Mt. Nanda Devi (7816 meters) is an elusive Himalayan peak for the trekkers in Uttarakhand. The second highest mountain in India can barely be seen from up close in any trek. From the Winter Kuari Pass trek, one can view the Nanda Devi erected right in front of them.
Weaving through the soaring peaks of Mt. Nanda Devi and Mt. Kamet (7756 meters), the Kuari Pass winter trek is one for the seasoned as well as beginner trekkers. The entire landscape carpeted by white, powdery snow evokes the image of a winter wonderland. The trekker trudges along the trail laid out among forests of oak and poplar trees merging into the Gorson Bugyal, rolling alpine meadows stretching for miles.
Some of the highlights of the Kuari Pass trek are:
Sighting the Nanda Devi peak:
The only other trek from where Nanda Devi can be spotted in her regal galore is the Chandrashila summit trek. But that seems to be too far compared to the sight of the peak from the Kuari Pass trek. The Nanda Devi East, locally known as Sunanda Devi, can only be seen from the Joshimath region in the Chamoli district, where the Kuari Pass trail lies.
Peaks like Neelkantha (6596 meters), Chaukhamba (7138 meters), Dronagiri (7066 meters), Hathi (6727 meters), and Ghori (6708 meters) mountains can also be viewed from here. Sunrises and sunsets against these tall structures are a breathtaking sight, making it the main objective of this trek.
Oak forests and Bugyals- sprawling meadows:
The oak forests of the Kuari Pass trek are the most beautiful ones in all of India. Especially in winter, the snow accumulates on the top of the trees and the ground, making the area look like it is out of a fairytale.
Beyond the tree line, the Gorson Bugyals and the Chitrakantha meadows lie side by side on this trail. The Auli and Tali villages consist of sprawling meadows that stretch across the region, providing beautiful sights for the trekkers to walk along. Thickets of oak and conifers guard them.
In spring, the meadows are brown with some patches of white snow, while in summer, some patches of green break open the brown crust. In autumn, the grasslands are lush green and soon turn golden as late autumn rolls in. With the first snowfall of winter, the meadows take on a shade of breathtakingly pure white. This is the charm of the grasslands on this trek that keep on embracing novel hues with changing seasons.
The beauty of Tali Lake:
6 km away from Auli, the Tali Lake is a gorgeous alpine lake situated at 3500 meters. At the end of the 4 days of trekking, the trekkers finally get to visit the beautiful Tali Lake surrounded by lofty peaks and a huge meadow. It is around 153 meters away from the Tali forest camp.
In winter, this lake freezes completely. Spectacular views of the peaks like Dronagiri, Nanda Devi, Pangarchulla, Nanda Ghunti, Garud, Lampak, Rishi, Chang Bang, and Burmal can be spotted from here. The trekkers can experience enchanting sunrises and sunsets from Tali Lake. This region provides an ideal ambiance for mountain and landscape photography.
Cradled in the Garhwal Himalayas, the Kuari Pass trek is one such rare trek from where the trekkers can see the Nanda Devi peak, along with Dronagiri, Kamet, Trishul, Hathi Ghodi Parvat, and Kedarnath. It lies in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. The trip can be completed in approx 6 days, out of which 4 days are reserved for trekking purposes. The trekkers reach the Kuari Pass on the fourth day of the trek.
Not only mountain peaks, but one can also witness the meadows of the Gorson Bugyals dotted by forests of oak, rhododendrons, and pines, along with several species of ferns and wildflowers. Few waterfalls intersect the trail.
The trek costs around USD 137 to 165 (INR 10000 to 12000) and covers a distance of 33 km, starting from Karchhi village of Tapoban and ending at Auli in Joshimath. This lies in the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve to enter which trekkers require a permit issued by the forest department office of the DFO posted at the Nanda Devi National Park. It costs around USD 12 to 13 (INR 870 to 950). This permit may or may not be included in the package provided by the trekking agent.
The Kuari Pass trek is one of moderate level difficulty. It has short daytime hikes of 5 to 6 hours each day and climbs to a maximum altitude of 3810 meters, thus being well-suited for amateur trekkers. But the ascent of 914 meters on the first day of the trek itself makes the rookie or unacclimatized trekkers prone to AMS.
It's easy to lose one's way on the Padiyar to Gorson-Tali trail, more so if the weather is foggy. The complex and challenging part of the trek is when one crosses the overhanging stretch from the Tali campsite and Gorson Bugyal. Especially in winter, this narrow trail of about 1 km is difficult to cover.
These factors make experts recommend trekkers to have some previous experience before embarking on the Kuari Pass trek. However, there are multiple exit points and resting areas. So, with a bit of determination and adequate physical fitness, this trek can be completed easily.
The Kuari Pass trek is doable all of eight months, barring the monsoons. March to June covers the spring and summer beauty of the glade, and mid-September to December captures the shift from autumn to winter. However, the Kuari Pass trek best time is in December, to experience the first snow of the year.
Early in the season, trekkers in March witness remnants of snow on the tracks that melt away completely by April. Summertime brings fresh sprouts of greenery here and there with light pre-monsoon showers. The Kuari Pass trek is the least crowded in summer.
Fresh, green forests rejuvenate the surrounding sights with a clear blue sky from September to November following the monsoons. Views of Mt. Dronagiri and Mt. Nanda Devi are the best during this season. Colder weather sets in from the end of November, inching towards winter.
In winter Kuari Pass trek has the most beautiful sights to offer. Walking along the snow-covered Gorson Bugyal, camping under the canopy of oak trees heaped in the snow – these are some experiences the trekker can never forget.
One should pack light on a mountain trek but enough so that they can be ready to face any eventualities. Find a list of essential items to be carried on such a trek here:
Apparel and footwear:
The best clothing choice for a mountain pass trek would be 3 to 4 quick-dry polyester full-sleeve t-shirts and 2 to 3 pairs of sweatpants, joggers, or track pants. These can be easily layered on top of each other when required to maintain optimum body temperature. Otherwise, trekkers with thick, warm clothes run a risk of overheating during the day treks. A thermal innerwear set is necessary for keeping warm, especially in late autumn and winter. Light fleece sweaters layered with padded jackets with hoods will also help in sub-zero conditions.
In winter, trekkers also tend to lose a lot of heat from the head. Woolen caps, ear-covering beanies, or a balaclava are perfect for wearing beneath the hood of the padded jacket to protect the head from losing this heat. Only the high collars of the clothes would not be enough; woolen mufflers will have to be paired with them to protect the neck against the biting cold. Thick, woolen gloves are best to keep the hands warm. If need be, one can also wear cotton gloves inside to provide protective padding. Several synthetic sports socks will dry quickly, and layering with a pair of woolen socks will help keep warm at night.
The trekker should invest in proper footwear well within their budget that will help them trek across some streams on foot easily and tread on the rocky terrain. Sturdy trekking shoes with a robust and waterproof body, good grip, and ankle support are ideal for mountain treks. For a winter adventure like the Kuari Pass trek, purchasing hiking boots with microspikes and gaiters will help with the grip and prevent debris from entering and hurting your feet.
UV protection sunglasses and a sun cap are a must for a mountain pass trek. A pair of strong trekking poles will be essential for this trek to navigate through the narrow parts of the trail. Additionally, a battery-operated torch or a headlamp to easily find the trail or the camp at sundown will be beneficial.
The trekkers must also have their own set of reusable cutlery. Stainless steel utensils will be the best since they are non-reactive and easy to wash. A plate or a lunchbox, a fork, a spoon, and a mug should be sufficient for your needs.
Backpacks, waterproof covers, and sleeping bags:
For doing this trek comfortably, you will need a 60 to 65 liters capacity backpack. Offloading is allowed in Rishikesh, and in case of extra luggage to be carried, one can hire porters or mules from Karchhi at affordable rates. However, these bags cannot be accessed prior to reaching the campsites, so the trekkers must pack accordingly by keeping all their essentials in the backpack they will be carrying themselves.
Waterproof covers for the backpack and water-resistant bags or fanny packs to put in your electronics, wallet, and essential documents will also be essential.
Temperatures can often fall to sub-zero levels, especially since the Kuari Pass trek best time is in early winter. So a thick, good-quality sleeping bag will help you to sleep at night while keeping you warm.
Toiletries and hygiene products:
Trekkers must always carry a toothbrush, toothpaste, biodegradable soap, hand sanitizer, lip balm, moisturizer, and deodorant for their toiletry uses. Toilet paper, tissue rolls, and wet wipes will help to freshen up quickly. Women should carry a sufficient amount of tampons, sanitary napkins, or menstrual cups to maintain their menstrual hygiene.
Medical kit with first-aid:
Common medicines like paracetamols, antihistamines, anti-nausea medicines, antacids, and painkillers should be packed. A first-aid kit should contain bandaids, antiseptic liquid, ointment, gauze swabs, crepe bandages, insect repellent, and a pain-relieving spray. This should be enough to treat any minor sprains or injuries. You will be drinking water from the streams on the trek, so water-purifying tablets should also be carried.
A government-issued photo ID with address proof, a few photocopies of it, and two passport size photographs must be carried when on a trek. For non-Indians, the passport and the visa are necessary items; take care not to lose them. Much of the area covered when doing the Kuari Pass trek falls under the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve. This requires a permit to be obtained from the office of the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) at Nanda Devi National Park. Keep this document safe throughout the trek, as officials will want to check it anytime while you are there.
From here, 40 minutes of a climb will take one to the Kuari Top (4264 meters), following which 40 minutes of a gradual descent will take them to the Kuari Pass (3815 meters). Chitrakantha offers the best views of Dronagiri – a complete panoramic location. Oaks, pines, and rhododendrons follow the trekkers to the Tali forest campsite.
Physical fitness, especially good cardiovascular endurance on the part of the trekker, is essential for the winter Kuari Pass trek. Light jogging and spot jogging can build the necessary stamina while increasing the speed gradually over the weeks can increase the walking speed of the trekkers. The faster one can walk, the better they can catch the ideal daylight along the trail and at the camping spots for photography.
Cycling, swimming, skipping ropes, squats, and pushups are some exercises that can help strengthen the core muscles. This will prove to be beneficial to cover the challenging parts of the trail. Practicing yoga and meditation can help with strengthening one's determination to overcome any unprecedented situation, working out the difficulties with a calm mind.
The Kuari Pass trek is an old and popular winter adventure in India that offers enchanting views of the Nanda Devi summit. Trekking on a white blanket of fresh snow in December is an exciting experience that appeals to any trekker. This Himalayan trek demands the trekkers gear up properly for the biting cold and exercise precautions to stay safe. The snowy beauty of the Kuari Pass trek is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.