We’re all about running on wild, untamed, unpaved routes. We love landing on rocks, taking off stones, jumping in the mud, scrambling through thorns and duckwalking through bushes. The beauty of trail running is - there are no obstacles.
It’s hard finding such experiences in cities. Parks are often misnamed as trails, and while there’s nothing wrong with that classification, a well-curated and landscaped route is not really fun, is it?
In this article, we point you to the best (true) trail running hotspots in and around Delhi. These hotspots will not only give you the adrenaline rush of downhill running, but are also important social, cultural, economic and natural corridors for many of Delhi/NCR’s ecosystems.
Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary
This one needs no introduction. Officially the only wildlife sanctuary in Delhi, the ABWS (or Indira Priyadarshini WLS) boasts of over 150 species of birds throughout the year and some pretty amazing animals - the nilgai, black buck, Asian palm civet, mongoose, black-naped hare, the golden jackal, and the local predator - the Indian leopard.
Situated just off the Delhi-Faridabad border, the ABWS is one of the most easily accessible forests in the area. The main trails are marked on most map apps and are a mix of dirt tracks, loose stones, broken rocks and gravel. There are countless smaller trails emerging from the main backbone, which will pique the interests of curious explorers and trail runners seeking a more technical experience.
The main attraction here is the series of lakes that have formed as a result of the authorities implementing a ban on mining activities in the area. The erstwhile stone quarries have given rise to large lakes, eventually resulting in beautiful biodiverse habitats.
Getting there: From Kant Enclave on the Tughlakabad-Surajkund road (Delhi-Faridabad border) which is the most convenient and popular; from Manav Rachna (Faridabad); from Anangpur village (Faridabad); vehicles can be parked at the nearest trailhead at any of these locations
Recommended run: Quick speedy out-and-back 10km from Kant Enclave trailhead to Bharadwaj Lake via the main trail
Situated about 5km off the Gurgaon-Faridabad highway, Mangar is a small village that is a hotspot for nature and conservation activities. Much to the credit of local conservationists and organisations working in the area, the adjoining sacred grove forest (’bani’) has become a hub for educational and awareness activities on the local flora and fauna.
The Mangar Bani is part of the large contiguous green belt that extends all the way to the forests of Damdama and Kherli Lala in the south, Rithoj and Kadarpur in the west, Bandhwari in the north and Pali and Mohbatabad in the east. The forest is a popular off-roading, cycling, biking and running spot. The trails, however, have been rather flattened and tamed owing to the wide movement of vehicles and might not excite the enthusiast. Unlike Asola Bhatti, most catchments here are natural and have the ‘johad baba’ temples which are characteristic of the area.
The attractions here are the Dhauj rock climbing zone, the tourist destination of Damdama Lake, the stupendously gorgeous Panikot Lake with the Sunrise Wall, and the Gudariya Das Baba Temple from where one can get a beautiful view of the entire forest and the low-rising hills.
Getting there: The forest can be accessed from any trailhead, but the most convenient and secure parking locations are at The Dome cricket ground in Kadarpur, Mangar Peer Baba on the Mangar-Dhauj road and Damdama Lake Resort at Damdama
Recommended run: Long out-and-back 30km from Mangar Peer Baba to Damdama Lake via Panikot with a customary beer stop at Damdama Lake Resort
Mangar Bani is a part of our Nilgai Forest Trail FKT route; CapitalTrails has been supporting awareness and conservation efforts in the area by making annual donations to individuals and organisations working towards the cause.
Aravalli Biodiversity Forests
The Aravalli Biodiversity forests (or ABD) were established as part of a massive conservation effort in 2008 where the neglected green belt between Vasant Vihar (Delhi) and Gurugram (Haryana) were converted to biodiversity parks. The resultant ABD is a unique mix of four very different eco-sensitive forests, owing to differing responsibilities and ownerships of the efforts, that span over 15km in length. The ABD network also acts as the connector between the Northern Aravalli foothills (Manesar, Asola Bhatti, Mangar etc.) and the Central and North Delhi ridges. The ABD forests comprise of ABD Gurugram, the Rajokri ‘protected’ forest, ABD Vasant Kunj and ABD Vasant Vihar, separated by the urban villages of Rangpuri, Ghitorni and Rajokri, and the affluent suburbs of Vasant Kunj and Vasant Vihar.
For trail runners, ABD offers wholly different types of running experiences. The Gurugram side is curated and paved while the Rajokri section is fenced with broken roads filling in for trails. Moving north on the Vasant Kunj and Vasant Vihar sides, there’s a mix of hilly ridges, thorny forests, broken brick paths and yummy single track trails. The ABD also offers good elevations for those looking at training for those mountain legs.
Getting there: ABD Gurugram between the Guru Dronacharya and Arjan Garh metro stations has a parking lot; ABD Vasant Kunj has parking space on both entrances
Recommended run: Speedy out-and-back 20km from ABD Gurugram to Sultan Garhi’s tomb in Vasant Kunj
The oldest historical site of Delhi, Sanjay Van is where the very concept of Delhi was established. Set up by Anang Pal Tomar in the 8th century AD, the village of Lal Kot would soon become the centrepiece of conflicts, takeovers, dynasties and the growth of one of the largest megacities in the world. Bordered by JNU to the west, Lado Sarai to the east, Katwaria Sarai to the north and Mehrauli to the south, Sanjay Van is one of the largest city forests of Delhi and a historical and cultural hotspot.
Right outside the Sanjay Van boundary is the Mehrauli Archaeological Park, which is a museum of monuments from the Delhi Sultanate era - the most notable being the Qutub Minar, which is one of the most iconic symbols of Delhi. For runners, Sanjay Van offers the perfect mix of a true trail run experience. There are dirt and mud tracks, rolling elevations, rocky climbs, technical (down)hills, views of the green expanse and plenty of opportunities to duckwalk and return with scratches and other trail running trophies. If crowds don’t intimidate you, then this is the place to be running at. Added bonus - fresh parathas in Qutub Institutional Area, right outside the forest entrance.
Getting there: From gate 2 on Aruna Asaf Ali Marg; from Neela Hauz gate on Aruna Asaf Ali Marg; from gate 1 in Qutub Institutional Area
Recommended run: Just follow any trail you see and try to total 20km without repeating any section; hint: we’ve totally done closer to 28 without repeating anything here
Rather hidden away behind the hustle of South Delhi, this green belt connects the Mehrauli forests to Asola Bhatti transversely. The Maidan Garhi trails run pretty much ‘on the back side’ of everything, in so much that one needs true local knowledge to get here. This trail network comprises of Mittal Gardens behind Qila Rai Pithora, the Said-ul-ajab forest behind the Garden of Five Senses, Maidan Garhi forest behind Maidan Garhi, Tilpath Valley Biodiversity behind IGNOU and Sainik Farms and parts of Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary behind Sangam Vihar.
The trails are mostly dirt tracks, but are interwoven into a complex web of single-track trails. Runners will find ample opportunity for speed training as well as honing their navigation skills on these trails. Crowded with the locals, especially on a Sunday morning, this city forest is one of Delhi’s best kept secrets.
Getting there: From Saket metro station which is the most convenient parking location; from the DJB water treatment plant on Aurobindo Marg
Recommended run: Quick fire out-and-back 15km from the DJB plant to Tilpath Valley/IGNOU
Some Things to Remember
The most obvious question is - are these trails safe? While the trails of Sanjay Van, ABD Gurugram, ABD Vasant Vihar and other ‘city’ sections are safe for running alone, it is always recommended that runners follow marked trails and paths if not familiar with the area. The forests, on the other hand, are best when run in small groups.
Other trail running etiquettes and points to remember are:
It’s always a good idea to greet the locals whenever you cross one.
There will always be road sections in the city; always be attentive and careful of traffic.
Forests are home to wildlife; let them be at peace.
Two and four legged wildlife is not dangerous if you leave them be; legless crawling ones, on the other hand, need to be cautious of.
Nature and littering of plastic, paper, cloth or any unnatural materials don’t go together.
Always keep a headcount if running in a group and watch out for the last runner.
Use tools for navigation, mapping and planning your run.
About the Author
Kshitish is a trail, mountain and ultra runner from New Delhi, India, who co-founded CapitalTrails. Kshitish loves to explore behind the proverbial bush because, according to him, that's where the beauty lies. This philosophy has made him discover many local gems - ponds, lakes, trails, mud tracks, and many more. Kshitish creates routes and handles tech and online initiatives at CapitalTrails.