To be clear, we are mostly talking about the proliferation of Guided Trekking Companies which has changed the ecological landscape of the Himalayas. This post isn’t an indictment of Guided Trekking culture as a whole. Rather, it comes from a concern many independent Trekkers feel strongly about.
While a majority of people trek independently in the western countries, the same cannot be said for here. In India, trekking is still at an antecedent stage, largely dependent on Trek Operators. The “worry free” wilderness experience these Organizers offer has not necessarily helped in developing a true trekking culture. The clients are relatively inexperienced and require a thorough handholding. A lot of resources are put forth by the Trek Organizers to cater to the creature comforts of the clients.
Out of this niche, a very small fraction of people have learned to trek independently. The numbers are dismal. This dependency works in favor of the Trek Operators. In short, trekking culture in India is mostly guided and unregulated, with serious ecological implications.
A case for Independent Trekking
Trekking independently is not only a lot of fun but is a leisurely pursuit with a very low environmental impact which also contributes towards a healthier lifestyle.
But perhaps most importantly, learning how to trek independently gives you more freedom to plan and explore. “As an independent backpacker, we are adding economic value to the landscape, habitat, and species that inhabit those areas and therefore strengthening the case for their protection. Trekking independently means the acceptance of all responsibilities,” says Veena, a mountaineer, and an outdoor enthusiast.
An independent trekker represents a more empathetic figure, simply because he or she is attempting to accept and adapt to local conditions without the safety net of a guided trip. “when local people see someone hiking independently, carrying their own pack, taking the same dodgy buses and broken down pickup trucks that they do, an affinity is created without a single word being exchanged” states Cam Honan who has extensively trekked around the globe.
A Case against Guided Trekking in India
Guided Trekking Companies are seen with suspicion among the many independent backpackers in India. We contacted a few passionate backpackers in India. We spoke at length about the overt commercialisation of the Himalayan trails in India. This is the most discussed, off the record topic. In the spirit of full disclosure, we admit hearing a lot of flak against the unregulated model of Trek Tourism. Some were very vocal about their distaste for the commercial entities pushing an increasingly high number of inexperienced (unfit) people on treks.
“People who have been trekking for years have suddenly been forced to share the limited resources at campsites, newbie trekkers creating noise in silent & pristine locations, trekking trails full of people, litter thrown around the trek routes & campsites and so on,” speaks Arvind, a trekker from Jaipur.
Arvind is not the only one who echoes this sentiment. Every year we see more and more of Himalayan trails taken over by this Trek Tourism. In order to make treks economically viable, Trek operators pitch fixed camps for the entire season. The loud and noisy ways of the trekkers who trek with them spoil the camping experience for a few backpackers looking for peace and quiet.
“While visiting Chandra Taal on the way back to Pin Parvati, came across a bunch of trekkers from India Hikes made the lake appear like a picnic spot.” fumes Moumita Nandy as she narrates her experience of tolerating a lousy batch of trekkers manned by Indiahikes, a popular Trek Operator.
The contempt for Trek Tourism does not end here. “I get asked for information about new, unexplored trails regularly by Trek Operators. I never divulge any information fearing the worst for those pristine places in the Himalayas, losing out to these money minded goons.” says an experienced traveler who chose to keep his identity anonymous.
So what can be the solutions? “Simple solution can be restricting the number of trekkers allowed on a Himalayan Trail. Correspondingly lay clear guidelines for operation and conduct for every Trek Organizer. Make everyone accountable and responsible.” says Mithun from Hyderabad.
Read more: Why Guided Trekking in India needs regulations
Our list of trekkers quotes (some with expletives) is a big one. We will let them be and move on to our list of treks we lost to Trek Tourism in 2016.
Losing out on the Himalayan Trails to Guided Trek Tourism
In 2016 we saw a spike increase in the presence of Guided trekking groups. The most disturbed were the trails that remained off the radar of the popular trekking agencies. Until now.
We take no pride in listing 5 Himalayan Treks we lost to the bogarting presence of Guided Trekking Companies. Expect a huge increase in human traffic brought forth by these groups.
A favorite weekend destination for Backpackers near Manali has now been identified by Trek Agencies. Experienced backpackers can expect to reach the impressive height of over 4,000 meters on the second day of trek itself.
However, a weekend trek gives a low return of investment for Trek Organizers. Companies look to maximize their earnings by adding more camping days in the itinerary.
In the case of Bhrigu Lake, the organizers found 2 extra camping days that could make the trek more attractive. The trek which starts from Gulaba, no longer requires one to return back to its Base. The trek now extends all the way down to Vashisht Village. The 4-day trek looks more attractive for people who live far away from the Himalayas.
The high altitude alpine meadows of Pandu Ropa and Rola Kholi has suddenly seen an ostentatious increase in trekking activity. With little regulations over how many trekkers are allowed, we fear the worse for the ecology of the land. National Green Tribunal has been bullish over the environmental impact in Rohtang La, near Bhrigu Lake. We hope they bring regulations for the trekking routes around this zone as well.
If there is a trek that has an ecological doom written all over it, it is Buran Ghati.
Trek Organizers have been frantically searching for a money-spinning alternative to Roopkund Trek. The untouched alpine meadows of Pabbar Valley is now under the scanner of Commerical Trekking Companies. It is not difficult to understand why. The mad rush that Roopkund generate needs a successor.
On paper, Buran Ghati has it all. A stunning alpine meadow that rivals the best Himalayas got to offer. A high altitude Glacial lake (Chandarnahan). A riveting snowbound pass crossing experience. With Buran Ghati, the Organizers have hit a jackpot. It has the best of Roopkund and Rupin Pass. You are getting two for the price of one.
Last year, the Organizers worked in addressing the problem of Manpower and Logistics. Getting local porters in this region is very difficult and costly. This year we anticipate Buran Ghati will witness a record inflow of Trek Tourism. A worry for another quiet and pristine location turning into an ecological mess that has become of Roopkund.
Pin Bhaba Pass
Pin Bhaba is one of the most popular trekking destination for independent backpacker.
It runs in a virtually untapped Bhaba Valley of Kinnaur that connects with a barren Spiti Valley.
Experienced Trekkers have an added advantage of extending their trek with other high altitude pass traverse like Pin Parvati, Shakarog la, Kilung La etc.
Barring a few small groups run by local Trek Agencies, the route has remained quiet. In 2016 we saw an entry of some of the big Trekking Players on this route. We anticipate the numbers to significantly increase this year.
Tarsar Marsar Lake
A favorite camping destination of Foreign backpackers in the 1980’s has seen a revival. The hidden lakes of Tarsar, Marsar of Aru Valley in Kashmir are open for trekkers again.
Tarsar Marsar Lake is positioned as a sequel to the Great Lakes Trek near Sonamarg.
The Trek was first introduced for big size trekking groups in 2015. It became an instant hit. In 2016, most trek operators were seen running this trek. In 2017, we expect it to close the gap with its sister trek in Sonamarg. Solo Backpackers, get use to sharing the campsite with the Selfie Crowd.
Deoriatal to Chandrashila Peak
Deoriatal to Chandrashila Peak is a walk over connecting forested ridge of Chopta Valley.
A route only known to the locals and few experienced Backpackers has recently been presented to the public.
The solo trekkers use to trek from Deoriatal to Chopta in a day. This takes away the need for setting a camp in the inner realm of Chopta Forest.
However, the Trek Operators place fixed camps at Rohini Bughyal and Bhrujgali to increase the camping days. Both these camping sites is inside the most secluded (and fragile) zone of the Forest. Strangely, The Forest Department shows no objection to this.
In 2016, this route saw a regular inflow of trek batches throughout the year. We are strictly against the practice of camping at Rohini Bughyal. Making the trek easier for amateur trekkers is no excuse for the ecological mess that comes with it.
Picture Credits: Mohit Kharb for Bhrigu Lake, Srinivas Sudhir for Pin Bhaba Pass
21 thoughts on “5 amazing treks we lost to Guided Trekking Companies in 2016”
Absolutely true. I have seen this with my own eyes, beautiful pristine Himalayan landscapes getting converted to a mere picnic spot. I just came from a trek organized by one of the big guided trek organizations, so I can relate more now. Trekking was less of a trekking and more of a vacation. I am afraid of its future consequences.
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Vaibhav, I don’t know if this is true, but the individual hikers seem to be on decline with the rise of trek tourism. Indiamike, which used to be an active forum among the trekkers is less active. It used to be first source of information. Fellow trekkers would update the routes and conditions. I don’t know if many of them have started using agencies instead!
If you permit, can I re-blog it?
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Arvind, I cannot say. The forums at Indiamike is no longer buzzing as they use to before. I assume, independent trekkers are discussing more about their travel among themselves. There was a whats app group I was invited where many experience people share pictures and itineraries. You are most welcome to re-blog 🙂
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Interaction among independent trekkers is very important. I’m not sure if a large number of trekkers can benefit from whatsapp group quite like indiamike which actually curates the everyone’s contribution for a longer duration. But yes, whatever keeps the community going is good. I just hope that first time trekkers awaken after a few trek and start independent treks soon. That’ll be good for everyone (except the trek agencies). Thanks for the permission. will re-blog this soon. 🙂
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I haven’t hiked much in India and none of the 5 listed but I am sad to hear the situation. One on hand I would like more people to go trekking, on the other I want to see a cleaner, quieter environment. On one hand I am not in favor of regulation but this situation might need some regulation like limiting number of people on trail/day or at the very least some education even if it is in the form of billboards or signs promoting leave no trace principles, share the trails, etc.
Trek tourism…. apt word. Most of the people are not conscious and leave garbage.
Agree that the guided tours should be regulated. However, i do also have to side them for making Himalaya accessible to those who can other only dream of it. I did not like you mentioning the trekker with guided tours as – a lousy batch of trekkers – This is showing your ego and dis-respect to other fellow human willing to discover Himalaya. We need boost to economy of Northern / North East state. Only point I would support in this blog is this increase in tourist should be regulated to maintain Himalayan Beauty.
Reblogged this on Curated Experiences & Impressions! and commented:
This is worth sharing with all the fellow and wannabe Trekkers!
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I agree totally. You have given voice to what has been bothering many of us for quite some time. When I started hiking in the Himalayas 30 years back, only YHAI was doing this, but it was limited to one month in summer and a shorter trek for about 15 days in winter. Permission had to be taken from the forest authorities for camping at many of the places. But they were the only ones and now I feel that they acted with great responsibility. With the proliferation of trekking organizations, especially the ones who do it on a large scale. there is a real danger to the environment. The first photo that you have posted of Triund is scary.
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Ah, how i wish we could go back to the days when few trekked and even fewer littered the Himalayas. Alas time can not go back, but I do hope posts like these will create more awareness and responsible travelers. Sharing…
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Why blame trek tourism ? There is an increasing demand ( for reasons other than pure trekking / adventure ) and the big operators like to cash in ! We can not artificially limit the number of trekkers per season ( what would be the basis ? ) , thereby , may be , denying a real nature lover !!
And the accumulated litter over the years , at various sites is nauseating.
Our group ( Trekkers Anonymous ) visited Pindari Glacier in 1982 and again in 2015. It looked like a different place altogether ! It was such a sad and depressing experience that , one senior member broke down and started weeping !
Is it possible to enforce discipline from outside ? It should come from within , is it not ?
It is a fervent hope that , future trekkers would be more mature , responsible , and environment friendly ,
This is sad indeed! I haven’t been to the Himalayas yet but I have been trekking around Sahyadri fairly regularly. Even though the impact of Guided treks is not immediately apparent here in Maharashtra, it is beginning to affect those of us who trek independently. Every weekend the forts and trails are swarmed by a motley group of people from all walks of life who think they they have no responsibility to maintain the sanctity of the place or care about the environment. It pains me to see plastic wrappers thrown in water tanks on forts which has rendered them unfit for drinking and thus put paid to any chance of doing a self sufficient range trek because you have to depend on the villages for drinking water. The trekking groups are partly to be blamed here for it is a vicious cycle that they aren’t willing to end for the fear of losing lucrative clients who are not fit for trekking on their own, mentally as well as physically.
Hope better sense prevails!
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You have aptly brought out the plight of the Himalayas and the nature lovers. I think anyone who leaves even a bit of plastic in Himalayas should be fined heavily.
However, I think to your list of five treks, two more needs to be added – Roopkund and Chadar Trek. These two have also become highly commercialized.
I think every trekker should remember these lines –
“Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints”.
Hi Hitesh, agree with you on Roopkund and Chadar Treks. However, these treks were lost to guided trekking a few years back. This is a list of 5 treks that were identified and operationally setup for bulk guided touring in 2016.
Trek routes have been commercialised to a large extent. Chadar Trek is one such trek that has got quite overexposure. I will also mention Rupin Pass – When I went for Rupin, I saw many first time trekkers with guided trekking companies. I feel that Rupin is definitely not for the first time trekkers.
Mountains should be revered and nature respected, otherwise we will not have such beauties to behold in future.
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Hey man.. Don’t you work FOR Indiahikes?! 😛
Not anymore Prashant. Been a long time now.
hi i am a native of uttarakhand ,pauri district yamkeshwar block but have been living in haridwar district since my early school days,i started trekking since 2012 since i did not know about guided commercialized trekking companies i thought trekking is done independently only so i started with an independent self sufficient and self dependent approach towards trekking and in first five years my aim was to cover treks which are somewhat easy and not to hard for a new independent trekkers so far i have done dozen treks which do not exceed the altitude of 12500 to 13000 ft,once when me and my friend hemant phani were going to ‘min thaach’ which is situated 6 km from grahan village which is situated 11 km away from dirty tourist town of kasol (do not think of me as stoner junkie types,i had no business in kasol) on our way to grahan we found around 15-20 metro city corporate employees and college kids who like to call themselves or think of themselves as trekkers being pushed towards SAR PASS by their guided trekking tour company guides they were to stay one night in grahan village which did not have a proper camping site most of the village was private property of villagers farm land etc, so one villager told us that if we also want to camp on his private property ground for a night even we have to pay a handsome amount like 800-1000 rupees just to pitch a tent for a night which trekking company people were paying him ,i some how managed to tell him that we will decide about the price tomorrow,that evening after dark some assholes from this guided tour company pitched their toilet tent just 15 ft away from our tent which stank all night and the next morning,when the guy cam to us thinking that he will get money i gave him 100 rs and my friend gave him 50 rs that too only when i insisted which he was not willing to give,i talked to those clients or tourist from Mumbai banglore who were trekking to sar pass with their company they had no idea about what trekking is had no approach and have just come by paying the amount which was mentioned in the tour package,i feel sorry for such people who think they are trekking or are trekkers after they pay thousands of rupees for one single trek come in a group of 20 to 30 and even more sometimes and call this outdoor activity as trekking they are just lying and fooling themselves.
Excellent write up you capture the all Beauty of India’s beautiful places for trekking in this article. These are amazing. Excellent location photography.
Hi, I just read your article it’s so true and I also think it should be regulated properly. It doesn’t matter if i am representing a trekking tour company but the fact is you are damn true.