My Infant Travelling to Ladakh
Who so ever said- “To each, his own” –was so right. It all began as a very casual conversation with Sumit (husband;) about doing a road trip. Not just a leisure road trip, but more specifically a Road Trip to the Trans - Himalayas (LADAKH) along with a friend couple from CHD in their new SUV.
Now, the only thing on our mind was our 3 month old daughter – Rubani. Volley of questions passed our minds- Is she old enough to travel such long hours? How would she cope with the sudden change in the climate? Are her lungs strong enough to withstand the low pressures at altitudes as high as16 - 17000feet?
We started looking for answers. The safest bet was our friend in Leh, who gave us an honest opinion that he has never had such a young baby traveler so far. So, he was not sure. Our second shot was Rubani’s pediatrician. He had just one word to say….Avoid. When asked why, he could not give me a concrete answer. Finally, our last resort was to “Google” it. Now let me be very honest here – Google failed in helping me out, or probably, a better way to put it would – I did not get any clarity from the net regarding infant travel to Ladakh.
We both sat down over a couple of beers and tried to analyze. We did a small reality check. Rubani was born 3.5kgs, healthy baby. It was a normal delivery. No health issues so far.
She’s completely on breast feed and is well acclimatized to altitude living, since we live at a height of approx. 2000mtrs and above in the Seraj – Tirthan Valley-Banjar-HP, in our village house at Ghyagi.
The only concern was to manage her breathing at altitudes as high as 16000ft, while crossing various passes. The only satisfactory answer we got from the net was that the baby’s lungs are fully developed by the age of 3 months. The lungs function thoroughly and there are no chances of any sort of abnormality thereafter.
A lot of beer, discussion and googling had already happened by now!! Finally, we decided to make our own experience. That was it….July 11th, 2009, 2A.M….we were on the road –
“A Journey to the Trans Himalayas”- with our 3 month old!!
There was no scope for negligence on my part while packing her bag. Enough warm clothes, diapers, medicines, blanket, toiletries and of course, my Nikon D70S SLR.
7AM, we were crossing Rohtang- the first pass, approx 3979mtrs(- 13051ft). The idea behind leaving home at 2AM was to cross the “touristy” Rohtang pass very early morning in order to avoid endless hours of jam. It was indeed a wise decision and we found absolutely no traffic. We made our first halt right after crossing Rohtang, before approaching Koksar, next to a parachute dhaba serving maggi-andaa. Now let me give you a brief background of Sumit. He will not stop the car until it’s absolutely the perfect spot. Come hell or high water!! But I have to admit that it has always been worth it. It was a 20 minute halt, good views of Chandra River and happy tummies.
The valley approaching Keylong was full of lush green fields of peas, mustard and tomatoes. Small streams fed by the glacier, making their way to the river. Those who have been desperate for their mobile phones to catch some signal will finally be relieved to be in Keylong. It would be a good idea to take a breather to inform your near and dear ones of your whereabouts, otherwise you’ll only be able to do this in Leh next.
Jispa was one of my personal favorite villages. It’s very humble in size, beautiful lush green fields and the river flowing by the fields. It would definitely make a good stopover. In fact we were also thinking of halting in Jispa since it is the only low-lying area before we head towards Sarchu. The idea was to have a comfortable altitude with vegetation around, keeping Rubani in mind. There are a few good hotels and home stays in Jispa. However, we decided to continue until Sarchu.
Ahead of village Jispa, Patseo has a nice PWD Rest House and parachute dhabas (seasonal only) for overnight stopovers.
Just before approaching Barlacha La, we crossed two breath-taking water bodies- Deepak Taal and Suraj Taal. The later definitely calls for a picture or two. The colors of the water come out really well if you’ve been lucky to catch good light.
The road to Barlacha was rather smooth. Once known to be a notorious pass, was now a cake walk. I would like to mark a testimonial here for all the BRO men. You know what- they are the real heroes and I respect them. We took a small halt to capture few special moments of Rubani at 16000feet!!
Sarchu (average el. 4000 mts.) is the State Border between Himachal and J&K. One would only find camp stays or the parachute tents, no scope for home stays since Sarchu is not a village as such.
The winds in Sarchu get really notorious at sundown. The altitude sickness had hit me by then. I was feeling very spaced-out, nauscious and my head was ready to burst. However, I was told by “Pyarey” at Antrek Camps (our night halt at Sarchu), that it was only normal to feel this was due to the change in altitude and zero acclimatization. I could not resist a shot of Balantines offered by Joy, a fellow traveler. I would like to believe that it worked for me.
That night seemed really long. Rubani was not doing too well and did not sleep that night. I think the altitude must have had some kind of an effect on her too.
Staying and sleeping at Jispa is highly recommended for the parents travelling spl. with infants.
Sumit is been on these roads before by motorcycle or jeep and he was in care of Rubani in the night. I’m confessing that I had almost started feeling that this trip was not a wise decision. Somehow the night passed and so did all the discomforts. It would be a good idea to try and feed your baby whenever she gives a sign of discomfort and more importantly stay calm because it’s one hella long night! Next morning, it was a totally different, fresh and elated day indeed. I’m glad we could get some good pictures before leaving.
After Sarchu, the landscapes totally changes. One can actually start feeling the vastness of the valley. As we kept going higher and higher on the famous GATA LOOPS, which takes you over an eleavtion of 15302 ft.(464m at a distance of 7 km across 21 hairpin bends.)
We had to make an emergency halt at Army Transit Camp, Pang since Rubani had started showing signs of altitude sickness at Nakeela pass, (approx 15547ft). She became less responsive and I began to panic. She started feeling low and were going into unconsciousness. Sumit had no option but to give her mouth-to-mouth respiration. That surely did work. We knew that the closest medical aid would only be available at Pang -Army Transit Camp’s MI Room and that was still a reasonable distance away. In the meantime we crossed Lachulung-La, (approx 16616 ft) and made our way straight to the MI Room, Pang. Thankfully the nursing assistants were on duty and attended to us immediately. They checked her pulse and heartbeat. Both were normal and there came a big smile for Rubani to the three Nursing Assistants attending her!! Those guys were thrilled to have such a pleasant baby in their MI Room. That’s when I knew that my 3 month old was already a star. She was back and kicking!! Thankfully, nothing like this ever happened again. I’m thankful to all those Nursing Assistants at Pang MI Room, for their timing assistance and reassuring that she was absolutely fine.
48 kilometers of More Plains are never-ending dirt tracks. It feels like driving alongside a dried up ocean. Suddenly you start the climb for Tanglang-La,at 17,582 feet (5,359 m) world’s second highest motor able road. Very tough terrain and there’s almost no road!! That’s Rubani’s 5th pass – crossed smoothly at approx 17000feet.
The villages of Rumste and Lato are green patches before approaching Leh. Two very humbly sized villages, but very picturesque. River, lush green fields and mountains in red,green and shades of brown. Both these villages have the option of very neat homestays and camping grounds. We stopped by at Sonam’s Homestay in Rumste for home-cooked food and that’s where Rubani got her new name – CHO CHO (which means baby girl in Ladakhi)
We stopped by at the banks of Sindhu or Indus River, where the famous Sindhu Festival takes place every year. Those red sand stone canopies, with the backdrop of the mountains and the Sindhu flowing with total grace; make that spot special.
We headed straight out to Changspa Village on Shanti Stupa road. Met our dear friend, Dawa Tsering – who owns the most sort after – Oriental Gueat House. Unfortunately, Dawa was running houseful and could not accommodate us , even though we had booked the room in advance with him. So we stayed at Panorama and Zeejeed Guest house for the next couple of days, which was only a walk away from Dawa’s. I must say that Ladakhi’s are very hospitable people and were very happy to help us with CHO CHO in my arms. The locals were very surprised to see the size of our young “Traveler” Baby and admitted that they had never ever had a traveler as young as her in the valley. A few of them even took pictures of her , to showcase in their Cafe and stores. Our Cho Cho was definitely a star! Finally, her much awaited massage and hot shower with Aabu(that’s Sumit for her). She was relaxed, refreshed and tummy full. She slept well and was rejuvenated the next morning. This time of the year, Leh is very green in season and we literally had a panoramic view from our room.
Leh Palace and monastery on one side, lush green kitchen gardens growing all sorts of local vegetables, in every house and the magnificent Shanti Stupa on the other side. In just one word – Beauty. The morning began with traditional Ladakhi breakfast prepared by Ani-Ley(aunty in ladakhi)Kunzang in the neighbourhood. CHO CHO and Kunzang clicked instantly and we spent some quality time together. Next couple of days were spent in Leh, exploring places to eat,Cafés and book stores.
Café Jeevan is a must visit, probably for breakfast. However, my personal favourite was the Tibetean Restaurant in main Leh bazaar. It’s one of the oldest restaurants in Leh, run by a cute old tibetean couple. Their soups and chowmein are my strong recommendation.
We made a side trip towards Nimmu, Saspol and Alchi; on Leh-Kargil roacd. Alchi monastery is one of the oldest ones in the region. It offers great views of the Zanskar River. By the end of the trip, Rubani – The youngest “CHO CHO –ley “ in Leh was the favourite of one and all! The journey back home was smooth and comfortable. No signs of altitude sickness or dehydration. I guess it was a good time for her to travel, since she was totally on breastfeed and I was never worried about any feeding hassles.
Rubani has certainly evolved as a person ever since. No jokes, she has become more responsive and adaptive. For all those mothers out there, skeptical about travelling with their infants to high altitudes- I would say , anytime after 3 months, when your baby’s lungs are fully developed, is healthy, you are healthy and breastfeeding- there should be nothing to worry. We made our own experience a memorable one.. hope you will make your own someday,till then...Juley!!