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One of the best hiking regions in the world is the
INDIAN HIMALAYA Top 10
This is the least hiked of the best destinations in the world. Why is it not yet more popular with foreign trekkers?
There might be more good choices here than in Nepal. In 2010 more routes were opened in the previously restricted areas of remote Jammu and Kashmir. In fact, previously locked shut Nanda Devi National Park has been partially opened recently for restricted number of hikers.
We use Lonely Planet’s definition of the region, the sections of the Himalaya governed by India shown in orange on the map below.
AT A GLANCE
- Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttaranchal in the west
- Darjeeling and Sikkim in the east
- many peaks over 7000m (23000ft)
- every serious hiker wants to travel to Nepal. The savvy trekkers to the Indian Himalaya, as well.
- though challenging, India is a wonderful tourist destination
- English is widely spoken
- public transportation is slow at best, downright terrifying at worst
- getting to the trailhead may be much more dangerous than anything you do on the trek. Take the train rather than a vehicle whenever you can.
- best for experienced, confident, self-sufficient high altitude hikers
- hiking season somewhere May-Nov (though micro-climates vary greatly). Many treks are not recommended Jul-Aug — though you can hike most places in Ladakh most of the year.
WHY WE LIKE THIS REGION
- stunning high peaks
- forested valleys, wildflower meadows
- Hindu, Islamic and Buddhist cultures, architecture and history
- culture of the mountain people
- you can hike independently, hire a porter, or sign on with a trekking company
- India is simply the most intense, memorable country to visit
- travel is very inexpensive
- watching for Lammergeiers, huge mountain vultures
- variety of flora when climbing up from the low lands
- virtually no dangerous wildlife
- adding on visits to Bhutan (highly restricted) or Nepal (very easy)
- excellent for photographers
By far the biggest downside to hiking the Himalayas is altitude sickness. Hikers die each year. Symptoms begin as low as 3000m (9800ft). Many of our recommended hikes climb over 5000m. On some it is difficult to descend quickly. Rescue often not available. Do not hike high unless willing to accept this risk.
- if you do not have enough time to acclimatize to altitude, hike at lower elevations (the view looking UP at the mountains is gorgeous too)
- hard walking, laboured breathing, intense sun at high altitude all can compound the problems of a hikers suffering AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness)
- hypothermia is more frequently a problem than sun stroke. Bring gear to stay warm and dry.
- it’s essential to avoid frostbite, of course
- we’ve suffered some pretty severe gastrointestinal ailments on the southern side of the Himalaya range despite taking every precaution. (The Tibet side is drier, the risk lower.)
- weather is a big factor. It varies greatly from place to place in the Himalayas. Some areas get virtually no rain, year round, as they are protected from the Monsoon. Other areas are doable from May-Oct. The best months for some of the higher treks are Sep-Oct
- personal safety is a slight concern. Trekkers have been kidnapped in the Himalayas in the past, though rarely
- mountain tourism is a reality. We must make the best of it. The consequences, good and bad, for the local peoples are predictable by looking at Nepal. Perhaps it can be managed better in India since numbers of visitors are fewer.
- obviously we cannot leave trash. Everything must be carried out.
- trekkers must discourage the burning of wood for cooking at higher elevations (multi-fuel stove recommended)
BEST TREKKING GUIDEBOOKS
Lonely Planet was finally updated in 2009. It’s the best starting point.
- Lonely Planet Trekking in the Indian Himalaya – Garry Weare (2009 now out-of-print)
- Cicerone Trekking in Ladakh – Radek Kucharski (2012)
- Trailblazer Trekking in Ladakh – Charlie Loram & Jim Manthorpe (2004)
- Trekking and Climbing in the Indian Himalaya – Harish Kapadia (2001)
Check that those are the most recent editions before purchasing.
BEST HIKES in INDIA
It’s confusing to list the best treks as different names are used in different guidebooks. (Even the spelling of Kangchenjunga varies.) Consider these recommendations only a starting point.
- Markha Valley
- Stok Kangri trekking peak <trip>
- Milam Glacier & Nanda Devi, Uttarakhand <guide><guide><trip>
- Nanda Devi treks, Uttarakhand <guide>
- Rupin Pass, Uttarakhand <guide>
- Buran Ghati, Himachal Pradesh <guide>
- Hampta Pass, Himachal Pradesh <guide>
- Ladahk – Zanskar treks
- Singge La & Lamayuru, Ladakh<guide>
- Lamayuru to Dacha Trek, Ladakh <guide>
- Lamayuru-Padum, Ladakh <trip>
- Padum-Serchu, Ladakh <trip>
- Padam to Manali over Umasi La, Ladakh <guide>
- Sham Valley, Ladakh <trip><trip>
- Kauri Pass, Uttarakhand <trip>
- Har-ki Dun – Ruinsara, Uttarakhand <guide><guide>
- Singalila Ridge to Sandakphu, Sikkim <guide><info>
- Yuksom to Goecha La, West Bengal <trip>
- Goechala trek <guide>
- Kanji La & Shilakong Gorge, Ladakh <guide>
- Kang La & Miyar Glacier, Ladakh <guide>
- Spiti Valley High-level Route, Himachal Pradesh <trip>
- Pin Parvati Pass, Himachal Pradesh <wiki><video><guide><warning>
- Beas Kund, Manali, Himachal Pradesh <video>
- Pin Bhaba Pass, Himachal Pradesh <guide>
- Source of the Ganges, Uttarakhand <guide>
- Yamnotri to Dodital, Uttarakhand <guide>
- Pemako trek, Arunachal Pradesh <guide><guide>
- Green Lake trek, Sikkim <guide>
- Parang La trek <guide>
- Curzon Trail, Uttarakhand <trip><guide>
- Tarsar Marsar, Kashmir <wiki><guide>
- Sandakphu Phalut, West Bengal <guide>
- Kedarkantha summit, Uttarakhand <guide>
There are many more great hikes in India. In the mountains and throughout the subcontinent. It’s not easy to independently trek the major Himalaya trails, however. Infrastructure is far better in Nepal.
Ladakh is fantastic. But there are unique problems there.