I have walked through valleys that are the size of many football fields with no other person for miles around. Cell phones don’t pick up signals and there is no electricity. I pitch the tent near a water source with the only sounds to reach my ears being the chirping of a bird or a stream flowing by the campsite.
I trekked for the first time in 2002 and since then I have done it at least once every year. Trekking works as a perfect antidote to my fast-paced life. Things have changed on the family front since my husband and I adopted our daughter in 2009. And as she is too small to be taken on treks, we now take turns going solo. After trying a group trek in India, I resorted to trekking solo [with a guide] in Nepal, the highest I have been to being the Everest Base Camp. This also meant I had to find safe places to trek solo.
There’s a lifetime-worth of treks right in our neighbourhood in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh and Nepal! Most of the treks in India start at a small road head. From there we walk into the wilderness, which means we need to carry a tent, food supplies and a first-aid kit. Trekking is a relatively safe activity as it usually involves walking on shepherd routes that are incredibly scenic. There could be a kaccha [undeveloped] road connecting villages on the way but trekkers would then pick up alternative routes to walk to those villages or camping sites. The idea is to be as close to nature as possible.
Trekking opened up a wonderful world for me that I had held myself back from for a long time. Here I share some tips for a novice trekker.
You may think you are fit but follow medical advice
If you are going to trek in the Himalayas, you are going to deal with high altitude. So how do you know what is a comfortable altitude for you? The answer is different for every individual and depends on your overall fitness level and the presence of any medical conditions as well as any previous experiences you may have had in high altitudes. There is a lot of advice on high-altitude trekking on the internet but there is no substitute for medical opinion—your doctor knows the best. You can read blogs and websites for information, but if it’s your first trek, I urge you to seek a medical evaluation before you start making any other plans for the trek.
Trekking is a relatively safe activity as it usually involves walking on shepherd routes that are incredibly scenic
Pick a trek according to your fitness level
Treks are classified as easy, moderate and tough. When they say it is an easy trek, it means it is easy in comparison to the moderate one! An easy trek may involve up to six hours of walking. The highest altitude attained would be about 3,500 metres. A moderate trek may involve six to eight hours of walking with the highest altitude of the trek being around 4,500 metres. A tough trek would involve walking in excess of eight hours on some days and the highest altitude in the region of 5,500 metres. How one responds at these high altitudes varies from one person to another. For me, when I am above 5,000 metres, I lose my appetite and often wake up from sleep due to breathlessness. Basically, everything becomes a chore above 5,000 metres. But that’s for me… you may or may not experience the same problems.
Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand is a good example of an easy trek. However, the first day involves 12km of walking, though on a relatively flat terrain, ending up at a height of 3,049 metres. Also, if you get really tried, there are horses available on this trek. This luxury is not available on most other treks. Triund [2,975 metres] in Himachal Pradesh is another easy trek. It starts from McLeod Ganj and the first day itself gives you a magnificent view of the Dhauladhar Range.
If you normally follow a sedentary lifestyle, it’s best to pick an easy trek as your first one. Because chances are that when you aim for a moderate trek straightaway, and find it too challenging, you might get discouraged and never trek again—and that would be unfortunate.
Both the Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Circuit Treks are tough treks. I know people who chose them as their first treks but then these people were really fit. Though the Annapurna Circuit Trek was not the first one for me, I still had to leave it mid way as it snowed at the higher altitude continuously for 24 hours. With so much snow and a pass at 5,100 metre to be crossed, the route had become unsafe for me to traverse.
If you normally follow a sedentary lifestyle, it’s best to pick an easy trek as your first one
Be prepared for a little discomfort
In India, most treks would involve living in a tent and cooking with whatever rations you are carrying. Trekking agencies can help you with the preparation. They will also arrange mules and porters to carry stuff. For first-timers who want to test the waters, a tea-house trek may be the way to go. Valley of Flowers is one such trek. Nepal has many tea house treks too. A tea-house trek means there are small shops and lodges available along the way for stay and food. This makes life a little easier as you have to carry less stuff on you. Otherwise, on treks, the food is basic, nature’s call has to be answered in nature and if it rains… well, you still walk. But if you ask me, the solitude and the views make it all worth every discomfort.
Solo or group trekking?
You have the option of choosing whether you want to trek solo, with a random group or your own group. I prefer to trek only with my family or solo. All my solo trekking [with a guide-cum-porter who has no other client] has been in Nepal. As there are many solo women trekkers in this region, it is easier for me to blend in there. I do not prefer random groups because a trek demands close proximity to others in the group and sometimes it is difficult for a random group to get along.
You have the option of choosing whether you want to trek solo, with a random group or your own group
Pick a guide you think you can trust
Once I pick my guide, I go with what he says we must do. If he thinks the weather conditions are not good and we should turn back, I trust that he knows best. After all he’s a local and it is his job to keep his clients safe. Most guides would have been up and down those routes five times already in just one season. Listen to him for your own safety. Trekking basically involves walking through village and shepherd routes. Occasionally, it may involve crossing a river or walking on snow. But if the weather turns bad or for any other reason your guide feels there is a need for caution, listen to him.
We trek with our trusted guides in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Nepal. But in the beginning, we were a little reckless as we would turn up at a destination and zero in on a travel agency after talking to a few in the area. Now it is easier to check out reputations before hand, thanks to trekking forums online.
Give trekking a try
I would strongly encourage you to give trekking a chance. Fetching water from a stream, walking by waterfalls with not a soul around, looking at the sunset and the star-filled canopy overhead are some of the perks of trekking. If you plan well, it can be a life-changing experience, one that you will get addicted to.
There is a popular saying in the mountains “It is up to the mountain to decide whether you can complete a trek or not.” For me being with nature is the important thing. If I can complete the trek, that’s a bonus.
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