India walking vacations highlights

There is a definite north south divide when it comes to walking vacations in India with an emphasis on mountains over coast. The Himalayas dominate the north and Western Ghats the south, with the stunning Chhattisgarh region in the middle boasting jungle trails through tribal villages. The southern state of Kerala is the hub of hiking in the Western Ghats, mixing tropics with trekking. Ladakh, in Jammu and Kashmir state, is the most popular place for Himalayan hiking and the Markha Valley, which runs parallel to the Himalayan range, is also making a magnificent mark. There are also two states that beautifully bookend Nepal: Sikkim and Uttarakhand, where smaller trails and villages lie in the shadow of the greats.
Binsar, Himalayas

1. Binsar, Himalayas

A little known region in Uttarakhand, this valley is dotted with traditional villages, with the hill town of Binsar its hub. It’s a beautiful rural area, surrounded by pine and oak forests such as Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary in the Kumaon Hills. Binsar is sometimes called ‘Zero Point’, as it’s the highest viewpoint offering a 360-degree Himalayan panorama. Hiking village to village is a great way to explore.

2. Chhattisgarh

Few tourists are aware of this central state, which is all the more reason to walk here, with no big peaks but plenty of prettiness. This is about walking through jungle and ancient forest, through traditional Baiga and Gond tribal villages or cattle herding communities. Combine with tiger spotting in Madhya Pradesh’s Kanha National Park, plus swimming in the Banjar River and learning to cook Chhattisgarh cuisine.
Darjeeling & Sikkim

3. Darjeeling & Sikkim

Combine Darjeeling with walking routes in Sikkim’s Eastern Himalayas for a superb mix of colonial tea plantation India, and remote mountain terrain. Sikkim is India’s most sparsely populated state, yet boasts prehistoric ruins, medieval towns and churches. Take on captivating, high altitude treks of Dzongri at 3,962m and Goechala at 4,940m, camping along the way, with the finest tea breaks imaginable.
Gangotri Ganges trek

4. Gangotri Ganges trek

This trek is spectacular and spiritual, heading to the source of the holy Ganges River at Gaumukh Glacier in the Garhwal Himalayas. The trekking starts from basecamp Gangotri, taking time to acclimatise before heading up slowly to Gaumukh. Another highlight is Tapovan (4,350m) where you can see Mount Shivling from base to peak. Photographers will love the cultural/natural mix of this trip.
Hemis National Park

5. Hemis National Park

A high altitude national park in the Himalayan Stok range with the Husing, Tarbuns and Rumbak Valleys at its hiking heart. Its most famous resident is the snow leopard, with approximately 200 of them hiding in these elevated landscapes. Stok Kangri is the highest point at 7,670m and, if guided by local experts, is accessible for hikers without mountaineering skills, with plenty of magnificent views from the top.
Kumaon, Uttarakhand

6. Kumaon, Uttarakhand

This region is often overlooked, but here you can trek and wild camp in the most spectacular Himalayan terrain, with heart stopping proximity to the giant peaks of Nanda Devi and Nanda Devi East. Close to Nepal and Tibet, trek along an ancient trade route following the Gori Ganga River, past deserted villages, glaciers and through alpine meadows, with Himalayan griffin vultures, tahr and bharal blue sheep for company.
Leh & Ladakh Desert

7. Leh & Ladakh Desert

Ladakh’s capital, Leh, is located at 3,500m and surrounded by Himalayan peaks. After exploring its historic and spiritual center, head off into the Leh Valley for numerous trails to places like Tsemo Monastery or the Japanese Peace Pagoda overlooking the Stok Range. From here, hike passes in the mountainous desert, including Spangpo La, Mebtek La or Lago La. This La La Land will have you dancing for joy.
Markha Valley Trek

8. Markha Valley Trek

One of India’s iconic treks, following the Markha River through Ladakhi villages with mountains ever present, as three Himalayan ranges gather here like great elders. Monasteries feature almost as much as mountains – the sacred power of elevated landscapes being a focus at places like Tache Gompa and Hemis. Markha is a mix of hiking terrain, from rambles to serious climbs up to the Ganda La or Gongmaru.
Nubra Valley

9. Nubra Valley

Your introduction to this trek is usually over the world’s highest driveable road, Khardung La (5,600m) from Leh, and then into this Karakoram Mountains valley. Culturally fascinating as well as stunning, explore the Valley of the Flowers, see Bactrian camels, hike in arid gorges, and visit sacred sites such as the Deskit and Hunder monasteries. Some serious wilderness trekking here, with wild camping too.
Singalila Ridge

10. Singalila Ridge

Forming a natural border between India and Nepal, and stretching through parts of Sikkim and West Bengal, hiking the Ridge is superb for those who want to see the Himalayas but also want a vacation. Protected by Singalila National Park, you will see both Kanchenjunga and Everest, hike through myriad landscapes from rainforest to mountain passes, or camp out and visit sacred Buddhist spots such as Khechipalri Lake.
Srinigar & beyond

11. Srinigar & beyond

Acclimatise in stunning Srinigar, Kashmir’s largest city, known as the Venice of the east thanks to its many waterways, then get your land legs back for the Himalayan four-day trek from Aru to Sonomus through remote forests, up to elevated lakes and mountain passes, including Sonomus at 3,950m. You’ll hardly meet another soul except a few shepherds, known locally as pohol, herding cashmere goats, of course.
Western Ghats, Kerala

12. Western Ghats, Kerala

Rambling in the Western Ghats is rapturous, biodiverse and bursting with history, too. They were the hub of colonial tea plantations and a cool spot where overheated colonists could spend their time. These summer resorts became known as hill stations and are regular stops on hiking vacations. The Ghats are home to Kerala’s highest peak, Anamudi, which overlooks Munnar, the starting point for many walking vacations.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about India walking or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: Gaurav K] [Map intro - Himalayas: Sam Litvin] [Binsar, Himalayas: jburke601] [Chhattisgarh: Ekta Parishad ] [Darjeeling & Sikkim: alcan_] [Gangotri Ganges trek: Barry Silver] [Hemis National Park: Jørn Eriksson] [Kumaon, Uttarakhand - Himalayan Griffin: gailhampshire] [Leh & Ladakh Desert: Nhi Dang] [Markha Valley Trek: SlartibErtfass der bertige] [Nubra Valley: vaidyanathan] [Singalila Ridge : Matt Stable] [Srinigar & beyond: Basharat Shah ] [Western Ghats, Kerala: tornado_twister]