Mapping the Western Himalayas

The lack of accurate, detailed maps have always hampered independent hikers to explore the Himalayas. Initiated during the 2020 lockdown and with extensive volunteer efforts over 2 years the Indian Western Himalayas have been mapped in unprecedented detail in Open Street Maps. Tens of thousands of geographic features useful for the alpine explorer were mapped using legacy maps. Access detailed high resolution Himalayan maps, GPX files with thousands of kilometers of hiking routes and detailed offline maps for navigation through Patreon.

Menthosa peak indulged in the clouds as seen from the Pangi valley

  • 14 thousand kms of major valleys (rivers)
  • 34 thousand kms of minor valleys (streams)
  • 40 thousand human settlements (villages, hamlets, dwellings)
  • 2500 Mountain peaks
  • 2000 Alpine lakes
  • 1600 named passes
  • 1200 unnamed passes
  • 2500 Glaciers
  • 500 GPS recorded hiking routes covering 12 thousand kms
  • 26 thousand kms legacy paths (to be recorded)
  • 37 thousand kms legacy trails (to be recorded)

GPX files for each Himalayan state for above features can be accessed through

Passes (o), lakes (o), peaks (/\), valleys (blue), trails (orange) South of the Nanda Devi region in Kumaon, Uttarakhand. 1:250K scale

Features are accurately geo-referenced and maps can be downloaded offline and are thus perfect for off grid navigation. Add offline contours to this and you have the perfect set of tools to explore the Himalayas on your own. Being vector maps they can be viewed at any scale enabling planning of both long distance traverses as well as navigating the immediate surroundings.

Mapping Geography

The overall geography of the Himalayas is defined by snow and ice (glaciers) capped high ranges from where numerous streams flow down forming initially minor (streams) and eventually major (rivers) valleys along the way. Planning an alpine journey across the Himalayan topography usually involves a traverse across multiple valleys and high ranges (mountain passes).

Glacial meltwater flowing down in the Rupin river valley from the glacier above

The Western Himalayas span an area of 2 lakhs km2 and encompasses a network of hundreds of rivers and thousands of streams. Mapping the trajectory of these and identifying (naming) these through legacy maps was a mammoth effort. Let’s take a top down view to get a feel of its extent:

Rivers and tributaries of the entire Western Himalayas, shown at 1:3 Million scale.
Rivers and tributaries in South Himachal and North Uttarakhand. 1:1 Million scale
Rivers and tributaries in South Himachal and North Uttarakhand. 1:500K scale
Rivers and tributaries in the boundary region between Himachal and Uttarakhand. 1:250K scale
Individual valleys and ranges appear at 1:100K scale on the boundary of Himachal and Uttarakhand.

Understanding the topography and ability to refer to each valley / side-valley by its actual name enables the independent hiker to uniquely identify each section of his alpine journey while planning and blogging.

Mountain passes

Mountain passes are gateways across high ranges (ridgelines) connecting neighboring valleys. Originally created by nomadic herders to reach the high alpine meadows and shortcuts to neighboring valleys used by villagers. One gets treated to mesmerizing views from these high points on the surrounding snow covered high ranges and lush green valleys below. A network of paths and trails through these passes provide infinite possibilities for the independent hiker to explore.

Views on the Chamba valley from top of the Kugti pass on the Pir Panjal range

Legend for maps below:

  • Dots – mountain passes – 2700
  • Pink – paths – 26 thousand kms
  • Orange – trails  – 37 thousand kms

This is more than anyone can ever hike in an entire lifetime.

Mountain passes across the entire Western Himalayas. 1: 3 Million scale
Hundreds of mountain passes across J&K (left), Ladakh (up) and Himachal (bottom) shown at 1:1 Million scale
Mountain passes shown at 1:500K scale for the Kullu and Spiti districts of Himachal
Mountain passes and connecting trails and paths for the border region between Himachal and Uttarakhand. 1:100K scale

Hiking Routes

As of now 500+ hiking routes spanning 12 thousand kms across the entire breadth of the Western Himalayas have been GPS recorded and accurately mapped in Open Street Maps for anyone to hike. The more adventurous hikers can additionally explore the 63 thousand kms of yet unmapped trails digitized from legacy maps. Once explored trails can be GPS recorded and accurately added to OSM for the benefit of the outdoor community.

Hiking path from Bara Banghal leading up to the Thamsar pass
Hiking routes (red) mapped in Open Street Maps spanning the Western Himalayas shown at 1:2.5 Million scale
OSM mapped routes covering parts of J&K (left), Ladakh (top), Himachal (bottom). 1:1 Million scale

Paths (red) and Trails (orange) mapped from legacy maps for South Himachal. 1:500K scale
Paths (red) and Trails (orange) mapped from legacy maps for South Himachal. 1:100K scale

Waymarked Hiking Trails provides a comprehensive overview of OSM hiking routes in the Kullu region.. Elevation profile and route stats of the Pin Parvati pass connecting Kullu and Spiti districts


Equally important for the independent hiker are human settlements which provide pit stops for both food supply and night halt. Some 40 thousand villages, hamlets and isolated dwellings have been geo-mapped, useful for planning one’s alpine journey and optimizing food ration to be carried along. Both permanent settlements in valleys as well as seasonal dwellings at higher altitudes inhabited during summer by semi-nomadic tribes. Additionally during summers the alpine meadows are full with nomadic life: shepherds and bakarwals grazing their herds. Hospitality is never far away.

Kathi village at the entrance of the Pindari river valley

With 40 thousand settlements spread across and fast hiking lightweight many traverses can be managed without carrying significant food supplies:

  • 6000 villages (red)
  • 27000 hamlets (yellow) 
  • 9000 isolated dwellings (green)
Villages (red), hamlets (yellow) and dwellings (green) mapped for Uttarakhand and South Himachal shown at 1:1 Million scale
Settlements and connecting trails shown in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. 1:100K scale

Alpine lakes

At the higher altitudes in the Himalayas one can find many beautiful alpine lakes. Many are frozen during winter while revealing their true color and beauty during summers. Many lakes are considered holy by the locals and the target of an annual pilgrimage. There are more than 2000 high altitude lakes in the Western Himalayas which make beautiful destinations for the alpine hiker, well connected by paths and trails.

Kaliheni lake at the base of the Kalihani glacier
Thousands of alpine lakes across J&K, Ladakh and Himachal shown at 1:2 Million scale
Glacial lakes in North Kashmir. 1:200K scale

Mountain Peaks

Adobe of the Gods, the high towering snow covered summits visible from far away have always enthralled humankind. Many are named and considered sacred. 2500 peaks spanning the Western Himalayas are geo-mapped and named in OSM. 

Trisul as seen from the snow covered path towards Brahma Tal
2500 peaks mapped spanning the entire Western Himalayas seen at 1:3 Million scale
Peaks in the Nanda Devi region of Kumaon, Uttarakhand. 1:250K scale


Contour lines define the topography the landscape and allow the independent hiker to identify steepness and key terrain features (unmapped) like peaks, ridgelines, valleys and saddles. Contours overlaid on top of Open Street Maps are the perfect combo to plan and execute your alpine journey. Both can be downloaded offline for off grid navigation.

Survey of India

In August 2021 the Survey of India published the Open Map Series covering 90% of the Western Himalayas. These 1:50K fixed scale maps provide tremendous terrain detail and are perfect for local exploration. Individual map sheets span 15x15min (28x28km) tiles which can be individually downloaded from the website –  Survey maps have to be individually geo-referenced for easy field navigation.

Survey map showing the Chamoli region around Wan / Kanol village in Uttarakhand. 1:50K scale