Hiking and healing in the Himalayas: how India is embracing adventure therapy treks
In 2022, an adventure therapy hike to the Himalayas was oversubscribed by 888%. Now, more Indian companies are offering the therapeutic approach.
When India’s leading trekking company, Indiahikes, organized its first adventure therapy hike to the Himalayas in 2022, the response was overwhelming. Within three days, the trip was oversubscribed by 888%.
Its success marks India’s growing appetite for adventure therapy, a psychological therapeutic approach that combines the great outdoors with qualified therapists. Led by a certified trek leader with advanced mountaineering skills and wilderness first-responder training, Indiahikes first offered adventure therapy trips covering the Dayara Bugyal trail in Uttarakhand. A qualified psychological counselor also joined the trek to lead hikers through nature and talking therapy, plus some experiential learning. (Other Indian companies offer similar trips in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.)
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“The program harnesses the challenges and metaphors of nature and trekking, blends it together with the experience and dynamics of the group, to help those struggling with issues or looking for a shift and forward movement in their lives,” says Izzat Yaganagi, head of experiential learning at Indiahikes and the qualified therapist who led the first treks.
For many of the participants, the birds chirping among the rhododendrons and pine trees of the woodland just above the trailhead offered their first exposure to pristine nature.
They were encouraged to remove their shoes, feel the earth and immerse themselves in their surroundings. Yaganagi then asked the hikers to reflect on a specific question: what would change look like for each of them? Solitary reflection in nature was just the first group session; the trip included one-on-one therapy, too.
On another trek, when the participants reached the summit, they were asked to gather in a circle and hold hands to reflect silently on their personal achievements. Afterward, they were given time to sit alone and write down their thoughts and emotions. Yaganagi said this led to moments of powerful release and self-realization.
“The experience of reaching the summit in an unfamiliar environment instills a newfound confidence and self-awareness,” Yaganagi says. “Participants are encouraged to embrace and cherish the moment. By recognizing and acknowledging their emotions, they can pose the question to themselves of what the summit represents in their personal journey. This often leads to a movement within themselves.”The adventure therapy treks with Indiahikes include group sessions © Preethi Chandrasekhar / Lonely Planet
Adventure therapy can benefit everyone
Studies have found that being in nature heightens human emotions and that being in awe is essential to our well-being. Trekking through the Himalayas offers both. Being in the great outdoors and away from everyday life also creates an environment where participants can face their problems head-on.
“This trek was different from others primarily as we had a qualified psychologist accompanying us throughout,” says Murli Sundrani, who participated in one of the first hikes. “[Yaganagi] was a great help in creating a trusting and safe environment for the participants to share their life challenges in group sessions,” he adds.
“Being away from the comforts of home allowed us to tap into our inner resources, also. With long days of trekking in harsh terrain, cold, cold weather, high altitude and sleeping on hard floors in tents, we were forced to overcome each challenge and discover our own strength,” Sundrani continues. “For me, it was a journey of discovery, making me a better and more positive version of myself.”Adventure therapy treks are great for self-reflection © Preethi Chandrasekhar / Lonely Planet
Adventure therapy can build resilience
As a counselor, Yaganagi says adventure therapy offers a golden opportunity for participants to work on problems like relationship issues, family issues, work issues, a lack of confidence or a sense of feeling low.
“For normal daily issues in life, regular treks are very effective,” adds Yaganagi. “But if you’re really stuck in life, tried finding a solution and haven’t been successful, then just one adventure therapy trek can be an extremely powerful tool to help you.”
Indiahikes will host a third adventure therapy hike in August 2023. The new five-day trek will cross the Chandrakhani Pass in Himachal Pradesh and will include both group and one-on-one sessions.
There are 18 slots available on the trek, which costs INR12,850 plus 5% GST ($155) per person. Slots are available on a first-come, first-serve basis following an interview with Yaganagi. You can register your interest at Indiahikes.com.