Let me begin by saying that Altitude Sickness is for real. Popping pills is not enough. I know plenty of people who took all the precautions (as per them) & still spent days in hospital, or on Oxygen. Either way, it’s uncomfortable & a waste of your money and time.
The thin air of Leh, Ladakh first increases your heart beat, and make you dizzy. You lose appetite. And before you know, you are gasping for air.
The popular opinion is that you must ride your way from Manali/ Delhi/ Shrinagar to Ladakh so that you can get acclimatised really well & can get along with the climate once you are in Ladakh. Even then, you may fall sick.
On the other hand, people flying to Ladakh has slim chances of acclimatising to the climate because of sudden altitude change. Body can’t cope with these shifts. That’s right. However, you can still get acclimatised well if you exercise enough caution.
Here are 13 tips for you to prepare yourself better for the mesmerising and tough trip of Ladakh:
1. Exercise – get used to low Oxygen levels
Start exercising six months before you trip, and if six months is not possible because you are a lazy person, then atleast – three months. And if you belong to the generation who do not have time for exercise but dedicate hours on Facebook, start Yoga at least. Breathing exercises?! Something atleast. Okay!
Popping the pill doesn’t cover for anything. I am talking about pills that people take for altitude sickness like Diamox.
2. Carry woollen clothes, Jackets, Caps, Goggles & Sunscreen
Except for woollen, nothing else would help altitude sickness. But it’s recommended. Why I recommend woollen?
People often wear short skirts, go shirtless and click at high altitudes, specially at passes. With no warm layers, you will catch cold and thin air would make it worse. In the end, you will blame Altitude Sickness.
Save yourself from sunburn, tan, cold and breathlessness by wearing extra layers, using caps and goggles and applying tons of sunscreen.
3. Rest the first day in Leh
A typical day at Leh airport:
A few Delhities get off from the plane and meet their cabbie and this conversation ensues:
“Hello Sir. Aap kahan se aaya?”, the warm cabbie asks
“Delhi se. Nubra kahan hai, Nubra? Nubra le ke chalo. Nubra jayenge. Nubra!”, the bunch of Delhi people answer
“Sir, Nubra is higher. You have come today. Pls wait.”
“Nahin, we will go to Nubra.”
“Sir, you will face Oxygen problems”
“Arey! We are Delhi people. Big hearts! We don’t face Oxygen problems”
Well, news for you – Biology does not work that way. All of us, in spite of wherever we are, will face altitude sickness in Ladakh. Of course, people who have been living in high altitude areas won’t. But we ain’t talking about them.
When you land in Leh, do not go anywhere that day. Rest, Rest and Rest. Don’t move much. Don’t exercise that day. Some geniuses might. So!
Rest a ton. We went to Shanti Stupa in the evening because we had an amazing company in my childhood friend & then went to Leh market. You can do the same or you can be in the hotel. Just don’t move a lot.
4. Do not bathe or wash you hair for 24 hours
Ladies – let your hair fall as they may. Washing your hair or taking a bath will bring down your body temperature very fast, and thus the chances of breathlessness. Let the body adapt to the less oxygen levels first, and then take a bath, or not. Your wish!
This is a golden rule and do not take it lightly. Works like a charm. Worked for me too. My Ladakhi friend told me this.
5. Do not sleep during the day, the first day
I have asked you to rest the first day. But by no means, you should sleep during the day. Sleeping will again bring down your heart beat – and it won’t do much good to acclimatisation. So, no sleeping during the day, the first day. I didn’t sleep at all throughput the trip during daytime. 😀
6. No alcohol please
When travellers reach Ladakh, they begin celebrations in ways known to them which is bon-fire, dancing and alcohol-ing. All are detrimental to health at high altitudes. Leave the alcohol alone for some time while you enjoy the mountain-ness of Ladakh
Those who have been hospitalised even after eating Diamox, have had alcohol and thus!
7. Lemon-Ginger-Honey tea is THE magic potion
So, no alcohol. But drink Ginger Lemon Honey Tea. It would soothe you. Put you at ease. And calm you down. Helps with altitude sickness too.
I drank many cups of it every day. Helped a lot.
8. Don’t spend much time at Khardungla
Let’s gather some facts. Khardungla is the highest motorable pass of the world. At 18000+ ft, the Oxygen is very less and air is thin. You heart beat goes up, and Oxygen in your body goes down – as low as 50%.
Logic says, you must not spend much time there. My advice – spend 5 mins., click pictures and leave. It’s not the place to make merry or create stories. Also, you won’t realise anything there. It’s when you descend, the effects start to show up. So, don’t mistake ‘no impact at Khardungla’ for no impact at all.
9. Don’t play with snow at Khardungla
I know so many people who played with snow at Khardungla, clicked happy pictures and came back to their hotel in Leh safely. Nothing happened until night. And as soon as they went to sleep, it showed up. They gasped for breath and were immediately taken to the hospital. You don’t want that. Do you?
Want to play in snow? Go to Gulmarga in Kashmir or Shimla or Manali or Narkanda.
Khardungla is a pass. So, pass by. Don’t stay.
10. Don’t film a movie in Pangong. Stay a human
I have grown up in Delhi NCR. So, trust me when I say I have known cold. And growing up, I would hardly wear a sweater because I hated layers. They choked me. I remember, I spent one winter in Summer clothes only. No sweaters. No Jackets. And no caps.
But even a person like me jacketed up in Pangong because it’s frigging cold. It’s so cold that you can’t even move. And if you have booked a tent, god save you because it will get so cold at night, that you would regret coming to Ladakh. In such a remote area where mobile signals don’t work, absence of charging pins in your tent and electricity is available only between 8 pm to 10 pm, falling sick can get scary. At night, a strong wind blows and it feels that you along with your tent will be blown away. That doesn’t happen though.
But you must stay covered. Cover yourself as much as you can with special emphasis on neck, ears and feet. Mufflers, Caps and Socks! And then click pictures.
Pls don’t get influenced by Anushka Sharma, jumping in Pangong, in ‘Jab tak hai jaan’ – the Bollywood movie. That’s not gonna happen. Okay!
11. A little bit of headache is fine. It’s not altitude sickness
Anxious people like yours truly get a headache at everything. So, naturally a little bit of climate change will impact you. Don’t you worry at that. Take deep breaths. Sip Chai. And you would be fine.
Not every little uneasy symptom will lead to altitude sickness. So, chill, relax and deep breathe.
12. Stay hydrated
Continue to sip water even if you are not thirsty. Hydration is quite important which is why no alcohol. Drink chai. Drink water. Deep breathe, and enjoy the scenic routes. You are gonna love Ladakh if you stay well.
13. Depend on yourself, not the medicine. Keep everything ready, and listen to the signs
Many people pop Diamox every 3-4 hours, or once a day or a day before flying to Ladakh to better acclimatise. My husband who is a fitness and nutrition fanatic, didn’t let me pop the pill. He is a tough guy who kept telling me, ‘take deep breaths’, ‘drink water’, ‘take some glucose’. He asked me to be strong. And I just did.
With very limited exercise (that wasn’t enough), and no pills, I spent 8 days in Ladakh and went to Nubra, Thang, Turtuk, Pangong via Khardungla and Changla. And I was absolutely fine. No signs of altitude sickness. I of course took each of the above mentioned precaution seriously, and that helped.
And just for emergency’s sake, keep the Oxygen cylinders handy, first-aid handy. If you feel uneasy, nauseated with acute headache, do not waste much time and ask for help.
Altitude sickness is real. Take all these precautions. Bow down in monasteries. Thank your stars. And enjoy the magical Ladakh. You would be fine!