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India

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Below you will find comprehensive information on all things India. You can search what activities you can do, the best times of year to travel, what you need to bring with you, how to stay healthy and even how to negotiate visas and airports in the country. We hope that this provides a comprehensive guide to help you get the most out of your adventure, but if you have any additional questions, please feel free to contact us via our "contact us" page.

It is important to know that our India guide is not a comprehensive overview of all of the country. We only focus on a very small part of Northern India, in the Himalayas, called Himachal Pradesh and parts of Jammu and Kashmir.

This area is famous for stunning mountains and incredible trekking and mountaineering. It is rugged and unspoiled, with very few people visiting each year. It is very different to Nepal in that the area is much drier, with less vegetation. Expect a feel like the Alps in Himachal Pradesh, and a feel like Tibet or Upper Mustang in Ladakh.

Trekking and climbing routes are generally not served by tea houses, which means we camp on all of our trips. We also have a cook team to provide all our meals.

Activities are more limited in this part of India compared to Nepal. The main ones are:The best way to start planning your time in Northern India is to not compare it to Nepal. It offers a very different experience. You need to be prepared to camp for your entire journey, expect some long overland transfers and be prepared to rough it a little bit more. The rewards that come of this though as incredible. You will be alone in a true wilderness environment that is hard to find on most of our planet these days.

- Trekking

- Mountaineering

- White Water Rafting

- Rock Climbing

You also need to consider spending more time on your trip in India compared to Nepal. Logistics are sometimes slow due to the vastness of the country. Treks tend to be a little bit longer as well. That said it is possible to get a good trek done (think Hampta Pass or Chanderkhani Pass) in a week. Unlike Nepal, this is not a place you can visit for a long weekend though.

If you spend 2 or more weeks in the country then larger treks like the Pin Parvati Pass become available to you, or if you are looking to go climbing, expeditions like ChandraBhaga 13 can be achieved in 3 weeks.

Whatever it is you are looking for, be assured that this part of India will blow your mind. We are truly in love with this part of the World and firmly believe that the more difficult logistics are absolutely worth it with the rich and unique things we and our clients see and do.

It might sound strange at first, but the best time to travel to this part of India is in the monsoon, between June and October. The reason for this is that both Himachal and Kashmir lie in the rain shadow. This is due to the fact that the Himalayas form a natural barrier for clouds so that the monsoon doesn’t penetrate the areas we visit.

In addition to this, winters in this part of the World are very cold and very brutal. Snow closes all roads in in the Spiti and Lahaul valleys (Himachal) and the cold makes it hard to do much in Ladakh.

Getting to Manali, the gateway to Himachal Pradesh, tends to be complicated due to the monsoon, as Manali sits before the rain shadow. There are daily flights to the nearest airport (Bhuntar), but they are often canceled due to bad weather. This leaves driving, which although it is pretty reliable, takes about 15 hours on a luxury tourist bus, or as little as 8-9 hours in a private car. All our trips are run using private 4 x 4s to limit this travel time.

Treks out of Manali (Chanderkhani and Hampta Pass) will start off wet and green before you exit the Kullu Valley (the valley of Manali) and enter the Lahaul or Spiti valleys. As soon as you leave Kullu it will get dry and the scenery will change dramtically.

Ladakh can be reached by a much more reliable aiport in its capital, Leh. Flights run every day in the monsoon with very few delays or cancelations. Once there the scenery is totally different to Himachal, as is extremely barren and dry. This leads to spectacular high altitude desert scenery, backdropped by snow capped mountains.

Our advice is to plan your trip in India well. Commit early in order to get your domestic travel confirmed in order to make the most of your time there. Using a good travel operator will really help here as weather can make plans change constantly. Good operators will ensure that your trip goes well and will take all the stress off your hands.

There are four main activities to consider when traveling to the Indian Himalayas. We will discuss all of them below in more detail.

Trekking

Trekking is not actually the biggest draw for people travelling to Himachal, although it likely is in Ladakh. That said, there are many excellent routes that are made even better with the fact fewer tourists are trekking them. Treks tend to be harder here than in Nepal, mainly due to quick altitude gains and a lack of facilities. All treks that we provide are camping-based and last a minimum of 1 week (including international travel).

You should expect to carry a day pack, with your main bag being carried by porters or mules. You will be lead by experienced guides and will also be accompanied by a cook. It is highly recommended not to trek alone in this area due to the lack of tea house facilities, unless you have a lot of back country experience.

A general trekking day will start with a morning tea in your tent, followed by breakfast. After this we will break down camp and trek to our next point. Trekking days tend to be 5 to 8 hours long, with summit or pass days being longer.

Food tends to be vegetarian due to the complexities of keeping meat fresh.

We recommend our India treks to people with good fitness and who ideally have previous multi-day trekking experience. This is due to the basic nature of the facilties along the trek.

Coming to India is a very, very special experience. The wilderness-nature of the treks makes this part of the World very special, and somewhere you are likely never to forget.

Mountaineering

Himachal and Ladakh have countless 6000m ad 7000m peaks to climb, many of which have never been attempted before. Climbing in India, like trekking, is an adventure. You will be camping all along the way, and going with guides and cook team. You will most likely not see anyone else outside of your group for the duration of your expedition, which is what makes climbing in India so special.

There are several peaks (such as Sto Kangri) good for introductory climbers, but due to the technical approaches and difficult terrain most expeditions are suited to people with previous alpine experience.

Having climbed in Scotland, the Alps and the Nepal and Indian Himalayas, I can say that India offers a unique experience. You feel like you are climbing in a bygone era, mirroring the expeditions of the 1970s. It is a truly unique experience.

Jeep Safaris

This is probably the most popular way to explore Himachal and Ladakh. Jeep safaris allow you to see a lot of the mountains in short time. The most famous journey in Himachal takes you from Manali to Kaza. Kaza is the Capital of Spiti Valley, and it stunning. It is in close proximity to 3 of the World’s oldest Buddhist monasteries and the journey there is incredible.

Another popular journey takes you from Manali to Leh, the Capital of Ladakh. This journey takes you to places such as the Bara lacha Pass, Sarchu, Leh City and the Nubra Valley. This is a totally different journey compared to Spiti Valley in terms of scenery.

These journeys are great for people who would like to see the Indian Himalayas, but without trekking or camping. Most accommodation on a jeep safari is in teahouse style accommodation.

White Water Sports

Starting mostly for Leh in Ladakh, white water rafting trips tend to be 1 or 2 days long, with overnight camping. The rivers are excellent and the rapids are exciting. It tends to be a bit colder rafting in this part of India compared to Nepal, so dress accordingly. Aside from that you can expect similar experiences between India and Nepal. Most people decide to raft as an additional activity to their trek or climbing trip. If this is something that appeals to you then speak to your travel provider to arrange it as part of your trip.

Cycling Tours

There are some pretty incredible and committing cycling tours in the Indian Himalayas. People cycle from Shimla all the way to Leh, or Manali. It’s a highly committing journey that should only be taken by people with plenty of cycling experience and good fitness. Bikes will be fitted with packs so cyclists should be familiar riding with weight on their bikes. Some cycling tours take up to 2 weeks and provide amazing memories.

Overall, this part of the Indian Himalayas provides varied and unique adventures that tend not to be found anywhere else in the World. You should expect to need good fitness and be ready to live in a basic way whilst outside towns and cities. If you come with this attitude you will have the adventure of a lifetime.

This is the most asked question we get at Mountain Quests; and rightly so! Having the right clothes and equipment makes an adventure much more enjoyable at the minimum and in a worse case scenario, will save your life. In other words, don’t take this section lightly!

We have discussed a varying range of activities that you can do on your trip in India. Each activity requires different clothes and equipment. Going through each and every thing you need for each and every variation of your trip will leave you thoroughly bored. So we won’t do that. Instead, we’ll discuss what we feel are the essentials to take on a trekking-related adventure, where you will be staying in tea houses. This is by far the most popular type of trip we facilitate for our clients, so we’ll focus here.

Essential Gear

HIKING BOOTS

I guess this all depends on what you will be doing in India. Let’s assume you are going to be in the mountains for at least a week. This will help as a guide to what you should pack. Number 1 on your list should be a good pair of hiking boots. There are so many options and varieties around these days that it’s very hard to know where to begin. For a trek of a week or more you really should be looking at “rough trail” boots. These are typically made from a fabric upper with water resistance in the form of Gore-Tex or equivalent. They provide ankle support in the form of high sides and a good solid, “grippy” sole. The laces should be tightened in a way that the foot is locked in place and not able to slip, but not so tight that it becomes comfortable. The toes should not touch the front of the boot, otherwise coming down hill is really going to be a pain – literally! The heel should not move around else you run the risk of blisters. Our personal favourites are Salomon, but there are plenty of other brands out there that can meet your needs. For more information seek direct advice from your friendly assistant at your local adventure shop. Oh, and don’t forget to wear a pair of good trekking socks when you try your boots on. These are essential and you don’t want to turn up in India with your shiny new boots, only to find they don’t fit well with your great hiking socks.

BLISTER PLASTERS

Every hiker’s saviour! These literally save you from having a terrible trip due to blisters. We’ve all been there. We buy great boots, walk around in them in the city for a while and everything feels great. Then we hit the hiking trail and on day 2 of our 8 day epic disaster strikes! Well if you toss a pack of these into your first aid kit and crack them open at the first sign of discomfort, you won’t be hobbling to the next guest house. We love Compeed, but there are other brands on the market that will also help.

FLEECE MID LAYER

Absolutely essential to regulate your body temperature, a fleece is a mid-weight jacket/pullover hybrid that is often lightweight and quick dry. Always kept in your day pack, they are great for when you’ve decided to take a rest after an hour or two’s hiking and you need a break. Of course, you are warm when trekking, but cool down quickly (especially over 4,000m) when you stop. The fleece helps prevent you from getting cold and therefore from getting ill, in the mountains.

So many brands now sell them. Take a look at North Face for some examples.

WINDPROOF/WATERPROOF JACKET

You’re in the mountains, so chances are it’s going to get windy and possibly wet. Even if you travel in the dry season you’ll be reaching for your waterproof jacket at some point. These beauties keep you dry when it rains and warm when the wind is howling. They don’t come cheap, but you’ll be wishing you spent the cash if you decided not to bother with one. Use it on top of all your other layers to keep the wind and rain off. Try to find one with vents under the arms. These are typically made by adding zips to that area. It really helps with ventilation, as they will warm you up fast, especially if you are moving.

This piece of kit is specifically important for Himachal treks, as they often begin in the monsoon area of Kullu Valley (wet), before passing into Lahaul or Spiti Valley.

HEAD TORCH

Forget one of these and you’ll be fumbling for your water, toilet paper, watch, glasses and any other essentials you may need in the middle of the night. You will generally be camping, so not having one of these will make life very hard for you if you need to do anything after dark. Simply don't forget it.

WATER BOTTLES/CAMELBAK

Trekking and climbing in India are in remote areas. There are no shops to buy water from. The only water will come from sterilized boiled water from your camp team. The best way to deal with this is to have a water bottle or hydration system. The advantage of this is that plastic waste is kept to a minimum.

THERMALS AND DOWN JACKET

If you are going on a trek of more than a few days, chances are you’ll be going to a reasonably high altitude. This means cold! Especially at night. a good thermal base layer (a layer that you wear against your skin and designed to keep you warm) is essential at night, as it will get cold in your tent. A down jacket is very good at keeping you warm. It is like wearing a sleeping bag as a jacket. They are generally filled with Goose feathers, and are excellent and keeping you warm at night, while relaxing in a tent or watching the stars outside. They vary greatly in cost and quality, so there is something for everyone. We love Rab.

SUNSCREEN AND SUNGLASSES

Absolute essentials. When the sun shines it gets very bright up there, especially if you are near or on snow. In extreme cases the reflection of the sun on the snow can cause a condition called “snow blindness” which is the retina’s over-exposure to light. The other issue is sun burn, so make sure you have a strong (factor 50+) sunscreen to keep your skin healthy too.

CAMERA

We don't need to go in-depth over this one. You will be in one of the most beautiful places on Earth and you are going to want to remember it!

We could go on and on and suggest more and more things. If you book your trek through a reputable agent then a full gear list will be provided for your journey to India. Mountain Quests provides all their customers with full advice on what to purchase and why. Of course other activities, such as white water adventures or mountaineering require a different or more embellished kit list, which your adventure travel partner should provide to you when you book with them. If they do not then insist upon one as it is extremely important for your trip.


Airport/Visas

In the past few years obtaining a tourist visa for India has become a lot easier. Nowadays, the vast majority of nationalities can apply and pay for a tourist visa online, then print the visa off and take it with them to India. The whole process takes between 48 and 72 hours to complete. Following the link below for full details:

https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/evisa/tvoa.html

Before applying online please check the link above for your eligibility.

This only works for tourism visas and shouldn’t be used for any other type of visa you require for India.

If, for whatever reason, you can’t apply online, you will need to go to your nearest Indian embassy or consulate, or visa processing centre should the embassy outsource visa applications. In our experience in the UAE this process is pretty easy, requiring the same information and documents as the e-visa, and the process is normally completed in the same time frame.

The embassy will take your passport in order to place the visa, so expect to not have your passport for a few days.

As long as you are organised, getting a visa for India shouldn’t be difficult. The most important thing to be aware of is that it is not possible to get a visa on arrival in Indian ports. If you travel without an e-visa or paper visa you will be turned around on entering India, or more likely stopped from boarding your flight.

It’s well and good planning your dream adventure, getting there safely with all the right gear and having an awesome guide to make your trip safe and exciting, but getting sick could ruin everything! And there are many ways to get sick in the Himalaya if you don’t take basic precautions to keep yourself in good shape.

The most common types of illness while you’re in the mountains, or even in the cities are:

• food and drink related (i.e. stomach)

• altitude related (lungs and head)

• virus related (i.e. coughs and colds)

The good news is that all of these types of illnesses can be kept at bay with some basic precautions. No matter how careful you are, you may succumb to bad luck, but it’s best to give yourself the best opportunity to stay healthy. I’ll discuss some of the things to do and be aware of while in India in order to keep your body in great shape to enjoy your adventure.

Before you Travel

You should be thinking about your health before you even land in Delhi. This means eat well, make sure you have lots of healthy food, packed with vitamins, sleep well, exercise well and stay fit, and last but not least, visit your doctor for advice on vaccinations.

Take a look at the following website for good vaccination advice for India:

https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/india

India is somewhat of a confusing country in that wealth and poverty go hand in hand. In general restaurant hygiene standards shouldn’t be assumed to be up to those in developed countries. Having said that, there are now a lot of very good restaurants in the Capital, serving really good quality and clean food.I won’t go into the details of vaccinations as I am not a doctor, but suffice to say it’s a very important consideration before heading off. Give yourself at least a month before you travel to see your doctor, as some vaccinations take time to start working.

In Delhi

I tend to go by the following rules in Delhi:

1) Only eat hot, freshly cooked food. This ensures pathogens have been killed

2) Avoid salads or fruits unless you can peel the fruit yourself (e.g. bananas and oranges) - you can't be sure how the fruits and vegetables have been washed

3) Avoid ice in drinks - again you cannot be sure of the origin of the ice

4) Only drink bottled drinks that have sealed caps or metal bottle tops - this includes water. Water dispensers are also fine.

5) When showering avoid ingesting the water

6) When washing teeth use bottled water to wash the brush and your mouth

7) Use hand sanitizer before meals and snacks

In short, only put things in your mouth that you can trust.

In The Mountains

My personal view is that food is much cleaner along the trekking trails than it is in the cities. That said the same precautions should be applied as in Delhi. No salads, only fluids who’s source you trust, hand sanitizer before meals etc. There are some additional things to consider when trekking though.

Shoe laces - it might sound strange at first, but your shoe laces could get you in a lot of trouble. The trekking routes are used by a lot of pack animals, as well as by humans. Animals are less concerned about where they relieve themselves (usually) and your shoe laces could get covered in all sorts of stuff you want no where near your mouth. Therefore, if you tie your laces before a meal, or take your shoes off when resting at lunch, get the sanitizer out!

The toilet - oh the toilets in the mountains are something no one ever forgets. Because you will generally be camping on an Indian trek, the toilet will be dug afresh at each campsite, before being filled over when we leave. This improves hygiene and environmental impact, but you can still get sick if you're not careful. Keep the sanitizer close by and wash you hands thoroughly if possible.

Altitude Sickness (AMS)

The bigger health issue in the mountains though, is altitude sickness. Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) effects everyone eventually, but the severity of its effects and the altitude at which these effects come into place are different for everyone. There is no pattern for who gets sick and who doesn’t either, so it is hard to predict. There are very clear symptoms of this issue though. They include:

• Lack of appetite, nausea, or vomiting

• Fatigue

• Dizziness

• Insomnia

• Pins and needles

• Shortness of breath upon exertion

• Nosebleed

• Persistent rapid pulse

• Drowsiness

• General malaise

• Swelling of hands, feet, and face

• Diarrhea

Your guide will always been assessing you (although you may not know it) and will inform you when altitude will start to become an issue. Some people start feeling its effects as low as 2,000m, but most people begin to notice it at 3,500m or higher.

The most important thing is to listen to your body and be honest with yourself and your guide. Altitude sickness should not be taken lightly. Ignored it can become a killer, but well managed and it shouldn’t get worse than some headaches and a temporary loss of appetite. Don’t obsess about it or worry too much. Just be aware of it.The way to look at your trekking pace is to think about the slowest rate at which you would walk normally, and then slow it down by another third. It may feel painfully slow when you first do this, but the result will be that your body will not be put under physical stress, allowing it time to adjust to the higher elevations. By far the best way to avoid serious altitude issues is to combine a lot of fluids with taking things slowly. A rule of thumb for water is that for every 1,000m higher than 3,000m, you should add an additional 1 litre of water on top of a base amount of 2.5 litres for ladies and 3 litres for men. That means that at Everest Base Camp (5,380m) a man should be drinking around 5 litres of water a day, while trekking