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Children on the rooftop: Ladakh for the little ones

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Clear-blue skies, snow-covered mountains, crystal-clear waters... Ladakh is a great holiday destination. But can you take the kids along? Here’s a quick guide for parents

“You’re taking your kids to Ladakh?” my friend gasped, horrified at my holiday plans for the summer. “Is it safe to take children to such high altitudes?”

The question had me in a bit of a spot. Our tickets were booked, hotels paid for, plans confirmed with friends. And I really hadn’t checked if children could be taken to such high altitudes!

The frantic search began. The only question I had for just about anyone I crossed paths with, was whether they knew anything about visiting Ladakh with children. Most responded with their own tales of horror — mountain sickness, nausea, headaches and everything unpleasant. And not one of them had travelled there with kids.

We live and we learn; and so it was, that our trip was to become an experiment of sorts. Three families. Six adults. Five children between three and 10 years. And two weeks on the rooftop of the world.

Dealing with Altitude Sickness

Altitude Sickness or Mountain Sickness is a condition that is said to occur when one’s body doesn’t get enough oxygen. Travelling to an altitude of over 8,000 feet may trigger this condition, with symptoms ranging from headaches, dizziness, nausea, to breathing trouble and weakness.

There’s all kind of information available on the Internet. But we had to go with that time-tested method of decision-making — gut feel.

I was told flying into Leh (11,480 feet), accentuates the problem, and a road trip from Srinagar was preferable. I had read about children being at greater risk, as their bodies take longer to adjust to low oxygen levels, particularly as they are not able to recognise and report the symptoms easily.

At this point in my desperate hunt, I was recommended some medicine, which is said to alleviate mountain sickness. My friends and I debated endlessly about the matter as we visited paediatricians and collected prescriptions anyway.

In the end, all three families took different decisions. Each member of the first family took the medicine before landing in Leh. None of them in the second family did. In our case, while we had the medicine, we decided not to give it to our children. The adults who hadn’t taken the medicine beforehand, felt compelled to take it once they got there, owing to headaches. The adults who had taken it prior, were mostly all right. And the kids? Well, they were just fine. Our experience was quite contrary to everything I had read online. The children (including those who hadn’t taken Diamox) were all running about like mountain goats, while the adults (even the fittest amongst us), panted to climb a dozen steps.

Trekking with children

Another child-specific query was on trekking in Hemis National Park. Hemis is a high-altitude National Park, one of India’s largest and one of the world’s highest. Avid trekkers head here during the summer months to soak in the beauty of this desolate landscape. Could we do it with children?

We found out about the shortest trek, a two-day hike from Spituk to Rumbak, involving a five-hour walk uphill on the first day (at a moderate speed) and a return of about three hours on the following day. For younger kids, it is advisable to take a pony along, as we did. It is best to arrange one in advance.

As one climbs up, gazing at snow-clad peaks in the distance and past yaks, blue-sheep and quails, it is surprising how there is not a single shop along the way. It is essential that one carries enough food and water for the entire journey. While it is cold, it can get uncomfortably warm as one climbs, so dressing in layers is advisable.

The children could touch the glaciers and get a real feel of the mountains and stark terrain as we trudged along. This is as out-there-in-the-wild as it can possibly be!

Rumbak is a small village (about 16,000 feet) with nine-odd families. There are clean and cosy homestays, mostly mud and brick houses, amidst dozens of chortens and mule sheds. Residents are friendly and happy to cook you hot meals of thukpa and momos or dal and rice, while they fill you in about life in Hemis and snow leopard sightings.

Toilets are located outside homes and it can get very cold at night. While the hosts provide guests with plenty of warm blankets, there is no heating facility. So thick woollies are essential.

This raw wilderness, something today’s children hardly get to experience, is one of the best perks of coming here. Rumbak has no electricity at night. The complete absence of light makes for some spectacular star-gazing opportunities. As there is no phone network or Internet, it is essential to have a car waiting at a pre-arranged time at Spituk to take you back to Leh after the trek.

A holiday in Ladkah with children is possible and highly recommended. Although I must confess I spent more than a sleepless night during the trip when I found it particularly hard to breathe and wanted to take the first flight home.

In hindsight though, I am glad I decided to stay. A trip to Ladakh is not easy. It is certainly worth all the trouble!

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Printable version | Nov 22, 2019 9:24:26 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/children-on-the-rooftop-ladakh-for-the-little-ones/article24818166.ece

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