Questions about Trekking in the Indian Himalayas

#1 Oct 3rd, 2018, 09:50
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Greetings. I am new to this forum and considering a trip to the Indian Himalaya between May and August 2019. I have a few questions and concerns that I hope you have can help me with. First, some background on my travel plans. I work as a professor in the USA. Every year, when school closes for the summer break, I try to take a trip abroad to experience a new culture and do some hiking and trekking. I have been to India twice in my life, once ten years ago and another time twenty years ago. But I have never been to North India, only to West Bengal and the South (mostly Andhra Pradesh).

I have read quite a bit about different trekking options, and I'd like to try some moderate treks in a variety of landscapes. I particularly enjoy non-technical hikes involving lots of vertical ascent and lush green hilly scenery. The treks that look most promising include Har Ki Doon and Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand, Great Lakes and Tarsar Marsar in Kashmir, and Markha Valley in Ladakh. I will be traveling solo and looking to join a group tour, since I do not have the expertise to safely trek on my own. But I have read that some of the bigger Indian trekking agencies will take very large groups consisting of 25 or more hikers. I do not want to hike with such a large group, since it can spoil the experience of nature and the autonomy of the participants. Can someone recommend reliable, high-quality trekking agencies that take smaller groups? Also, I was wondering if I would be likely to be the only non-Indian in the group on some treks. Finally, I was wondering if I'm likely to find crowded paths in these places where it's tough to feel at peace because there are so many other hikers. I've experienced this in some popular hiking places in Europe, and it's less than ideal.

Besides trekking, I want to visit towns where I can get comfortable accommodations and do some day hiking on my own. I know about the most famous towns like Manali and Dehradun, but can anyone recommend less-known places that could fit the bill? I also will need to spend some time during the trip working on my computer for my job. What are some towns in the region where I could find fast, reliable internet and good spaces to work (in hotels, coffee shops, etc.)? I appreciate your help with my questions.
#2 Oct 3rd, 2018, 11:24
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Originally Posted by Grayson482 View Post Besides trekking, I want to visit towns where I can get comfortable accommodations and do some day hiking on my own.
If you look at my signature, there's a report on Kinnaur and Spiti. I mostly did this sort of a tour - much shorter than yours though - just two weeks. You have the gift of time on your side. You could try multiple regions.
#3 Oct 3rd, 2018, 21:20
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Thanks so much for this beautiful and inspiring travel blog. The type of travel you describe is exactly the variety that I prefer--unplanned with lots of aimless wondering and opportunities to encounter the unexpected. I got through the first four pages of your post and look forward to reading the rest later, and also reading all of your other trip reports. I am excited now about the prospect of traveling like you did and wish my trip started not in May but tomorrow.

One quick question. Do you find reliable internet access in these towns? Looks like there is plenty of peaceful space to do computer work (if you have a good, longlasting battery), but what about getting internet through wifi or cellular service?
#4 Oct 3rd, 2018, 21:53
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Thank you for your kind words re: trip report. Regd internet access, we actually have a thread as many have the same dream as you - a peaceful spot where one could work. Sadly reliable internet is highly unlikely - in some spots such as Kalpa, one can get a strong signal and hence good mobile internet, in other spots such as Tabo, one cannot even get a voice connection. It's also tough to predict where internet would work and where it wouldn't. If your work allows you to, say, check in files into a cloud server periodically - say once a week, it'd be worth lugging a laptop. If you need to be online ever day for a few hours or so, I'd say dont bother carrying the machine. Also, in the border districts such as parts of Spiti and Chitkul near Tibet border, only the state carrier BSNL would work.
#5 Oct 4th, 2018, 01:02
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Originally Posted by Grayson482 View Post Besides trekking, I want to visit towns where I can get comfortable accommodations and do some day hiking on my own. I know about the most famous towns like Manali and Dehradun, but can anyone recommend less-known places that could fit the bill? I also will need to spend some time during the trip working on my computer for my job. What are some towns in the region where I could find fast, reliable internet and good spaces to work (in hotels, coffee shops, etc.)? I appreciate your help with my questions.
A few places that I can suggest. All of these will get reasonably fast 4G mobile internet.

1. Kalpa - This place is really nice, you can do a few day hikes. You get good 4G internet on Jio & Airtel.
2. Munsiyari - This is another great place to chill and work out. You get strong 4G signals on Airtel, Vodafone and Idea. Jio does not work at this place. There are lots of options
3. Mcleodganj/Dharamshala area - This is a better place to chill and work out of. You can do a bunch of short and not so short day or half day hikes in this area. There are tons of nice restaurants and cafes. Lots of places have quality free wifi. I did not test out Jio, but Airtel 4G worked quite well in most parts of the city.

If you are depending on 4G internet, I would recommend getting 3 connections. Airtel, Jio & Vodafone. You can spend around 400-500 rupees for a 3 month prepaid connection on all 3 of these operators and get 1-2gb of data per day for a period of 84 days or so. Get a unlocked dual sim android phone and run 2 sims on that phone and use the phone as a hotspot for internet connections. In general, expect upload and download speeds of between 2-5mbps (i.e. around 500kb/sec downloads or uploads) when using 4G internet in most parts of India. You can get faster speeds, but those are rare. Slower 4G internet is more common, and dependent on signal. Between the 3 operators, you should be able to get decent speeds from one at most places where you can get 4G internet.

-- no1lives4ever
#6 Oct 4th, 2018, 07:45
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That is great information and advice. Thanks a lot. How is mobile internet access in some of the bigger towns in Kashmir and Ladakh?. Obviously it will be fine in Srinagar, but how is it in various district headquarters and other major settlements?
#7 Oct 4th, 2018, 10:54
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Originally Posted by Grayson482 View Post That is great information and advice. Thanks a lot. How is mobile internet access in some of the bigger towns in Kashmir and Ladakh?. Obviously it will be fine in Srinagar, but how is it in various district headquarters and other major settlements?
I havent been to Kashmir, but as I understand, internet service is limited there. And the government bans internet service from time to time. So dont depend on mobile internet if you want to work out of towns in Kashmir & Ladakh.

-- no1lives4ever
#8 Oct 4th, 2018, 11:05
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Without venturing into specific suggestions - Iíd like to point out two things: (1) July, August are rainy season - and travel and hiking into the mountains can be less than fun. So, in those months - Laddakh, perhaps Kinnaur and Spiti (I donít know if they are on the dry side - Vaibhav might point out) might be preferable as it is in the rain shadow. (2) Internet - as you know it - ranges from very poor to poor in the mountains. So, if your access requirements are anywhere above basic - you might need to choose between hiking and internet.

If weather werenít a consideration - Munsiyari would be near the top of my choice.
#9 Oct 4th, 2018, 11:40
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Spiti and Ladakh are indeed rain-shadow - and consequently have a tourist rush in July / August. However, the vale of kashmir doesnt experience monsoon and it is peak tourist season for parts of the state. It has a different classification - varies by district. The bigger problem in kashmir is of course security - since you never know what's going to happen - and if I'm on a longish vacation I'd like to feel safe.

Given the time the OP has at their disposal, he could start in Kumaon area and then come back to Rishikesh, move to Manali and then Ladakh , back to Keylong and finally to Spiti. He'd avoid the worst of crowds as well as hopefully, most of the rain.
#10 Oct 4th, 2018, 21:35
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Again, thanks for the great information. I had been under the impression that Kashmir, though experiencing an occasional flareup of tensions, was now pretty secure as far as tourism goes. Maybe I was mistaken. To be clear, I am able to go for a few days without internet access, so long as I can power up my computer. Once or twice per week, I need to check email and do searches of academic article databases. (I do online research all year that is unrelated to India or my travels.) So I think it would be ok for me to go on journeys into the mountains, like that described by Vaibhav_Aurora, so long as I can return to main tourist centers like Manali or McLeod Ganj or Shimla or Leh weekly and obtain decent internet service.
#11 Oct 4th, 2018, 21:51
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FYI now I see articles on the Kashmir forum about lack of safety for tourists there. Sounds like a no-go zone (not including Ladakh, of course) to me. I also plan to spend a week or two in the Telugu-speaking zone of the country to relive my travel experiences from two decades ago and observe how the area has changed. I am guessing the change will be massive in so many ways.
#12 Oct 4th, 2018, 22:17
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The safety in Kashmir is a topic on which reasonable people disagree. A lot of people go there and are just fine. I personally would not go there. On internet, I'm sure you would be able to get basic e-mail type access even outside of the places you listed. If it were me, I'd opt for a personal hotspot using cellular connection. If you keep the expectations low, you will be less disappointed. Vaibhav and others would know a lot more - as my visits are as a foreign tourist these days.
#13 Oct 5th, 2018, 22:31
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Yeah keeping expectations low is indeed the key, as kmalik said. The problem with internet (mobile based) in the Himalayas is there is no way to know for sure even in the outskirts of the main hill stations, or anywhere in the smaller places if you'd get network coverage and consequently internet. I've had problems a kilometer outside of Mcleodganj - backpacker central as it is - and found reasonable internet access in Kalpa - much higher and much more remote.

Have you got yourself a good guidebook yet? If not, please do get one - lonely planets Indian Himalayas will give sufficient coverage , some maps, and in general will be handy when you're feeling stuck in a part of the country , not speaking the language and not having access to the internet !
#14 Oct 5th, 2018, 23:58
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I have just been working with the Lonely Planet India guidebook from around 2008 or 2009, the last time I visited India. I will get an updated edition soon. I was thinking of getting the trekking guide as well, but the latest edition available here in the US is from 2009, and I fear it may be out of date.
#15 Oct 6th, 2018, 00:09
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You should get a newer lonely planet. They're on sale most of the time in India (online). The trekking guide was last published in 09, so it's fine.

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