Snow clad valleys, awe-inspiring mountains, serene blue lakes, gushing rivers…these treks offer all this and more! By Satyaki Sarkar
India is a country of countless scenic landscapes and beautiful valleys that keep drawing travellers back for more. In the north, the imposing Himalayan range provides countless picturesque locales for travellers and nature lovers. Trekkers especially love this part of the country with its numerous awe-inspiring valleys and gorges. Here are six treks that showcase the best that nature has to offer.
1. Chadar Trek, Leh Ladakh
Also known as the frozen river trek, the Chadar trek is a favourite of Indians and foreign tourists alike. During winter, the temperatures can fall to around–25° C, causing the River Zanskar, as well as any nearby waterfalls, to freeze over, while the flowing spring water prevents the river from completely being engulfed by ice. The goose-bump inducing thrill of walking over a giant sheet of ice, from which the trek gets its name of Chadar (ice sheet), paired with the ancient Buddhist monasteries and secluded villages lining the path, makes this a must for any serious trekking enthusiast. Expect a picturesque view of the ancient culture of Ladakh, along with bone-chilling winds, pristine nature, a frozen river, frozen waterfalls, caves, and even stretches of river that haven’t been frozen or aren’t stable enough.
Maximum altitude: 3890 m
Duration: 9 to 12 days
Best time to visit: January to March
Photograph: Sumita Roy Dutta/Creative Commons
2. Gangotri Gomukh trek, Garhwal Himalayas (Uttarakhand)
One of the most beautiful trekking routes in the country, the Gangotri Gomukh trek is rife with a variety of flora and fauna dotting the way, chief among them being the rare blue mountain goats known as Bharals, which reside here. The trek takes you straight up to the mouth of the River Ganges, the Gangotri glacier at Gomukh, from whose melting water the mighty river is formed. Adding to the otherworldly feel of the place is the fact that the area is surrounded on all sides by a number of breathtakingly beautiful mountain ranges. The lush green camping site located at Tapovan is where most trekkers set up base, because one can experience the enthralling sight of all eight mountain peaks from there—Bhagirathi I, II, III, Mt Shivling, Chaturangi, Meru Parvat, Bhirgupanth, and Sudharsan.
Maximum altitude: 4465 m
Duration: 12 days
Best time to visit: May to October
Photograph: Gauravkaintura1234/Creative Commons
3. Markha Valley trek, Ladakh
Covering two Himalayan passes, each of which has an altitude of over 15,000 ft (4575 m), the Markha Valley trek winds through enchanting valleys of imposing mountains, flowing streams, old Buddhist monasteries, majestic stone gorges, and pale alpine meadows. A treasure house of ancient Tibetan culture, the entire route is lined with countless Chortens and colourful Tibetan prayer flags, welcoming you to take it all in. The highest point on the trek is Kongmaru La pass, from where you can experience the magnificent view of the Karakorum and K2 ranges. The Zanskar, Kang Yatze, Stok Kangri, and Ladakh ranges are also visible along the route, with the path taking you through the beautiful Hemis National Park and two other passes, Ganda La and Kongmaru La. Tourists can stay in parachute tents in most of the villages along the route, with the locals being very welcoming. The view of the entire valley bathed in moonlight at night is something that keeps bringing back trekkers from all over the country.
Maximum altitude: 5150 m
Duration: 9 to 12 days
Best time to visit: Mid June to October
Photograph: McKay Savage/Creative Commons
4. Valley of Flowers trek, Garhwal Himalayas
The Valley of Flowers, aptly named so, is one of the most picturesque areas in India, with an incredibly vast variety of flowers in different colours blooming all over the valley. Surrounded by mountain ranges on all sides, the delightful fragrance of the area makes it feel like an embodiment of heaven on earth. In addition to that, because of the variety of flowers blossoming in the area during the monsoon, the entire valley changes colours every fortnight. The trek through the Valley of Flowers is usually combined with a trek to the famed pilgrimage site of Hemkund Sahib, located around four hours away from it. Besides Indian trekkers, tourist from all over the world flock to this magnificent locale every year to take in the beauty of the flower-covered valley and the wondrous mountain ranges surrounding it.
Maximum altitude: 3900 m
Duration: 4 to 6 days
Best time to visit: July to Mid September
Photograph: Alosh Bennett/Flickr
5. Roopkund trek, Uttarakhand
Mired in mystery and intrigue, Roopkund Lake has drawn tourists from all over because of the piles of human skeletons and remains found at its bottom. Nobody quite knows their origin, although speculations are rife about them being of local inhabitants who were buried under a massive avalanche. The route, however, takes you through lush forests with rivers gushing below, and you can spot several species of birds flocking to the area. Take in the countless Hindu temples situated along the way, and stay spellbound in awe at the amazing views of the mighty Nanda Devi, Nanda Ghunti.
Maximum altitude: 5030 m
Duration: 7 to 9 days
Best time to visit: May to October
Photograph: Abhijeet Rane/Flickr
6. Hampta Pass trek, Himachal Pradesh
Beginning in Manali, the Hampta Pass trek winds through a contrastingly beautiful landscape of pine and maple forests, deodar forests, lush, green grasslands, and snow clad valleys, ending in the barren landscapes of Lahaul and Spiti. The route passes through the Jwara grasslands, and while it might not provide as much of a rush as the others on this list, it more than makes up for it in its natural splendour. There is one particular part of the trek, however, where you have to cross a narrow path to get to the other side, overlooking the plunging valley below, which succeeds in giving you that jolt of adventure that you might be looking for, while the cornice formations, glacial valleys, and snow covered landscape draw you back for more. The trek is usually combined with a night spent camping at Chandrataal, with the beautifully serene Chandrataal lake nearby.
Max altitude: 4400 m
Duration: 4 to 5 days
Best time to visit: June to Mid November