Given the civil war festering in nearby Nepal, and the tourists crowding India's trekking routes in Ladakh and Sikkim as a result, I opted for a trip in the little-known Darma Valley. Sitting above 10,000 feet, and bounded by Nepalese peaks to the east and the Tibetan Plateau to the north, the valley is one of the subcontinent's last unexplored trekking alternatives.
It's also India's equivalent to Idahoand home to a population of pastoral mountain people. For centuries, the families of the Darma Valley have made a summer migration from the remote river town of Dharchula to their slate-roofed Himalayan valley homes, where they herd sheep and farm potatoes, buckwheat, and other grains. When the work is done, the villagers make sacrifices to the gods, play music, and toss back rice wine and a tangy wheat beer. We timed our trip to coincide with the festivities.
After the 250-mile bus ride from Delhi, we faced a lung-busting 30 miles of hiking beneath the needle-sharp peaks of the Panchachuli Range, all five over 20,000 feet, to the turnaround at Panchachuli Glacier. From there, we could either double back down the valley or continue over snowy passes: An eastern circuit flanks the holy 22,028-foot peak of Kailas, while the western valleys edge past 25,645-foot Nanda Devi, where British climbing stars Eric Shipton and Bill Tilman staked their claim to fame in 1934. Ill prepared for glacier travel, we turned back at the Stone Age village of Sipu, at 11,280 feet one of the highest Darma settlements, content to tap the local brew. DETAILS: Book MayJune or SeptemberNovember; KMVN outfitter can arrange a seven-day trip for $81; 011-91-5942-236356, www.kmvn.org