8 hiking trails in India to challenge the Swiss Alps
Pull off a Leonardo DiCaprio from The Revenant or just wake up to a breathtaking view of the Himalayas
No makeup Mondays, train-free Tuesdays, work-less Wednesdays, thirsty Thursdays and freedom Fridays—they’re all here at once. A vacation where you’re not surrounded by other holidaymakers and there are no weddings to attend. The eternal joy of solitude is knocking on my door. And I know where I will disappear into. Into thin air. To be more precise, thin air at high altitudes. Dear mountains, put on your best angle. You’re about to be famous on my amateur Instagram feed, otherwise populated by flat lays of my lunch spread. But first, let’s dive into the pool of hiking trails in India that my friends haven’t discovered or overshared on social media yet.
Thanks to a certain Ayan Mukerji the Bollywood-obsessed Swiss Alps and trails of Normandy from Need For Speed have finally given way to more pocket-friendly and equally silver screen-worthy hiking trails in India. His 2013 film, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani gave our generation affordable travel goals. Of course, the movie also tricked us into believing that Kongdori in Gulmarg and Pahalgam were actually mountains in Manali. And that you would also meet and fall in love with a Ranbir Kapoor lookalike, with the hills as a witness. But nonetheless, hiking in India is now a rite-of-passage we can all manage at the expense of two months’ rent. Sometimes, even less.
Check out the list of peaks you can conquer without giving your health insurance agent a major shock.
The best trails for amateurs
Kareri Lake trek
Mcleodganj revellers need to give Triund a break. If you’re looking for hiking trails in India that are yet to break the Internet, add Kareri lake to your list. Also, this climb gives you the chance to casually drop a Himalayan Range in your travel stories as you hide your amateur trekking skills.
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The day-long climb takes you through Kareri village, and ultimately stuns you with views of the mighty Dhauladhar range. Staying overnight near the water can freeze you to a point of no return. It is recommended that you return to the village on the same day. It’s a reasonably easy trek and if think you can survive some dense patches of pine forests, guides aren’t mandatory.
Where: Himachal Pradesh
Duration: Three-four days
Stress test: If your gym membership has been a wasted investment, you can start your basic workout here.
When you don’t have the luxury of a two-week vacation and lack the expertise of a professional trekker, the day-long Tadiandamol trek is your safety net. To reach the highest peak in Coorg, you have to snake through the usual trekking suspects: grasslands, streams and slippery slopes.
Duration: One day
Stress test: If you can clock in 10,000 steps every day, this will be a breathtaking breeze.
Nobody escapes that one family summer vacation in tourist hubs such as Shimla, Manali or Mussoorie. Since it’s impossible to ditch these spots, you might as well make a hike out of it. With its starting point about 50kms from the ‘queen of the hills’, the Nag Tibba trek takes you along dense forests and promises you views of Doon Valley that will boost your reputation as a photographer.
Duration: Two days
Stress test: You’ve completed the inter-city marathons, and subsequently, want to challenge yourself. Head to Nag Tibba with ample amounts of camphor balls in your handkerchief.
This Bengaluru boulder maze is a first-timer’s prologue to hiking trails in India. The hour-long drive from the city takes you to Nandi Hills featuring the area’s high-five: Nandigiri, Brahmagiri, Skandagiri, Chandragiri and Govardanagiri. If you have an entire weekend to spend there, you can also indulge in some adventure sports, including rappelling and rock navigation.
Duration: One day
Stress test: If you’d pass the first task at Roadies, but fail miserably at the next, this amateur trek is for you
The best hiking trails for white walkers and ice warriors
There’s Takeshi’s Castle and Khatron Ke Khiladi, and finally, there’s Chadar Trek in Ladakh. During bone-chilling months of January and February, when the temperature drops to -30 degrees celsius in Ladakh, river Zanskar freezes resembling a blanket (or chadar) of ice. Walking on thin ice then becomes more than just an idiom; it’s your reality for nine days. You literally trudge up the river and carve your way through a steep, snowy terrain. Seasoned trekkers call it the “wildest trek on the planet”. If your idea of fun is to dodge icicles and snow boulders while balancing yourself on multiple sheets of ice, Chadar promises you almost ten days of deafening silence in the Himalayas with bone-chilling nights in tents on the banks of the frozen Zanskar. Also, kindly pack all the possible supply of instant noodles that you can.
Where: Jammu & Kashmir
Duration: Around two weeks
Stress test: Chadar trek doesn’t entertain the faint-hearted mountain enthusiast; as a rule, proceed with caution.
This dangerous mountain pass connects Gangotri and Kedarnath — that’s the better half of the Char Dham package. However, being a tirth yatra enthusiast isn’t enough to conquer one of the toughest hiking trails in India, more specifically, the Garhwal Himalayas. The trek is heavily decorated with glaciers and precarious screes. And with misaligned stars, a snowstorm may be on the cards, too. Hence, pack your previous experience and boost it with an ice axe and pulley as you prepare to spend two weeks with the mountains’ finest views and challenges.
Duration: 1 week
Stress test: As you cross Mayali Pass, the penultimate lap before Kedarnath, pat yourself on the back — you’ve made Tenzing Norgay and Bachendri Pal proud.
The four-day trek in the Himalayan range is shared between India and Nepal. Apart from staying in quaint tea houses and feasting on Nepalese Pilaf and Thukpa, the Sandakphu-Phaluk trek promises a view no other trek in the world does—the four tallest mountain peaks in the world in one frame. On the fourth day, when you reach the highest point in West Bengal, we dare you to resist taking a panorama of Mt Everest (8,848 m), Kanchenjunga (8,586 meters), Lhotse (8,516meters) and Makalu (8,481meters) all at once. The terrain is rocky and muddy in equal parts, and usually, the steep ascends can leave you breathless, quite literally.
Where: West Bengal
Duration: 8-10 days.
Stress test: High-altitude fitness and training required for this trek rival Fear Factor eligibility criteria; don’t proceed without trip operators, please.
Banasura Hill hike:
Legends claim that Banasura was an invincible demon. However, for some Himalayan trekkers, the eponymous Kerala hike can be an impossible trek, too. Situated at 6,801 ft above sea level, Banasura is the second highest peak of Wayanad with its own special problem kit—steep slopes, strong winds, monster bees, leeches and slippery forest terrain. This banana peel of a hiking trail is particularly recommended for experienced hikers with Spider-Man’s moves. But the summit gives you a mist-kissed view of the Banasura Sagar Dam, the largest earth dam in the country. It might just make you forget all the wild bites you’ve endured on your way up.
Duration: 2 days.
Stress test: Pack all the Odomos you can; this trek will leave you swollen from mosquito bites.