I will never forget the day I first saw the Himalayas. It was peeking out of the woods as we were driving up in Uttarakhand. I felt chills. I don’t know why; maybe because I love the whole romantic idea of a life up in the mountains, I felt the kind of emotions you read about in books or watch in films. It was exhilarating. But life in the mountains is harsh – not impossible but very difficult. Naveen and I have driven across the states of Sikkim, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh – covering nearly the whole stretch of our country’s mountain range. Having stayed in small mountain towns like Utteray (Sikkim), Munsiyari (Uttarakhand), and Nako, Kaza, Chitkul (Himachal Pradesh), I picked up on a few pointers to make my life easier when at such high altitudes. These are a few basic pointers I wrote down for myself as we traveled from town to town. A few travel tidbits for someone who’s planning to visit the mountains the first time soon and has already started planning for it:
If you are traveling in the mountains in your own vehicle, do not go over the speed limit. Mountain roads are not the right place or time to feed the adrenaline junkie in you. Most of the roads in the mountains are narrow and they run by deep, rocky gorges. A tiny misturn and chances are you will get badly injured. I think Naveen and I are overly cautious the whole time on the road, going below or just at the speed limit, letting everyone overtake us. The locals of the towns and villages drive their vehicles with such confidence, they whizz right past you and I guess it’s because they know the roads, they know the curves and bends. Don’t try to imitate them. Take your time. If you are driving, let them drive past you. Always give way on the mountains.
Pack warm clothes and layer yourself when you are up in the mountains. If you are headed there during summer, the sun rays are stronger and will affect your skin. It’s better to wear full-sleeved shirts or light jackets to cover yourself. If you are going for a winter visit, layer yourself with multiple warm clothing. I visited Spiti Valley for the first time in March. Though it isn’t peak winter at the time, it gets cold once the sun sets. To keep myself warm I had worn thermal wear, a shirt, a hoodie, socks, gloves, beanie, and a scarf. I had an extra sweater on standby. It really does get cold up there! Pack warmly, dress warmly, better to be safe than frozen. I remember, we were visiting Tosh Village in the month of April. It’s pretty warm in the sunlight at this time of the year, but the moment you step into a shadow or the sky gets cloudy, you can still feel the chilly winters in the breeze. And it almost always rains in the evenings. We reached Tosh Village on one such rainy evening in April, there was a light, steady drizzle, the breeze was cold and biting. And in some genius stroke of thought (I mean this sarcastically), I thought it would be best for me to wear…flip flops. So I packed my shoes into my backpack and Naveen looked at me quizzically as I jumped out of the car with my flip-flops on. I was so sure of my decision, I didn’t even imagine it flipping over (flip-flopping over?) to bite me in the ass – or in this case, my feet. If you don’t know Tosh Village terrain, if you have never been there before and you’ve landed there for the first time, wear shoes. Always wear shoes. With socks. Comfortable, roomy shoes and socks that can keep your feet dry and make sure they are well absorbent, sometimes water trickles into your shoes, it gets irritating and uncomfortable. If you are planning a trip to the mountains, carry warm clothes and wear good shoes.
A reminder/PSA/a keen suggestion: Please don’t litter. The places you visit up in the mountains are remote towns and villages. They try to recycle and reuse as much as they can and burn the rest of it. I hope you can see why that’s a bad idea and how that will add to global warming and the climate changing at a faster rate; which is never good news. So as travelers and tourists, we should try not to add more trash to their burden. Try to carry your own water bottles instead of buying bottles of water. Refuse plastic covers/bags, straws, plastic cutlery. Do as much as you can to not create waste. Especially if you are traveling in groups, create more awareness among your circle of family, friends, travelers. I feel like groups of people, especially on a tour group, create more waste and that do without real intent. It just happens. At the end of the day, we are just visiting, the people who actually live and survive there have to bear the brunt of our misdeeds. So take a moment before you are unkind to their home.
A holiday in the mountains is not the kind of holiday for heavy alcohol consumption and loud partying. In fact, excessive alcohol in higher altitudes can lead to breathing problems. On our way to Kaza, we decided to stop for the night at Nako. It was snowing and it was bitterly cold. We decided to warm our insides with a small drink of rum and the locals of Nako village gave us a head’s up; your body can take one or two pegs to keep you warm but if you over indulge, the alcohol absorbs most of the oxygen in your body and at such a high altitude with relatively low oxygen levels, your body might not be able to handle it. You might face difficulty in breathing, in concentrating, you might feel light headed, drowsy or a dull headache throbbing. Sometimes your body showcases these symptoms even though you haven’t had a sip of alcohol and that’s normal too, your body takes time to get adjusted to change in the weather, altitude, temperature. Alcohol or no, the quickest remedy is to pop a clove of garlic into your mouth and keep chewing on it. Garlic is an excellent oxidizing agent and helps your body regain some balance. Always carry garlic with you, make sure your travel companions also carry some. It might burn your tongue a little but you might develop a taste for it after the third or fourth clove.
Always start exploring on a full stomach. Instead of opting for packaged snacks and candies, choose to eat at local eateries. Eat the food that the locals are eating; if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for you. The food we ate when we were traveling through the mountain towns were light but filling; like a hot steaming bowl of thupka or a plate of juicy, spicy momos; filling but doesn’t make you feel heavy or bloated. And don’t forget to carry water with you. When you are at higher altitudes, you generally forget to drink water so keep reminding yourself and your friends to keep sipping on water throughout the day. It’s easier to carry your own water bottles because you will find friendly people who will offer you water but very rarely do you find shops that sell bottles of water, especially around Spiti Valley.
Another important tip, especially for someone headed to the snowy mountains for the first time: carry sunglasses with you. The snow is blinding white and the light of the sun is intensified by the snow, especially on a clear day. Equip yourself with a good pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes. Also, remember to moisturize your skin. winds up in the mountains can easily dry out your skin and cause flakiness so always remember to moisturize yourself with a good cold cream whenever you can. Naveen and I used your basic Vaseline moisturizer and it was pretty good.
A big part of traveling is putting yourself in an uncomfortable position and trying to create your comfort zone in it. But at the same time, making sure that you don’t make someone else’s life miserable. Traveling has taught me to adapt faster, it has taught me to trust my instinct before anything else; sometimes it felt overwhelming, to talk to strangers, to roam around new terrains, to go to places I had only seen on Google maps and the internet. But it also taught me to make it my own, to be kind to the stranger and to make a home out of the new terrains. And these are a few ways in which helped me in making the mountains my own. My thought is that if you are in an unexplored land and that’s already making you uncomfortable, don’t add to the discomfort; find ways to cushion it and soften the blow. Whether you are going for a trek high up in the mountains somewhere or exploring beaches by the ocean.
I hope you enjoyed the read: do let me know if you have any tips that you can add to this list. Or if you just want to drop a hello, that’s okay too 😀 If you are looking for more Tidbits, I’ve written about Trekking Tidbits and Life on the Road Tidbits. For more updates and conversations, you can find us on Instagram: @kshivee and Facebook: Kshivee
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