AMS - How serious it is in Ladakh?

26th Sep 2019

AMS - What it means in Leh Ladakh

Photo of AMS - How serious it is in Ladakh? by Amitabh Sarma
Photo of AMS - How serious it is in Ladakh? 1/1 by Amitabh Sarma
A View of the Sunset from Saboo Resorts in Leh

A trip to Ladakh is a point of arrival for many adventure seekers in India. The whole excitement of dangerous roads, rough Rocky Mountains and vivid images of monasteries thronged with prayer flags is an itch that dwells in many. Indeed in Ladakh where most of the destinations are located at 10000 feet or above is a feat in itself. I have been a regular in Ladakh, and perhaps this year was my tenth trip to Ladakh. But before I advance myself in this blog, I will have to announce that I am not doctor or a medical professional, and I possess no knowledge of illness and medicines. What I have penned down on this blog is my own experiences of travelling in Ladakh along with examples of others. If anyone has any conditions that might hamper traveling in high mountains, I would advice a consultation with a doctor.

Prayer Flags at Khardung La Pass

Photo of Khardungla Pass, Khardung La Road, Leh by Amitabh Sarma

Acute Mountain Sickness or AMS as it is commonly known is a condition caused by reduced oxygen levels and low air pressure. It might include symptoms like difficulty in sleeping, dizziness, fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting, rapid heart rate, and shortness of breath. HAPE - High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema and HACE - High-Altitude Cerebral Edema are more severe forms of AMS.

Yogesh Sarkar, considered a veteran in Ladakh Travelling, who happens to be a core member of passed away in Leh. And the reason behind the cause of death appears to be AMS. So what made a seasoned traveler of Ladakh, someone whose blogs and travelogues on high mountain travel are considered as references by experienced travelers too, a victim of AMS? While a history of health problems could be one of the reasons for AMS to quickly grab Yogesh Sarkar, but there lies the underlying potency of AMS.

While most of us might be tempted to jump on a trip to Ladakh on an extended weekend holiday, we have to bear in mind that these Himalayan Mountains with all its holiness and grandeur, are some of the most difficult places to travel for a city dweller. Two things are very important before embarking on a trip to Leh Ladakh – Firstly we should have enough time in hand to acclimatize, at least two days and secondly we should recognize our previous medical history and take enough precautions before reaching Ladakh. Ladakh is not a weekend destination. Period. You need to have ample amount of time to get used to these mountains as well as absorb the beauty of it.

Adventure Seekers who have crossed the Khardungla Cafe marking their presence

Photo of AMS - How serious it is in Ladakh? by Amitabh Sarma

The mountains in Ladakh consist of rock formations, devoid of any trees or vegetation, which combined with the high altitude, has a limited oxygen supply. While some mountains in Arunachal Pradesh, too are at 10000 feet and above, but the problems arising out of AMS is less felt there compared to Ladakh, and that’s because the mountains in Arunachal Pradesh have an ample dense green coverage. While the comparison might not be accurate in terms of geographical conditions, but in terms of traveling, it is quite relatable.

AMS is a great equalizer, it differentiates none. Whether it’s a seasoned Ladakh traveler or someone who is visiting for the first time, without adequate precautions, it can strike anyone. During my travel to Hunder last year from Leh, through Khardung La Pass, I had to consume two cylinders of oxygen at the pass, where we were stuck for four hours due to traffic. Luckily for me, I had a very good guide and driver along with a luxurious vehicle from The Ultimate Travelling Camp in Nubra Valley. But what I endured certainly made me think where I had missed. It sure was a near death experience for me, where your mind just blacks out, and fortunately a day of complete rest at the luxurious camp revamped me. While I had traveled to Ladakh many times before that, and never ran into AMS problems, that time was different. I guess, I had committed the crime of undermining the mountain and its power to tame the wildest.

My point is not to dissuade anyone from traveling to Ladakh. What I recommend is that one should take adequate precautions and have ample time in hand. And although Diamox tablets have been quite effective, I should suggest we take a doctor’s advice on the dosage. This year I have seen a woman over dosing on Diamox in Numbra. Diamox has various side effects, ranging from numbness and tingling in the fingers and toes, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, drowsiness and confusion. It will also make your cold drinks taste flat and increase urination. So make sure to drink water regularly to keep yourself hydrated. Taking a test dose a few weeks before your trip to see whether you experience any severe side effects of Diamox is a good idea.

One should not eat too much in Ladakh and eat light frequent meals and one should avoid alcohol until fully acclimatized. Overexerting yourself is not a good idea, and saving energy for the further action is always recommended. If anyone shows signs of AMS, it is best to approach a hospital.

On the way to Hunder in Nubra Valley, a photo stop thanks to Indian Army

Photo of AMS - How serious it is in Ladakh? by Amitabh Sarma

The primary focus of traveling in Ladakh should always be to travel with an open mind. “Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and enjoy the journey”. Life itself has a lot of potholes. So whether you are traveling or at home working at your job, you should definitely enjoy the journey. The whole idea of traveling in the mountains can be summed up in one simple statement – “Climb the mountain so you can see the world, not so the world can see you” The wise will understand.


Amitabh Sarma is a Guwahati based entrepreneur and is the co-founder of Eventours Travels, an experiential travel company. He has traveled extensively in Leh Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Bhutan and Uttarakhand. You can follow his facebook page and his instagram profile for more travel insights.

#acutemountainsickness #LehLadakh #EventoursLuxeTrails #RoadTripToLadakh

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