Here is everything you need to know before you go soul-searching to the Himalayas.
The Himalayas can leave you breathless and in awe of their beauty, and make you more aware of yourself than ever before. They can also bring you closer to a culture that is mostly hidden from the rest of the world. With all of this happening, it can be easy to forget that the incredible mountains you are scaling are also dangerous. The mountains are unforgivable, which is why you need to come prepared and acclimatized to its perils. Here are some tips to help you do exactly that.
Thorough planning is crucial
If you are trekking to the Himalayas for the first time, start planning your trip a few months in advance. Take this time to plan out your spending, but before all that see if the climate is right for a trek. March to June and September to November are usually the best times for a trek. Align your trek to your interests; do you like to immerse yourself in the raw beauty of nature, or explore the ancient culture of the region? Culture buffs can travel to Ladakh, while nature lovers can explore Sikkim or cover the trails of Garhwal.
Be careful not to cram too much in your plan
When you make your itinerary, keep a few days where you don’t do anything. These are your contingency days where you acclimatize with the weather and altitude or deal with urgent issues like missing porters. At best, you can spend a few days relaxing at the base. And if something goes wrong, you can use these days to get back on track and go on with your trek. Also carry some extra money in hand at all times for unforeseen costs and tips to porters and the guide.
Whether to trek with a group or on your own
This is a decision you need to make based on how often you trek and your comfort with high altitudes. Several organized trips offer experienced guides, logistics to and from designated pick-up points and knowledgeable staff. The standards of these guides and services can vary, though. Do not choose an outfitter based on price alone; take some time to ask for recommendations and do some research.
Avoid trekking in large groups
If you do plan on going for a group trek, avoid groups of larger than 12 or so. This would involve more helpers to accompany the group too. A larger group size is safer, but can damage the sensitive ecology of the region. And the last thing you want is to spoil the natural beauty around you.
Carry your essentials with you
This includes a windproof and waterproof jacket, a pair or two of dry socks always and a sunhat or two. You don’t need to invest too much in hardcore trekking equipment, but a sturdy rucksack and waterproof boots or shoes are a must if you are hitting the snow. Some equipment is arranged by the trek organizer or agent, but it’s good to double check the inclusions. And if you prefer, bring your own sleeping mat, bag and tent.
Prepare yourself mentally and physically
You need to be a calm state of mind when you are in the Himalayas, so keep some leeway in your itinerary to stay calm and composed. Don’t stress yourself physically either; go slow and turn back or stop if you are not comfortable. If you are with a group, tell your trek administrator or agent if you have medical problems.
Permission to photograph or film
For most treks in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, there are no permits required for photography or video shooting. However, you may need permission from the local authorities if you want to film or take photos in certain areas. Find out the permission requirements for filming and photography in the place where you are going in advance to avoid getting a shock when you get there.
Carry a first-aid kit with you
Group treks usually have a first-aid kit, but it is always best to carry your own kit. This should include medicines for common ailments like altitude sickness, headaches and dysentery. You also need to carry antiseptic cream, sun cream, band aids, surgical tape and the usual items to treat cuts and sores.
Keep your gear protected
Use a sturdy cover on your rucksack that can be replaced if it gets damaged by contact with sharp rocks, thorny bushes and being placed in dusty campsites. Avoid strapping your rucksack to a mule; carry it with your as much as you can. And avoid carrying your camera with you all the time, even though it might be tempting. The less you expose your camera to the harsh environment outside, the better.
Smile, mingle and respect the environment
Mingle with the local folk if you’d like; it can make the difference between an awesome adventure and a life-changing experience. A smile can go a long way in melting barriers and just because it’s freezing outside, doesn’t mean you cannot break the ice. Also, you should be aware of how even the smallest careless act can damage the fragile ecosystem of the Himalayas. Keep your campsites clean and avoid polluting the pristine water sources or starting wood fires.