These 5 offbeat winter treks prove that India is a true hiker’s paradise

Get your dose of adrenaline as you embark on these offbeat winter treks in India this season.

For some trekkers, the best thing about a trek is the rewarding views at the end of the trail, for others, it is the scenery and camaraderie they experience along the journey. But it is the challenges and a sense of determination to reach the destination that transforms a simple trek into a journey of a lifetime. True, winter treks are hard. But the alpine peaks, winding valleys, endless adventures, and snow-covered trails through tiny settlements make them worthy of the efforts. So, put on your trekking shoes and prepare your lungs to breathe in some crisp mountain air — we bring you the best five offbeat winter treks in India that you just shouldn’t miss this season!

5 offbeat winter treks in India!

Gangabal Lake, Kashmir

Winter treks
Kashmir’s Gangabal Lake looks surreal in every season! Image: Courtesy sn_prashant/Instagram.

Rimmed by many layers of mammoth peaks, the Kashmir Valley is a giant bowl of lakes and orchards, and Gangabal here in northern Srinagar is the last of the Seven Great alpine lakes that fall between Sonamarg and Naranag. At an altitude of 3,575 meters, trek to the oligotrophic Gangabal Lake is an astonishing high-altitude trail that begins from the remote Naranag valley, which is also the base camp for the famous Mount Harmukh. The lake is fed by melting glaciers and is home to European brown trout and aquatic birds. All through summer, the wild flowers bloom in profusion on its shores and nomadic shepherds take rounds with their cattle. Take a hike during winters and arresting views of the frozen lake and the surrounding sleepy meadows, hidden under a thick blanket of snow, will leave you amazed. Its twin Naranag Lake as well as an eighth-century Buddhist temple are the highlights of the trail. The 30-km trek isn’t an easy one — expect steep uphill climbs and sudden drops in temperatures. Proper acclimatisation is a must.

Difficulty level: Moderate

Best time to visit: December to March

Duration: 5 days

Route: Naranag – Bhutshari Top – Trunkhol – Nandkul – Gangabal

Hampta Circuit, Himachal Pradesh

Winter treks
Trek through the Hampta Circuit this season. Image: Courtesy hamptapasstrek.in.

Often confused with Hampta Pass, the Hampta Circuit is a different trek that explores the eponymous valley minus the flocks of tourists and adventure seekers. The pristine route starting from Jagatsukh ridge takes you through pinewoods, rhododendron forests, cascading falls, lush meadows peppered with blankets of flowers, and a snow-clad 4,300-metre-high pass. During the coldest months of the year, it transforms into a winter bowl lined with tall deodars wrapped in snowy capes. Explore a wooden temple in the forest and the alpine village of Prini, meeting the local Gaddi shepherds. Camp overnight at Tilgan where vast pasturelands are a sight to behold. The hike to Sarotu is quite demanding and steep as you need to hike up traversing through its snow bed but the views from the top are rewarding enough.

Difficulty level: Moderate

Best time to visit: September to January

Duration: 5 to 10 days

Route: Jagatsukh – Tilgan – Sarotu

Sandakphu, West Bengal

Winter treks
The view of the alpine Sandakphu Peak. Image: Shutterstock/Ayan Sarkar.

Did you know you can have your morning tea in India and hike all the way to Nepal for dinner in a day’s time? The trek to Sandakphu, the highest peak in West Bengal (as well as in Mechi, Nepal) is tiring but equally exhilarating. Starting from Maneybhanjang — the route mostly comprises of wide trails, with beautiful border-line stretches where you can see both the countries. Once you reach Tonglu, after crossing Chitre village en route, start a steep descend for Tumbling, which is a great, quiet place to rest for the night. From there, Kalipokhri is a six-hour trek. Make sure you take out some time to explore the black water pond here (after which Kalipokhri had been named) that never freezes! Pick one of the trekkers’ huts here to rest and start early next morning for Sandakphu. This part of the trek is steepest and takes about two and a half hours of trekking. On a clear-sky winter morning, the little eponymous village perched at a height of 3,636 meters, offers spellbinding views of the world’s tallest peaks, including Makalu, Lhotse, Everest, and Kanchenjunga!

Difficulty level: Moderate

Best time to visit: November to February

Duration: 6 days

Route: Maneybhanjang – Tonglu – Tumling – Kalipokhri – Sandakphu

Japfu Peak Trek, Nagaland

Winter treks
The lush rolling landscape of Dzukou Valley. Image: Courtesy Thrillophilia.

If you think finding a rare pink lily is the most adventurous thing you can do in Dzukou Valley, try this: the winter expedition to Japfu Peak in Nagaland’s Kohima district. Also known as Japfü or Japvo, it is the second highest peak of the state, and the trail to reach 3,084-metre-tall Japfu Peak starts from Kohima. Ascending trails with steep stretches lead to Dzukou Trekkers’ Hut, through Zakhama Check Post, thick forests of deodar and bamboo occasionally cut through a wild stream and the Crying Child Valley. Spend the night at the hut and in the morning, after exploring the Dzukou Valley, head to Vishuwema village, through dwarf bamboo groves. From here, the trail skirts around the ridge and leads you to the base camp from where the Japfu Peak is a three-hour trek. Upon reaching the top, you are gifted with vistas of almost the entire Nagaland!

Difficulty level: Moderate

Best time to visit: December to February

Duration:

Route: Kohima – Kigema – Vishuwema – Mount Japfu

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Markha Valley, Ladakh

Winter treks
Markha Valley in Ladakh looks more enchanting during winter. Image: Courtesy mountaineer_hardy_kd/Instagram.

Ladakh in winter is a completely different experience. If you long to see a deserted moonscape that looks frozen in time, arrives at the Markha Valley. The mountains hide under a thick layer of snow, the trees no longer have leaves on them, and the river flows gently under a frozen layer of ice. Explore the valley for its little villages dotted with monasteries, stay at warm and hospitable homesteads, and even get a glimpse of the elusive snow leopard, if you are lucky! Start your trek from Skiu with the Markha River flowing on right, that freezes as you go higher. Get a glimpse of Kang Yatze II from some corners. The landscape becomes more and more dramatic as you get close to Hangkar, the highest village in the Markha Valley. 

Difficulty level: Moderate

Best time to visit: December to February

Duration: 7 days

Route: Chilling – Skiu – Markha (village) – Hangkar

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