Today Ladakh is definitely the most popular tourist destination in our country. Hundreds of thousands of people visit here each year now; some solo, some with friends and many people with their families. Gone are the days when only adventure addicts traveled here. What was once called a biker paradise is now considered even for holidays with children and the elderly as well. If you were also planning a trip to Ladakh with your family; accompany you parents or other older members of your family; so, in this article, I will provide some information on how safe it is to travel to Ladakh with your parents or other family elders; and some tips on how you can make this a smooth journey
Ladakh with parents
First of all, I may seem a little naive to say this, but of course there are also elderly people in Ladakh. It is a city where there are people of all age groups. Why am I saying this? Just to suggest that Ladakh is not really a “dangerous for the elderly” place. It is high altitude, but as long as you are in good health and free from disease, you can travel to Ladakh like you would anywhere else. Some general precautions applicable to everyone also apply to the elderly.
With that said, it cannot be denied that old age has its own set of challenges (and I am not offended by that). Therefore, these precautions will apply even more to the elderly. Of course, there are elderly people living in Ladakh, but the problem is that they were born and lived a lifetime here. For a tourist, however, it is a totally new environment that our bodies are not used to and, therefore, precautions.
Before proceeding with the article, note that I am not a doctor, I have no medical training; and I never really traveled to Ladakh with my parents or an elder. The information I am sharing below is completely based on my own travel experiences in Ladakh; web searches and feedback shared by other travelers.
Consult a doctor
This is the most important part of all. Don’t ask anyone or search the web for an answer. Before going to Ladakh, you must consult a doctor and get a professional opinion. In the past, people asked me if it was okay to bring parents to Ladakh; and then they list the medical problems that your parents have. In fact, I received similar inquiries from some elderly people. This is not right. These are serious questions that, if not answered seriously, can have serious implications. You should have a medical check-up and ask a doctor after reviewing your medical history.
As you prepare your itinerary, plan your trip to ensure that the altitude gain is gradual; and you’re stopping to spend the night in relatively lower locations. For example, don’t take the Manali route to get to Leh. Instead, take the Srinagar Leh highway to reach Ladakh and return via Manali. When you arrive in Leh, keep at least a full day of rest or maybe more, depending on the situation. These days can also be used to obtain licenses. For local tours, first go to the Nubra valley and then to Pangong and Moriri. Nubra is actually at an even lower altitude than the city of Leh; therefore, the first visit to it will allow more time for acclimatizing the altitude.
If elders complain of any of the symptoms of altitude sickness when visiting Pangong or Moriri; it will be a good option to cancel your stay there and return to Leh. It also means that you will have to plan your day in order to get out of Leh as early as possible; so that you get to the lakes well in time and have enough daylight to last a trip back in case you need to return to Leh on the same day. For more details on acute mountain sickness, to find out what your symptoms are and how you can best deal with it, read How to deal with acute mountain sickness in Ladakh.
Diamox is widely popular as a medicine against altitude sickness. Please do not take this medicine blindly without consulting your doctor. Diamox is essentially a blood thinner. It is also a sulfonamide drug, so people who are allergic to sulfa drugs should not take Diamox. There may be other side effects, depending on the health and other medications your parents may be taking. Please talk to a doctor first and use Diamox only if he prescribes it.
In addition to Pangong and Moriri in Ladakh; Pang and Sarchu are two more places that I would recommend to avoid staying. Most people who go to Ladakh for the first time suffer from AMS in these two places. Cities like Hanle and Changthang Valley are also among the highest altitudes here and should be avoided.
If you are reaching Leh by air, Day 1 and Day 2 should be at rest. Do not plan any trips these days and allow your bodies to adjust to the new heights you brought it to. Its altitude gain in the case of a flight is enormous and that also in a matter of a few hours; therefore, there is no escape from AMS this time.
Your clothing must be transported in layers. What this necessarily means is that they don’t carry all the heavy wool. Bring clothes that can be worn on top of each other in layers. The temperature varies widely in Ladakh between day and night, sunlight and shade, high altitude and lower areas, so you may have to adjust your clothes accordingly. A heavy windproof and warm jacket is mandatory. Make sure you bring something to cover your head and neck as well. Wool gloves and socks will be of great help.
Don’t get too remote
Very remote areas must be avoided at all costs. When I say too remote, I’m really talking about cities very far from Leh. Just keep a general itinerary that takes you to Diskit in the Nubra valley and takes you back to Leh the next day. Then go to Pangong and go back to Leh. Do not venture on routes like Wari La, Changthang Valley, Hanle, Turtuk etc. Why am I saying this? As all of these places are a little far from Leh (about 18 hours’ drive) and if there was a medical emergency, you may not be able to return to Leh in time.
Do not hurry
Make the trip at an easy pace and don’t rush during the trip. Give a minimum of 2 days to the Srinagar Leh and Manali Leh highways; and, if possible, interrupt the journey in 3 days. Keep at least a day off after reaching Leh and, if necessary, more. Long hours of travel only place unnecessary physical stress, which in turn can trigger AMS symptoms.
One of the main attractions of a trip to Ladakh is to camp near the lakes and under a sky lit by countless stars. While this may seem like an incredible thing, the fact is that most of these camps are not really that comfortable. They are warm and adequate bedding, but in my experience, it is still more comfortable to stay in a hotel than in a tent. The surroundings and the ground are also not very uniform and easy to walk. For the elderly, I really recommend you to stay inside hotel rooms. If you really want to stay in a camp, keep it limited to Pangong only where you have the option to choose from a long line of luxury camps. Chadar’s tents are a big no and you should avoid staying in them.
I am not a doctor and I have no knowledge in this field, but if you are suffering from a respiratory illness, think twice before taking this trip. Carrying an oxygen cylinder is a must for you. If you are suffering from coronary heart disease, I must strongly insist that you do not make this trip. A doctor, however, will be a better judge; therefore, consult one.
After consulting your doctor and having permission to travel to Ladakh, make sure you are carrying all of your prescription drugs. Some other basic medicines for headache, vomiting, stomach pain, etc., will be of great help while staying in places like Pangong. The sun is really harsh here, so please make sure you bring a good sunscreen lotion; the largest SPF you can find. Cold creams, lip balms, sunglasses are some of the other essential items.
Make sure you stay hydrated during the day. Consume plenty of water or other liquids like juice. Avoid eating too many chips.
In case of any medical emergency, contact the Leh Memorial hospital; also known as Sonam Norbu Memorial Hospital. They are a good hospital and are well equipped as well. If, however, you need medical help during the trip or anywhere other than Leh, head to the nearest Army Medical Camp or a post you can find.
Other items to carry for your Ladakh trip
Please take a look at this article, Ladakh checklist – What to take for a Ladakh trip to get a list of other essentials you should take to Ladakh; not just for the elderly, but for everyone.
I have an example of an itinerary that is a little easier and highly recommended when you go to Ladakh with family members or the elderly. Please read an ideal itinerary from Srinagar to Ladakh for more details.