I am no expert on high altitude and high altitude sickness. It is commonly known as AMS or acute mountain sickness. But I am someone who loves going to the mountains. For me views are more important than gaining height. But as it is easy to gain height on treks these days, I have been up to Kala Pathar (Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal) which is 5,643 meters or just a little above 18,000 feet. I am someone who tries to trek at least once a year. Recently I came across a program where I felt they were treating Diamox as a substitute for acclimatization. I feel very strongly that Diamox is not a substitute for acclimatization.
It is said that the risk of altitude sickness may start from 2,400 meters or 8,000 feet. By 10,000 feet almost everyone will end up paying attention. Anyone can reach 10,000 feet easily in India if you visit Leh or Kaza.
As there is less oxygen on the higher altitude, it affects the body adversely. The body needs time to adjust to the less oxygen. Some of the very common symptoms of AMS are headache, nausea, feeling breathless etc. There is a vast literature on the internet that documents all things related to altitude sickness.
One of the most common advice (for me the soundest advice too) to deal with altitude sickness is to take it slow. One should not be in a hurry to gain height. It helps to gain height gradually, whether you are walking or moving in a vehicle. For example, when I was trekking up to the Everest Base Camp, there were two days, one at Namche and another at Dingboche, where we stayed for one extra night at the same place. They were heaven sent to me, it helped in soothing my aching limbs and giving me a better shot at acclimatizing to the height. I would not dream of chopping it off from my itinerary. The other advice is drink plenty of fluids (not alcohol though) to keep the body hydrated.
A very common medicine mentioned to deal with the problems of high altitude is Diamox. All my guides carry it. But all of them are stellar people, they plan the trek so well, that I never had any need to take Diamox. But then that is just me. It is entirely your and your doctor’s call whether you need Diamox or not. If there is a need for Diamox, along with acclimatization, it should be done properly.
However, I came across a trekking program recently which was planned such that there were no rests. And it was mandatory for everyone to take Diamox before the trek! The height gained was not more than 3600 meters! It took me completely by surprise, and then it left me seething.
The group was starting by train from a state in South India. They were proceeding to Uttarkashi the same night they arrived after their 42 hour train journey. And after reaching Uttarkashi they would start trekking the very next day. If I would have joined that group (and I would have been paid for it too) I would at least start from Delhi. And yet the road journey was done in such a haste that it made me hesitate. I went on a conference call with the stakeholders. And that is when I learned that it was compulsory to take Diamox if you wanted to join the trek!
I was so angry, I could not think straight. I mean you rush people like a piece of luggage from one part of the country to another and then insist that everyone treks after taking Diamox! Now what kind of planning is that? I dropped out of that trip without any hesitation.
And then I hit the search button on the internet. I found that the company was not alone. Some were more sophisticated in their approach but the essence was same, we have limited holidays, let us go as high we want on Diamox!
And it is not that I never used to work! In fact all my major treks were done while I was working full time. I never came across a guide who even tried to suggest Diamox as compulsion!
I will repeat once again that I am no expert on high altitude but even in my limited experience I firmly believe that Diamox is not a substitute for proper acclimatization.
Last year in 2014 I went to Chandratal (4,300 meters) after staying in Manali for two nights. Then we stayed at Batal for a night. I was perfectly fine at Chandratal. This year in 2015 I stayed one night in Manali and then headed straight for Chandratal without a stop at Batal. On the first evening I had a headache and I was not feeling happy in general. I took it easy at night and then the next day we headed down to Tabo and I did fine after that. So, it is not that if I have been to a place before I can rush to it the second time!
Maybe it is me who is out of touch with the world but for me Diamox will never be the only acclimatization plan for my trip in high mountains!
There is everything about the Himalayas that attracts me towards them! I am lucky that I have been to Nepal, Bhutan and of course explored the Indian Himalayas as well. Trekking is my favorite way to see the grand mountain range. But I am always happy to be there! And the Himalayan sky paint a grand picture every time!
But even if I cannot trek, I am just happy to be there. Like the time when I went to Palampur (Himachal Pradesh, India) on a solo trip! I did a homestay and explored the nearby areas of Baijnath and Bir. And at all points I felt safe. I would get home by the evening and no one ever bothered me during the daytime.
This gorgeous picture was taken in Bhutan. When I came back from Bhutan I missed it so much, it felt like I was having a hangover! There is something about Bhutan that makes you feel that you have stepped back in time! It is a country that has no McDonalds and only one airline! The scenery is to die for! It is mandatory to spend 250 dollars per night per person if you wish to visit Bhutan but luckily this rule doesn’t apply to Indians!
Nepal is a place where I completely feel at home! While I was trekking on the Annapurna Circuit Trek in Nepal, all I got was rains and then snow. I had to give up on the trek mid-way. This rare ray of sunshine came out while we were walking back. It is never a good feeling to leave a trek mid way but I have always been pragmatic about it!
Whichever way you look at it, Chandratal (Himachal Pradesh, India) is beautiful. I saw it along with too many clouds! I am pining to go back. Let us see if I can do it this year itself. After all I have time now!
I often think of Everest Base Camp trek in Nepal with a lot of nostalgia. I would always feel unsure about completing it but I did it in the end! And the mountain gods let me do it, after all you need their cooperation in completing any trek!
PS. This post is part of Skywatch Friday. Do check it out.
I am a big mountain fan and I am blessed that I live in India, the home to the Himalayas. And if I want more there is always Nepal and Bhutan next door. However our ‘main’ hill stations like Shimla, Manali, Nainital etc are extremely crowded, particularly over holidays and weekends. They are over constructed too. However, the solution to the problem is also simple. Just move out a few kilometers from the main hill station and it is all beauty and solitude. Fagu Himachal Pradesh is just 22 kilometers away from Shimla but it is a different world out there. Admittedly there is no nightlife, and other than the HPTDC hotel, I spotted no restaurants as well. There are a few kirana shops and there is nature on a grand scale.
Remember my letter to the mountain gods? Looks like it worked partially. I got an absolutely gorgeous day at the beginning of the trip. After that it snowed and it was business as usual but I am not complaining.
Even though I have been to quite a few places close to Shimla like Chail, Narkanda, Naldhera and Hail Himalayas near Sadhupul, this was my first glimpse of the snow capped ranges. I so wanted to see them glow red at sunset, but then mountain gods had other ideas. Even though it was a clear day, by sunset the whole range disappeared behind a veil of clouds, but even then I am not complaining.
We were staying at the HPTDC property Apple Blossom. There was a temple behind it and a tila (hillock) beyond it. It was our favorite walking ground. I actually liked that stray white cloud because it made the scene even more pretty.
On the hillock was this lonely house which was locked. There were no other accommodations around it. I wonder if this is just a store house?
And even when I got mist, it was beautiful on this trip to Fagu. This year the effort is going to be to go to the Himalayas whenever possible.