Surreal Ladakh 1- Pills, Palettes and Moonlit Nights


“Take it easy” was the refrain we heard each time we talked of our Leh plans:  Ladakh is treacherous. Just sleep the first day/ Don’t walk around/ Take the High altitude pills/ Report to a doctor the minute you feel pukey or feel your head going heavy or if you can’t breathe.changla4
All of them possibilities that seemed highly likely- in just one day three families told us how Leh is a scary memory because of the above- and how close they were to dying of High Altitude Sickness and lack of oxygen when on a holiday in Ladakh.

2015-07-01 18.37.20Literally half hour into the flight we were above snow clad mountains. Unfortunately, the thick cloud cover only allowed for glimpses of the white below.


Conversation between the two male travelers in the seat behind was like this:
What kind of holiday is this yaar, eat pills so you can go back alive, alcohol isn’t allowed during acclimatization! I don’t care, I’m having rum.
1st man: Sure. You won’t care after you’re dead. People generally don’t.
Then to us: “Have you had your dose of Diamox?”
I tell him there doesn’t seem to be a need to take it just yet, but if there is the slightest discomfort …
He: Don’t wait. Have it!
They look at us with an expression of  ‘Are you mad’ and go back to discussing Greece and how/ why the media is playing it down.

2015-07-02 06.48.42.jpg


2015-07-01 20.15.24.jpgOut of nothing I remember that a plane that had dashed into one of these peaks, and another into a part of the monastery right across, 28 or thirty years back in time. It seemed possible even today as we sweep in through narrow corridors in gusty winds.
I’ve heard that only ex- Indian Air Force pilots flying commercial airlines are able to land on the Leh strip.
“The outside temperature is 14*C”, announces the pilot.
It will be 2* C at midnight, informs the chatty man sitting behind us looking at a weather forecast on  his phone.2015-07-01 11.35.14.jpg

Brrr. 2015-07-01 11.22.19
The wind is blowing and the chill factor is in play. I look out as we hover above the tiny airport. What an extraordinary landscape.
Sci-fi movie set. Only more spooky.
And beautiful in a desperately minimalistic way.

2015-07-02 06.49.49.jpg
Even now in the summer months there’s very little green, except in and around Leh.
 In almost all  other parts it is barren and  rugged, multi-hued mountains deeply scarred with thousands of years of wind and snowy streams cutting through them.


Why do people push to get into the airline buses- they aren’t those local2015-07-01 11.34.34 Indian town buses that may leave you out if you don’t do an elbow maneuver each time you have to board.
Women do it more.
Older women.
I think.
They also happily disregard queues. Perhaps it comes from a sense of entitlement that comes with age.
I think. 2015-07-01 11.35.48

The airline bus could not climb the first not- even- that- steep road.
Its Ladakhi driver tinkered on, pulled at various sticks, pushed the accelerator to crazy groans, yet nothing.
Ten minutes later we piled on to the next bus. I saw some folks exchange happy sly smiles when the pushy aunty was now stuck pretty much at the end of the line, and someone said,”Karma plays out right here.”
That was not the last time I would here the K word.

2015-07-01 11.34.10

2015-07-01 18.40.05The mud huts we opted to stay  in were just as we left them years ago.
Built out of ghee tins cut to size and plastered with local mud, they kept the heat in. 2015-07-02 06.43.00.jpg
The entrance still has a dragon with a slightly doped expression on his face; I’m guessing the painter passed down the ‘Painting the Dopey Dragon’  legacy with a great sense of responsibility.
2015-07-01 18.43.19.jpg

Lack of oxygen supply and high altitude are a heady combination. An hour into lunch and the start of the mandatory two days of acclimatization, something slightly weird does happen to the head- like a small rush.
Perhaps it is psychological, I tell myself.2015-07-02 06.55.00.jpg

Sleep comes easy that afternoon, perhaps the body’s natural defense 2015-07-01 11.32.04mechanism kicking in to ensure you take it easy.

The landscape changes every few minutes- shadows play games with the mountains, peaks adorn more white, and the blue palette flows into grays and ink.
We are surrounded by peaks. Its like living in a hollow carved out from mountains and undulating sand and white peaks, photo shopped every minute to change colors with changing shadows cast by fast moving clouds.

DSC06020.JPGThe moonlight is good enough to read a book.
Bright, white, luminous, it turns the landscape into something so surreal that no pictures or words can describe it.
Everyday things like trees and roofs look eerie, as if it was day in another planet.

Even as I write, there’s something big  scurrying across the roof of my 20150705_201549mud hut. And another. And another.
It is unnerving, to say the least. Tucking my feet under the hot-water bottle, I take a deep breath and pull the quilt closer still.

The wind wont stop howling as it escapes from the passes in the mountains enclosing us.

This will be a long night.DSC06015.JPG            


6 thoughts on “Surreal Ladakh 1- Pills, Palettes and Moonlit Nights

  1. When self driving from Leh Ladakh towards Manali, had to cross the high snow mountains of Taglanga almost 18,000 ft , i developed breathing problem and was also slowly and steadily gasping for breath when i was given by a tourist car driver Mr Kulveer Singh a tablet of Diamox ….where in i felt much better. Ofcourse my wife then took over driving after that .There could not be any rapid descent as next stop was only Jipsa at 9.30 pm at night …. driving contiuously for 14.5 hrs we could cover only 230 kms from Leh Ladakh to Jipsa as were driving through rough… no road at all…high mountain rally terrains snowy as well as dusty…. and at Jipsa where temperatures was minus 2 degrees , even my wifes head was bursting… our biker friends again gave both of us Diamox and told us to have immediately after dinner , which we did and felt much better. There was no choice but to take these tablets to get temporary releif ….Diamox did help us at this hour of need 🙂

    1. Dear Viggy,
      Thanks for sharing your experience.

      What a wonderful adventure the three of you are experiencing!

      1. Yes Radhika ! We all three of us had a great thrilling experience 🙂 third one being our 10 and a half years old Labrador female doggy ” Jiya” who did not show any signs of discomfort 🙂

  2. Namaste Do not take Diamox. It can cover up the warning signs of AMS( acute mountain sickness) and so you don’t get any symptoms until it is too late. I do a bit of high altitude trekking in different parts of the world. Once you are above 3000 M. you just have to slow down and take it easy . Pills are a fool’s paradise. Acclimatization takes three days for every 500-1000 M you gain. So if you feel ill then make a rapid descent . That cures it. Taariq

    1. Namaste!
      I’m glad I didn’t take any Diamox until I suffered from a terrible headache at 17.5 K, and was literally forced to take it.
      That’s where I made a mistake- did not acclimatize enough perhaps- going by what you have shared.
      May I share the above as a foot note in a blog entry… so it can help others too.
      Many thanks for reading the post, sharing and writing in.

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