A complete guide to planning your trek trip in India

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India has world-class trekking opportunities, particularly in the Himalaya, where staggering snow-clad peaks, traditional tribal villages, sacred Hindu sites, ancient Buddhist monasteries and blazing fields of wildflowers are just some of the features that create extraordinary mountain experiences. Hit the trails for easy half-day jaunts or strenuous multiweek expeditions.

THE HIMALAYA

Jammu & Kashmir

The moonscape ranges rising in Ladakh offer some incredible trails, including routes through the popular Markha Valley and wildly beautiful Zanskar region. Bargain-value, thrillingly scenic treks can take you into magical roadless villages, through craggy gorges and across stark, breathless mountain passes flapping with prayer flags.

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Trekking on the frozen Zanskar River in Ladakh region
Trekking on the frozen Zanskar River in Ladakh region
Image courtesy: ©Koonyongyut/Getty Images

Chadar Trek- In winter, snow cuts off Zanskar’s tenuous road links altogether. But in February it is possible to walk in from Chilling following an ancient seasonal trade trail that essentially follows the frozen Zanskar River – often on the ice, crossing side streams on precarious snow bridges and camping in caves en route.

Himachal Pradesh

Alpine adventures are easily accessible, including on treks from McLeod Ganj to Bharmour, between the Parvati and Pin Valleys, and on the Buddhist-infused Homestay Trail in the Spiti region.

Enjoy beautiful landscapes while trekking in Spiti valley
Enjoy beautiful landscapes while trekking in Spiti valley
Image courtesy: ©Arun Bhat/500px

Pin Parvati Trek- This strenuous but rewarding six- to nine-day wilderness trek crosses the snow-bound Pin-Parvati Pass (5319m) from the Parvati Valley to the Pin Valley in Spiti. There is accommodation at Khir Ganga, which has a hot-spring bathing area, and Mudh, but none in between, so you need to be self-sufficient or go with a trekking agency.

Indrahar La Trek- This popular four- or five-day route crosses the Indrahar La (4420m) to the Chamba Valley, and can be done in either direction. The pass is normally open from June to early November, but the best months are September and October.

Homestay Trail- In one of India’s most successful ecotourism programs, five mostly remote, high-altitude villages on the east side of the Spiti Valley (Langza, Komic, Demul, Lhalung and Dhankar) offer homestays in real village homes, giving a taste of authentic Spitian life. The villages are accessible by road but are also linked in a popular ‘Homestay Trail’ trekking route. Trained guides can accompany you between villages or on day hikes and explain about the culture and the unique natural environment.

Uttarakhand

Enjoy the pristine splendour of the Kauri Pass, Milam Glacier and Har-ki-Dun treks or join pilgrims en route to sacred religious sites such as Kedarnath Temple or Hem Kund.

Such breathtaking landscapes are a common sight while trekking in Uttarakhand
Such breathtaking landscapes are a common sight while trekking in Uttarakhand
Image courtesy: ©Bhrigu Khandelwal/Lonely Planet

Har-ki-Dun Valley Trek- The wonderfully remote Har-ki-Dun Valley (3510m), within Govind Wildlife Sanctuary & National Park, is a botanical paradise criss-crossed by glacial streams, surrounded by pristine forests and snowy peaks. You might be lucky enough to glimpse the elusive snow leopard above 3500m.

Tungnath & Chandrashila- One of the best day hikes in Uttarakhand, the trail to Tungnath Mandir (3680m) and Chandrashila Peak (4000m) features a sacred Panch Kedar temple and a stunning Himalayan panorama.

Sikkim

Gaze at Kangchenjunga, the world’s third-highest mountain, on the Goecha La trek.

Surreal beauty of Dzongri in Sikkim
Surreal beauty of Dzongri in Sikkim
Image courtesy: ©Palak Dutta/500px

Dzongri & Goecha La-The Kangchenjunga Trek- For guided groups (no lone hikers) Sikkim’s classic trek is a five- to nine-day epic from Yuksom to the 4940m Goecha La and back. The route showcases more than a dozen massive peaks; a gruelling, pre-dawn slog gets you unforgettable views of the awesome Kangchenjunga Massif (weather permitting).

SOUTH INDIA

Karnataka

Explore the serene hills and forests of Kodagu

Kodagu- Exploring the region by foot is a highlight for many visitors. Treks are part cultural experience, part nature encounter, involving hill climbs, plantation visits, forest walks and homestays. The best season for trekking is October to March; there are no treks during monsoon. The most popular peaks are the seven-day trek to Tadiyendamol (1745m), and to Pushpagiri (1712m) and Kotebetta (1620m).

Kerala

Go in search of tigers, elephants and deer at Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary

Calm landscapes are a bonus along with wildlife at Periyar in Kerala
Calm landscapes are a bonus along with wildlife at Periyar in Kerala
Image courtesy: ©Surendran Nair/500px

Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary- South India’s most popular wildlife sanctuary, Periyar, also called Thekkady, encompasses 777 sq km and a 26-sq-km artificial lake created by the British in 1895. The vast region is home to bison, sambar, wild boar, langur, 900 to 1000 elephants and 35 to 40 hard-to spot tigers. If you dig deeper and do a trek led by a tribal villager, the hills and jungle scenery make for a rewarding visit. Bring warm and waterproof clothing.

Tamil Nadu

Head to Kodaikanal, which has some lovely forest hikes along misty trails, prettier and more laid-back hiking hill-station base than Ooty.

A misty valley in the tree-filled Nilgiris mountain range of Tamil Nadu.
A misty valley in the tree-filled Nilgiris mountain range of Tamil Nadu.
Image courtesy: ©Naufal MQ/Getty Images

Dolphin’s Nose Walk- This is a lovely walk of 4.5km (each way) from central Kodai, passing through budget-traveller hang-out Vattakanal to reach the Dolphin’s Nose, a narrow rock lookout overhanging a precipitous drop. You might spot gaur (bison) or giant squirrels in the forested bits.

Getting High Safely

Throughout the Himalaya, plan in some extra days to acclimatise while en route to high-altitude destinations. These mountains deserve your respect – don’t try to trek beyond your physical or technical abilities.

Packing

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-Bring gear and clothing that are appropriate for the conditions you expect to encounter.
-On well-established trails, heavy hiking boots are overkill, but on remote mountain tracks they can be lifesavers.
-First-aid and water-purification supplies are often essential.
-Rain gear is a must, and warm layers are crucial for comfort at altitude.
-Remember sunscreen!

Trekking Ethics

-Follow low-impact trekking practices (you know the mantra – take only photographs, leave only footprints).
-Cook over stoves, since local people rely on limited fuel-wood sources.
-Respect local cultural sensibilities by dressing modestly; ask permission before snapping photos; remember that while locals’ hospitality may be endless, their food supply might not be; and refrain from giving gifts to children.