Here is the physical map of the Himalayas.
Credits: Encyclopedia Britannica
The heat map represents elevation. The Himalayas are spanned across PoK, J&K, Ladakh, Uttrakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, Arunachal Pradesh, Tibet. Naturally, it’s diverse in landscapes, weather, culture, accessibility. Hence, you can make a range of trips to the Himalayas. It can be a weekend trip from Delhi to Nainital or it can be a daring, adventurous climb to Annapurna I (the deadliest mountain in the world). It can be a trip to Mawsynram (wettest place on Earth), or it can be a trip to Ladakh (a dry Himalayan desert).
For convenience, I am dividing my introductions into five different categories depending upon the level of difficulty and required preparations.
- Group A: “The conventional tourist spots” such as Gulmarg, Shimla, Manali, Nainital, Kasol, Gangtok, Darjeeling, Srinagar. These destinations are easier to reach, well-connected via road or railways. You can easily book online tickets, arrange cabs. Most of these places just require a basic level of fitness, warm clothes and obviously money. My experiences with Group A destinations, they are great for cultural tourism, some of them have awesome natural spots (Dal Lake), but most of these places are relatively expensive (still way cheaper than say a December trip to Goa or Rajasthan). Most important factor is timing. Which month are you planning to visit? Do some background research, and try sometimes offseason visits. The same place will feel a lot different in November compared to April.
- Group B: Unconventional, easy spots. There are places which are relatively less known and less crowded. Visiting these will require planning, research and sometimes pre-booking of home stays, hotels. The travel time and expenses will be higher. A basic level of fitness is desirable (you should be able to run 4km in 30 minutes). The isolation, absence of a crowd, landscapes, local food and culture makes for a memorable experience. Ideal for photography and 4-8 days vacations with your friends and family. Examples: Binsar, Gangtok-Yumthang, Triund.
- Group C: Unconventional, difficult spots. These places, though accessible by roads, mostly are remote and at relatively higher altitudes. It is advisable to go through rigorous fitness regimes and medical preparations months before your visit. The climate can be quite unpredictable and challenging. These places also are very popular among bikers and make for a wonderful, adventurous biking experience. Very few think of making such trips, and even fewer succeed in executing such plans. You will need a company of like-minded, fit, adventurous people. You can always join such groups by searching online. Examples: Kaza-Spiti, Manali-Leh, Tawang, Shillong, Bhutan, etc.
- Group D: The adventure trips: trekking, mountain biking (cycles). If you’re wondering, I included Triund in Group B. So, the small one day climbs according to me are hikes. The places I am referring to in this category are inaccessible by roads. That’s why you have to trek to visit the final spot. The more challenging it gets, the more wonderful views and landscapes you will witness. It requires at least 3 months of physical training beforehand (if you’re not in shape regularly) if you want to complete one of these treks. Mountain biking requires special training and gears. The thrill, the challenge, extreme weathers, altitudes, landscapes, and isolation is a feeling you will remember forever. If you want to do one of these, start training and making plans. There are several companies these days (India Hikes) who offer packages for treks. Examples: Goecha-la, Kugti pass trek, Roopkund, etc.
- Group E: The insane trips. These ones require years of practice, certifications and mountain climbing experiences. People first get used to crossing 6000m. After certifications and years of practice and experience, they go for 7000m peaks, and then above 8000m. Even at 8000+ altitudes, there is quite a lot of variation in difficulties. For example, some peaks are easier to climb like Everest compared to K2 and Kanchenjunga. Very few, who have climbed Everest would go for Annapurna I as the latter has over 30 percent fatality rate!
Just watch this video to get an idea of how much difficult it is to conquer one of these peaks. Marathons, ultra marathons are cake walks compared to this:
Kangchenjunga, 8586m climb.
The more determined you are, the more committed you are, the more you are willing to risk, the more you can give up on your comforts, the more you can bear extreme weathers, the more awesome, and adventurous will be your Himalayan experience. Believe me, it never disappoints.