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India’s Mountainous State of Himachal Pradesh Is an Adventure Powerhouse

Outdoor National Parks Insider Guides
by Poonam Binayak Aug 16, 2019

The mountainous state of Himachal Pradesh, located in the northern tip of India, is an adventurer’s paradise in every sense of the word. From rafting through the cold desert valley to flying high above the majestic Himalayan ranges to mountain biking or motorcycling on one of the world’s most dangerous roads and trekking in the Himalayas, Himachal can provide the setting.

However, traveling here isn’t always a cinch. There are treacherous stretches of road, and frequent landslides, in some parts of the state. That means every trip here needs to come with a well-planned itinerary that allows you take in all the adventures that this Indian state has to offer.

It’s home to some of the most scenic mountain treks in India.

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Himachal Pradesh is one of India’s popular trekking destinations, with trekking trails of varying degrees of difficulty lacing its majestic mountains and gorgeous valleys. For beginners, Triund is one of the best, and most popular, Himalayan treks. Starting from Dharamkot or McLeod Ganj, the trek traverses through lush forests of rhododendron, oak, and deodar trees. It culminates at the Triund hill top at 9,278 feet.

The stunning panorama of the Dhauladhar range and the entire Kangra Valley can be seen all along the trek. The entire route is well defined and takes about four hours on one side to complete. Do yourself a favor and stay overnight at the Triund hilltop and soak in the bright orange sunset and crisp mountain air. There are vendors at the top who will provide you with tents and other camping facilities for $7 or $8 — negotiate if quoted higher than this! Alternatively, there’s one basic rest house at the top that should be booked in advance at the Forest Department Office in Dharamshala.

Along the trail and on top, there are small tea and Maggi shops, as well as a few cafes where you can refuel. If you have a day to spare, trek to Lahesh Cave (around 11,500 feet) from Triund and further to Indrahar Pass (roughly 14,100 feet).

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If you have a couple of days more, the three-day Beas Kund trek is a perfect option. It starts from Solang Valley, just an hour’s drive from Manali, and passes through river valleys, grasslands, and dense forests with views of snow-laden mountains like Hanuman Tibba, Friendship Peak, Deo Tibba, and the Pir Panjal range. It ends at Beas Kund, which is a small alpine lake with azure waters. Accommodation can be found in homestays in villages along the way, or pitch a tent and camp at various points en route.

For a more challenging venture, go for a five-day Hampta Pass trek. It commences from Jobra, an hour’s drive from Manali, and crosses the wildflower meadows of Jwara, barren land of Balu Ka Ghera, rugged mountains of Lahaul, and verdant Shea Goru Valley. The trek culminates at Chhatru, and the highest elevation reached is 14,000 feet. For an additional challenge, trek to the crescent moon-shaped Chandratal Lake in Spiti Valley, nestled at an elevation of 14,100 feet above sea level.

If you’re looking for a more demanding trek and don’t mind the extreme cold, consider the nine- to 12-day trek to Pin Parvati Pass, perched at a dizzying altitude of 17,450 feet. It connects Pin Valley in Spiti to Parvati Valley in Kullu. The base camp is Kaza, the administrative center in the Spiti Valley, at just under 12,500 feet. You need to stay here for a day of acclimatization. The trail further climbs through terrace fields, glacial streams, boulders and moraines, grasslands, and meadows dotted with red, purple, and blue flowers. There’s a chance to spot snow leopard and ibex in Pin Valley along the way, as well as enjoy a natural hot spring at Kheerganga. The trek ends at Barshaini. But be warned: It shouldn’t be attempted by people with a low fitness level.

The ideal time for trekking in Himachal is from May to June and September to October. Numerous travel agencies and local tour companies offer trekking trips in Himachal. They take care of the navigation, guides, porters, and camping logistics. At the top of their game is Himalayan Caravan Adventure. Himalayan Frontiers and Peak Adventure are some other well-known operators.

You can take an adrenaline-inducing river rafting trip.

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Himachal is best known for trekking, but those in the know also consider it as one of the top places for rafting in India. The Beas River, flowing south through Kullu Valley, is one of the state’s popular white-water rivers. Grade II to IV rapids can be ridden for four to nine miles from Pirdi down to Jhiri, with stunning mountains and forest scenery along the way.

Many tour agencies and operators in Manali organize rafting trips, along with tented accommodation on the river bank. Most rafting tours last for about one and a half hour on the Beas River.

The best time for rafting is from April to mid-June and mid-September to October. Rafting is closed during the extreme winter months of December and January, and the rain-soaked monsoon months of July and August.

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More adventurous rafters can take a multi-day rafting trip along the Spiti River in Spiti Valley, with outfits like Ecosphere Spiti and GIO Adventures. The duration of the trip depends on the weather conditions, but most last between three and six days. It starts from the remote village of Rangrik, where the pace of rapids is gentle (class I and II). As you raft down from Sichling to Nadang, they grow in difficulty until you reach the challenge of Class IV rapids near Sumdo. The most rewarding thing about rafting in Spiti Valley is the interesting sights found along the way, from pristine villages to attractive mountain ranges, glaciers, and pastures. At nightfall, the villages serve as the campsite. Some rafting experience is required for this river, and the best time is from July to August.

It’s the paragliding capital of India.

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Bir, a small town in the Joginder Nagar Valley, is the “paragliding capital of India.” It shot into fame when it hosted the first-ever Paragliding World Cup in India in October 2015. Since then, it has become a prime spot in the country for paragliders. Flyers take off from Billing, nine miles above Bir, and glide for about 15-45 minutes before landing in Bir.

The views, of the majestic Dhauladhar mountains and lush Kangra valley from up high, are breathtaking. While experts get to do a solo show, novices can do tandem rides with an experienced guide. Several professional companies can assist you with paragliding lessons and tandem flights; Billing Paragliding Association, Travel Bir Billing, and Billing Adventures of Himachal are your best bets. A session of 15-30 minutes tandem flying will cost you around $35-50, including a video by GoPro. Hostels, resorts, homestays, and camping facilities are available in the region, should you wish to stay. Optimal months are between March and May and October to November

You can set off on a motorcycle or mountain-biking expedition.

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Himachal Pradesh is home to some of the most spectacular mountain passes in India, which come in very handy for motorcycling and mountain-biking adventures. One of the most famous routes is the 300-mile-long Manali-Leh highway, which is open for only about four months from mid-June to mid-October. Crossing five mountain passes that range in elevation from 13,050 feet to 17,480 feet, the route is not for anyone faint of heart or lung.

The first and lowest is the Rohtang Pass, which also happens to be one of the most dangerous roads in the world. Rough weather conditions, landslides, avalanches, and miles-long traffic jams are just some of the challenges to contend with here. In case that wasn’t enough, there are plenty of hairpin curves, too. On the plus side, spectacular scenery and rest camps abound, so you can stretch out your journey to soak in as much of the natural beauty as possible.

One of the popular campgrounds in the region is in Keylong, the capital of the Lahaul district. Comfortable hotels and homestays are also available. From here, you’ll pass through a series of switchbacks, tiny villages, alpine lakes, centuries-old monasteries, and rivulets of glacial water, winding up in Pang for the night. From there, it’s 43 miles to the last and highest pass: Tanglang La. This stretch is breathtaking, crossing dramatic gorges, snow-sprinkled peaks, and the famous More Plains, a flat piece of land at an elevation of 15,748 feet. Leh is an easy ride from here.

It’s important to note that you’ll need a permit for Rohtang Pass. You can book it online. In Manali, numerous garages and bike rental shops offer bikes for rent. Make sure to check the insurance paper and pollution certificate of the gear before giving it a test run. If you’re looking for a guided trip, check out Motorcycle Expeditions, Active Adventure India, and Epic Moto Tours. All have a solid reputation.

For something shorter, but equally appealing, try mountain biking in the Kangra Valley. Stretching across 160 miles, the route starts from McLeod Ganj — home of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama — and passes through scenic villages before ending in Billing, India’s paragliding capital. Picturesque vistas of the mighty Dhauladhar range, lush pine forests, and Buddhist enclaves await at every twist and turn. Much of the route is at a high elevation, so be prepared. The time frame for all of these routes is from June to September.

There are some wonderful angling sites.

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Angling isn’t exactly what comes to mind when considering a visit to Himachal, but the state has some excellent fishing sites. Tirthan river in Tirthan Valley is the premier brown and rainbow trout location. In addition to the angling adventure itself, you’ll get to enjoy the breathtaking views of the majestic Himalayas surrounding the river, and you can camp on its shores. Another great locale for trout fishing is Baspa river in Sangla Valley.

Just note there are local rules about the catch limits and minimum size; catch-and-release policy firmly applies. Trout waters require permits from the state government, and only rod-and-line fishing is allowed. The top fishing months run from April to October.

It is heaven for ski enthusiasts.

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The high elevation and mountains in Himachal make it a perfect place for a skiing getaway. One of the most popular ski resorts in the state is Solang Valley, located about 40 minutes from Manali. The enchanting valley lacks a bit in infrastructure, but the sights and accessible slopes make for an amazing winter trip. There’s one gondola, which they call a ropeway, with 19 cabins that will take you up to the runs. You can take in the views of the gorgeously snow-covered coniferous forests and mountains along the way.

The most skiable months are December through February. Ski rentals are available, as are lessons. There’s an Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports in Manali that caters to novice skiers and those hoping to hone their skills.

Alternatively, the Mahasu ridge above Kufri and Narkanda — located at an elevation of 8,885 feet on the Hindustan-Tibet Road — is also good for skiing. Both locations have runs suitable for both beginners and experienced skiers.

…and for heli-skiers, as well.

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If skiing is too run of the mill, you could opt to heli-ski on the pristine powder and never-before-skied terrains of Himachal. Hanuman Tibba, the highest peak of the Dhauladhar Range, elevated at a height of 19,626 feet above sea level, offers virgin powder that serves as a perfect gliding bed for heli-skiing. A 10-minute helicopter ride will take you to the top of a 14,000-foot-high slope. You’ll get mesmerizing views from the helicopter and a pure shot of adrenaline as you make the leap and slide down the slope.

The expedition requires a bit of patience — since weather conditions are not always favorable — but you’ll definitely earn bragging rights after tackling one of the state’s highest slopes. Be warned, this thrill won’t be cheap. Check out Himalayan Heli Adventures. Plan your trip from December to February.

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