Braving the Himalayas in the monsoon
If you haven’t yet experienced it, I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of the Indian monsoon (rainy season). Braving the Himalayas in the monsoon, or vice versa especially in Dharamshala area, which experiences the second highest rate of rainfall in India.
In an agriculture based economy as India, the rain is as welcome as a new child to a barren couple. For a farmer, his entire life revolves around the coming of the rains. It is a time for washing away the summer dust and dryness, and give birth to new saplings and make everything green again. The monsoon brings reason to rejoice, and various festivals are based upon the arrival of the rains. For the farmer, the rain means hope.
And while the monsoon may be our farmer’s best friend, it is no easy time for travellers to be up in the Himalayan mountains.
Altitude 2000 feet and above
If you are backpacking India, chances are that Himalayan towns such as Dharamshala, Bhagsu, Parvati Valley, and Manali feature in your itinerary. The little travelled land of the North East (Assam, Meghalaya, Sikkim) may also be on your list.
My first monsoon at 3,000 m altitude (2012)
I remember my first Himalayan rainy day in Bhagsu. On a grey but beautiful day, when it suddenly started showering torrents and I, like many people ran into the closest café to wait out the rain and grab some steaming coffee. Past the porch was a long carpeted hallway with low seating. Shoes weren’t allowed inside and had to be left at the porch. The sky roared outside and I could hear trees bending and creaking in the wind. Minutes after my arrival, the café received hoards of other customers, all escaping the rain. The hall filled quickly. With half wet, drenched and shivering people, all on their way somewhere. The windows had to be closed to keep out the gale. But, this didn’t stop the exceptionally large crowd from lighting up their cigarettes. It was shaping out to be what was looking like my first storm in the Himalayas. I was partially excited. Then the hail begun. Pelting like bullets on the tin shed roof, loud and cold. When, with a sudden bang, the temporary roof covering the porch collapsed. A gushing stream of hail and water fell right on the shoe stand!
Wet sneakers and wetter spirits. Went on for hours. The power was cut and cell phone networks down. There was nothing to do but sit and talk over coffee to strangers at the next table. It was actually nice. It turned it this was not a storm, just an average day of heavy monsoon.
Later that day, as I carried my soggy sneakers back to my guest house, I learnt a few things.
Packing for the rainy season
Lesson 1: Carry rainy day footwear – Keep rain day footwear which will not slip on wet rocks and Moss. Also, something that will dry out quickly. I have something like this with a killer sole grip. (250 rupees). There is nothing worse than ending up with wet sneakers in that freezing climate and no sun to dry them.
While buying your floaters/sandals, you want to focus on the bottom of the shoe rather than the top. I have spent over a month in Dharamshala on two sprained ankles. Take it from me – not fun. If you should happen to slip on wet moss that develops on most of the rock due to the rain and humidity in Himachal, it would screw up your entire trip.
I have the grey Puma which cost me something inside 1200 Rupees ($15). If you prefer something cheaper, you will find floaters starting at 200 Rupees ($3), but I wouldn’t compromise on the sole grip. So check out the unders of whatever footwear you pick out. I’ve included a link to the ones I use, if you want to check them out, click on either of the images.
Before the Puma, I had a local company floaters, but over trying out various shoes, I have found the comfort and sole grip of Puma to be the best for mountain rains.
A non-Puma floater (more attractive & edgy, plus good grip) option which I had narrowed down on is this one from Adidas (image below). Click on either image to check out the floaters.
Whichever walking shoe you pick for the Himalayas should be supportive and comfortable. Don’t ever pick an over-sized footwear as these can very easily twist your ankles, specially in challenging terrain of the Himalayas.
Lesson 2: Pack layers – When it is chilly, windy and wet in the high mountains, there is nothing except layers that can save you from the penetrating cold. If you own a set of thermal wear, pack it. If not, I strongly recommend investing in one.
Lesson 3: Bring a poncho – Despite a stock of merchandise from international brands available in the mountains, I could never find a poncho anywhere. Somehow, a poncho I’ve found is just perfect for heavy rains you can’t control in a not-so-friendly terrain. Plus, they are very light. So, carry one. It could be a life saver.
The Himalayas are beautiful during the rains. And the Himalayan people are a testament to enduring weather extremities in nature. Hope these tips help you enjoy the rains in a warmer, more comfortable manner.