The monsoon season is in full swing and there is news of heavy rains throughout the Himalayan region. One of the most common questions I received in the past few days is whether it is safe to travel to the Himalayas in Monção; and, if so, what are some things to remember to make the journey go smoothly. If you also have a trip planned for somewhere in the hills in the coming days; mentioned below are some tips on how to keep it hassle free and have a nice time.
First of all, should you travel to mountainous areas in the rainy season? To be honest, this is really a personal choice and there is no right or wrong answer for it. For example, for me, the best time to visit the hills is when it rains around. After all, this is the moment when you really witness all those breathtaking views you’re going there for. This is the time when the Himalayan peaks really come to life. The carpets of lush green covered with snow-white clouds, flowers of all colors in deep green valleys; there really is no other time when you can see all of this, except the rainy season.
Tips for a safe trip
But it is also at this point that the rains are wreaking havoc across the Himalayas; and for some people, this is reason enough to cancel their travels. In the end, it all depends on whether or not you go; but if you are, then this is what you must take care of before leaving home.
Do you really want to go? Truth?
The first step would be to ask yourself if you are really willing to go and why? Sitting on your porch and taking Chaai – Samsa while enjoying some light baths outside looks incredible. But out there, when you’re on the road, on the hills, and it just falls on you; this may not be so incredible, after all. Are you really someone who likes rain? Would you like to take a long walk in the rain and get soaked? Or are you someone who is often heard saying, “I hate it when it rains”? You are really going on the trip because you want to enjoy a Himalayan monsoon; or are you going just because your friends were insisting?
Be aware of the time ahead
This will be the most important step of all. I know I said that traveling to the Himalayas in monsoon is fun; but not when news channels are talking about landslides or flood warnings. Like, for example, what happened at Kedarnath; or in Ladakh in 2010; or the Kashmir floods in 2014. There is really no point in going to a destination where you could risk getting stuck or unnecessary problems. Keep a tab on news and weather reports. If it is just regular rains, then, by all means, continue with your plans. If, however, you are receiving news of extreme weather at your destination, it is best to cancel your plan or change your destination.
Go with the flow
There is no denying that Mother Nature cannot be predicted down to the last detail. You may be on your way and the weather ahead may change suddenly. Or you may be at your destination and got stuck because of bad weather. When I say go with the flow, what I mean is that it is not linked to a defined time line, destination or route. Keep an alternate route or destination in mind. Don’t worry about getting to a defined location. Don’t go face to face with Mother Nature, you will definitely lose. If you find that the weather is getting worse, change your plans and reduce the best alternative option possible.
As, for example, a few years ago, I left for Gangotri on motorcycles with some friends in August. The weather was fine in New Delhi, but when we arrived in Haridwar, it was raining dogs and cats. And then it just didn’t stop. It rained all day and the water continued to hammer on our helmets. In the end, I knew that going to Gangotri now was not the best decision. Then, when we arrived in Chamba, we changed our destination and headed towards Kanatal, Dhanaulti and Mussorie; and gave up on the idea of Gangotri completely. We still had our 4 day trip, we still had fun, only the destination changed.
As I mentioned above, don’t confront Mother Nature, you will lose for sure. You cannot afford to take nature for granted or superficial. Every year, even the locals who live there die by the hundreds due to bad weather. This is not the time to be adventurous or daredevil. Drive slowly and carefully. If it is raining too hard, it is best to stop and wait for time to pass. Listen to the locals and pay attention to what they say.
If you are told not to go any further, stop or return. For those traveling, have a local guide with you and a good guide. If there are nallahs on the way, don’t take the water for granted; if there’s a river on the way, don’t even think about jumping it.
In the end, your safety is in your own hands. Remember, you are out there for fun; to see some incredible views. Do not take unnecessary risks. If you see a red flag, listen to what your gut and the locals say. If you hear something like, “Aage mausam aur aur sadak theek nahi hai. Risky Jaana Rahega “, so it’s time for you to stop and come back. Do not try to rush the trip anywhere. Take your time, and take lots of breaks in between. Mountains can be complicated in the rainy season, with slippery roads and possible landslides. Don’t indulge in unnecessary chat. Keep your eyes on the road and never lose focus.
It’s not the time to get out of the rhythm
I love unusual destinations, away from the crowd, in peace and solitude. For me, vacation means getting away from everything I do in my normal life; deep in the lap of mother nature somewhere; lost in the hills. Although all of this sounds very poetic, monsoons are not the time to do it. A trip in the rainy season means that you keep the unusual destinations for another trip at another time. For now, follow the main roads or highways and destinations where people continue to travel. Go to a place where you are never far away; there is no risk of getting stuck and can help if necessary.
And I really mean everything, regardless of whether you’re traveling by car or motorcycle. Keep waterproof plastic bags handy, because you just don’t know when you might need them. If you are on a bicycle trip, do a double layer of protection. Take some of those big plastic bags that they offer when you buy some clothes in a showroom. Then go to a nearby hardware store and pick up the black polyethylene you usually see on the roofs. Now, first store all your belongings in poly bags and then put them in your bag. Then, wrap your bag in black polyethylene before attaching or mounting on the motorcycle.
Watch out for electronics
You will have to be extremely careful with all your electronic items, like cell phone camera, etc. Keep them in waterproof plastic bags and don’t risk taking them out while it’s still raining. Remember that it is not just water, but also moisture that can cause problems. If any of the items get soaked in water, don’t turn them on. Instead, remove the battery immediately and let it dry for a few days after returning home.
Keep buffer days
It is very important to have at least 2 days of buffer in your itinerary. Don’t stick to strict deadlines. Keep your travel plan flexible for a day or two, so that, if you didn’t get home as planned, there would be no risk of major losses; or unnecessary hassles. When it starts to rain in the Himalayas, any road (and I really mean “any”) can be blocked at any time. Even the way to major cities like Shimla and Manali is sometimes blocked due to landslides.
No, an umbrella won’t do. It will fly away or you will continue to struggle to keep it in our hands and in one place. In the end, instead of protecting yourself from the rain, you will focus on saving your umbrella. If you are going on a bicycle trip, an umbrella is totally useless. Your packaging will have to be a little smarter than that. Below is a list of some items that I will suggest.
- Carry a raincoat or a waterproof jacket with a hoodie.
- Along with the jacket, you will also need to pack waterproof lowers.
- When it comes to clothes, pack the ones that are easy to dry, polyester for example.
- Good trekking shoes that can get a good grip on wet surfaces. Leave your expensive boots at home. If possible, also pack a pair of floaters or sandals
- Carry a mosquito repellent
- A Small torch
- Polythene pouches, maybe the ones that come with a zip lock. You can keep your wallet, phone etc in these.
- Carry some basic medicines for fever, upset stomach, cold etc.
If you’re thinking, “Yes, right, I never do that. Water is not something I care about “; then you are like me. My thoughts are always and exactly the same, except when I am traveling in the monsoon season. It is the time when diseases and insects tend to be rampant, to avoid water from almost anywhere. To travel to the Himalayas in monsoon, it is better to opt for water bottles like Bisleri for a few days.
A deck of cards / Ludo / Chess
On a lighter note, power outages can also occur on the hills. Take a deck of cards or another board game. It won’t take long, but if you were stuck in the hotel because it was raining outside; and the power is gone, so there was no television too; so there is nothing better than some friends, a deck of cards, some “garam chaai” and some “pahadi hawa”.