Most people tend to think that the Himalayas are all about fresh white snow. But nothing could be further from the truth. The Himalayas are as much about colour as they are about snow! And what better time than autumn to witness this magnificent colourful canvas!
Autumn is a brilliant time to trek the Himalayas, for mainly three reasons.
First, the forests – they’re an absolute treat to the senses. The trees turn from green to earthy shades of brown and orange. Shafts of sunlight pierce through maple leaves, carving out their edges and giving them a charming glow. With each step, you can hear the crisp crunch of leaves underneath your feet.
And oh the views! By God the views cannot be better than in these months! Trekking in autumn is like getting the best seats at the theatre. Since monsoon takes away with it the summer haze, it leaves the sky squeaky clean! You can see crystal clear views of mountains as far as the horizon can stretch.
Which makes it the best time to trek for photographers! That would be the third reason. During the day, the blue of the sky will put a sapphire to shame. And during the night, you’ll see more stars than black sky. So here, after much debate, we have put down six of the best treks to do in autumn.
The Annapurna Base Camp trek is one of the best treks to do in autumn. You walk amidst the big mountains of Nepal, the biggest highlights on this trek being Mt Machapuchare, whose base camp you camp at, and of course, the Annapurna Massif.
With every contour in the range emphasised by the autumn sun, every ridge standing out like a sharp spine, the range is nothing short of a spectacle. There’s no doubt that the rainless chilly weather of autumn is the best time to do this trek.
This trails runs through the Nanda Devi Biosphere. Which is enough reason for it to secure a place on this list. The view of the Mt. Nanda Devi on this trek right from Day 1 and especially from Auli and Gorson Bugyal is unprecedented!
As you get into Chitrakantha, oak trees loom high above you, shedding a bed of leaves on the ground. These oaks are home to several rare Himalayan birds. You hear them tweet as you wind across the forest, encouraging you through the ascent.
Just as you break out of the brown and yellow canopy, you enter Gorson Bugyal and which offers outstanding views of India’s highest peak, Nanda Devi. Apart from it, you see Neelkanth and Chaukhamba to the north, Ghoda and Hathi Parvath to the north east, and of course, your companion throughout most of the trek, Mount Dunagiri. Autumn is the season for photographers to capture this grand peak as the rains have wiped out everything between the lens and the summit!
The Gaumukh-Tapovan trek has to be done in the autumn months. It does not just give you clear views of mountain peaks but gives you a complete view. Right from the base of the mountain to the very tip. You rarely get these kind of views even on the best of treks. There is always another mountain obstructing the view of the other.
The view of the Bhagirathi peaks on the way to Bhojbasa, the aura of Mt Shivling at the Tapovan campsite and other mountains such as Mt Sudarshan and of course the shark fin, Mt Meru, are a treat to the eyes – this view does not get better than in autumn.
The trail does have a few steep sections and is mostly filled with moraines and boulders. The valley keeps narrowing down as you reach the Gaumukh glacier where you have to cross the glacial stream Akash-Ganga. A steep climb up Tapovan and you will find the Neelatal lake against the grey setting with the snow capped Mount Shivling and Mount Meru in the background. A view so clear it is almost surreal. You have to trek to Gaumukh-Tapovan to get a close up of the mountains.
This trek is laden with Rhododendron forests which, in this season, are competing in a league of their own. The red Rhodo flowers wither away as the leaves start to take on their colour, and become the sensation of the trek. Take a break from crunching numbers on your desk to crunch crisp, brown leaves on this trail.
The grand Deoriatal Lake is complemented by the Chaukhamba massif and Kedar Dome. The unique shape of Chaukhamba can be seen clearly. You have an entire day here. You can climb up the watch tower and enjoy the views of the surrounding mountains. Needless to say, the view from the Chandrashila summit is almost incomparable at this time of the year! As night falls, you can spend time star gazing as you can see an array of constellations in the night sky. With no clouds, it looks vast and grand, with the stars stretching out until they hit the silhouettes of the mountains.
The Rohini Bugyal campsite on the other hand is a clearing in the forest. Surrounded by Rhodo trees, you are peeking into the night sky which is an experience in itself.
This trek needs no introduction. It is extremely close to our heart and it is so with abundant reason. The Neel Ganga whistles its way through the valley along which the Rhodo and Oak forests start to age beautifully, turning into a variety of autumn shades.
Add to that the meadows! If one were to believe that the earth is flat then Ali and Bedni Bugyal would be the reason. The bugyals deceivingly stretch all the way to the skyline. Which also makes the campsites perfect for star gazing. The lack of trees is a blessing here!
No peeking from the corner of your eyes can distract you from the endearing view of Mt.Trishul from Bedni Bugyal. The trek reaches a crescendo at Junargali (which is in fact more accessible in autumn than in summer), where you can see the Trishul right from its bottom to the tip, alongside Nanda Ghunti. This trek is perfect in every way possible.
6. Har ki Dun
The Har ki Dun trek hasn’t seen much human footprint, leaving many birds and animals to thrive in this region. You can spot Langoor families near Puani Garaat. The chances of you spotting Black bears, wild boars and Barasingha amongst other animals is increased thanks to the good weather and complete absence of haze. The trail lets you enjoy their habitat of pine forest at its colourful best.
This is the only valley from where you can see Swargarohini – I, II, III, Bandarpoonch and Blackpeak, all together. Getting such a clear view of Swargarohini, makes you feel like a Pandava ascending to the heavens. You can also see the Ruinsara Peaks. Often you are accompanied by swollen streams that flow mellifluously down the hills.
I don’t think Goechala needs no introduction. This is one of the few treks in India where you get so close to such big mountains. You can see the Kanchenjunga in all its glory! It’s a sight that you can’t take your eyes off! Not only that, you see Mt.Pandim right behind you at the Dzongri campsite. These views alone are worth the effort you put in to get it!
Another thing that will strike you is the forest trail. This trek houses few of the oldest forests of the region – especially rhododendron forests. The moss laden forest floor sends out a wet aroma, leaving you intoxicated by the very essence of nature.
But keep in mind that Goechala is a difficult trek. All the rewards that you receive from this trek come after months of hard work!
Being up in the mountains in such clear, clean air is a blessing. Everything seems more enhanced – the colours, the smells, the scale… They say an uncluttered home can bring clarity to the mind; an uncluttered trek in the Himalayas can do just that a 1000 times over.
We have not included Sandakphu, which would be on top of this list, because of the ongoing riots in Darjeeling. Because of roadblocks and unrest in the transit to the base camp, we will not be running the trek in autumn 2017.