It is quite disturbing what’s happening on our winter treks. I’ve noticed that most people flock to popular treks — Kedarkantha, Brahmatal, the usual winter treks. And I don’t blame them. These popular treks are fantastic.
But they are not the remote, quaint trails they used to be.
The last time I was at Kedarkantha in 2018, I couldn’t recognise Sankri, the base village of the trek. There were hundreds and hundreds of trekkers on the tiny village street. On the trail trekkers were bumping into each other every few minutes. At the summit, I saw some two hundred trekkers milling about. I saw teams with loud music on speakers and general disregard for trek etiquette. Even though the trail is as beautiful as before, the crowd killed it for me. After that, I swore to myself to never go back to a crowded trek.
So if you’re someone like me, who runs off to the mountains for some peace and quiet, then think twice about getting on to the popular trails — just because they are the only names that you have heard of.
Instead, choose other treks that have lesser crowd. There are quite a few, but in this post I am going to share information about 3 treks. They not only match up to the most popular trails but in many aspects are better than them.
First, which are the most crowded and least crowded months?
Before I tell you about the 3 treks, I want to talk about the most crowded and least crowded months.
Because the trekking trends in our country are changing.
“Back when we started Indiahikes ten years ago, summer was the go-to season to trek the Himalayas. Trekking in winter was unheard of. People didn’t venture out into the Himalayas in winter,” says Arjun Majumdar, our founder.
But this trend has taken a 180 degree turn.
Take a look at this revealing graph. We’ve plotted the number of trekkers going in each month since January 2017. It is plotted on a scale of 0-100. This is accurate data from our registration database.
And this has been consistent throughout the past three years. So December is undisputedly the most crowded month to trek in. And interestingly, it isn’t the whole month of December that’s crowded.
This crowd is concentrated in just the last 15 days of December, leaving some treks so crowded that the infamous Everest crowd doesn’t seem like too much after this.
Secondly, you’ll see a sharp dip in November, early December, January and February, making these the least crowded months to trek in.
This is where you need to be a bit smart with your holiday planning. I am aware that most companies have the Christmas week as their holiday week. If you can negotiate your holidays a few weeks this side and that, then you may end up doing a fabulous winter trek with very little crowd. All it requires is a shift in a week or two.
For example, instead of the last week of December, think of the first or second week of January. The snow stays the same, the scenery is brilliant. Yet, the crowd almost totally vanishes.
In January and February, you get the best winter experience, better than even late December. There’s snow right from the base camps, the campsites sitting snugly in snow and you still have clear skies. If it snows (chances of which are higher in Jan and Feb) then it is another grand experience!
If you haven’t yet planned your winter trek, then go in these lesser crowded months. You won’t regret it.
Which treks see most crowds?
Another observation is that this entire crowd veers to two particular treks — Kedarkantha and Brahmatal.
Check this chart for instance. We did a study of registrations on these treks over a year.
All these treks have similar seasons. And yet, there’s a mountain of a difference in the number of trekkers, with Kedarkantha and Brahmatal seeing the lion’s share of crowds.
Kedarkantha has been around since 2011, Brahmatal since 2014. Treks like Dayara Bugyal and Deoriatal have started to get known only since 2017. And Mukta Top, only this year!
All of them are of similar difficulty, have similar amounts of snow and are of exactly the same duration too. Only Har Ki Dun is slightly longer and tougher.
With that, let me share with you the 3 least crowded treks this winter.
1. Mukta Top
This trek has turned out to be a fantastic find very close to the Dayara Bugyal trail. The forest trails here are what separates it from the rest of the treks. They keep changing as you go up. One of the reasons for that it starts at a lower elevation — at about 4,700 feet.
Just for the forests it is a great trek to do. You rarely trek in quiet forests full of chirping birds and rustling leaves. This trek has the best of them.
Trekkers worry if they will see snow on this trek. Yes, you will. Just as you cross the 10,000 foot mark you should see the first snow patches. Near the Mukta top you will only be on snow.
Also, you see terrific mountain views right from the base camp. These views stick with you from day 1 till you come back. I’ve seen trekkers finding it hard to tear their eyes away from these views.
There’s also an endearing lake on this trek — Mukta Tal. It’s not too big, but you can sit on its banks and spend time there. It’s going to be frozen in winter.
Tip: This is a good trek for first timers, but it does start from 4,700 ft and climb up to almost 12,000 ft. Make sure you train well before going on this trek.
2. Har Ki Dun-Ruinsara Tal
We extended the Har Ki Dun trek to Ruinsara Tal earlier this year, and my my! What a great addition the extension has turned out to be!
Earlier we were entering only the Har-Ki-Dun valley and returning. With the extension we not only do the HKD valley but we also take in the new Ruinsara valley.
This new valley has stunned trekkers. For one, the Ruinsara Tal in itself is stunning. An alpine lake surrounded by snow covered mountains is not something that you see everyday. It is not a small lake either.
Then the trail to Ruinsara is splendid. Carving its way up a gradually ascending valley, the trail has a riot of colours and textures that has enthralled trekkers — especially early in the morning when the sun slants into the valley in an intriguing angle, the whole valley has a charm very few treks can give.
Finally, the Devsu thatch. Frankly, the closest you can get a feel of what Kashmir must be like is when you are at Devsu thatch. We not only walk on these superb meadows, but also camp there. For me, if you leave everything else, Devsu Thatch would be a reason to do this trek.
And then the exquisite camps of Kalkatiyadhar and Boslo. I’ll safely say if there are better campsites on our trekking trails, I am yet to see them!
Finally, the Har-Ki-Dun valley with its villages hanging out of the sky — each one of them over three centuries old and still that way takes some time to take in. The fact that we get to stay and experience these villages makes this a well-rounded experience.
Tip: Go for this especially in November or early December. This is when the Har Ki dun valley is at its grandest best! The trail closes in January and February opening again in mid March. On the HKD trail you cover long distances everyday, not too steep, but still physically demanding. So prepare well.
This trek ran into a lot of trouble last year. The forest department disallowed camping in its forests as well as in its upper meadows. We had to close down this trek.
But now the trek has reopened with new campsites. And am I glad for that!
This is our most rewarding trek with the least amount of physical exertion! If you drag all the tallest and the mightiest mountains of India, line them up one after another and then find a vantage point to look at the grand spectacle, then that point is the Chandrashila summit. This trek has the best summit views of any of our treks, incomparable to any of our other treks.
Because standing on the summit, you see ALL the big mountains of the Garhwal region, including the tallest mountain in India, Mt Nanda Devi. You also see Mt Chaukhamba, Mt Neelkanth, the Kedar Dome, the Kedarnath peak and Bhagirathi sisters. On the other side, the Hathi Ghoda summits, Mt Trishul and Nanda Ghunti. The list is astoundingly long.
Watch out for the sunrise on Mt Chaukhamba from the shores of Deoriatal. If that doesn’t stun you then I don’t know what will.
Should I add more? Well this trek is a birder’s paradise. If you are someone who loves to see birds and photograph them, then this is the best trek to do that. I cannot guarantee you, but I am almost sure you’ll also see the Himalayan Monal, a bird even more beautiful than the peacock.
On your summit climb, you’ll also trek to Tungnath, the world’s highest Shiva temple. The architecture dates back to over a 1,000 years. How mankind built a temple of such grand architecture in the snow covered terrain of over 12,000 feet is something that will baffle you.
Tip: This is perhaps the easiest trek in my recommendations. But just because it is easy do not discount the preparation required.
Time your trek correctly if you want to see snow
All of these treks will have snow cover from the second week of December onwards. Mukta Top will have snow right from the forest sections all the way to the summit. Deoriatal will have snow from slightly above Deoriatal. They retain snow till mid-April.
January and February are the most snowy months in the year. There’s regular snowfall in these months and a heavy accumulation of snow as well.
Har Ki Dun will have snow from the second week of December too. But it is closed from the last week of December till the mid of March because animals hibernate in the national park.
If you have already signed up for the popular treks with Indiahikes, don’t worry.
After this post, if you have signed up for Kedarkantha or Brahmatal, you must be worried. Are you going into a thicket of crowds? Yes and no.
Yes, because these are the most popular winter treks of our country. You cannot avoid the crowd of trekkers on the summit.
But on the other hand, just to avoid the crowd, the Indiahikes team takes a different route to Kedarkantha — from Kotgaon to the Kedarkantha summit. The rest of the trekking teams usually go from Sankri. We’ll go from Kotgaon and have completely different campsites. It is only on the descent that we get on the regular Sankri route. Which means for most part of the trek you should expect a secluded trail.
As for Brahmatal, we are trying to setup camps where there isn’t too much crowd already. You’ll feel the crowd on the Brahmatal summit, which is something you have to bear with.
On that note, I’ll end this post.
I hope this info helps you plan your winter trek better.
If you have any questions, drop in a comment below. We’ll help you out!
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