Top 10 High-Altitude Adventure Thrills: The 2021 Edition

Top 10 High-Altitude Adventure Thrills: The 2021 Edition
A horse ride at Pahalgam in Kashmir, Photo Credit: Shutterstock

With renewed vigour for a brand-new year, take your pick from cycling in the Nilgiris, biking in Zanskar, caving in the Jaintia Hills, and much more

Bibek Bhattacharya
January 17 , 2021
18 Min Read

Goecha La Trek, Sikkim

 
 
 
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For many Himalaya lovers, the mighty mountains of Sikkim often seem too remote for a visit. This should be rectified as soon as pos­sible, especially when it comes to this trek. The Goecha La is a 16,000-foot high and windy pass on a ridge overlooking an awesome panorama of glaciers, peaks and the third highest mountain in the world — Kangchenjunga. But that isn’t all. You climb through rho­dodendron forests in full bloom, past impossibly beautiful alpine meadows and many lakes, including the spectacular high-altitude Samiti lake. Every day of the trek is different from the previous one, and the climax of watching the first rays of the rising sun touching the Kangchenjunga massif is known to move even hardened mountaineers to tears. The entirety of the trek lies in the Kangchenjunga National Park, a veritable biodiversity hotspot. Many operators offer this trek, including IndiaHikes' ten-day roundtrip (Rs 16,650 per person), Trek the Himalayas (Rs 18,500) and multiple operators via Thrillophilia.

Sahyadri Treks, Maharashtra

 
 
 
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The Sahyadri range in Maharashtra offers some spectacularly beautiful treks. No less an authority on the mountains than Harish Kapadia cut his teeth on the range and insists that he can glean the same enjoyment in a weekend in the Sahyadris that he can from a week in the Himalaya. And in terms of variety, that’s certainly true. The range is the northernmost edge of the Western Ghats, and parts of it abut Mumbai in Matheran, which offers plenty of treks. Other great areas are Malshej Ghat with the giant Konkan Kada massif, Bhor Ghat with its ancient Buddhist caves, Nane Ghat with its many medieval forts, Thal Ghat and Kalsubai, the highest peak in the range. Any walk in the Sahyadris brings you equally in touch with natural and cultural landmarks. There are many operators in Mumbai who offer treks in the region, but the best way to do it is to get a copy of Kapadia’s Trek the Sahyadris, and head out.

Caving in the Jaintia and Khasi Hills, Meghalaya

 
 
 
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Sometimes, the constant quest to unlock newer places for the ever-hungry traveller to visit, throws up some wonderful, barely-known spots. The large network of limestone caves in the Khasi and Jaintia hills in Meghalaya are certainly one such. But rather than just look at the caves from the outside and drop a few packets of chips into them, the adventurous can actually venture in, and experience first-hand the thrills and fears of caving, one of the youngest adventure sports in the world.

With over 150 known caves, sites like Siju, Mawsmai, Mawsynram and Syndai boast of long and deep caves dotted with stalactites and stalagmites, dramatic flowstones, vaulting chambers and the weird feeling of being inside a mountain. Almost all of them are unmapped, although in the last few years, they’ve been getting a lot of attention from cavers worldwide. But while you need not get washed away by an underground waterfall, there’s much to see and marvel at. Thrillophilia offers fully customised caving packages in the winter months for the intrepid. Also look up Kipepeo.

Read: 8 Picturesque Nature Walks in India

The Mirage, Andretta, Himachal Pradesh
New Zealander Denis Harrap’s love affair with Kangra has resulted in one of the prettiest homestays in the hills. The Mirage is a refurbished old colonial bungalow tucked away under a hill in the artists’ village of Andretta a few kilo­metres from Palampur. Surrounded by beautiful greenery and with a splendid view of the Dhauladhar range, The Mirage is a perfect getaway if you want to tramp around in the hills, or if you just want to sit on the verandah, sip coffee, eat the delicious fare that emerges from the kitchen like clockwork, and watch the sun drift across the sky. Tariffs vary across seasons; call 
91-9805702026 or visit their website)

Biking in the Nilgiris

 
 
 
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One of the best biking routes in the country has to be the Nilgiri circuit which first came into prominence with the commencement of the Tour of the Nilgiris. Taking in the entirety of the range and traversing three states (Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala), the route goes through three national forests—Bandipur, Mudumalai and Wayanad—as well as Ooty, Kodanad, Kannur, Madikeri, Sulthan Bathery and Mysore. At 900km, this is a long, and tough, route. You need not ride the entire length because even taken in bite-sized portions this is a hill biking trip you’ll never forget! Check out the
Tour of Nilgiris for more details. 

Monsoon in the Araku Valley, Seemandhra
An easy distance from Vizag, the beautiful Araku valley in the Eastern Ghats needs no introduction, but if you need one, read an OT reader's experience. Combine the valley’s fabled forested hills and numer­ous ancient cave systems with the monsoon and what you get is sheer magic. Make your way here from Vizag by train. It’s the best way to enjoy the 60-odd tunnels and the many bridges across ravines. From here it’s a short hike to the Borra limestone caves, and then a further trek to the Kakiti waterfall. You can camp here or continue to the nearby Ananthagiri Hills and check out the coffee plantations there. Not more than an hour-and-a-half away is the recently-discovered hill station of Vanjangi that can be hiked to from village Paderu. 

Read: Best Cycling Routes in the Sahyadris

Biking in Zanskar, J&K

 
 
 
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Mountain biking has to be one of the more challenging and scenic ways to visit the mountains provided you know exactly what you’re getting into. Few trails offer as much of a challenge as a classic Zanskar traverse, from Kargil in Kashmir to Darcha in Himachal Pradesh across the Pensi La and Shingo La.

Get your bike and gear to Kargil and, after acclimatising, head down the rough motorable track down the Suru river which winds around the spectacular 7,000m-high Nun-Kun massif to reach Ringdom Gompa. From here the track climbs to the high Pensi La across the Great Himalayan Range and then descends to the Doda river, a major tributary of the Zanskar. This is wild moun­tain land, with breathtaking vistas everywhere, including the giant Durung-Drung glacier.

 
 
 
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Follow the Doda down past the historic Sani Gompa with its Kushana-era stupa and the grave of the Mahasiddha Naropa and proceed to Padum, the capital of Zanskar. Here the Tsarap Lingti Chu and the Doda come together to form the Zanskar river. Rest and visit the Padum and Karsha gompas, before continuing up the Tsarap Lingti Chu, fringing the Kishtwar Himalaya to the south till you reach the spectacular Phugtal monastery, built into the rockface and perched over a windy gorge.

Retrace your steps to Purne village and enter the Kargyak valley. You can bike almost up to Shingo La, which re-crosses the Great Himalayan Range, but hire a muleteer to help you carry your bike across the pass and down to Darcha in Lahaul. From here, you may want to bike all the way till Manali across Rohtang La, or hire a car. Strictly meant for experi­enced bikers, this is one self-ride trip you’ll never forget! And if you're just starting out, check out this guide for first-time long-distance motorcycling that we created with Deepak Kamath.

Shimla-Spiti-Manali Drive, Himachal Pradesh

 
 
 
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The Manali-Leh drive gets first dibs on any driving enthusiast’s Himalayan odyssey, but the less done round-trip (of a sort) from Shimla to Manali via Spiti is no less thrilling. To start off with there’s the spectacular Sutlej gorge as it enters India from Tibet and rushes down through airy ravines. Stop at Kinnaur and make a side-trip to Sangla. Admire the thousand-year-old wooden temples and monasteries of the region. The road carries on up the Sutlej gorge until the river veers to the east to Tibet under the eaves of Leo Purgiyal, the highest peak in Himachal. 

Hereafter, follow the Spiti river north and west to Kaza. Along the way, admire the millennia-old wooden monastery of Tabo, and the gorgeous sight of the wide, braided bed of the Spiti river. Stay at Kaza and drive over to see the beautiful Kye Gompa perched on a little hill. The road now runs to the historic Kunzum La, perched between Spiti and Lahaul. You can make a side-trip to Chandratal from here. Finally carry on down the Chandra valley till the road climbs up to Rohtang across the Pir Panjal range and then down to the lush Kullu valley.

Guwahati-Cherrapunjee-Shillong Monsoon Drive, Meghalaya

 
 
 
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A classic hill drive, the road from Guwahati to Cherra­punjee is rendered even more beautiful by the monsoon. We’ve all grown up hearing that Cherrapunjee is the wettest place in the world. Records change, but it’s a fact that the region is one of the wettest anywhere. And this results in amazing forest cover, gorgeous waterfalls, and the breathtaking sight of rainclouds moving up to the hills from the plains of Bangladesh far below. Afterwards, drive over to Shillong for a few days of wine and roses, before heading back to Guwahati.

Mary Budden Estate, Binsar, Uttarakhand
Set amidst the sylvan surroundings of the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary in Kumaon is this picture-perfect cottage. It was once home to Mary Budden, a well-known philanthropist in Almora. Today, it is a lovely retreat in the middle Himalaya, surrounded by an extensive pine and deodar forest. Exquisitely appointed rooms and suites look out on the forest through the large picture windows that adorn every room. Perfectly located for a quiet weekend, or, if you’re interested, extensive hiking in the surrounding forest. You couldn’t ask for a better getaway this summer. Mary Budden Estate (rooms from Rs 25,000 doubles).


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