Summers are here and so is the time to hit the road to Ladakh, Spiti, Kinnaur & Lahaul and a lot of places in the Indian trans-Himalayan region. I’ve been getting a lot of e-mails and messages about to-dos, precautions and tips for Ladakh, Spiti and Lahaul trips. While there is plenty of information available online on things to remember while visiting Leh-Ladakh, Spiti and Lahaul, there are lot of apprehensions as well as incorrect information too. I’ll be busting some of those rumours and information, while jotting down some things and facts I deem very essential for one such trans-Himalayan trip.
1) AMS is real, but stop popping Diamox!
Okay, so I had my mind blown off by all the unsolicited advice that one-time travellers to Ladakh and Spiti are imparting about Diamox. I’ve been hearing a lot of how you must pop one of those pills as soon as you reach the Leh airport or before leaving for one such trip to the said regions. One thing, none of these Himalayan trips are a race; if you give yourself plenty of time to get acclimatized, drink plenty of water (yes, even when you do not feel thirsty), do not go for sudden altitude-hikes and have the idea of when to turn back if any symptom of AMS arises, you would be pretty much fine. I’ve been to these regions a couple of times and never had to take one such pill. Assuming that I acclimatize faster, all that you need to do is carry a strip of these tables, consult your doctor before you leave and check if you are not allergic to it, and use it ONLY when the symptoms are really harsh.
Camphor blocks, knotted in a cloth, and placed around the nose of anyone having problem breathing eases the effect and getting down from high-altitude areas is pretty much all that you would need. Also, take ample of rest, eat good portions, drink a LOT of water and do not exert yourself.
2) Respect local culture
Ladakh, Spiti, Lahaul and a lot of surrounding regions have a fascinating culture, something so entirely different that it fascinates and makes you curious in equal measure. But, sadly, I’ve seen instances when tourists threw any caution and respect to the wind. There have been cases of tourists offering money to the locals to get their photos, clicking photos of unauthorised sections in Buddhist monasteries, getting all noisy and boisterous while staying in homestays. Last one is a huge pet peeve; as a tourist, you really need to know the difference between a regular hotel and a homestay. Know that your host family stays in the same premises and it is not a vacation for them; and if your vacation ideas involve asking for room service 24X7, playing loud music or cracking crude jokes, you really need to move to a hotel which will not entertain you either, in all probability.
3) Respect fragility of these regions
Both Ladakh and Spiti Valley have regions that are ecologically fragile; while these areas are seeing a lot of tourists (and the repercussions of such huge footfall), they can definitely do without you disturbing the ecological balance of the place. So, DO NOT drive off one of those frozen lakes for the sake of a cover photo or anything else. It certainly is NOT COOL. Neither is leaving plastic and other sorts of litter. Understand and respect the chance that you have of basking in the natural glory of these places, and bring back just wonderful memories rather than these feats that not even a madman would admire.
4) Know when to take a step back
I’ve run into a lot of people on road trips from Manali-Leh-Manali and Kinnaur-Spiti-Manali tracks. While most travel in groups and are very keen on how they travel, there have been people who take it a notch higher (and worse). Try not to travel solo; if you’ve trouble in breathing, pain in ears, nausea or any of the AMS symptoms, RETREAT, that is perhaps the most important of all tips for Leh Ladakh, Spiti and these regions Ask for help and get to the nearest low-altitude points. Both the roads have sparse restaurants, Indian Army posts, and nomadic settlements that are your best bet for good, immediate help.
5) Try NOT TO DO Ladakh/Spiti!
Another peeve this. I cannot tell you the huge number of queries I get for this one; people asking me “how to do Ladakh/Spiti in 5 (fill any other number) days.” Well, firstly, you cannot do the Himalayas; if anything it would be Himalayas doing you!
Leaving the pun aside, be very clear in your head that these regions are not a tiny city; the sheer geographical change and its impacts on tourists landing here takes a while to absorb. Most of the places to visit around Leh are far off, and require hours of drives. Same goes for Spiti even if just checking off its common pit-stops is on your mind. While I cannot recommend you to skip any of those attractions in Spiti or Ladakh, the best that you can do is get a week’s off, couple a weekend, and leave.
6) Stop feeding marmots!
Yes, just do not. These cute, furry mammals are spotted more near Khardung La and around Tso Moriri. While they are certainly gorgeous creatures, watching tourists feed them chips, biscuits and noodles(!) is certainly off limit. Photographing them from a respectable difference is the closest you should get to these creatures. Any edible content with saturated sugar or oil is just not the thing for them. So, all this while, if you thought this was being benevolent, it really is not.
7) Camera talk
Yes, both Ladakh and Spiti are beautiful beyond comparison; Kinnaur and Lahaul as well. If you’re one of the camera-yielding people, carry spare batteries and memory cards. Power cuts are frequent, and the probability of finding a working internet connection or a power outlet is sparse. So yes, carry spare batteries, memory sticks, power banks; keep the extra ones wrapped in warm clothing once charged to make them last for longer duration. Perhaps, the most important tip here is to remember that you’re there to see it all rather than capture; so do not forget to give your camera some rest.
Other than these, there are some regular things to keep in mind and tips for Leh Ladakh, Spiti and around while leaving for a trans-Himalayan trip, including no self-driving if you are new to driving in mountains, extra caution while fording river crossings that are plenty if you are on a road trip, a strictly NO ALCOHOL rule, no carrying or littering plastic bags etc.
Best of all, do not forget to look up at the stars, trace the Milky Way and stay in awe for the rest of your life. The Himalayas are wonderful; go, fall in love.
Need more tips for Leh Ladakh, Spiti, Lahaul or Kinnaur trips? Drop in a comment below, and I’ll get back soon and sure.