It happens to the best of us. We land in Leh, the capital of Ladakh, and we are bitten by the adventure bug. There is something about the place that just makes us set off on our escapades without a moment to waste. But hang on, what is that kicking in? It starts with a pinging pain behind the head and within a few hours, our entire brain is enveloped in a throbbing sting. Altitude sickness has arrived.
Being at a height of over 3,500 metres from sea level, Leh's altitude and its problems are something everyone has to deal with. I am not even getting into the dehydration, parched lips and sunburns. The place, which has a third lesser oxygen than at Mumbai or Delhi, demands a price and we all have to pay.
This was my second visit to the Himalayan town and frankly I was nervous. The bout of altitude sickness I had experienced last year was quite severe and I had my reasons to be cautious. But something miraculous happened. There was no pain, no nausea, no headaches or sleeping issues this time. I had officially managed to give mountain sickness a miss. Here's how I did it:
1. A month of intense cardio: If you are out of shape or do not exercise at all, start a good month or two before you land in Leh. A solid 40 minute session on the treadmill, cycle or your morning run is enough. It will help train your body to absorb more oxygen and keep warm longer.
2. A 15-min deep breathing session: This one is rather simple. Every morning, I did a short stint of deep breathing, almost like kapalbhati, to help my body saturate more air. Do it for a month before your trip.
3. Raw garlic: Now, this was a hack I saw online. Apparently, garlic thins the blood to help circulate the oxygen better. This can lower dizziness and nausea at an altitude. I took two raw garlic pods every morning for 45 days before my trip. If you cannot take the pungent smell, you can take some garlic capsules as well.
4. Hydration: Start drinking a lot of water during your trip. The shortness of breath will lead you to dehydrate quicker. Try and keep your pee as close to colourless as possible on your trip. So, a minimum of 1.5 litres of water a day is a must.
5. Go veg: A lot of people are tempted by the mouth-watering local dishes in Leh. While the much-sought after mog mog (mo mo), thupkas and traditional Ladakhi and Kashmiri dishes are non veg, they are better left for towards the last days of your trip. At that altitude, protein digest slower than carbs or fibre, which may lead to gas and an upset stomach.
6. Alcohol is a strict no-no: Simple, alcohol makes you dehydrated. You are anyway dehydrated at that height. This will only make it worse.
7. Medicines are a safe bet: There are a lot of medicines to help with the headache and altitude sickness. Personally, I just had one before the day I landed and did not require anymore after that. Diamox is a good option, but consult a physician before you take it.
8. Give yourself time to adjust: This is the best thing you can do. Every tour itinerary has the first day for altitude adjustment. It's simple. You body needs time to cope and you need to respect that. Give yourself a day or two and sleep everything off. There is nothing that can beat a good rest.
Follow these simple steps and you will remember your trip to Leh for all the right reasons, as it is always meant to be.