But often when travelers decide to hike the Himalayas, they head to Nepal. I get it- Nepal is home to the tallest mountains in the world: Everest, K2, Annapurna. But most of us aren't looking for a one-in-three chance of death (Annapurna) or a ten-week trek (Everest); we just want to enjoy nature and see big mountains.
Which is why I whole-heartedly recommend the Indian Himalayas; it's uncrowded, cheap and absolutely beautiful. And why hike in Nepal, which is becoming increasingly touristy, crowded and expensive, when you can have the Indian Himalayas all to yourself?
And I mean all to yourself. We came across eight other hikers in our entire eight-day trek.
We chose to hike the absolutely beautiful Kuari Pass Trek in the Garhwal Mountains. Our trek started and ended in Rishikesh, and lasted 10 days total: two days in transit, and eight days of hiking.
Things to consider when planning your trek in the Indian Himalayas:
What do you want to see?
Hankering for ancient monasteries? Head to Ladakh, a Tibetan Buddhist region. Verdant forests? Think Sikkim. Stunning mountain vistas? The Garhwal Mountains, especially around Nanda Devi. (This was my trek!)
Independent hiking or with a trekking company?
Personally, I didn't even consider independent trekking as I'm not an experienced enough hiker. But on my trek we met four hikers who were hiking independently so it can be done.
Picking a trekking company:
When in doubt, check TripAdvisor. Our trekking company, Red Chilli Adventure, came highly recommended on TripAdvisor, ranked #1 in Rishikesh and with a Certificate of Excellence.
I absolutely adored Red Chilli- there wasn't a kink in the whole operation. We had charming guides, delicious food and smooth logistics. Really I couldn't recommend them highly enough. Plus, the value for your money is incredible.
One thing to note is some trekking operators prefer to take on a certain number of clients; for example, Red Chilli has a minimum of four hikers and a maximum of ten. If you have a smaller or larger group, you will pay an additional fee.
How much will your trek will cost?
We had a group of four, and each of us paid $440 USD. Costs became incrementally cheaper with more trekkers:
Group of 2 pax INR 34000 per person
Group of 3 pax INR 28500 per person
Group of 4-5 pax INR 25000 per person
Group of 6-7 pax INR 22500 per person
Group of 8-10pax INR 20000 per person
Note: we paid 50% of the total in advance as a deposit, and there was a 3.09% government service tax.
And don't forget to factor in tips for your guides and porters! We tipped our guides $75 each, and our porters $40 each.
What does the trek include?
Our trek included transportation to and from Rishikesh, one night in a hotel, tents, three meals a day and all permits and entrance fees. This also included a staff of two guides, five porters, one cook and a team of mules.
Our trek didn't include sleeping bags, but they could be rented for 100 rupees ($1.50 USD) a day. (Pro tip- bring a silk liner if you're planning on renting!)
Difficulty of the trek:
If you're an avid and experienced hiker, then a difficult hike may be right up your alley. Our trek was moderate which was the perfect difficulty level for me; challenging but bearable.
Time of year:
As a rule, the best times to hike the Himalayas are spring (March-May) and fall (September to November). The summer months are monsoon season and the winter months are quite cold, so spring and fall are optimal.
We did our trek in May and the weather was sunny most days.
How long your trek will last:
If you're short on time, a five-day trek might be perfect. Our trek lasted ten days total: two days of transit, eight days of trekking. For me this was the perfect length; any longer and I think I would've lost it.
What to pack for a Himalayan trek:
Day-pack– I absolutely adore this backpack, and it was essential for carting around my snacks, Camelbak and extra layers on the trail. (Note – the backpack I used at the time of the trek, the North Face Refugio, has been discontinued. This one is very similar though!)
Sleeping bag– I love, love, love my Marmot Angel Fire and am so glad I brought it. (I also slept in it for the entire month of Yoga Teacher Training!) But if you're renting a sleeping bag from the trekking company, pack a silk sleeping bag liner– they're also great for grimy hostels.
Power bars – While Red Chilli supplied us with snacks on the trail, sometimes I was glad to have a Luna Bar or two.
Camelbak – for quick hydration. This went straight in the daypack and was an absolute lifesaver.
iPhone and headphones – great for taking photos and listening to music. To save battery life, I turned off a bunch of my phone's functions with this list.
Solar charger – Not essential, but great if you're on a longer trek and need to charge your phone. Note- pre-charge it in an outlet before the trek- the solar function didn't seem to work very well.
Face wipes – to clear away sweat and grime after a long day.
Headlamp – Essential for midnight or pre-dawn bathroom runs.
Pain killers – I packed Advil for headaches and back pain.
Sunscreen with SPF 50 – Essential when you're hiking at high-altitude. And don't forget your your ears and the tops of your hands- that's where we got burnt the worst! Consider bringing aloe vera too if you burn easily.
Small scissors, Neosporin, band-aids – a godsend to those of us who blister!
Kindle – great for lazy post-trekking afternoons. Bonus points if the light is built-in.
Plastic bags – for dirty or wet clothes.
Note- pack warm, with lots of layers. Ski socks are especially great for cold nights!
My usual outfit: a tank top or t-shirt and Hot Chillys thermal top, with a fleece and rain coat in my bag. For bottoms I wore either athletic shorts or Hot Chillys thermal leggings layered with Zella leggings on top. For my shoes I wore hiking boots and socks, with a dorky wool hat and sunglasses to finish off the look.
Hiking boots and socks
Ski socks for sleep
Flip flops – to change into post trekking. SO nice!
Sunglasses with UV protection
Leggings and/or hiking pants
Tons of tank tops or undershirts
Pijamas – in my case, a big t-shirt and athletic shorts
Rain cover for both day-pack and backpack
Would you ever trek the Indian Himalayas?
Red Chilli Adventure did not pay or perk me in any way for this mention- I really just loved them this much! And the Amazon links in this post grant me a small commission at no extra cost to you- thanks for helping keep Ashley Abroad afloat.