The Indian state of Himachal Pradesh rests on the border of Tibet, and contains the hills that link the flat plains of Punjab in the west with the true Himalayan giants. Although Himachal Pradesh contains mountains of quite some height (Shilla on the Tibetan border stands tallest at 7026m) which would require a true guided expedition to climb, Hatu Peak is no such beast. Crowning a ridge in the northeast Shimla Hills, Hatu Peak stands at a mere 3400m, and with a 7km road from the nearest town to nearly the top of the peak, it is easily within the reach of any solo adventurer. Although it is smaller in stature, the nearly 700m of elevation gain ensure that ascending to the summit by foot will still leave you feeling a sense of accomplishment.
From the top of the peak, the deep furrows of the valleys make for interesting views. A truly intrepid climber could turn approaching the summit into a multi-thousand meter bushwack through dense pine forests that are predominant on the usually fairly gentle hill sides. To the north and to the east, the white capped mountains of the Himalaya are visible, even on an overcast day. The nearby highest peaks (both within Himachal Pradesh) are Deo Tibba (6001m -- approximately 120km north near Chatru) and Kinnaur Kailash (6050m -- approximately 100km east near Karcham). The Nandi Devi region is to the southeast, approximately 250km.
Numerous small hill stations clutter the sides of the mountain ridges in this region, with the largest being Shimla, 71km to the southwest.
Please note: Many internet based resources report the spelling of this peak's name as "Hattu Peak", and report elevations anywhere from 3300m to 3650m. I have used "Hatu Peak" and 3400m as this is the information provided by the Himachal Pradesk Tourist bureau about the peak.
Getting to Narkanda
The small hill station of Narkanda (at 2708m) is the start for the journey to the top of Hatu Peak. As in most of India, the first challenge (and perhaps the most tricky) is getting to the place where you can start walking. Narkanda is a stop on the regular bus service from Shimla to Rampur. The bus ride will cost 38 rupees and take about 2.5 hours. Alternatively, private car hire is available and will cost approximately 900 rupees for a slightly shorter trip and the flexibility of using your own time table. However, this still leaves the obstacle of reaching Shimla.
Shimla by Air
Shimla has a small airstrip located on a nearby hill top (in Jubbarhatti, about 23km south of town). This airstrip is too small to support jets, so the only service available is from Jagson Airlines which offers single flight service into Shimla from Delhi on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. There is no air service by other regional airlines at this time. The next nearest airport is Chandigarh (with daily service by Jet Airways and Indian Airlines from Delhi). Chandigarh is about 4 hours by taxi from Shimla.
Shimla by Train
A narrow guage "toy" train service runs from Kalka to Shimla. This service takes about 4 hours to wind up the ridges to the hill station, and has a plethora of fantastic scenery along the way. The train service will cost anywhere from 19 rupees to 280 rupees, depending on the train and class of service used. It appears to me that none of the trains on this line are air conditioned, but the speed of the train and the relatively cool air of the mountain ridges (compared to the sweltering heat of the Delhi plain), make the ride fairly comfortable. Kalka is connected to the rest of India by the standard wide guage train service. Train schedules and availability may be found from the painfully slow Indian Railways online site. Generally, foreign travellers must make train reservations in person at a train station to receive the "foreign tourist" spots; however, I've heard rumors of people successfully using the normal quotas and booking online.
Shimla by Bus
There are numerous bus services to Shimla from Delhi, Manali, and Chandigarh on a daily basis. Due to the speed (slow), and comfort (not much) of domestic bus service in India, I recommend air and train, and don't have any information to add to this section. If you have reached Shimla by bus and have information to share, please let me know.
Once you have achieved the promised land of Narkanda, the route to the top is very straight forward. The class 0 route involves asking any nearby taxi operator for "Hatu Peak". Autos can get to within about a 15 minute walk from the summit point, and costs roundtrip will run 300-500 rupees.
The class 1 alternative route (highly recommended) involves walking from Narkanda town center to the top of the peak. To do this, head out of town on highway 22 (also called the "Indian-Tibetan Highway"). This is the only "highway" that runs through town, connecting Shimla in the southwest to Rampur in the northeast, so it easy to find. About 1 kilometer outside of town, a small diversion leads dramatically off to the right and visibly up a ridge. There is a small foodstand at this intersection, and a sign marked all in Hindi (giving you no clue to what is beyond) marks the road. The back of the sign says "Thanks for your visit". This is the 6km road to Hatu Peak.
For the first 4 kilometers, the road is paved and easy to follow. For those needing inspiration, the number of meters travelled in the current kilometer are marked in chalk on the pavement in 10 meter increments. The road markers show distance remaining (in the direction of travel). There aren't any turn-offs from the road, so just stay on the road. There are a lot of foot paths which lead off the road. These are generally trails used for cows that are grazing the mountain sides, and do not lead to the peak. The road goes south along a ridge, and then traverses east across a shoulder, and then south again to the peak proper.
At approximately the halfway point, a small mud/dirt house is passed on the ascenders left. Be wary in this region as the house has one very aggressive dog. Remember to be the alpha male if the dog is encountered to avoid class 5 dogbite.
For those worrying that a paved road hike is pretty tame, the last two kilometers of the road provide respite as they are not paved, and in several places are barely a road -- although locals do manage to drive all manner of stuff up the road anyway. Of course, once the paved road ends, the steepest part of the climb also begins!
At just past two kilometers remaining, the dirt road continues straight down through a large gate marked all in Hindi, and turns to the ascenders left and continues climbing. You want the turn and continued ascent. The descending straight trail leads to the Hattu Peak temple. After another kilometer, a large tent will appear on ascenders right on top of a plateau. This is the requisite false summit, but a chance to buy such modern western conveniences as Pepsi and home cooked India food for the brave at heart.
Contiue onward and the true summit region is reached shortly. There are numerous candidates for the true highest point. The one that looked highest on the way up (to the ascenders left, the southernmost area) actually is quite low but has high trees. This was not the highest point. Turning right leads to a summit sign and a parking area. From the parking area, you can ascend easily to a cairn, which I guess is the HPTC (Himchal Pradesk Tourist Commission) high point. However, looking directly to the south, past a large summit building, there is an obvious higher point, also marked by a cairn. This appears to be the true high point for the ridgeline (and thus the true Hatu Peak).
When To Climb
This area is accessible year round, and proper precautions (drinking water) should be taken at all times as it is not readily available during the ascent. In winter, this area is a modest ski area, so expect snow conditions. However, the trail is not sufficiently steep to require crampons at any point. Proper gear should be worn to deal with temperatures for the season, specifically winter ascents (in December/January) will be quite cold. During summer months, there is quite a bit of wind across the ridgeline and a light windbreaker may help to prevent chills if you get cold easily.
No fees or permits are required. There is no camping along the trail; accomodations may be found in Narkanda (the HPTC related Hotel Hatu seems like a good candidate) or in Shimla.
Please note that there are a large number of monkeys in all areas higher than Kalka. Some of these monkeys are fairly "domestic" thanks to lots of handouts for humans but be careful --- monkeys have been known to bite.
There are several rock climbable structures along the route and just underneath the peak; however the peak itself does not have any faces steep enough to allow a rock climbing ascent to the top proper. This area does appear to have some rock climbing potential. Lonely Planet recommends Himalayan Heights Adventure and Tours ([email protected]) for information about rock climbing in the Narkanda region.
If you have information about this mountain that doesn't pertain to any of the other sections, please add it here.