Trekking in a vast country like India can be magical. You can walk through icy deserts and tropical rain forests, climb vast Himalayan peaks or run down expansive rolling meadows, all without ever crossing a national border.
There is quite nothing like finishing a trek to a peak and staring down into the vast openness. The satisfaction derived from a steaming cup of tea and the simplest fare (bread and jam for instance) can outmatch the fanciest meal, and getting to know the locals is always a bonus. And after the gut-wrenching struggle that involves short bursts of vertigo and paranoia, innumerable scrapes and cuts, buckets of sweat and aches and pains, you're bound to feel two things. First, how out-of-shape you really are. Secondly and more importantly, the dawning realisation that life is about much more than existing from one day to the next, trying to beat other rats at the race.
From romantic spots to crystal clear lakes and staggering heights, here are 15 of India's most reputed trekking trails that you should visit at least once in your life. All you'll need is a good pair of lungs, and sturdy shoes.
The second highest peak (at 1712 metres) in Kodagu, Kumara Parvatha is a popular peak to climb. However, the 15-kilometre trek is no cake walk, although it does offer some scenic views. The starting point is on temple road, approximately a quarter of a kilometre from the Kukke Subramanya temple. While water and food is available at Battara Mane (the second pitstop), there are no washrooms. October to February is the best time to trek.
For those who enjoy more daring experiences, this trek presents an opportunity to view Roopkund's famous Mystery Lake. The glacial lake is also known as Skeleton lake on account of the skeletons that reside at the bottom of the lake. Trekking can take anywhere from a week to 9 days, and the best time to visit is between May and October. This challenging trek requires one to be in decent shape, given that is situated at a high altitude (4,800 mts). There are three trekking routes: via Mundoli, Kathgodam or Lohjang.
Located 2,100 metres above sea level, Chembra in Wayanad is the tallest peak in Kerala. It's an easy climb, though the initial gradient can prove a little steep. Best to visit during September - February, the trek extends across 9 kilometres, and can easily be completed within a day. However, visitors can opt to extend their trip by a couple of days: the combination of exploring Wayanad's grassy meadows and then residing by the heart-shaped lake (Hridaya Saras) at the top is an experience to be savoured.
If you're a rookie trekker with a hankering for excellent coffee, Araku Valley situated in scenic Vizag is a must-visit. It is something of a tourist spot - the Borra caves, tribal museum and Katiki waterfalls have made it pretty popular. Serious trekkers can afford to give it a miss.
Possibly one of the most beautiful treks in India, the name 'Valley of Flowers' holds true: this exotic valley is transformed into a colourful kaleidoscope stuffed with wild flowers such as zinnias, petunias and poppies. It also hosts several species of butterflies and endangered animals such as the mountain leopard and blue sheep. A moderately challenging climb (the entire trek can take a week), the 10-kilometre valley is situated at approximately over 3,600 metres (above sea level), and is ideal to visit from between June - September.
If you have eight days or a fortnight to spare, a trek to Dzongri will grant you some spectacular views of Mount Kanchenjunga (the third highest peak in the world). A tough climb by any standards, the trek commences from Yuksom (a popular base for Mt. Everest trekkers), and is best undertaken between September to November or March and April. Dzongri sits at 4,000 metres.
The Rajmachi fort, thanks to the efforts of the Maharashtra Tourism Board, is developing quickly as a tourist spot. The beauty of this trekking destination is not just its panoramic view of lush rolling hills. It also presents two trekking options, both of which can be completed within one day. There is a plain 15-kilometre walk from Lonavala or a rugged 2,000-foot climb from Kondivade village where one can also view the Kondana caves. The best time to visit is between June and September.
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The beauty of this trek is the sheer amount of Ladhaki/ Tibetan culture one comes across on the way. The local tribes with their yaks make for picturesque settings against the multi-coloured Tibetan flags, clear blue skies and barren ground, as you trek along the Markha River through Little Tibet. Set at an altitude of 5,200 metres, the 80-kilometre trek is best undertaken in August or September, and can extend from 10 days to two weeks.
If you've had enough of trekking over rolling glades or mountainous peaks, try walking over a frozen river next January. The frozen river Zanskar (also called Chadar that literally means sheet) situated in the Zanskar Valley presents an intriguing yet challenging trek, extending across 105 kilometres at extremely low temperatures (-25 degrees at night). The swiftly flowing river freezes over only in the months of January to February, and can prove an arduous obstacle to cross: one has to climb over icy rocks, and sleep in caves at night. The view combined with ice sheets that constantly change colour however, makes it an unparalleled experience.
Playing host to one of the oldest monastries in Ladakh, Gompa (built in the 11th century), Lamayuru at over 5,000 metres holds a certain mystic allure. It has become one of the more popular treks in Ladakh commencing from Zanskar. Situated between Kargil and Leh, it is one of the tougher treks and requires at three weeks to undertake.
Trekking season commences from June till mid-October.
Le photo Ã Go-Go/Flickr
Covering 90 kilometres over 11 days doesn't sound like the toughest deal, but don't underestimate this trek, beautiful as it is. Best to visit between April and September, the trek passes through Kanchenjunga National Park (a photographer's delight). Samiti Lake is another visual delight that props up on the trek.
A mountain pass in the Dhauladhar range, this is located close to Dharamsala at approximately 4,300 metres, and attracts a large trekking crowd between April and October. The trek starts from Bhagsu or Dharamkot, near Mcleod Ganj, and can take from 4-10 days to complete.
Deoriatal combined with visiting Tungnath and Chandrashila makes for an ideal weekend trek. Situated at a distance of approximately 3 kilometres from Sari village, Deoriatal's clear waters provide a beautiful reflection of the Chaumkhamba and Kedar peaks at sunset.
Between October and January, trekking enthusiasts can head to Kodachadri that rests at an altitude of 1343m, opting from three different routes. The Hindlumane Falls make for a refreshing pitstop during the two-day trek that only involves a six-hour journey.
Its romantic name (literally translated, Lake of the Moon) matched with its easy journey setting makes for an amorous vacation. Situated in Spiti valley, at a height of approximately 4,300 metres, this one-kilometre long lake is a popular destination for campers, and should be visited between May to October. Trekking enthusiasts headed to the Hampta Pass can also plan their route to spend a day here.