If you’re looking to spend the festive season in the great outdoors, here are some great little treks for you
Kerala: Climb Chembra Peak
Take a break from the backwaters of Kerala to trek to the little-known Chembra Peak (6,900 feet), the highest in the Wayanad region. Depending on your stamina, the trek can be completed in 6 to 8 hours. The trek begins from Meppady, about 13km from Kalpetta, the nearest big town. Permission from the local forest office has to be obtained for the trek. The hike is comfortable enough at the beginning, as you pass through rolling tea gardens before the trail takes a steep turn towards the peak. You’ll cross a heart-shaped lake on way, which is a great point to get a breather. Chembra straddles both the Nilgiris and the Vallarimala range, and from the top, catch a sweeping view of green shola forests. On a clear day, one can see as far as Kalpetta town. It is advisable to take local guide and be wary of wild animals on the way. Also carry adequate drinking water. Accommodation is available in Chembra and Meppady.
Karnataka: Beah Hike in Gokarna
Gokarna, a pilgrim town in Karnataka, is also the gateway to some picturesque beaches on the Konkan coast. Accessible by road from Benngaluru and Goa, travel via Gokarna to embark on a beach hike covering the Kudle-Om-Half Moon-Paradise beach-Kudle circuit. Although you can cover the entire stretch in a day, it’s best to take it slow and halt at some of the beaches for a night’s stay. Of these, Om Beach is by far the most popular. The route is a mix of beach walks, climbing over boulders and hillocks (from where you can catch some fantastic view of the Arabian Sea) and forested paths. Between Om and Half Moon beaches is a point called the Rock of Peace, from where you might spot pods of dolphins. If you are feeling tired or want to end the trek soon, there are boat taxis that can take you from Om Beach to Half Moon and Paradise. Conversely, for the return journey, you can hire a boat directly to Kudle.
Uttarakhand: Har ki Dun Trek
Tucked inside Garhwal Himalayas of Uttarakhand, Har ki Dun (11,675ft) is known for its grand views of mighty Himalayan peaks such as the Swargarohini as well as high altitude forests. An 8 hours’ bus ride from Dehradun brings you to Purola village. From here, take local transport to Sankri village. The trail begins here, winding up past Taluka village and then through the picturesque Govind Wildlife Sanctuary, a richly biodiverse forest where sightings of black bears are quite common. Cross the rushing Tons, the main tributary of the Yamuna and trk up through regions of wild orchids and finally up to Har Ki Dun pass. From here you get magnificent views of the Swargarohini and Jaundar glaciers.Keeping Har Ki Dun as your base, you can also do day treks to Jaundar glacier and spend the night at the Swargarohini campsite. The walk down to Sankri takes about two days. Don’t miss the intriguing temple to Duryodhana at the village of Osla. There are GMVN lodges at Purola, Sankri, Taluka, Osla and Har ki Dun as well as forest rest houses by way of accommodation.
West Bengal: Sandakphu and Singalila Trek
Sandakphu (3,635metre/12,400feet), the highest point in West Bengal, is located atop the Singalila ridge that straddles the border between India and Nepal, and is part of the Singalila National Park. On a clear day, you get excellent views Kangchenjunga, as well as those of Everest, Lhotse and Makalu—four of the highest peaks in the world. While most trekkers reach Sandakphu from Manebhanjan (25km, about an hour’s drive from Darjeeling) in two days, you can also opt for an extra night’s stay if you want to take it easy. There are plenty of stops en route like Chitrey, Meghma, Tonglu/Tumling, Gairibas, the lake of Kalapokhari and Bikeybhanjan, with trekkers’ huts and homestays. The trail is quite easy, though the final four km to Sandakphu is very steep. From Sandakphu, follow the path to Srikhola and then to Rimbick, from where you can take a ride back to Darjeeling. While it is optional to carry a tent, a sleeping bag comes handy. Obtaining an entry permit for the Singalila National Park is must; permits are available at Manebhanjan as well as at Tumling. You can follow the motorable route to Sandakphu or take a local guide who can take you through some lovely forest trails. If you are travelling during the time of local autumn/fall festivals such as Dasain and Bhai-tika, be prepared for some disruption in travel as well as excellent hospitality at local homes.
Maharashtra: The Sandhan Valley Trek
Popularly known as the Valley of Shadow, this spectacular canyon makes for a lovely little trek. Located on the Sandhan plateau of the Shyadris, in the vicinity of the Bhandardara Dam, the trail lies in the narrow canyon cutting through towering cliffs that often cut off any sunlight from reaching the canyon floor. The trek is mostly a descent across boulders, sometimes through rock pools and hilly springs, and can be difficult for newbies. There are a few places where rappelling down the rock wall is required. It is not uncommon for trekking groups to pitch tents in the valley for the night. The valley is surrounded by some of the Sahyadris range’s well-known peaks and valleys, such as Alang, Malang, Kulang, Kalsubai, Ratangad and Ajoba. From Mumbai, take a local train to Kasara, from where jeeps are available for the trip to Samrad village, the gateway to Sandhan valley. While returning, you can get transport from Dehane village to Shahapur and then to the Asangaon railway station. From here, catch a train to Mumbai. Unless you are travelling with an experienced group, it is better to take a local guide along with you; there are several trekking groups in Mumbai who conduct night treks into the valley.