Nanda Devi Area
Key information: Nanda Devi Area
- The Nanda Devi area is home to miraculous mountains and its own UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. It remains one the loveliest and remotest areas of the Indian Himalayas.
- Many trekking options among the massif’s peaks and the ridges and valleys which radiate out from them. The area’s best-known trek is the Curzon Trail.
- Walkopedia rating90
- Natural interest16
- Human interest8
- Negative points3
- Total rating90
- Length: Your choice
- Maximum Altitude: 4,250m+
- Level of Difficulty: Variable
The Nanda Devi area, until fairly recently closed to visitors to protect its biodiversity and still heavily restricted (as of 2018), is home to miraculous mountains (most famously 7,816m) Nanda Devi in its mountain-girt Sanctuary), and its own UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and National Park. It remains one the loveliest and remotest areas of the Indian Himalayas, often called “Himchal” or “snowy mountains”. Ironically, it was long beloved by adventurers of the British Raj, but fell into benign obscurity when Nepal opened up for tourism. Seen from Tibet to the north, the white-cloaked dome of Nanda Devi dominates all around it.
This area lies primarily in the Gharwal Himalayas, but the eastern approaches (eg the Milam Glacier and Nanda Devi East) are in the Kumaon Himalayas and approached from the south-east rather than south-west.
Nanda Devi is surrounded by two concentric rings of high ridges and peaks, penetrated by the famously wild Rishi Gorge; within this is the Sanctuary. As well as Nanda Devi itself, India’s highest (exclusive) mountain, other peaks in the area include the pyramidic Kamet (at 7,756m) and Dunagiri (7,066m), and Trisul (7,120m).
Once you are on the trails, you will find the area wonderfully remote, with old ways preserved and little sign of tourism – very few resthouses, no cafes or even food to buy.
The area’s famous biodiversity includes intact ancient forests of peculiar-looking, sometimes almost branchless, dark oaks (a velociraptor could burst out at any moment), [copy in] Wildlife includes various types of monkey; deer and bears; and vultures and eagles and a wade array of delightful, sometimes wildly colourful, small birds.
The area has many trekking options among its massif’s peaks and the ridges and valleys which radiate out from it.
The area’s best-known trek is the so-called Curzon Trail, named after the famous Viceroy, who walked here in 1905. The trek is relatively moderate altitude-wise – the Kuari Pass isn’t all that high, at 3,658m, after several days’ acclimatization. It winds upward in the “Outer Sanctuary” near the western edge of the reserve, crossing the pass and gaining outstanding views (claimed to be among the best in the world). There are many variants of the route.
Other superb walking options – some of which can be combined with each other or with the Curzon Trail – include:
You can trek around the marvellous outer barriers of the Sanctuary, for instance from Lata over the Dhausari Pass at 4,250m – a tough walk involving big altitude gains, so beware.
Trekking to the high meadows at Bedni Bugyal (3,400m - ish) above Wan and east of Ghat, which have huge and stupendous views, in 5 days or so. You can extend this to the Bhogubasa cave and Rup Kund (see below). This can also be an extension to the Curzon Trail.
Interpretative Trek: “designed by Nanda Devi Institute of Adventure Sports in Collaboration with local community, a 4 days interpretive trek covers the alpine meadows of Lata Kharak and Saini Kharak bordering the core zone of the Nanda Devi National Park. It’s a community led responsible tourism initiative under the campaign for cultural survival and sustainable livelihoods in the High Himalayas.” https://ndi.edu.in/nanda-devi-national-park-trek/
A 7 day trek to the high and mysterious Rup (or Roop) Kund lake at 4,450m.
A 4 day trek, along with a throng of Sikh pilgrims in the high season, to the superbly sited Hem Kund [link to Valley of Flowers page] lake (at 4,330m), surrounded by seven peaks, and the Bhyundar Valley [link to Valley of the Flowers] (Valley of the Flowers), a large and magnificent glacial valley to the north west of the Nanda Devi area with floral life considered to be outstanding even in Himalayan terms – to the extent that it is a National Park.
The 6 or more day trail to the huge Pindari Glacier, to the south of the Massif. Very remote, totally unspoilt landscape, superb scenery, views of the lesser Nanda Devi peaks. Another justly famous trek with an ultimate altitude of 3,650m.
Milam Glacier and Nanda Devi East Base Camp in the Kumaon Himalaya. Since the closure of the Sanctuary, this is the best way to get close to gorgeous Nanda Devi – and to inspect the huge sea of ice, surrounded by vast (7,000m+) mountains, that is the Milam Glacier. 11-13 Days. www.trekkingindia.com do an exciting-looking expedition here.
This can be tough walking in remote mountains with uncertain weather, where altitude can cause real problems. Come fully prepared, including proper acclimatization.
A good sign that the area is off the beaten track: Tripadvisor had (in 2015 anyway) few answers to a destination search! Yippee!
Please help us by recommending your best walks in the area, making suggestions and sending photos! Thank you!
Other accounts: share your experiences
Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.
Books and Maps
Books on this walk
Trekking in the Indian Himalayas – Lonely Planet
Trekking and Climbing in the Indian Himalaya – Harish Kapadia/Stackpole Books. Quite old (2001) but still useful.
Nanda Devi – Eric Shipton. Old but still gettable classic description of Shipton’s travels and climbing in the area.
Maps aren’t brilliant. A useful small-scale map of Uttarakhand is easily found locally.
Best times to walk/weather
Best times to walk
Spring (April – June): you won’t get the finest views, but you will wind through whole hillsides of flowering rhododendron and azelea in the lower reaches.
Autumn (Mid September – Nov or December depending on how high you will go): cold nights, superb views. The high routes close earlier – the best time for the Curzon Trail is mid-September to mid-October, and it closes end October.
Winter walking is viable (and magnificent) for the properly prepared.
Generally fine in season, but come prepared for unpredictable mountain weather and cold nights.
Those on organised expeditions are likely to be transported to/from agreed roadheads.
Permits are required to do some at least of these walks, including the Curzon Trail. Check the current position. Organising these for yourself will not be straightforward – expedition organisers will arrange them.
Possible problems, health, other warnings
- Altitude: can affect some; potentially fatal. Acclimatize appropriately, come prepared to cope, be ready to evacuate people in extreme cases.
- Mountain weather: snow, rain, severe cold and wind are possible at any time of year and the weather can change rapidly. Come prepared.
- Heat and strong sun. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
- Heights: can be dangerous; not for those who have difficulties with heights.
- Harmful animals, including snakes, stinging/biting insects and plants. Take all appropriate precautions.
- This is remote country: you will have to carry all your food and other supplies and help will be hard to get if things go wrong.
- Health risks: this is a relatively undeveloped country, and you will not get prompt medical help of a standard available elsewhere if you become ill. Come prepared, including getting all appropriate inoculations/medications.
- Be sensitive about photographing people: don’t without permission. Ask permission if in doubt about whether they would mind.
See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and problems can arise on any walk. Many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks and possible problems. This website cannot, does not purport to, identify all actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to a walk or a country. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
Make sure you have appropriate insurance.
Guided or independent?
You can in theory do some of these walks independently, but you will need to be self-sufficient, so come fully prepared. Not easy for non-local speakers.
Almost everyone forms or joins organized/supported expeditions. Given the remoteness of the country and difficulty of getting supplies, it is nigh-on the only option and travelling here with a knowledgeable guide has huge advantages. Choosing a suitable guide or company is of course vital, and the guidebooks contain good advice in this regard.
If hiring a guide locally, meet him/her and get comfortable before committing. Make sure requirements are understood and agreed – including how you will eat and the importance of avoiding illness, as well as overnighting and, of course, remuneration!
High Places - we used for the Curzon Trail trek (and elsewhere) and were very happy
Exodus – do a walk in the western “Outer Sanctuary”
KE Adventures – do an excellent looking expedition
The Mountain Company – do a good looking expedition
Trekking in India – does a 10 day Kuari Pass expedition from Delhi, as well as other expeditions in the area.
Check TripAdvisor for some reviews of this walk and walk organisers which may prove helpful.
PLEASE HELP Walkopedia by recommending any reputable tour organisers that you know of – local or otherwise.
Camping is generally the only realistic option once on the trails. In 2018, camping in high meadows was banned as of a result of abuse, so Walkopedia had a couple of nights on the Curzon Trail in a village edge and forest clearing – attractive and interesting in their own right, but not as thrilling as on the high pastures. We understand this is likely to be refined. Community – any updates gratefully received!
See what the commentary on TripAdvisor is on possible places to stay – although do take their reviews with a pinch of salt, as they can be “interested”.
A good range of hotels and other accommodation can be found on the unimaginatively named but effective Hotels.com. If you’re on a budget, Hostelbookers usually has a good selection of cheaper-end accommodation; or perhaps try for some bargain luxury on Lastminute.com
Other information and tips
Tipping is expected, for guides, cooks, horse men etc, so come mentally prepared and with enough cash. Check with expedition organisers for current rates. Do err on the side of generosity if unsure – it will make a big difference to them.
Do be careful, considerate and respectful in all dealings with locals.
Useful websites and information
There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanda_Devi: As usual, a good starting place.
- Try www.flickr.com for pictures of these walks.
- Have a look at TripAdvisor – there are tens of millions of reviews, so you may get good, current views on this walk and area.
Other things to do in the area
Shopping, if you must
We are not a shopping website. But, there are beautiful and interesting things to be found, and anything bought from local people must be of some help to this very poor area. So, wallets out! (And don’t try to extract the very last cent when bargaining!)
share your experiences
Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).
Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
Responsible travel matters, a lot. How you travel will make a real difference - for better or worse. PLEASE consider this when making plans. Read more