India's 10 best treks

Curated by BuffaloTripJuly 25, 2015 Viewed: 841

Given our country’s vast, stunning landscapes, it has been extremely hard to limit a list of its best treks to just 10. To make this easier, I based my selection on three criteria. First, the views. A trek should have great views every day and not just on one or two days. Next was variety. A trek needs to spring surprises in scenery and settings every other moment. Finally, the trek must be accessible and not too physically demanding, doable by the average trekker.

So here, from 10 to one (one being the best), is my list:

10. HAMPTA PASS (HIMACHAL PRADESH)

Expect rapid changes in the scenery along this trek. Photo: Raphael Affentranger | Flickr

This trek begins in Manali and ends in Spiti, and the contrasts in the landscapes along the route make this a glorious trek. Starting with the pine and maple forests of Manali, past the grasslands of Jwara to the top of Hampta Pass, the scenery changes rapidly every day. Bonus: stopping near the Chandratal lake in Spiti post trek. The turquoise of the water in the mountainous desert is the stuff photographers crave for.

Grade: Moderate
Best season: June to mid-September
Duration: 5 days
Highest altitude: 14,500ft

9. KEDARKANTHA SUMMIT (UTTARAKHAND)

Climb to the summit for 360° views of snow-capped mountains. Photo: Pradeep Kumbhashi | Flickr

You’ll be forgiven for thinking you’ve stepped into a fairy tale when you see the snow clinging to the majestic pines and oaks along this route. This winter trek is not very well known in the trekking fraternity yet, but if its staggering beauty is anything to go by, it soon will be. The trek also has some of the loveliest campsites I’ve ever seen, each one unique and nestled in clearings (in India, it is rare to come across clearings on treks). When you climb to the summit, with its 360° view of snow-capped mountains, you will, literally, be walking in a winter wonderland.

Grade: Easy
Best season: Late December
Duration: 4 days
Highest altitude: 12,500ft

8. BURAN GHATI (HIMACHAL PRADESH)

Trek through charming villages, dense forests and lovely meadows. Photo: Indiahikes Archives

This one is so pretty and pristine that it hurts me to place it at No. 8. Buran Ghati takes the good parts of all great treks, tosses them together and serves them beautifully in a platter. You’ll pass through charming villages, dense forests, lovely meadows, a thrilling pass crossing and a descent through trees that are positively heaving with fruit and flowers.

Grade: Moderate
Best season: Mid- to end-June and mid-September to mid-October
Duration: 5 days
Highest altitude: 15,000ft

7. GOECHALA (SIKKIM)

The aquamarine colours of Samiti Lake will captivate you. Photo: Ann-Sophie Deldycke

This one’s a romantic drama all the way, from the flower-bedecked lower trails to the towering mountains on the upper ones. If you go at the end of April, you’ll see the rhododendrons turn the hillside scarlet. A major highlight, of course, is the fact that you’ll be within touching distance of Kanchanjunga; no trail in India takes you so close to big mountains. The maze of moraines along the way is an adventure-seeker’s dream, while the aquamarine colours of Samiti Lake are haunting and will linger in your mind for a long time. And watching the sun rise from Dzongri Top can make even the toughest trekker cry.

Grade: Moderate—difficult
Best season: Mid-April to late May and mid-September to December
Duration: 8 days
Highest altitude: 16,000ft

6. TARSAR MARSAR (JAMMU AND KASHMIR)

Walking on this carpet of flowers could be heartbreaking. Photo: Indiahikes Archives

If paradise exists, then this trek is closest you can get to it. The Tarsar trail leads trekkers from one jaw-dropping scene to another: you’ll chance upon meadows bursting with such an abundance of flowers that it’ll break your heart to walk on them, alpine lakes with snow-fed royal blue waters, waterfalls over grassy ledges that seem straight out of movie sets. I could go on, but frankly, just pack your rucksack now.

Grade: Moderate
Best season: July—September
Duration: 5 days
Highest altitude: 13,500ft

5. STOK KANGRI SUMMIT (LADAKH, JAMMU AND KASHMIR)

At 20,085ft, Stok Kangri is one of India's highest trekkable summits. Photo: Indiahikes Archives

This one attracts trekkers from all over the world for one simple reason: at 20,085ft, Stok Kangri is one of the highest trekkable summits in the country. People at the base camp plan and plot the summit climb like an Everest expedition, and the thrill of starting your ascent in the dead of night, of reaching a real mountain summit without technical skills, is very special. And then there is Ladakh itself, whose beauty is shocking and humbling in equal measure.

Grade: Difficult
Best season: July—August
Duration: 5—9 days (depending on the route taken)
Highest altitude: 20,085ft

4. CHADAR—THE FROZEN-RIVER TREK (ZANSKAR, JAMMU AND KASHMIR)

The frozen-river trek is now an international legend. Photo: 123Rf

Now an international legend, the Chadar trek has been featured in travel magazines worldwide, with incredible pictures of Buddhist monks walking barefoot on the frozen river; Discovery and National Geographic have made films on this awe-inspiring experience. The high canyon walls rarely let the sun come through, but when it does, it explodes into a wondrous, kaleidoscopic canvas of colours. You’ll see patterns within patterns in the ice—a giant waterfall that freezes in such a magical way that even little droplets are frozen mid-air.

Grade: Difficult
Best season: Mid-January to mid-February
Duration: 6 days
Highest altitude: 11,000ft

3. ROOPKUND (UTTARAKHAND)

Navigating the snow to Roopkund Lake can be heart-pounding. Photo: T Sundup | Flickr

Perhaps the most popular trek in India, this is like a trail of postcards. The route climbs out of dark, mysterious forests, suddenly bursting into Ali and Bedni Bugyal, arguably India’s loveliest high-altitude meadows, and then quickly takes you to terrific alpine stretches. Navigating the snow to Roopkund Lake is heart-pounding, with Mount Trishul looming over the setting, getting closer as you climb higher, until, at a ridge above Roopkund, the only thing separating you from Trishul is the thin air.

Grade: Moderate—difficult
Best season: Late May to June and mid-September to mid-October
Duration: 6 days
Highest altitude: 15,750ft

2. RUPIN PASS (HIMACHAL PRADESH)

In the higher reaches, the trek passes through superb snow fields. Photo: Indiahikes Archives

Like an orchestra, this trek, which begins in Uttarakhand and ends in Himachal, builds up momentum with surprises in the scenery unfolding almost every hour. The one constant is the blue water of the Rupin River that sometimes glides, sometimes roars past, culminating in the famous three-stage waterfall. The Rupin Pass trek has got it all: hanging villages, forests, glacial meadows, hundreds of waterfalls and a gushing pass that crosses through an echoing snow-filled gully. In the higher reaches, the trek passes through superb snow fields.

Grade: Moderate—difficult
Best season: Late May to June and mid-September to mid-October
Duration: 6 days
Highest altitude: 15,250ft

1. GREAT LAKES TREK (JAMMU AND KASHMIR)

The sight of seven glacial lakes will literally take your breath away. Photo: Indiahikes Archives

No superlative, no amount of hyperbole, is enough to describe this. It's undoubtedly the prettiest trek you will ever come across. The sight of seven glacial lakes, one after another, will, literally, take your breath away, and the deep green, carpet-like meadows surrounding the lakes make camping here unforgettable. Gurgling streams and brooks crisscross the valleys that come after a pass crossing, each of which is different colour and offers a completely different landscape to the last. The rolling plains, the sudden maple clusters and silver birch forests add to the splendour of the trek.

Grade: Moderate—difficult
Best season: Late May to June and mid-September to mid-October
Duration: 7 days
Highest altitude: 13,750ft

Arjun Majumdar is the founder of Indiahikes and an avid trekker and writer. Arjun writes about trekking for journals and magazines in India and abroad. 


Arjun Majumdar / cntraveler.in