Unlocking India: Trekking reopens in India amid COVID

Updated on 30th Oct’20:

As planned, we finally resumed on the trails from mid of October. We hope that the pandemic condition will improve and we will get more control of it eventually. Check our article on  Unlock 5.0 in India and how treks reopened in India for current updates on which state are open to tourists, trail specific restrictions (if any), safety protocols on trail and other useful insights. The key points are:

  • At present we are only operating private/customised tours for small groups until mid of November.
  • Fixed group departures will resume from late November on selected trails. You can check the schedule below and book your place. Due to COVID we are running limited number of group departures in this year. Schedule for 2021 will be updated by mid of November.
  • Trails in Uttarakhand and Sandakphu trek in Darjeeling/Nepal are open from mid October.
  • Yuksom has reopened for tourists now and we have one group departure to Goechala trek from 21st to 30th November. Some of the other treks in Sikkim are also open and private tours are possible.

For those who plan to return to trails in the next year, it is a good time to look at 15 must watch mountain and climbing movies and relive the mountain days. Stay safe and healthy.

Updated on 5th September 2020:

Yes, its time to look positively towards resuming trekking and hiking in the Himalayas. We are now open to take “Bookings” for treks starting NOT before 15th October 2020.

  • We will start customised tours in small private groups (MIN of 2 to MAX of 6 persons) in Uttarakhand and Darjeeling. This has obvious reasons like homogeneity of the group and knowing each other well.
  • There will be NO Fixed group departure trekking at present. We will evaluate the conditions in October  beginning and update on this again.

Himalayan States have further eased the access to tourist in the present Unlock 4.0. E.g. now there is no upper limit of tourists entering Uttarakhand per day or hotels in Manali/Shimla region have agreed to open fully from October and so as in Darjeeling. Sikkim is yet to update and open for tourists.

However a COVID negative test report is mandatory for any trekking destination. You need to get it done at your home place and reach the respective states within 72 hours.

Below is the article we published during mid July 2020 and things have progressed as somewhat anticipated. We encourage you to read the whole article to have a better understanding.

COVID-19 and India:

When Coronavirus reached India in spring, many of us assumed things would be normal in a few months. In reality, things shifted slowly and steadily in favour of the virus since the last 4 months.  From a few daily cases in mid March, now at ~ 30000/day and nearly reaching a total of million cases by mid July. Indeed it is a very positive sign that our recovery rate has improved steadily for some time now. At the same time total active cases present at a time are also increasing.

It is certainly not favourable for travelling to the Himalayas at present or in the next couple of months for sure. Everyone is desperately hoping that life will be “normal” soon! Also there is a livelihood need for unlocking the tourism sector as a whole. However, as of now, things are far from normal.

Tourism as of now in Himalayan states (mid July 2020)

Here are the current updates as of mid-July from the respective state authorities.

Sikkim: Order issued in April that state will remain closed for the tourists till October.

Darjeeling: Closed until July or any further notice.

Uttarakhand: Tourism reopened  with major restrictions and mandatory conditions like a mandatory COVID-19 negative test result and booking of a hotel for 7 days and so on. Only local state residents may visit Chardham in a limited capacity.

Himachal Pradesh: Similar like Uttarakhand. However as per the demand of the local people the hotel association of Kullu, Manali and Shimla decided to remain closed till September.

Kashmir: From 14th July Kashmir will allow tourists in a phased manner. On arrival a tourist has to go compulsory RT-PCR test. Till the test result shows a negative result for Covid-19, a tourist will remain in the hotel where the booking has been made and shall not be allowed to move out.

From the above facts we can safely assume that travelling will be uncertain and difficult till September. Now lets see how tourism may start slowly from October onward.

Our perception of risk and ability to exist with Coronavirus:

A vaccine may not come until 2021. Also there is no definitive medication or a cure at present.  Experts are modelling to find the peak of the curve. Some predict mid of August, and some not until September.

Considering our demographics and population density, the virus is still somewhat contained in India. Rural India is not infected, or to a very little. There is a chance that we can flatten the curve by end of monsoon, assuming virus doesn’t spread in the new areas. But virus is not going to go away soon!

It is a fact that Himalayan populace is not affected by Coronavirus yet. Be it Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh or Leh Ladakh, there is no local transmission. It is a must to remain so, and we need to do whatever it takes from our side. We all know how poor the health care facilities are especially in these remote mountainous areas. Additionally some locals are apprehensive of tourists due to the fear of the virus at present. Rightly the authorities are cautious to reopen tourism again very soon.

It will greatly depend on our perceived risks and individual assessments while going back to Himalayas again. Certainly there will be fear in us but we can mitigate the risks to a great deal, if we follow certain rules and protocols.

How we can make a trek safe during COVID?

Camping and hiking is probably the safest of travelling at present. Ample chance of social distancing and limited contacts are key to this cause. No wonder that worldwide, people are evermore keen on this type of holidays.

However, only mentioning its safe doesn’t help much. Everyone is talking about “New Normals”. We think safety is not a priority anymore but prerequisite at this time. Following are some measures which are very important while trekking will reopen in Himalayas. Also note that nothing is full and final yet, and we will continuously monitor the situations and revise the protocols if needed.

1. Group size and composition: We wish to start with small closely knit trekking groups up to 5/6 persons. Maybe  family members or friends who are well aware about their health conditions before travelling. This will make yourself as well as local trekking staff more confident while on the trail.

Heterogeneous larger groups as in Fixed Departures may not work good in this condition. Probably group departures won’t start until winters in our opinion.

2. Flexibility to travel and customisation: We understand that people will be tentative to travel in coming days due to uncertainties or any last moment showstopper. Hence we will need more flexibility in terms of travel dates from planning to actual travel. Anything rigid during plan will not help. We will closely work with our local staff and you that you get very latest information and then finally commit to travel.

Every group composition is different and we will focus group to group for specific needs. This can be starting from customising your group to adding additional safety as you ask for during your tour.

3. Medical certificate: Every trekker must obtain a certificate from the doctor that they are not having any symptoms of COVID.  One has to get such a certificate shortly before they travel, within 72 hours of travel. Carrying a COVID negative certificate will be very useful which authorities may enforce for the time being.

4. Travel and COVID insured tours: Our treks are already travel insured since 2017. We are talking with insurance providers to integrate a COVID medical insurance on top of it. This will be both for trekkers and our staff.

5. Travelling to trek base and return to home: Perhaps one has the least control on this matter. However airport and railways authorities have put Standard Operating Procedures to make travel safe. Do follow the rules which are in place. After all, no travel is completely risk free.

We will arrange car pick to trek base and drop for a maximum of 6 people in one vehicle.We will send known drivers  without any COVID symptom and he will measure your body temperature before the journey.

6. Hygiene measures: We will strictly follow usual hygiene measures including usage of hand sanitisers. We will ensure that you get a sleeping bag or utensils which you will only use throughout.

7. Possible distancing during the trek: Very limited number of trekkers will automatically reduce the risk to a considerable extent. One top of that we will provide personal tent for all individual trekkers.

This is what we can think at present. As mentioned earlier, we will reevaluate these protocols time to time and modify as the situation arises. Same time we are highly interested to know your opinion and love to incorporate anything which can make your travel safer. Please feel free to comment and discuss.

Stay safe and healthy,
Team HT

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