Are Indian Trekking Trails Getting Crowded?

Last week, when I was on the Roopkund trek, our technical guide told me something that startled me.

“We’ll start our final climb at 3.30 am. We expect around 250 trekkers making their way up to Roopkund tomorrow,” he said.

He said it in his most plain, matter-of-fact manner. He was more pre-occupied in the process of dusting his shoes. He did not realise the magnitude of what he said.

He had been stationed at Bhagwabhasa, the highest campsite on the trek, for the past month. To him, seeing so many trekkers was as normal as seeing leaves on trees.

In my mind, though, an alarm went off. 250 people!

It filled me with a kind of dread. I pictured a queue of headlamps inching upwards in the darkness, like a giant radiant caterpillar.

The next morning came. 3.30 am. I started my way up to Roopkund with my team of 23.

There were indeed around 200 trekkers that morning. Every time we took a water break, another team of 25 would go past us. When a trekker stopped, there would be sudden halts behind him for at least 300 metres.

We reached the Roopkund at 5.50 am.

All I could see was a landscape studded with trekkers. There were trekkers standing on the frozen lake (surely out of their minds), around the banks, on the ridge above and throughout the sides of the cauldron in which the lake lies.

Roopkund crowd - Indiahikes - Raisin George
Trekkers assemble around the shrine at Roopkund. Picture shot in June 2018 by Raisin George

It was not nice. I had pictured a pristine Roopkund in my mind before the trek. This was a crowd at Roopkund.

This was reality.

The Roopkund trek had reached its saturation point.

To put things in perspective for you, there are nearly 200 trekkers on the Roopkund trail everyday in May and June. That makes it around 10,000 trekkers in summer alone.

But Roopkund is not the only trail like this.

There’s Kedarkantha. There’s Triund. There’s Kheerganga. There’s Sar Pass. There’s Hampta Pass. All of them house many more trekkers than they are meant to.

Why are these particular trails crowded?

All of these trails are fairly old trails in our country. Consequently, they are more popular than the newer trails.

Why, five years ago, nobody even went on these trails. It’s just that they have turned more popular by word of mouth.

It’s like how Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are the only known football players amongst lay persons. Roopkund and Hampta Pass are the few treks known amongst laypersons.

They are beautiful trails, no doubt. Even now, they retain their beauty. But the crowd really spoils it.

Roopkund - Bedni Bugyal tents - Indiahikes - Raisin George
Multiple camps on the meadows of Bedni Bugyal on the Roopkund trek. Picture by Raisin George

What happens if these are crowded?

Well, each trek has its own problem. But I’ll list the biggest ones.

1. It’s not very pleasant bumping into trekkers all the time. Or to wait for slow trekkers to move aside to let you pass. 

2. A camp may be too cramped to hold that many people. Bhagwabasa on the Roopkund trail, Juda Ka Talab on the Kedarkantha trek, Rola Kholi on the Bhrigu Lake trek are classic examples of crowded campsites.

The increased crowd not only strains resources (water, space) but also takes away privacy. The pristine location is no longer pristine. Litter is everywhere.

3. Another thing I noticed is that there’s loud music on bluetooth speakers everywhere. Some people smoke, drink and wreak havoc. People shout out loudly to each other with no concern for others.

4. If the trek is like an upturned funnel, where everyone is headed to a small peak, or a  pass, the crowd gets heavy on top. Suddenly the pass is not visible, but the crowd definitely is.

Last winter, on the Kedarkantha summit there were more than 100 people at the same time on any given day. I don’t know what summit experience that is.

5. The terrain might not be well-suited for toilets, and people might go anywhere they want (Chadar is a good example).

What is the solution?

Spread out.

It’s that simple.

Spread out to different trails, different destinations. Don’t go by word of mouth.

Dig a little deeper and you’ll find gems that are not crowded, untouched and as beautiful! On our website alone you’ll find 26 great treks. We wouldn’t put them up if they weren’t stunning.

The dreamy yet lesser known Tarsar Lake. “It was a surreal experience taking in the view of the lake in its entirety”, exclaims Sudheer Hegde who took this photo.

Another solution is for stricter regulations to come in. There must be regulations about the presence of dhabas, use of camping grounds, managing of waste, and on some trails, the number of people who can do the trek.

This won’t happen unless the government intervenes. While the government is slowly understanding this reality, enforcing any regulations may take time.

A niggling worry is when the government takes blanket decisions about regulations without consulting anyone.

How do trekkers play a role?

Honestly, trekkers themselves are not a problem.

Think about it. In other countries, there are thousands of trekkers who tread the same trails again and again. Especially countries like Norway, New Zealand, even our neighbour Nepal. Trekking is well managed.

But it is when they become unruly and reckless that they cause issues.

Like the ones that were standing on the frozen lake. Or the ones I saw blasting Honey Singh songs in the forests of Ghairoli Patal.

So if trekkers and trekking organisations can regulate themselves, manage their own waste, then there’s really no problem at all!

green trails
Trekkers practice the leave no trace Green Trails policy on all our treks.

Very often I hear people saying that Indiahikes must reduce the number of trekkers that they take. That we must become the regulators. But it is not easy.

At Indiahikes, we already have a strict cap on the number of trekkers we take. Most of our treks run full. When people do not find slots on our treks they go elsewhere. This does not reduce the number of trekkers on the slope. It just distributes them. It does not solve the problem.

What’s worse, other organisations may not be as sensitive as we are towards the environment. That may only cause more harm.

The only real solution is to choose other treks to do. And to avoid crowding trails.

So next time you’re planning a trek, choose a less-crowded trail. Or maybe go to a popular trail slightly off-season.

I’ll put down a list for you to choose from.

Some rare trails to explore:

+ Phulara Ridge (Our newest trek)
+ Tarsar Marsar (Debatably our most photogenic trek)
Buran Ghati (We’re secretly happy that not many people do this trek)
Pin Bhaba Pass (A stunningly beautiful trail for experienced trekkers)

Popular treks in unusual seasons:

+ Har Ki Dun in Early winter (November)
+ Rupin Pass in autumn (October)
+ Kedarkantha in peak winter (January and February)
+ Dayara Bugyal in winter (December)

If you need help choosing a trek, or if you have thoughts about crowded trails, drop in a comment below. Our experts will get back to you! 


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Swathi Chatrapathy

Swathi Chatrapathy

Swathi Chatrapathy is the Chief Editor at Indiahikes. She heads the content team and runs a video series called Trek With Swathi. Before joining Indiahikes, she worked as a reporter and sub-editor at Deccan Chronicle. She holds a Masters in Digital Journalism and continues to contribute to publications such as Deccan Herald. Trekking, to her, is a sport that liberates that mind like nothing else can. Through her work at Indiahikes, she hopes to let more people experience this sense of liberation, by spreading information about trekking and by instilling the right spirit of trekking in them. Read Swathi's other articles. Watch Swathi's video series here.

36 thoughts on “Are Indian Trekking Trails Getting Crowded?

  1. Hi Swathi,

    This is the main reason i started looking out for lesser known treks, i went though all the DIY treks posted here and i really want to do Kugti trek. Why are these treks not done by IH?
    These issues made me plan for peaks more than 5000 m and was successful in doing Stok, now planning for Friendship peak next. I would be really happy if more of these 5000 m peaks are opened.
    One more point, limiting the numbers to a maximum of 12-15 in a batch will certainly help.

  2. For people like me a crowded trek would spoil the whole experience. Thank you for highlighting this . A couple of other suggestions –
    – Since this problem is going to get worse you can display the busy times/months for each trek on the trek page itself so that people who didn’t read this article also know while chosing
    – Organisations like yours can engage with the authorities on regulation

  3. All of this makes me so sad. The loud music and the total disregard for nature. I keep thinking there has to be some regulation or tab on the kind of people going for treks but don’t know how. With so many travel/trekking organisations mushrooming every other day, it is only going to get worse. I really feel the government should start some kind of a licensing system where you need to fulfill X, Y, Z criteria if want to trek or travel to pristine locations. Or maybe have a cap on the number of visitors per season. The Juda-Ka-Talab video is surprising. I did Kedarkantha just two years back in 2016 April and there was nobody other than IH trekkers. Thank God I did it then. With a crowd like this, I would never be motivated to go.

  4. I think trekking companies like IH should definitely make trekkers follow basic etiquette during camping like not playing loud music. So offensive and the biggest put off during a trek.

  5. Hi Swathi,

    Thiis is so true – a trek should not feel like being in Mahabaleshwar ! To me it’s all about solitude and being alone with nature. So did a couple of solo treks in Nepal, escorted by a porter cum guide, in the last week of December ! To Poon Hill and Mardi Himal. Both were astounding and mostly quet and without too many trekkers being around, although I was only able to do Mardi Hmal midway on account of inclement weather etc. So very wary about doing group treks, especially crowded treks.

    So wanted to ask you, would India Hikes also look at conducting solo guided treks ?

    Regards,
    Kumar

  6. I think another thing that we should all do as travelers in general is to be a little more mindful about our urge to take trips. There are a LOT of people in India, no matter what we do, the crowd is going to grow. Just as we like to enjoy scenic beauty atop beautiful mountain tops, so do others, even those who also like honey singh songs. There are a growing number of people with disposable incomes. There are a growing number of sources of information (case in point the india hikes blog that seeks to popularize trekking) on places to go to and things to do. Everybody who has the money and will to part take in these experiences is free to do so and they will. It would be fabulous if others ( read trekking organizations and the govt.) do something to regulate the crowd. But trekkers themselves must regulate their own behaviour, this includes trying to be cognizant of others and being polite, but also trying to make as few trips as possible – enjoying trekking (esp the popular ones) as a profound and rare experience, as opposed to having a consumerist mentality towards trekking.

    1. Not putting mind applies in choosing normal tours, leave alone trekking.
      After I visited Ladakh, I could never come out of the charm of the place. But sadly, in past few weeks, I am facing people talking about Ladakh as just another OK type destination. They went as a common all-comfort-inclusive sort of mind. The minimum difficulty that the place poses as part of its charm became a big anxiety for them. They came back complaining about the rarity of the facilities and hardship of the place. It was so irritating to get such feedback.
      This all happened because before going, they never put any mind to the place. Simply went just for name sake and tick mark travel. This should never happen for any place. But it’s now everywhere. Treks are no exception.
      I just recall an article about Everest expedition. A girl, solely depending on her sherpa, stuck a teddy bear on her back pack all the way up and down. Everest — a condition where every gram matters, this fellow was sticking to cuteness.

  7. The giant caterpillar of head lamps is nowadays a common sight even on the Everest, Indian trails cannot escape it. But choosing an off route or off season is a better idea till those are becoming crowded. Finally where we’ll go, who knows!

  8. Rightly said Swathi,
    I am planning for my second trek with IH this year October (did Dayara Bugyal in march and it was wonderful)
    How about Roopkund trek in the first week of October, how will be the scenery around, weather conditions, amount of snow, crowd etc.
    Will my wife, with no prior trekking experience, be able to make it.
    You can also suggest other options with moderate difficulty
    Thanks

  9. This happens because, trekking has become easy for unfit people.
    Because organizations like IndiaHikes supports newbie to have diamox and continue the trek instead of sending those unfit people to base camp. Just to get a fame saying IndiaHikes batch 1, all 25 hikers summited the peak.

  10. Hi Swathi,

    Thanks for writing this article and highlighting the overcrowding issue.
    I am planning to do Sandakphu Phalut in the 11 -17 Nov batch. Is that peak season or off season for this trek?

    Rgds.

  11. Hi Swati, I have registered for kedarkanta in December, I would like to choose different trek, if it vl be crowded. Do suggest.

    1. Hi Jagadish, we have opened up a new trail to Kedarkantha. So it’s just our team on this new trail. You won’t see much crowd except at the summit.

  12. Crowded treks…yes I can relate to that. Most people usually go on treks for the away form the city experience and to experience some solitude. Some trekkers are pushing beyond their limits to get to their summit. It is quite a distraction to have music blasting into the ears instead of this solitude. It completely defeats the purpose of trekking.
    So I am in agreement that you should choose your treks wisely so that you can experience nature closely while maintaining your solitude. Choosing the less traveled treks definitely gives you the full experience of trekking.
    I myself have experienced both types of treks- the heavily travelled and the less travelled treks which are way more pleasurable.

  13. Thanks for bringing up such an important issue, Swathi. This is something which I have been deeply worried about ever since I did the Dayara Bugyal trek last month with another guide (not IH). I went there during the peak season and spent most of my ascent starting off with cajoling, then arguing with and finally giving up on some trekking groups which insisted on ruining the serenity with unbelievably loud and inappropriate Punjabi music. It totally ruined the experience for me and no doubt, for others like me on the trek. Once I reached the camping site, there were several groups of drunk/drinking, screaming, loud music playing campers who couldn’t quite comprehend what a quiet night under the stars meant.
    As some people before me have suggested here, I believe organisations like IH should definitely use their impressive reputation and goodwill and take up these issues on social media and start the discussion with regulators. There’s our role as trekkers too – we can give these discussions a push forward and ensure they get necessary traction. Fingers crossed!

  14. Hi Swathi,

    Thanks for putting this thought provoking article together. Really highlights the overcrowding issue that is happening on all popular Trekking trails. You have put down your thoughts really well, something to learn from for me! describing the problem, explaining why over-crowded trekking sites spoil the Trek experience. Elaborating well and finally suggesting solutions. I commend on your abilities to write such well thought out articles. Finally and most important your article really inspired me to explore newer trekking trails 🙂

    Regards,

    1. Hi Reshma,
      We can help you select a trek. Could you please help us with –
      – Which month are you planning to trek in?
      – How many days do you have?
      – Have you trekked before?

  15. Trekking scene in india is growing day by day and because of word of mouth and ease of reaching to campsites it will keep on growing, young people very much prefer trek’s on vacation instead of beaten touristy places.
    This will keep on growing, to solve this problem news trails must be discovered, I love indiahikes because of their attitude in keeping finding new trails.
    One suggestion I would like to give to indiahikes is they should provide data how many trekkers went on each treak each season, so that seasoned trekkers would avoid this and join new treks like suggested in this blog.

  16. Hi Swati, You have rightly pointed out this very important issue in your article. It is the sad truth that we have not been good at protecting our environment and it is high time that every citizen realises that we cannot take Mother Nature and our environment for granted, as the consequences can be quote devastating – as we have all seen in June 2013 when the Uttarakhand Floods happened. With regard to Treks getting over crowded, I feel that this has happened because there are many people, nowadays, who are going on treks with the notion that it is just like any other holiday. I think there should be some kind of minimum training for trekkers as well (e.g. Mountaineers need to do a Mountaineering Course) . Another possible solution could be that Companies undertaking treks should be Environment Compliant (e.g. ISO 14001:2015) wherein they are not allowed to conduct treks if they do not satisfy certain norms for Environment Protection .

  17. Oops, sad to see Dayara’s name in the list, I was planning it in January.
    Suggest some alternative if it is crowded!!

    1. Hi Ishan,
      Winter is an unusual season to do Dayara Bugyal so it will not be crowded in January. If you are still looking for an alternative, you can go to Brahmatal in winter.

  18. This is daunting. Starting so early in the morning is not okay. I am not saying this for the safety of trekkers, but for the wildlife. Recent reports state that animals in the forests are becoming more nocturnal which is affecting their survival skills because they are not able to follow their instincts according to the time of the day. Instincts, that they have developed through evolution for thousands of years. We, humans, have already taken away most of their homes. Now we invade what has remained because we want adventure. We must not disregard the wildlife and the environment. Guys, please do not disturb them. If you really want to listen to music in the mountains, use your headphones. Also, we should never hoot in the mountains. It scares the animals.

  19. We are a group of 12 friends planning for Kuari Pass trek on last week of November? Will it be a good time?

    1. Hi Najmus,
      November is a great time to go to Kuari Pass. The views of the mountains will be very clear.

  20. Very well put Swati, I had similar observations of over crowding and over commercialization of trails on the the Roopkund trek this May. Very thoughtful of you to list out not so popular treks and season. These will definitely be on my list. Thanks you.

  21. Hi Swati,

    Its really disturbing to think about this.

    I am a trekker since 1991, and i have experienced the Himalayas in the 90’s, which now seems absolutely different than today’s. There is change in over all atmosphere, when we did feel cold even in day time, which now seems hot all the day. There were only basic fulfillment of requirements, no comfort like toady’s, even locals were not aware about this activity and were less professionals. Even persons having keen interest in this activity were participating unlike those of toady, who happen to be there for picnic/sight scene/selfies.

    You are very much right. It needs some regulations and spreading out. I take this opportunity to have idea of trekking in lesser known trails in my future plan.

    Thanks.
    Jayesh Thaker

  22. Dear IH people,
    I regularly receive communication from IH and I feel greatly obliged for that. Recently, a group of my young friends have inspired me to take part in a programme. However, they have a very long list but I have decided to take part up to Har-Ki-Dun & I have decided to be at Dehradun on 10th of Oct. this year. Accordingly, I have also purchased the Rly. ticket. However, this year I have seen the photograph of people crawling towards Pissu Top during the last few days and it’s simply horrible to witness this type of things whereas people normally venture in search of mental peace and solitude.
    Well, I am now 60+ and not in a mental state to listen to the film songs on the top of Himalayas. If possible kindly give me a picture about the scenario that we may face during the said trip. I am also thinking about joining your programme for the said place. I shall wait eagerly for your kind earliest guidance.
    Thanks.

    1. Hi Shubhendu,
      Since Pissu Top is on a pilgrimage route, it attracts a lot of visitors.
      Har ki Dun will not be crowded to that extent since only trekkers go here. You also walk past quite a few Himalayan villages in the beginning but you will mostly find locals here. Observing their way of life is an experience in itself. This trek has beautiful forest trails and the valley itself is wide, with great views of the Swargarohini mountains. Unless you are in a group that is playing music, it is unlikely that you will have to bear with film songs here! So, go ahead and plan your trek. Make sure you also work on your fitness before getting there 🙂

  23. Govt should fix limit and batch size of trekkers. Moreover particular company can take limited trekkers per season. No doubt i am a big fan of india hikes but main reason of rush on mountains is also india hikes. IH himself should think about this.

  24. Dear Swati / Sneha / IH Team,

    I am beginner in trekking and have just done Parashar Lake trek earlier this month. Encouraged by the experience, I wish to take it to the next level and do one 8-9 days’ trek in Sep/Oct. I have a friend of mine who as well is keen for a moderate level trek. While browsing through treks on your website, we zero-ed in on Roopkund Trek or Rupin Pass Trek, but it turns out (as per FAQs on your website) these treks don’t have any snow in September / October, which I suppose takes away the charm of these treks because most astonishing pics of these treks on your website are the ones with snow. Can you confirm this is correct understanding that these treks won’t have any snow – not even near/around Roopkund Lake? Anyhow, can you suggest us any treks for Sep/Oct of 7+ days of duration which would have snow available? I do have some other questions about Roopkund trek like group size, no. of trek leaders, but will reserve them for later once we have chosen the right trek for us.

    Many Thanks,
    Umesh Dua

    1. Hi Umesh,
      Roopkund and Rupin Pass treks will not have snow in October. However, these treks are very beautiful in that season. The forests, especially on the Roopkund trails, turn into shades of orange, red and brown – autumn colours and views of the mountains are crystal clear. While snow adds charm to the place, its absence does not take away from the beauty of this trek in any way. The same holds for Rupin Pass as well.
      It is likely that you will find snow beyond Bhagwabasa on the Roopkund trail by mid October.

      1. Thanks Sneha!

        Can you advise how much is the group size for Roop-kund Trek and what shall be the Trek Leader to Trekkers ratio? Would it be advisable to solo-trek this one, i.e., I don’t have a friend or family accompany me on this trek, is this fine?

  25. This is an unnerving though necessary article. I’ve almost got set for the Roopkund trek for the last-week September batch. Would it be crowded like it was in June? Crowd is what I’ll be running away from (I live in Mumbai) And if I hear Honey Singh blasting off in the forest, I’ll turn into Hulk for sure.
    Kindly let me know as I soon will be registering.

    1. Hi Harsh,

      The September season for Roopkund is not that crowded when compared to June. You can choose this trek for then. I hope the Honey Singh(s) survive your Hulk Smash. 🙂 All the best!

      Thanks
      Aditya

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