaves, grass and the skies. The forests are colourful, teeming with yellow and red foliage. The grassy vegetation at higher altitudes turn red before turning into gold. The skies are also at their colourful best especially at sunset. If you wish to see the colours of the mountains, trek in autumn. My favourites for colours are from the Har Ki Dun valley, Goechala, Buran and Rupin valleys.
4. Lower crowds
Being the non-traditional season for trekking, most trails are rather empty in autumn in our country. You are likely to have the entire campsite to yourself even on popular trails.
You'll find a list of the best autumn treks to do here.