The variety of cultures and landscapes is staggering in the Indian Himalaya as well as a surprising array of easy to very challenging treks that could keep you busy for years! There are three main regions to explore; in the far northeast is Arunachal Pradesh, which is the remotest corner of the entire Great Himalaya Range. Between Bhutan and Nepal is the former kingdom of Sikkim where a profusion of wildflowers, butterflies and stunning scenery could inspire you for a lifetime (as it did me). The northwest states of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir (incorporating Ladakh) form the largest and most accessible area of the Himalaya and accordingly, are very popular with domestic and international tourists.
Trekking in the Indian Himalaya is much like traveling in the rest of India; full of contrasts, contradictions, blissful highlights and unnecessary frustrations. With suitable planning and realistic expectations trekking options here are some of the best across the entire Great Himalaya Range. But a word of warning, the adventure industry is by far the least professional of the Himalayan countries and there is a pervasive culture of ‘over-promise, under-deliver.
Much of the Indian Himalaya rarely sees trekkers, so please be sensitive to local issues, keep trails clean and do not encourage begging by indiscriminately giving out sweets, pens or money – for more information see the GHT Codes of Conduct.
The Katling Glacier is amazing!
Trekking in India
Trekking in the Indian Himalaya traces its routes back to the mid-nineteenth century when the British Raj encouraged its young officers to explore the unknown ranges along their northern border. Kanchenjunga was for over 100 years the highest of the accessible peak in the Himalaya (Nepal didn’t allow tourists beyond Kathmandu until the mid-1950s) and received the bulk of attention from climbers and curious walkers. However, it was the challenge of finding a way into the Nanda Devi Sanctuary that really captured the imagination of modern explorers. When Shipton and Tilman finally conquered the Sanctuary it triggered an unprecedented interest in Himalayan exploration.
From the early days of high endeavour there has been a stagnation in the Indian adventure industry; trekking here is not like Nepal or Bhutan, where established training programs and a professional approach to the mountains is commonplace. Since India gained independence little has changed in the local trekking scene; the notorious bureaucracy is ever-present, equipment, field-craft and training are antiquated and the mentality of the outdoor industry is positively Victorian! Amateurism is highlighted by an annual toll of accidents, which are often fatal. If you are planning to trek in India it is essential you either book with a fully qualified operator (the vast majority are not) or you have extensive field-experience and a thorough understanding of the Indian ‘system’ to avoid disappointment.
Having said all that, the intrepid trekker has a wealth of wilderness and unique cultures to explore in the Indian Himalaya that make much of the aggravation involved well worth the effort. As most of the domestic trekking market rarely goes above 4000m there are some virtually untouched high passes and fantastic alpine valleys to explore. Almost any community that doesn’t have a road (there are fewer every year) is bound to give you a very warm welcome, and there are an almost limitless number of festivals and cultural events throughout the year that add colour and depth to your trip.
One of the most inconvenient (from a trekker’s perspective) features of the Indian Himalaya is the Inner Line Permit (ILP) system. Since China invaded India in 1962 the local and central authorities have suffered from a level of paranoia that would see most individuals locked up. To increase ‘national security’ there is a 17km (10 mile) buffer zone along all international land borders – called the Inner Line Area. To access this area, which includes many great passes and mountains, you will need an Inner Line Permit. As the key decision-maker for ILPs is the local magistrate (who normally has no idea whatsoever about trekking or mountaineering), it is unlikely getting these permits will ever be simple. For more information about permits, see Planning & Logistics.
The bottom line is that if you are determined and prepared, trekking in India is great! A lack of adequate preparations or over-ambitious plans will almost certainly end in disappointment.
Simple GHT Itinerary for NW India
Days 1 – 22 Darchula to Josimath
Begin in the Darma valley and if conditions permit cross Ralam Dhura and descend to Munsyari. If trekking outside of October then take the lower but equally strenuous route from Sumdum over the Balsi Khal to Munsyari. It is unlikely that the Unta Dhura pass will be opened for many years yet and direct routes through the Nanda Devi Biosphere are prohibited, so it’s a long pahar (mid-hills) trek via Namik, Pindar Valley, Wan and the Kuari Pass to Josimath.
Day 23 – 57 Josimath – Manali
The ideal route is to secure a permit to Kalindi Khal to Gangotri but this is very difficult. Another option is to drive from Josimath to Kedarnath and then cross Myali Pass and Auden’s Col to Gangotri. Then from near Harsil ascend the Sian Ghad valley, cross Dhumdhar Kanti Pass to Har Ki Dun and then the Borasu Pass to Chitkul. A short drive brings you to Kafnuu and the Bhaba Pass from which you can easily access Pin-Parvati Pass and descend to Manali.
Days 58 – 82 Manali – Srinagar
From Darch cross the Tarasalamu Pass to Khanjaar and then head up and over the Poat La. A quick switchback takes you over the Poat La and the Pangi valley. Another pair of passes are possible from here, Hagshu La or Umasi La and both lead to the Padam – Kargil road. Depending on the security situation in the area you may want to head south from Panniker to Srinagar (via Phalgam) or north to Shergol. If you have time then drive up to Lamayaru and trek via the Markha valley to Leh (an extra 10 days).
Good Morning on the Kuari Pass
- To help make you research treks I have put extensive trail information on these pages but please remember that conditions and trails often change.
- If you would like to add content and/or recommendations please email me thru the site and please add any independent references.
- Place names in India can be confusing as some are used as regional or district identifiers and other places may have two or three different names. I have used local names as much as possible but please don’t be surprised if you hear alternatives.
- Always consider the safety of your crew equally to that of yourself, protect and look after them and they’ll do the same for you.
- Weather constantly changes conditions in the field. If the trail is badly affected by landslides, deep snow, washouts, etc you may have to turn back.
- It is illegal to possess a satellite phone in India. This makes communication extremely difficult and you may want to reduce the level of difficulty of a trek to reduce your overall risk exposure.
- Herder’s Huts or Dharamsalas are made of stone and have a roof. Herder’s Shelters do not have a roof and normally only one wall, which acts as a windbreak.
Good to Know
For most areas there are no permits required, however, anywhere near the Chinese or Pakistan borders require Inner Line Permits
Hindi, some people speak a little English or Tibetan (Ladakh and Zanskar)
India Rupee (1US$ = IRs70)
Nanda Devi (7,816m), Karnet (7,756m), Saltoro Kangri (7,742m), Saser Kangri I (7,672m)
GHT India Trekking Destinations
There are some excellent main trail treks as well as some amazing exploratory routes to discover!