Which are the best winter treks in India?

Winter treks on the Himalayas means snow treks to most of us. Yet snow is not the only reason that you should consider a winter trek. Usually weather on the Himalayas remain clear and cloud free in winters, unless it is snowing.

Before getting into which are the best winter trek in India, let us know few facts at first. Hopefully this will help you to get a basic understanding of snow conditions in winter treks. Also this be useful just not to follow any X, Y, Z list of best winter treks, blindly!

December to February is the time you look for a winter snow trek. Amount of snow depends primarily on the particular time that you choose. Also it varies to an extent from one trail to other, at any given time.

As the winter progresses, snowing intensifies. Later in winter, more is the snow. At times, probably too much to trek!

So,  snow depends from one trail to other? Yes, it is due to the varying latitude within Himalayas. Higher latitude would normally attract more snow. As a result, you can expect increasing amount of snow moving from Sikkim/Darjeeling to Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir. This is the reason that you normally don’t find  winter treks in Himachal (very limited short day hikes within ~ 3000 m/10000 ft) or treks in Kashmir.

Comparison of top 5 winter treks in India:

What are the most visually appealing winter trails in India? In my opinion, this is a perspective driven answer and you may not agree with me. Despite some similarities in the winter treks, each trail is indeed an unique experience. In fact all the trails mentioned below are the top qualifier for the best winter treks in India.

Let us compare the following winter treks with respect to certain attributes and elements that you can decide on your suitable winter trek. Remember that this list is not based on any order of preference. To keep it simple and short we will compare these beautiful and popular trails during winters:

Brahmatal trek:

Departure dates: Every weekend from mid December to mid March. 6 days and 5 nights, Kathgodam to Haridwar.

brahmatal-best-winter-treks-in-india-1
Brahmatal winter trek

Rarely you will find a gifted trail with so many surprises, yet accessible in winter. Dense forests in the beginning, suddenly stepping into alpine meadows, stretched with the vista of Garhwal and Kumaon peaks. Two hidden lakes and towering duo – Trishul and Nandaghunti peak as you gain altitude. Although Khamila top above Brahmatal lake is challenging to climb in deep snow but unfurls another stretch of peaks. You can see Chaukhamba, Neelkanth, Hathi, Ghoda and several central Garhwal peaks around Badrinath area from the top.

snow-starts-deposited-during-late-december-on-brahmatal-trek
Khopdalia/Bekhaltal campsite, late in December (PC – Emmanuelle)

Being in eastern Garhwal and centrally located within Uttarakhand, this trail usually gets late snowfall than its western counterparts. Therefore you can expect snowing and deposited snow from late December. Also the amount of snow is general less than western Garhwal and making it a rather conducive trekking trail in January and February. However there are instances of heavy snowfall by mid December, though not normal.

Sandakphu trek:

Departure dates: Ever weekend in December and some more in January and February. 6 days and 5 nights, NJP to NJP or Bagdogra.

fresh-snow-at-sandakphu
Sandakphu: Looking different after a snowfall (PC – Kangkan Thakuria)

Sandakphu is probably the finest ridge trek in India, bordering Darjeeling in West Bengal, India and Nepal. Eastern Himalayas are known for its prolonged monsoon, and winter is a reliable season for great views of the high mountains. This trek is also unique for to its well recognised Tea House mode, thanks to neighbouring Nepal. Singalila ridge is famous for its absorbing views of surrounding high mountains of Sikkim and Nepal. Kanchenjunga massif, along with other peaks forming Sleeping Buddha is the central highlights of this trail.

fantastic-peaks-views-in-winter-on-sandakphu-trail
Grand views of Kanchenjunga and Sleeping Buddha from Sandakphu in winters (PC – Titas Chanda)

This entry in our list is not primarily due to snow. Rather because of fantastic views of Kanchenjunga and occasional fresh snow. As mentioned before, due to its eastern Himalayan location and hence the lower latitude results into less snow than Uttarakhand treks. The chance of snow is more in January or February.

Kedarkantha trek:

Departure dates: Every weekend from beginning of December to end of January. 6 days and 5 nights, Dehradun to Dehradun.

kedarkantha-most-popular-winter-trek-in-india
Kedarkantha: Most popular winter trek in India (PC – Abhijit Mitra)

This relatively soft trail is a short hike to the peak called Kedarkantha only 10 odd Km from Sankri. A perfect winter trek for people who want more from an adventure vacation trip. The trail offers good amount of snow hiking, filled with fun. Sometime trudging and at time glissading on snow.The peak offers a magnificent sunrise with panorama of peaks, some standing pretty close like Swargarohini and Black peak.

kedarkantha-trail-walk-snow-fun-in-winter
Kedarkantha: Snow filled fun from December to March

In the first place, this trail is in far western Garhwal, bordering Himachal Pradesh. Additionally, Kedarkantha peak is the highest point in the vicinity. Therefore it is safe to assume that this trail will receive earlier snowfall than other trails within Uttarakhand. Generally snowfall starts from the beginning of December and continues till February or even in March. Usually snow conditions are harsh during late winter, i.e. late January to February.

Dayara Bugyal trek:

dayara-bugyal-best-winter-treks-in-india
Dayara Bugyal winter trek

Dayara Bugyal, an alpine meadow surrounded by dense alpine forest and above Bhagirathi River valley. This trail going up to 12000 ft is near Uttarkashi , western Garhwal region,Uttarakhand. The highest point of the Bugyal offers a magnificent 360 degree panoramic view of mighty snow clad Himalayan peaks like Bandarpoonch, Jaonli, Rudragaira, Srikanth, Gangotri– I, II etc. which is adored by amateur and veteran trekkers alike.

dayara-bugyal-snowing-starts-from-mid-december
Dayara Bugyal from December to February

This trail normally gets some snow from mid of December. Entire January and February you should get moderate to heavy snow. Snow may remain as late as April, depending on a particular year.

Winter Kuari Pass trek:

Often Kuari Pass is referred to as the most panoramic pass in Garhwal. Peak views are overwhelming throughout the trail and ~ 180° from the pass. The trail is above Joshimath and is in central Garhwal.

winter-kuari-pass-among-best-winter-treks-in-india
Kuari pass: A prominent winter trail

 

winter-kuari-pass-promises-snow-from-early-decemberWinter Kuari Pass promises early snow from December

Side by side comparison of popular winter treks in India:

Below we will carefully look in to various attributes of these treks and compare side by side.

Comparison of winter treks in India
Attribute Brahmatal Sandakphu Kedarkantha Dayara Bugyal Winter Kuari Pass
State Uttarakhand West Bengal Uttarakhand Uttarakhand Uttarakhand
Region Eastern Garhwal Darjeeling Western Garhwal Western Garhwal Central Garhwal
Duration 6 days 6 days 6 days 5 days 5 days
Grade Easy Easy Easy Easy Easy
Physicality 5.5/10 5.5/10 5.5/10 5/10 5.5/10
Highest Altitude 4000 m/13120 ft 3636 m/11925 ft 3820 m/12500 ft 3660 m/12005 ft 3850 m/12630 ft
Trail Length 30 Km 45 Km 25 Km 25 Km 25 Km
Trek Mode Camping Tea House Camping Camping Camping
Major attractions 2 alpine lakes, walking on a stretch of alpine meadows, close view of high mountains and a summit. Stunning panoramic view of high mountains, Sleeping Buddha, Buddhism and culture. An alpine lake, a summit with abundant panoramic views, charming campsites and forest walk. Alpine meadow, river valley and panoramic view of high mountains, pristine forest and campsites. Spectacular panoramic views of central Garhwal peaks, stunning alpine meadow walk o Gurson Bugyal, views from Auli.
Prominent peaks Trishul, Nanda Ghunti, Mrigthuni, Chaukhamba, Hati Ghoda, Neelkanth Kanchenjunga, Kumbhakarna, Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, Pandim Swargarohini, Black Peak, Bandarpunch Srikanth, Jaonli,Bandarpunch, Black Peak. Hati Ghoda, Neelkanth, Nanda Devi, Chaukhamba, Dunagiri, Kamet, Mukut
Normally Snowfall begins Late December January, rare Early December Mid December Early December
Normally Snow remains Late December to mid March. Late in winters, January and February. Early December to mid April. late December to mid March. December to Early April.
Disadvantage You may not get adequate snow in December. Snowfall is less during winters. Late January and February may have too much of snow. You may not get adequate snow in December. January and February may have too much of snow.
Best time for conducive snow trek January and February. January Early December to Late January and March April. January and February. December and February to late March.

 

I am hopeful that  you have clearer idea about all popular winter trails in India by now. Now it is up to you to choose one which trek is probably the best for as your next trek. We will definitely help you out with finer details, in case you are still not sure. 😎 .

Additional Notes: 

  • I din’t consider Chadar trek as essentially its a winter only trek (best from mid January to mid February). Moreover we are keen to protect the over commercialised trail and hence don’t operate on this trail, starting from 2016.
  • From 2016-17 winters, no permit is issued for Har Ki Dun trek during mid December to February. Hence this is out of scope at present for winter treks.
  • Snow conditions are changing more frequently in recent years. In 2016, first snowfall occurred only in late December, be it Uttarakhand or even Himachal.
  • There are additional trails, which are stunning, yet offbeat  and possible to hike during winters. Notable ones are Dodital trek, Phoktey Dara trekSandakphu and Phalut trek, Chandrashila trek, Barsey trek. We will  discuss and compare these trails separately.

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So, me and my friends are planning a trek this summer. Which is the best trek?

Often I answer your above question over phone and probably try to narrow based upon your inputs. Here is a difficult task for me to choose 5 great summer treks in India for beginners. Hope after reading this it will be easier for you to choose the right trek in summer.

For a fact check,  I have trekked in excess of 40 different routes in last 2 decades. Many of these routes more than once, in different seasons. The routes covered different regions in Indian Himalayas from Easy to Difficult grade treks. Believe me, I have not been to a trek till date, which I thought as NOT GOOD. 😆

This makes it more difficult for me to decide a best trek. Though I am confident enough to give you a set of 5 great treks in India which you can surely think this summer as a beginner.

So what did you consider while selecting the 5 great summer treks for beginners?

It is better to spend some time, think of your priority and then choose your trek. Below are my checkpoints or key  factors to concise and shortlist the treks:

Season/Month: Yes, these treks are perfectly fine from mid April to Mid June in summer.

Region: I understand some of you prefer Uttarakhand, some Eastern Himalayas and some probably Himachal Pradesh. I choose 3 treks for Uttarakhand. Don’t hesitate, it is defacto the heartland of Indian Himalayas.

Duration & Trail length: Here I dropped the short weekend treks. Its summer vacation time and I took the liberty to choose treks spanning 4/5 days and covering 35 Km to 50 Km of length.

Trek Grades: I included Easy and Moderate treks. Many of you are fit enough for Moderate treks and none of these are higher than 14000 ft. These are safe for the beginners.

Terrain variety: There is enough terrain variety. Remember that one trek route can’t give you all. These trails will go through pristine forests, river valleys, rolling meadows, few trails crossing over a pass to open a different vista, from green and wet to arid and dry landscapes. On a clear day all the trails are fairly good for snow capped high Himalayan peak views.

Accommodation: Most of you are really looking for a camping experience, right? Yes, most of these are. What if you are not sure about staying in a tent? Don’t worry, I have one Tea House trek for you here in the list.

Popularity vs offbeat: Popular treks have definitive reasons for being so. At the same time many of you will think that even in a trek I will walk and camp with 100 other trekkers? I included both to choose from.

Not just nature: First time you are plunging in Himalayas. Wouldn’t it be a nice experience to get some essence of culturally rich yet people with simple lifestyle? Yes, you will come across interior villages in most of these trails.

I acknowledge that the above factors are not all and exhaustive. Beside this, the following routes are delightful for experience trekkers too. One last thing, the list is not in any order of preference! Here you go:

5 great summer treks in India for beginners

1. Sandakphu trek: Hide n seek of Rhododendrons and Sleeping Buddha

sandakphu-trek-among-5-great-summer-treks-in-India-for-beginners
Sandakphu trek: – PC. Debjani

Highlights: || Darjeeling/Nepal || 6D/5N || 45 Km trek in 4 and a quarter day || Easy || Tea House trek || Popular || Villages || Ridge trek, Rhododendron bloom and spectacular panorama of peaks ||

Tips: Complete this trek by mid May. From late May chance of rain becomes fairly high.

2. Har Ki Dun trek: How green is the valley of Gods?

har-ki-dun-trek-among-top-5-summer-trek
Har Ki Dun trek – PC. Grant

Highlights: || Uttarakhand || 7D/6N || 50 Km trek in 5 days || Easy || Camping trek || Popular || Villages || River valleys and peaks ||

Tips: Do this trek anytime between mid April to mid June. You may get residual snow as late as end of May.

3. Kuari Pass trek on Curzon’s trail: The old school charm of crossing a pass

kuari-pass-trek-among-5-great-summer-treks-in-India-for-beginners
Kuari pass on Curzon’s trail trek: PC. Arunava

Highlights: || Uttarakhand || 7D/6N || 50 Km trek in 5 days || Easy || Camping trek || Offbeat || Villages || River valleys, crossing a pass and panorama of peaks ||

Tips: This is ideal from mid May to Mid June.

4. Hampta Pass trek: A trans Himalayan branch in Himachal

hampta-pass-trek-in-summer
Hampta pass trek

Highlights: || Himachal Pradesh || 6D/5N || 35 Km trek in 4 days || Moderate || Camping trek || Popular || River valley, crossing a pass, peaks of Pir Panjal range ||

Tips: Choose this trek between mid June to mid July.

5. Ali & Bedni Bugyal trek:  Unbeaten trail away from crowd

ali-bugyal-bedni-bugyal-trek-among-5-great-summer-treks-in-India-for-beginners
Ali & Bedni Bugyal trek

Highlights: || Uttarakhand || 6D/5N || 35 Km trek in 4 days || Moderate || Camping trek || Offbeat || Villages || sprawling alpine meadows, closeup view of high peaks ||

Tips: Choose this trek between mid May to mid June when meadows become green.

Note: This is purely author’s opinion. As a company HT does arrange the above treks apart from summer as well.

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Packing your rucksack/backpack carefully for a trekking trip is simple but give due priority. On the Himalayas it is mandatory that a backpacker/trekker must have essential and mandatory items, yet light enough to move comfortably.

The treks on the different parts on the Himalayas stretch from short and medium to extended long duration. Shorter duration trek backpacking is easier but medium to long duration are need to be packed carefully. Higher the duration of the trek, higher the importance.

For serious trekkers, there is no way other than to pack his/her Rucksack with attention to ensure own safety. The catch is to pack light with all the necessary and safety items with you.

Every gram on the mountain matters. Quality light weight products are often expensive.  These are designed to meet standards on harsh climate. I would personally assert to acquire/buy such clothing/equipment one by one, if not all together.

Following items are absolutely mandatory for any trekking trip.

1)      A Rucksack

2)      A trekking shoe

3)      Warm Jacket

4)      A Windproof

5)      Sleeping Bag

On how to select the items read:

https://himalayatrekker.com/trek-essentials/selection-of-equipment

Here I would focus on how to pack everything in one single Rucksack/Backpack with high safety. There are treks where one gets an option to offload some weight, leaving a luggage at the base camp. While returning you can pick the left luggage. In certain popular and safer routes trekker has the opportunity to offload the Rucksack on a mule or even to a porter. But crossing a pass or most of the longer duration trek will require packing everything in one Rucksack and carry it all through. A medium duration trek can involve 4-7 trekking days and longer duration ranges between 8 to 12 trekking days.

A mid to long duration trekking Rucksack should weigh between 8 to 12 Kg. Trekkers should grow the habit to carry it comfortably. This is to ensure higher safety of the trekkers as well as leaving lesser footprint and thus sustainable.

I have seen various articles on internet about what are the things to carry in a trek. The extended generic list of article amazes me every time. The paraphernalia goes on and on. To follow, one has to carry a rucksack sometimes touching almost 20 Kg!

Essentially a trekking Rucksack/Backpack on the Himalayas will contain:

  1. Clothing
  2. Windproof/Waterproof/Rain gear
  3. Sleeping Bag
  4. Accessories
  5. First-Aid/Medical Kit
  6. Dry food items to sustain a day in emergency condition

For his/her own safety a trekker should always carry the following items in rucksack on a Difficult/Hard grade trek.

  1. Warm jacket
  2. Windproof plus waterproof gear
  3. Sleeping bag along with carry mattress
  4. Emergency dry food items

Rucksack: The first step is to select a proper Rucksack as per your requirements. Often we buy unutilised bigger or too small a backpack.  Keeping in mind the medium to long duration treks, it is sufficient to use a Rucksack/Backpack between 45 to 50 Litre.  A 50 L one has enough space inside to pack everything including your sleeping bag for a trek up to 2 weeks. One such bag should weigh within 1.5 Kg.

Clothing: Always use synthetic quick dry t-shirts. Cotton tees are heavy and take time to get dried. 4/5 t-shirts are good enough for a home to home round trip. For lower use again the synthetic light weight/quick dry trousers.  2/3 such trousers are good. Don’t use comfortable jeans unless there is an option to leave luggage at base camp. A Cargo/Six-pocket can be used instead. Together upper and lower wear should not weigh more than 2 Kg.

Innerwear, socks, cap, balaclava, gloves are lighter items and should be within 500g.

For a high altitude trek an upper thermal base layer (Woolycot) is essential.  The lower one is optional. Normally protection is vital for upper portion of the body. Adds another 500g to your back.

Warm jackets are of different types and varying weight.  Normally a Fleece/Synthetic Fill/Down jacket is light and provides adequate warmth.  The weight should be within a Kilogram for such a jacket.

A windproof upper with hood is also a must item. Normally these will have water repellent property. A typical Raincoat/Poncho is not recommended as these are heavy and not breathable, unless you are trekking in monsoon.

Sleeping Bag: For a Himalayan trek Sleeping bags are rated for a temperature ranging between -10° C to 0° C.  For colder temperatures you can use one additional base layer while sleeping. Synthetic bags weigh up to 2 Kg whereas a Down feather filled sleeping bag is much lighter.

Accessories: You have to be careful to select what to take and what to discard. My approach is being minimalist to choose from a wide range of items. A tooth paste (Small tube of Rs 10), toothbrush, tissue roll, a Boroline/chap stick, a scissor, (or a light weight multi tool), a torch, soap strip and a small container of cold cream are good for the purpose. Maybe a small deo-spray  on top of these. Don’t carry a shaving or a beautifying kit 🙂 . Together these should not weigh more than 500 g.

First-Aid cum Medical Kit: A crepe bandage, cotton, Dettol/Savlon, antiseptic creme, a medicine course for each including headache, vomiting, anti-inflammatory, pain killer, and stomach upset. Volini spray. Together all these weigh again maximum of 500 g.

Keep some dry instant edible food items for emergency. A pack of candy, few chocolate bars/energy bars, dry fruit mix and a small pack of Glucon C/D/Gatorade.  Another 500 g.

Wait, we are not done yet! A bottle of water is must. Ask the guide clearly whether you will be able to refill the bottle on the trail. For a long trekking day and scarce water, you may need to carry 1.5 L of water.  Weighs additional 1.5 Kg.

Adding up the items, total weight remains not more than 10 Kg (including the sleeping bag and the Rucksack itself)

An example: Let me give the details of my packed Rucksack for an idea and let us measure the weight.

Rucksack: Camp M4 – 40L – 1 Kg

T-Shirts, trek pants, innerwear, socks, caps, gloves etc.:  ~ 2 Kg

Warm Jacket:  Mountain Hardware Windstopper Tech Fleece ~ 650g

Windproof/Waterproof:  Marmot Precip Jacket ~ 370 g

Sleeping Bag: Mountain Hardware Ultralamina 15° F/-9° C ~ 1.3 Kg

Accessories and Medical Kit: ~ 1 Kg

Water: Hydration pack of 1L ~ 1 Kg

Miscellaneous:  Notebook, pen, GPS, Binocular etc ~ 1 Kg

Camera:  Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ200 with additional batteries ~ 1 Kg

Now you believe that I am able to pack everything within 10 Kg 🙂 .

Order of packing different items is important once you know what to pack,. Things you may need while walking should be kept on top. Sleeping bag should go in the bottom, as you don’t need it before campsite. This gives stability to the Rucksack. A well packed Rucksack would stand straight on the ground without a support.   Pack similar items together. Its easier to carry a backpack when the load is evenly distributed.

Occasional rain or drizzle is common on mountain. Use a waterproof Rucksack cover/Rain fly. Your warm jacket and sleeping bag must not get wet in any condition during a trek. For double protection use a polythene inner liner sheet. Even if your pack is wet outside, the inner liner will keep your items dry and toasty.

I hope that now you are confident about what and how to pack for a trekking trip to the Himalayas.

To finish, I would say that backpacking is an art and pack rationally!

Happy packing :-)

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