The Kullu Valley’s spectacular alpine scenery makes it perfect for trekking. Trails are long and steep, but more than repay the effort with superb views, varied flora and the chance to visit remote hill stations. Within striking distance of several major trailheads, Manali is the most popular place to begin and end treks. While package deals (around ₹2500/person for three days with a group of four) offered by the town’s many agencies can save time and energy, it is relatively easy to organize your own trip with maps and advice from the tourist office and the Mountaineering Institute at the bottom end of town. Porters and horsemen can be sought out in the square behind the main street. Always take a reliable guide, especially on less-frequented routes, as you cannot rely solely on maps. Some trekkers have reported difficulties when descending from the Bara Bangal Pass, as maps don’t do the terrain justice.
The optimum trekking season is right after the monsoons (mid-Sept to late Oct), when skies are clear and pass-crossings easier. From June to August, you run the risk of sudden, potentially fatal snow, or view-obscuring cloud and rain. There are several good trekking agencies in Manali.
Manali to Beas Kund
The relatively easy trek to Beas Kund, a glacial lake at the head of Solang nala, is the region’s most popular short hike. Encircled by 5000m-plus peaks, the well-used campground beside the lake, accessible in two days from Manali, makes a good base for side-trips up to the surrounding ridges and passes.
From Palchan, a village thirty minutes north of Manali by bus, follow the jeep track up the valley to Solang, site of a small ski station, resthouse and the Mountaineering Institute’s log huts. The next two hours take you through pine forests and grassy meadows to the campground at Dhundi (2743m). A more strenuous walk of five to six hours the next day leads to Beas Kund. The hike up to the Tentu La Pass (4996m) and back from here can be done in a day, as can the descent to Manali via Solang.
Manali to Lahaul, via the Hampta Pass
The three-day trek from the Kullu Valley over the Hampta Pass to Lahaul, the old caravan route to Spiti, is a classic. Rising to 4330m, it is high by Kullu standards; do not undertake it without allowing good time to acclimatize. Day one, from the trailhead at Jagatsukh or Hampta (both villages near Manali) to the campground above Sethen, is an easy hike (4–5hr) up the verdant, forested sides of the valley. Day two (5hr) brings you to Chikha, a high Gaddi pasture below the pass; stay put for a day or so if you’re feeling the effects of altitude. The ascent (700m) on day three to the Hampta Pass (4330m) is gruelling, but the views from the top – of Indrasan and Deo Tibba to the south, and the moonscape of Lahaul to the north – are sublime recompense. It takes six to seven hours of relentless rock-hopping and stream-crossing to reach Chhatru, on the floor of the Chandra Valley. From here, you can turn east towards Koksar and the Rohtang Pass, or west past the world’s largest glacier, Bara Shigri, to Batal, the trailhead for the Chandratal–Baralacha trek.
Naggar to Malana via the Chandrakhani Pass and onwards
The trek to Jari in the Parvati Valley from Naggar, 21km south of Manali, is quintessential Kullu Valley trekking, with superb scenery and fascinating villages. The round trip can be completed in three days, but you may be tempted to linger in Malana and explore the surrounding countryside. A guide is essential for several reasons: the first stage of the trek involves crossing a maze of grazing trails; Malana is culturally sensitive and requires some familiarity with local customs; and a number of people have disappeared in the Parvati Valley in recent years under suspicious circumstances. The descent to the Parvati Valley is too steep for pack ponies, but porters are available in Naggar through the guesthouses.
The trail leads through the village of Rumsu and then winds through wonderful old-growth forests to a pasture just above the tree line, which makes ideal camping ground. From here, a climb of 4km takes you to the Chandrakhani Pass (3660m), with fine views west over the top of the Kullu Valley to the peaks surrounding Solang nala and north to the Ghalpo mountains of Lahaul. Some prefer to reach the base of the pass on the first day and then camp below the final ascent.
The inhabitants of Malana, a steep 7km descent from the pass, are known for their frostiness and staunch traditions. Plans by regional developers to extend a paved road here are vehemently opposed by the insular locals. Although notions of caste pollution are not as strictly adhered to as they once were, you should observe a few basic “rules” in Malana: approach the village quietly and respectfully; stick to paths at all times; keep away from the temple; and above all, don’t touch anybody or anything, especially children or houses. If you do commit a cultural blunder, you’ll be expected to make amends: usually in the form of a ₹1500 payment for a sacrificial offering of a young sheep or goat to the village deity, Jamlu, one of the most powerful Kullu Valley gods. His temple, open to high-caste Hindus only, is decorated with lively folk carvings, among them images of soldiers – the villagers claim to be the area’s sole remaining descendants of Alexander the Great’s army.
The final stage of the trek takes you down the sheer limestone sides of Malana nala to the floor of the Parvati Valley – a precipitous 12km drop that is partially covered by a switchback road. From the hamlet of Rashol, you have a choice of three onward routes: either head east up the right bank of the river to Manikaran; follow the trail southwest to the sacred Bijli Mahadev Mandir; or climb the remaining 3km up to the road at Jari, from where regular buses leave for Bhuntur, Kullu and Manali.