AMS – What it means in Ladakh?

AMS – What it means in Ladakh
The monastary of Likir in Ladakh

A Trip to Ladakh

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.

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 a 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 traveling in Ladakh along with examples of others. If anyone has any conditions that might hamper traveling in high mountains, I would advise a consultation with a doctor.

A Panaromic View of Saboo Village near Leh
A Panaromic View of Saboo Village near Leh
A view of the mountains in Nubra Valley

Acute Mountain Sickness

Acute Mountain Sickness or AMS as it is commonly known as 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

When experts fail in Ladakh

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.

A tribute to Yogesh Sarkar

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 an ample amount of time to get used to these mountains as well as absorb the beauty of it.

Amitabh Sarma in Ladakh
Ladakh mountain formations

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 are 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.

Acute Mountain Sickness in Ladakh

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.

A local Market in Leh
Local women selling vegetables in Leh Market
AMS – The dangers of self medication

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 overdosing 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.

A View of Leh Valley on the way to Nubra
A View of Leh Valley on the way to Nubra

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.

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 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.

By Amitabh Sarma

Published by Bearded Traveling Soul

My name is Amitabh Sarma and I am a storyteller. People fondly call me the “traveling pundit”; I humbly present myself as the “bearded traveling soul”. I appreciate you taking some time to read my experiences and in case you would like to stay connected, please do get in touch through my social media profiles. Stay Blessed!

7 thoughts on “AMS – What it means in Ladakh?

  1. I’m so amazed by the detail of your page here. It really is an ultimate guide to Ladakh! I just did my first research and more to come! Thank you!


  2. Your post & pics remind me so much of my Ladakh trip in 2015. Brings back fond memories, will never forget the people & the mountains! Jullay!


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