Q&A – How do I hike the Himalayas?

Can you guide us on good hiking trails?

Over the pass years I have consolidated and mapped 400+ beautiful hiking routes across the Indian Western Himalayas spanning Uttarakhand, Himachal, Ladakh and Kashmir. The routes are consolidated in the public domain using Open Street Maps. Easiest way to view the routes is through waymarked hiking trails which gives a comprehensive overview at various zoom levels along with elevation profile and downloadable GPX file useful for offline navigation using mobile phone.

How do you deal with wild animals while trekking solo?

Rule #1 – make your presence felt. Avoid confrontation, surprise or cornering of an animal. Animals usually do not approach / attack humans unless cornered or threatened out of self defense. While hiking higher altitudes (above vegetation line) animals usually see us coming. Inside valleys and forests make some noise if you suspect presence of any animal to avoid surprising it. At night it’s good to camp in a shelter, with shepherd or make a small campfire if you camp in open.

How do you manage to fund your trips?

Life in the mountains is cheap compared to living in cities. Once you step into the wild there are few ways to spend money. Night stay is expensive in hotels but free if you camp in your tent. I never use taxi-s – always hike continuous traverses on foot and use public transport in between. So the only remaining expense is food which is pretty cheap in remote / non-touristic regions – hardly 50Rs for a plate of chaval or chappati’s or mommo’s. In the past several years I easily manage my food expense within just 200Rs per day.

When are you going on your next adventure?

I usually hike in quarterly cycles – 3 months in the mountains, 1 month at home planning my next adventure. While planning, I study various maps, especially the Survey of India maps which contain significant details on lesser known hiking routes, remote settlements and key terrain features. During each 3 months exploration cycle I usually explore an entire state (Uttarakhand, Himachal…) covering 2000km across 100+ passes while hopping from valley to valley across the entire state. Newly explored routes are recorded and mapped into Open Street Maps for anyone to follow my footsteps.

Your favorite place in Himalayas?

My favorite places in the Himalayas are the remotest and lesser known corners where few venture. The Pir Panjal range separating Chamba and Lahaul, the Great Himalayan range separating Lahaul from Zanskar, the wild and unexplored valleys in the mid ranges of Uttarakhand, the out of this world landscape of Zanskar / Hemis National Park, the high alpine meadows where the shepherds graze their herds during summer, the hidden forests in Chamba where the gujjars or mountain tribes live disconnected from modern society. On my thousand kilometer long journeys every day is an adventure with unexpected encounters and mesmerizing natural beauty.

What are the permits required to trek in Himalayas?

As far as I know, most of the internal Himalayas are freely accessible to anyone. Only when entering the regions closer to the national borders (higher ranges of Uttarakhand, region North of Manali-Leh-Srinagar highway…) require an inner line permit. This way one is much more free to hike in the Himalayas or say Sahyadri compared to the Southern states where many forests are restricted. One region in Himachal that requires a permit is GHNP – the Great Himalayan National Park.

How to live as a hermit?

Venture out to the non-touristic regions anywhere in the Western Himalayas and you’ll encounter thousands of small, isolated dwellings (just a few homes) where people live self-sustained either through farming or herding cattle, disconnected from roads, electricity, internet or any modern day comforts. They live is beautiful rock or wooden shelters built from natural materials in forests, grow their own food or graze their cattle in surrounding meadows, survive harsh winters in higher altitudes or barren high altitude deserts, irrigate and drink from nearby streams and have very little dependency on the outside world. Live with them for a few weeks and months to unlearn modern non-sustainable living in our cities.

Help me use your marked trails on Open Street Maps (OSM)?

For planning your hike on a laptop I suggest you use waymarked hiking trails to get an excellent overview of possible hiking routes across the Western Himalayas. Once you have selected any given route, for navigation in the field you can use any offline OSM mapping app – my favorite being OSMAnd. Install the app on your phone, download offline maps for the states you are planning to hike and – highly recommended – download offline contours (requires OSMAnd Contours Plugin) – which are essential to understand the topography (steepness) of the terrain. All hiking routes shown on waymarked hiking website appear in offline OSM maps once you zoom in at a certain level. After that, your phone GPS will guide you along the hiking route similar to the blue dot shown in Google Maps. Childs play!

What’s your motive to such traveling?

What drives me to fast hike thousands of kilometers across the remotest corners of the Himalayas? The thrill of exploring the unknown, not knowing what lies ahead, unsure where I will find night shelter or my next meal. The natural beauty of the Himalayas untouched by modern development, the rawness and virginity of the high altitude terrain shaped by time and weather, the hospitality and innocence of mountain tribes, the pristineness of the natural environment breathing fresh air and drinking natural water from streams, the sense of inner peacefulness while hiking solo far away from human civilization, the positive energy one experiences when indulged for long periods in a natural environment, de-stressing from modern life in concrete cities, etc. to name a few.

What should I pack in my bag for hiking?

Biggest mistake most hikers make is buying a large size backpack and filling it up with non essential gears. They end up struggling with a 50L bag weighing 25kg in very steep terrain. The key is to pack only what’s absolutely necessary while hiking / camping out there. Every extra 100 grams while seriously drain while hiking steep uphill. Hiking lighter means hiking more comfortable, reaching your destination sooner, need to carry less water and food, ability to cross a pass quicker and camp in lower altitude / warmer campsites (less shelter).

I usually take 5kg of gears in a 30L backpack – most of the weight / volume goes to a night shelter – tent and sleeping bag. Phone / charger / power bank for offline navigation with 4-6 days power reserve. Puff and rain jacket to stay warm in cold / windy and rainy weather. One and ONLY ONE dress (tee and shorts) while hiking (same can be refreshed in streams). Comfortable pair of lightweight, breathable, good grip trail running shoes (instead of heavy water proof boots). In terms of food I always pack up fresh food up till 2 days. For longer traverses, a lighter and aluminum plate to cook with some camphor or kerosene to light up a fire.

With respect to technical gears I strongly recommend the use of hiking poles (4 points of contact is much more stable than 2). Poles are useful to traverse steep, landslide prone terrain, crossing water streams and steep snow gullies. I personally reuse my hiking poles to pitch up my tent therefore further reducing overall weight. A lightweight ice axe can be useful to cut steps in frozen snow or ice when the incline is too steep. A pair of crampons further increases weight but provides better traction on slippery steep terrain.

Best nutrition while in the mountains?

When out in the mountains for longer periods one cannot carry specific food / diet (too heavy). I always eat locally available food and carry minimal / just sufficient ration to reach the next human settlement. I eat freshly cooked food in dhaba’s or homes (hospitality) which provides best nutrition. Combined with good night rest (sunset till sunrise) this usually re-energizes the body to continue hiking for months without rest. I usually avoid cooking myself (takes time and carrying burner and fuel is heavy) and instead pack up fresh food which stays good for 32-48 hours. Only for longer traverses (> 2 days) I cook myself – collect some fire wood or dry dung, sprinkle with kerosene or camphor to cook something hot. I usually carry white oats which fills the tummy with just 100 grams.

How to prepare / train for high altitude?

Every individual reacts differently on increase in altitude / decrease in oxygen. Usually one should not increase more than 500 meters in altitude above 3000 meters to give the body sufficient time to adapt. At 5000 meters the atmosphere has only 50% of the oxygen compared to sea level. I strongly suggest to carry an oximeter (small device which clips around finger) to keep an eye on oxygen % in the blood and first signs of AMS – Altitude Motion Sickness. Once you are acclimatized properly during the first couple of days you ll be good to go pass hopping for subsequent duration. Training in South for high passes in North is difficult but some say that training in heat / high humidity does help in preparation.

Can someone join on your treks?

I usually prefer hiking solo or at least with someone of the same level. There are many aspects that come into play while fast hiking the Himalayas. General fitness, minimalist gears, traversing challenging terrain, facing extreme climate and cold, acclimatization, mental endurance, navigation skills and general attitude. I has taken me decades of exploring mountains, running ultra marathons, traversing hundreds of high passes across Himalayan terrain to reach my current level. So I strongly suggest to first get into a regular fitness routine, familiarize yourself with the knowledge captured on my blog ultrajourneys.org and get experienced with alpine style hiking in high altitude terrain along some regular routes before considering tailing along with an explorer.

Can Indrahar pass be done alone? (or many other passes for that matter)

Indrahar pass (4300m) is a fairly well known hiking route across the Dhauladhar rising up steeply from Dharamsala in the Kangra plains and descending into the Chamba valley near the village of Kuvarasi. First thing is always to go in the right season – in this case mid June to mid Sep when the pass is snow free and the trail is clear. Secondly it’s still easy to miss the trail along the way so ensure to carry offline maps and hiking route (refer above – OSM) with you to stay on track. Thirdly – acclimatize properly – it makes sense to first hike till snowline cafe at 3000m and camp there before attempting the pass. Always cross a pass during the morning hours when the weather is more stable. Carry warm gears (puff jacket / rain jacket) with you in case the weather suddenly changes.

From Dharamsala, it’s a good 3000 meter ascent which means you need to possess a good fitness level. Carrying a heavy backpack will increase the effort tremendous so minimize / carry only essentials. Total traverse to Chamba valley should be around 35km with 3500+ meter of total elevation gain which can easily take 3 days for the average hiker so pack food accordingly. Carry sufficient water especially towards the pass where availability is less. You might encounter steep snow gullies even in June on both sides of the pass so a pair of hiking poles is recommended. There are easier, more suitable hiking routes for the novice hiker with less experience in Himalayas.

From where you get energy to travel more?

All of us possess the ability to scale unseen heights and travel for long distances on our own feet. Most of it has to do with our mindset, more then our body. First of all a regular active lifestyle keeps you us fit and healthy. Secondly a passion for traveling / exploring the outdoors is what drives us. If these two are in place then your foundation is ready. Two rules – 1 consistency and 2 patience. Be 1 active on a regular basis to tune your body and 2 go slow and steady – don’t expect to run ultra marathons or fast hike the Himalayas immediately – start with basic goals initially and gradually increase the duration and intensity to allow your body and mind to built endurance. Energy has mostly to do with work-life balance. Set enough time aside to be physically active and spent time close to nature which will give you unlimited energy in return.

Where can we learn the basics of mountaineering?

Best teacher is practice they say. There is no point in following a course and then never practicing the knowledge acquired. I would rather suggest you spent regular time in the mountains rather and learning by yourself. Also, before you step up to “mountaineering” (climbing mountain peaks) I suggest you first start hiking regular trails and passes. There is so much to learn while hiking in the mountains, planning & finding your own route, understanding the seasons, familiarize yourself with the variety of (high altitude) terrain, planning night halts and food ration, reading maps, experiencing weather conditions in the mountains, etc. I personally have not followed any training or know much about technical “mountaineering” but I learned so many things exploring the Himalayas alpine style.

Show your camping gear in detail

Shelter is no doubt the most important gear in your backpack. It protects you against the cold nights in the high Himalayas. Shelter generally consists of three items: tent (protects against weather), sleeping bag (keeps you warm) and sleeping mat (protects from cold underground). Rule #1 while camping is find a suitable place to break the cold night wind which will drain your body heat. If you carry a heavy tent and pitch it up in the open exposed to wind it’ll have little use. During my 3 months traverse of 120 high passes in summer of 2019 I used my bivy tent hardly 10 times – whenever it was raining or I could not break the wind. Otherwise your sleeping mat and bag are most essential to trap your body heat and protect you from the cold night temperatures.

Usually tents and low temperature rated sleeping bags are bulky and heavy. As a minimalist fast hiker I have been using lightweight warm gear from blueboltgear.com, an Indian startup. My solo bivy 4 season (summer, wind, rain, snow) tent weighs just 440grams and is pitched up using my hiking poles. My -4C solo quilt weight just 690 grams and keeps me comfortably warm for most of the year even while camping at higher altitudes. With a standard 12mm Decathlon sleeping mat combined that gives me a very effective lightweight shelter in less then 1.5 kg, a fraction of what most hikers use.

What do do when we can’t find water?

I never carry water on my treks. As a minimalist fast hiker I usually cross water streams every couple of hours, sufficient to hydrate myself along the way without the overhead of carrying. Only in winter the streams are usually more dry (less rains, no snow melt). I carry a small, empty 200ml bottle that allow me to easily drink from very small water sources. Whenever you cross a stream make a habit of drinking sufficient water (e.g. 1 liter) so you can sustain for several hours to the next water source. During winter you can fill snow in an empty bottle and shake it to melt the water for drinking purposes. There are also edible plants which you can suck to extract juice. With proper conditioning your body can go pretty long without water – I covered several days during last winter drinking only once every 24 hours. Thirst (just like pain, tiredness, hunger, …) are usually urgent feelings which can be easily controlled with a tough, experienced mindset.

How do you traverse tricky sections near the passes?

As mentioned above I am not trained in “mountaineering” or experienced with technical climbing. Nor can I carry technical gears with me on my thousand kilometer long ultra journeys. I do have a lot of experience on tricky Himalayan terrain after completing some 300 passes till date. Obviously a good shoe with good grip sole is important. I personally prefer trail running shoes which are lightweight and breathable. When things get really tricky (steep + landslide prone terrain: scree, snow gullies, lose rocks) I make use of adjustable height hiking poles – which give amazing stability as you suddenly get 4 points of contact similar to the mountain goats. The same hiking poles significantly increase stability while crossing wild water streams. Remember that – as humans – we have only 2 points of contact and – with every step – we lose one leaving only one which obviously greatly impacts our stability. Secondly a heavy backpack will also increase your point of gravity and cause more instability.

Have you ever done a summit, rather then passes?

Excellent Q. I prefer passes for several reasons. One – it allows me to cross over into the next valley and keep moving forward eliminating the need for a U-turn from a peak on the same route. Secondly, I love going light and fast (and cheap 😉 – scaling peaks usually involves carrying more technical (and expensive) gears, covering less distance and getting more exposed to weather elements and risky terrain (reduced life expectancy ;-). As long as we stay on hiking routes across passes we are at least having our feet firm on the ground. Connecting passes allows me to plan for continuous thousand meter long traverses at much faster pace experiencing much more along the way. Crossing passes allows you to descend into the next valley soon and resupply food / recharge your electronics allowing you to go lightweight / minimalist. Traversing (most) passes does not require any technical knowledge or mountaineering training.

Do you pay locals in mountains for hospitality?

Most of my routes are (consciously) far away from the touristic / commercial places. In these regions I come across lot of (unexpecting) hospitality with shepherds, mountain tribes, remote villages. In many cases I would be the first outsider to venture in these hidden locations. Also – going solo instead of group – usually makes locals feel more concerned to guide / shelter / feed you. On a 3 months journey it’s not unlikely that I stay in homes / shelters of people nearly 40-50% of the time. On some days I will get invited 3-4 days in a single day for a cup of tea at someone’s home happy to see the first (solo) hiker in their lifetime. In all these unexplored places you come across genuine, unexpecting hospitality whether offering money would be seen as an insult to your host. I also have one rule – I never invite myself or requests for shelter / food even when hungry or tired. Only when someone genuinely offers hospitality I will accept the same. Nevertheless I never compromise on food ration or shelter I carry along on my journeys not counting on the possibility of hospitality along the way.

How to acclimatize ourselves to avoid AMS?

See above.

Indian mountains, plains or beaches?

Mountains and beaches. Plains are boring / usually cultivated / civilized. The mountains are still natural and untouched by human hand. Forests, alpine meadows, glaciers, pristine streams are my home. Near the beaches / shores I love to swim long distance in the open waters and seas while in the mountains I hike. Complete upper / lower body workout.

How to find the route if you are lost?

I am an explorer which – by definition – means that I am always lost or searching for the right way in a new and unknown location 😉 I never use local guides but go alpine style. The key is to study your route and the terrain in advance through available maps. The Survey of India has detailed 1:50K scale topographic maps which – although outdated – contain surprising details on (approximate) hiking routes, human settlements, river crossings, etc. Knowing which terrain (altitude, glaciers, scree, moraines, river crossings…) you will cross allows you to be prepared with required gears. Understanding the terrain and its topography (contour maps) allows you to estimate the duration of a given traverse. Knowing the location of human settlements allows you to plan your food ration.

A few general rules. Rule #1 – always stay on used trails in the Himalayas – once you start wondering off trail you can quickly get stuck in very steep and dangerous terrain. Unused trails quickly disappear due to landslides, overgrowth in forest, snow melt, etc. Tracking the footsteps of shepherds (or locals using routes) across Himalayan ranges can be challenging sometimes. Rule #2 – always track / record your route such that – in case you get stuck (lose trail, wild stream, landslide, steep section) – you can easily back track back to safety. Rule #3 – if you do get lost ensure to have an offline topographic or contour map so that you can navigate your way through sometimes very steep terrain. Rule #4 – carry offline maps + GPS device to identify your current location within the landscape and understand your way out.

Rule #5 always plan for the unexpected as an explorer – delays or getting lost. Which means carry proper shelter and clothing against the weather elements and some backup ration in case a planned traverse takes longer then expected. Good also to carry a backup paper map, compass in case all electronic navigation fails.

How do you plan your journey through the mountains and valleys?

I spent significant time analyzing maps and planning routes before my exploration journeys. You can find a nice summary of my mapping efforts of the Indian Western Himalayas over here. From a high level point of view I locate available maps, geo-reference them and digitize important details (hiking routes, passes, settlements…). Accurate geo-tagged data (passes, settlements) are mapped onto Open Street Maps available to the world wide hiking community. These maps can be downloaded offline in your phone for field navigation. Approximate data (hiking routes) I overlay as GPX files over these base maps and use them as general reference while exploring. Routes successfully explored are accurately recorded and added also to OSM to complete the maps.

Additionally I overlay contour lines to understand the topography or steepness of the terrain useful in planning my journey / estimating duration. For field navigation I carry offline OSM / offline contours / overlaid hiking routes in my phone. The phone is put in flight mode giving me 1-2 days of battery use complimented with a 10.000 mhA power bank extending this with another 3-4 days. This gives me sufficient power in between human settlements where I recharge my electronics. Maps (terrain, distance) and topography (elevation gain) are used to estimate the approximate duration of a given traverse across a high range, important to determine the necessary food ration to carry along.

Route planning in the Himalayas is generally pretty dynamic based on annual seasons and short term weather conditions. Winter snow covers high ranges and gradually melts during summer making passes only crossable between certain months. Monsoon rains trigger dangerous stream currents (and landslides) making the lower Himalayas off limits during which we move onto the high altitude deserts, rain shadow zones behind the high ranges. Summer causes peak snow melt rendering streams unpassable and making certain routes off limits. Short term weather conditions (snow fall, lack of snow fall, cloud burst) can render certain routes instantly off limits. Weather changes soon and is more extreme at higher altitude making pass crossings more tricky.

Given the dynamic nature of climate (and recent climate changes) and more volatile weather in higher altitudes I plan my route as I go along. I usually map an entire state such that any time, any place I can dynamically reroute as per the weather conditions. Add to this the inaccuracy of old hand drawn maps and nature of exploration (getting lost, routes no longer in use, losing the track of shepherds) and you understand why the explorer needs to be extremely flexible in his route planning and everything that goes with it (night halt, food resupply, etc.)

How do you financially support your treks?

The choice is yours. You can do Hampta pass for 15 thousand rupees through a commercial trek organizer. Or you can do it for just 150Rs (4 aloo paratha’s) if you go alpine style. Will you pay for an organization to hold your hand and guide you, carry and pitch up your tent, cook your food? Or will you start reading maps, find your own way, carry your own gears and pack up your food? As I said before – living in the mountains is very cheap – I covered 120 passes in 2019 for 120 x 200Rs. For 6000Rs a month it’s financially much cheaper to hike the mountains then to live in any city for that matter.

Fitness requirements

Refer above.

Tips for long treks to get less tired

When transitioning from comfort city life to active mountain life your body will initially need a couple of days to adjust to the new daily routine of hiking 20km / 1500m elevation gain in challenging, steep, high altitude terrain. Your body however is a magnificent machine that adapts quickly and soon you’ll be hiking non stop for weeks or months without rest. As mentioned above 1. eating fresh local food (resupply in villages) 2. proper night rest (sunset to sunrise) 3. daily physical activity (refreshes body and mind) and 4. pristine environment (clean air and fresh water) will re-energize you to keep going for longer durations without a break. This said of course, a lot will of course also depend on your prior fitness level and active lifestyle beforehand.

Do you live 365 days in Himalayas?

From a corporate / materialistic slave spending 2 decades of his precious, short life in a 5×5 ft cubicle with hardly 3-4 weeks holidays each year to travel the Himalayas, I’ve come a long way to now spent 8 months in a year in the Himalayas vs. 4 months mapping and planning my future journeys in the city. Over time this will eventually transition to 365 days in the mountains as I move my home base closer to the mountains and complete mapping the entire Himalayas with enough routes to explore for a lifetime.

Can you come to South Indian hills?

I worked for 2 decades in Chennai and explored the mountains of the 4 Southern states nearly every weekend during those 20 years. I founded the Chennai Trekking Club, a 40 thousand member volunteer based non profit organization which has taken more then 15 thousand youngsters into the mountains of South.

Most dangerous trek of all times?

Danger in the mountains usually comes down to three things in people’s mind – 1. wildlife, 2. terrain, 3. weather. Wildlife (as discussed above) is not of primary concern. Terrain is definitely challenging (steepness, lose rocks, streams, crevasses…) but can be assessed with right experience. Weather however can be completely out of our hands – unpredictable and fast changing and trigger dangerous conditions in the fragile high mountains – stream flooding, land slides, rock fall, severe cold, white out, etc. So far – by God’s grace – I have not yet been in the wrong place in bad weather conditions. That being said, wild stream crossings and steep, lose terrain near passes can sometimes involve the most dangerous moments in a traverse.

Which camera do you take photos?

I am a minimalist fast hiker and can therefore not afford to carry an bulky / heavy SLR with me. Neither does my target audience (social media) require SLR quality photos. I use my phone (OnePlus series – gets lost and replaced each year 😉 to navigate, shoot photos and take videos to find my way and document my journey.

How frequent do you encounter wild animals?

First of all – based on my personal experience – people are wilder than animals. As far as I understand humans are the ones exterminating most of the bio-diversity on this planet while animals are mostly living in harmony with their surroundings. So let us reserve the world “wild” for whom it is appropriate. I have been hiking the South Indian forests for over a decade. Given the lush green forest cover and moderate climate I’ve had more frequent animal encounters in South compared to the less hospitable high altitudes of the Himalayas. I ve been fast hiking the Himalayas for 3 years over some 8000 km and 300 passes and had limited encounters with any predators. I ve seen lots of wild goats, deer, jungle fowl. Hardly seen any snakes. Not a single snow leopard. And only one black bear encounter.

The shepherds and mountain tribes however acknowledge that there is a constant treat of predators preying on their herds in the more remote regions of the Himalayas. They use enclosures and dogs to protect their animals from nocturnal attacks. Villagers frequently mention observations of bears. Predators are – by default – stealth and while mostly invisible in summer, I’ve saw many animal (bear, leopard) footprints in fresh snow during my last 2000km winter journey across Uttarakhand pointing to an active wildlife population in these places. No doubt the animals spot / smell us humans from far way even tough they mostly remain invisible to us. I also had the privilege to observe a leopard from up close, a most beautiful predator, who had recently died in a territorial dispute.

Ever got stuck in bad weather?

Several times. In case of strong rains / wind it’s best to find a proper shelter (cave…) or put up your tent in order to stay dry and warm. A rain jacket can only keep you dry for limited time. As an explorer finding trails and tracking the footsteps of shepherds I ve lost the way in sudden white out conditions where you lose visibility and are forced to wait or camp until the weather clear again. During sudden rains or during peak snow melt in summer or late afternoon I ve gotten stuck several times at streams when water currents become too dangerous to cross. As a peanut venturing through a landscape of magnificent proportions amid extreme weather conditions one’s fat is sometimes in the hands of God… Experience tough helps to be better prepared and take better decisions in terms of staying safe and alive.

What do you suggest for a beginner who wants to hike solo?

I strongly suggest you first stick to the well known routes (e.g. pilgrim routes, touristic routes) before you venture into the lesser known trails. First focus on lower altitude traverses (South or foothills of Himalayas) before you attempt higher / remote passes. Get experienced first in day hikes before attempting longer traverses. Hike in the right season with clear weather conditions, avoid monsoon and winter / snow initially. Carry the right gears to protect yourself from adverse weather. Carry the right gears to traverse more challenging terrain. If anything happens while you are solo (getting lost, getting sick, getting injured) there is no one around to get help. It’s much safer to go initially along with (experienced) friends or groups. Be patient and go step by step – there is a lot to learn about hiking the Himalayas. I recently documented an easy “Getting started” alpine style hiking route over here.

What’s your one favorite place?

If I have to chose one special place it might be the Pir Panjal range separating Chamba from Lahaul. The shepherd routes across the Pir Panjal through the Cheni, Chobia, Kalicho, Kugti, Marhu, Darati passes are some of the most challenging and beautiful traverses in the Himalayas. It’s almost unimaginable how shepherds navigate their large herds of 500-thousand+ animals across these extreme steep rock faces through undocumented routes over generations. Facing challenging terrain, extreme weather and high altitude predators these are the real kings of the mountains.

Backpack looks big, how much does it weigh?

I use a 30 liter backpack which mostly gets filled up – volume wise – with sleeping bag and tent. Total weight of my gears – excluding food – is around 5kg. For a complete item-wise / weight breakdown of my gear set check this presentation.

Which device do you use for trekking?

I use any of-the-shelf Android or iPhone for navigation purposes. I use the OSMAnd (or any other OSM) mobile app with offline maps, offline contours and overlay GPX routes to find my way. I also geo-reference and download Survey of India maps which contain lots of useful terrain details while exploring. The phone is kept in flight mode to save battery and the built in GPS shows my location on the maps.

Will you organize group treks?

I organized (non profit, volunteer based) group treks for a decade in South as part of the Chennai Trekking Club. Right now if feels more satisfying doing long duration solo exploration journeys. Solo hikes give more freedom (less baby sitting), more intense, more meditative, build more experience. Exploration is more challenging and therefore satisfying. I do enjoy the company of a like minded trekking companion with the right fitness, experience and attitude.

Which lightweight tent do you use for hiking?

I am currently field testing a new solo bivy tent design from blueboltgear.com, an Indian startup specializing in lightweight minimalist hiking gears. It’s not available for general sales yet but you can register yourself on the website to stay updated on its upcoming avaiability.

Your job on leaving a well paid corporate job for a career in outdoors?

I think my tagline “die with memories, not with dreams” answers that question. Life is short and no doubt many of us stuck in corporate lifestyle / comfort of cities / family commitments will regret the missed opportunities once they are old and no longer able to do the things possible when young… “Career in outdoors” is a a contradiction in terms. Careers are made in cities, not mountains. Being a trek leader might bring you closer to nature but not fulfill your craving to roam freely in the mountains. I studied and worked hard for 20 years to build myself a sustainable revenue allowing me to live a full time minimalist lifestyle in the mountains. The pictures I post on my profile are beautiful but never underestimate the skill or hardship of an explorer.

11 thoughts on “Q&A – How do I hike the Himalayas?”

  1. How do you approach a virgin mountain or area which has been not explored by anyone yet or any trails are present in any maps?

  2. Excellent answers Peter!!! Like a Wikipedia page on solo trekking on Himalayas.

  3. Thank you Peter for all these valuable Info. You are an inspiration for generations to come. You work inspires to get more into the outdoor and respect nature.

  4. How do you manage with the permits required for various trails? I heard that guides are mandatory? is that true for most of the treks and trails in himachal and Uttrakhand?

  5. You don’t need permits for most of the treks in himachal or uttarakhand or rest of india and certainly no guides. The permit you’ll need are mostly for national parks or region closer to international border of india and wherr did you hear that guides are mandatory. The treks peter does and the region where he goes there will be no guides in those area even if you need or he will not be able to keep up due to alpine style fast hiking . These are Remote region where you’ll find no one hope this answers your questions. There is also a hiking bootcamp by peter if you are interested and will answer most of your questions and queries. You will find it on peter Instagram.

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