Gone are the days really when Spiti valley was a place only for motorcycle enthusiasts or adventure junkies. Tourism here is on rise and the number of people visiting Spiti increases with each passing year. It is now a place that gets considered for even family vacations. In last couple of years, I have seen several people traveling to Spiti valley with kids; infant, toddlers, or children 2 to 3 years old. So yes, it is definitely doable but there are a lot of things that you will have to keep in mind to ensure a safe and hassle free trip; for both you and your child. You must remember that you are bringing your family to a high altitude desert and prepare accordingly.
Thing with kids is that they will not understand what is going on. You as an adult know the risks and effects that Spiti valley may have on you but a child will not know that. So then being a parent, you will have to restrict and control their movement; read their body language and understand the signs so that you can act accordingly. You will also have to pack in a comprehensive manner before you leave home to ensure no hitches while on the road. Mentioned below in this article are a few tips that may be of help in preparing you to do so. If, after reading this article, you have any other questions; you may ask in the comments section towards the bottom of this page.
Age Limit for Spiti Valley
Let me start with this because age is one of the foremost doubts that people have. There is really no age limit for visiting Spiti Valley. As long as there is no previous medical history or a serious ailment involved, you are free to go. The only condition is that you prepare yourself well for the trip ahead.
With that being said, I will not advise bringing too young an infant along. Spiti Valley is a high altitude desert and Acute Mountain Sickness remains to be one of the major concerns for people traveling here. Babies under 3 months of age do not have mature enough lungs to handle altitude sickness so if your child is yet under 3 months, you must give up the idea of Spiti and plan at another time. This age however is purely in medical terms as explained in the article HERE. If you asked me, I would set the limit at around one year. Wait until your child is at least 1 year or 18 months old before you bring them along to Spiti Valley.
Another factor to consider here could be that if your baby was born premature; or has a heart or lung condition; then you need to rethink about visiting Spiti at all. Or at least talk to a Doctor before you plan your trip.
Acute Mountain Sickness in Babies / Toddlers / Children
Now since we just talked about AMS, let me provide a little more details on the topic. If you were wondering what it is, then acute mountain sickness is a direct result of exposure to low oxygen levels due to gain in altitude. It is also known as altitude sickness or mountain sickness. As you bring your body to higher altitudes, the pressure of oxygen decreases; and in order to compensate for low oxygen per breath, our body increases the breathing rate. This process of our bodies adapting to low oxygen and high altitude is called acclimation. For more details on what AMS is and how it can affect you, please read How to Handle Acute Mountain Sickness in Spiti Valley
In short, high altitude sickness occurs when our body is not able to get the amount of oxygen it needs from the air. It usually occurs at an altitude of 8000 feet or higher and anyone from adults to children can suffer from it. Depending on the symptoms, severity of AMS can be from as simple as a headache and loss of appetite; to a condition called HACE that can be fatal if not treated.
Symptoms of Altitude Sickness in Kids
Children actually have the same tolerance level for high altitudes as adults, with an exception of babies under three months of age, as I mentioned above. In my opinion however, a better option would be to wait until your child is at least a couple of years old. You too as a parent would find it a bit easier to handle a child of that age than a few months old infant.
So how do you know if your child is suffering from acute mountain sickness? A few common symptoms are that the child will appear more tired and irritable than usual. He or she may start to vomit, complain about not feeling too good; crying non-stop in case of an infant; not sleeping well, loss of appetite and seeming generally unwell.
As I mentioned previously, your child may not understand what is happening and fail to tell you exactly how they were feeling. Older babies may complain of dizziness, fatigue and other symptoms but in case of younger ones, be mindful of the non-verbal signs. The symptoms of altitude sickness in babies can manifest immediately or after a few hours. Being at a high altitude may make your baby tired and dehydrated.
How to Travel to Spiti with Infant / Toddler / Children
Mentioned below are a few tips on how you can plan your trip to Spiti with a Child. Before I go any further in this article, please let me also mention that I am not a Doctor or a medical professional and have no experience in the field. The information I am providing in this post is merely and more of a practical knowledge that I have gained from all my trips to Spiti.
Also Read: Clothes for Spiti Trip – What to Pack?
Items like Diapers or warm milk will not be available at all the places. You will be traveling through a remote region and you may struggle to find food that your Baby can eat. So please ensure that you are packing well and in sufficient. Another thing you need to know that at most of the places, you will not get a regular pediatric medical care. Kaza is the only place in Spiti where a well-equipped hospital is available. So before you start from home, visit a Doctor and bring along any necessary or precautionary medicines that they recommend. When it comes to adults, I always suggest to travel light; but if you are traveling with children, I would rather recommend that you bring anything that you think can come handy and you can carry comfortably.
Bring in plenty of snacks like chips, biscuits etc. that your child can keep munching on. If possible, bring an electric kettle along. Feeding ice cold water to a baby at night may not be a good idea and you can’t wake up the hotel staff for warm water every time your kid is thirsty. It will also come in very handy if you were traveling with an infant when warm water will definitely become a necessity. You can use it to heat up some milk as well if needed.
Plan from Shimla Side
When you are planning your Itinerary, please make sure that you are starting the trip from Shimla and ending at Manali. This will be beneficial in terms of altitude sickness as the gain in elevation will then be gradual. If you went from Manali, then you will climb up heights tremendously and that too in a matter of couple of days which will make you or your child prone to mountain sickness.
Take the Journey Slow
Even while going from Shimla, please ensure that you are not traveling too much on any given day. Plan the journey to take place slowly and keep sufficient stops in between before you reach Kaza. This will be helpful in several ways. First is that it will allow you and your family to acclimatize to high altitude better. Second is that it will not exhaust or tire you on any given day. Third is that it will ensure you are able to see all that there is to see and cover all tourist places.
Also Read: Spiti Valley Route Guide and Road Map
Spiti Valley With Children: Keep their Movement in Check
Children by habit move around a lot. They are bound to get excited when brought to a new and exciting place; and they may start to run around. If tired or get exhausted, they will be at risk of triggering symptoms of AMS and will fall short of breath. Control their movement and do not allow running, climbing or other exhausting activities.
Keep your Child Hydrated
Your body’s fluid requirements are increased at higher altitudes and same will be the case with your child so you must keep them hydrated at all times. Ensure that they are consuming enough quantity of water or juice. However, at the same time, you also need to not over-hydrate them. And by over-hydrating, I mean forcing the child to drink more water just because you want to keep them hydrated. If they aren’t thirsty, let it be. If they do not want to have water, offer some juice or milk.
Do not also force feed your child. Digesting food at high altitude can be a time consuming process with low oxygen and you keeping your babies movement in check. So if your kid is not hungry and don’t want to eat, do not force them to.
Protect from Cold
Take extra precautions with the child in terms of protecting them from cold. Children tend to catch cold easily and if that happens, you will find yourself in a very difficult situation because traveling to Spiti means limited medical facilities and no medical facilities while on the road. Always keep your child well covered and carry an extra layer of woolens. Even in the months of June and July, weather of Spiti valley remains cold and drops drastically at nights. Ensure that you are not letting your child out early in the morning or late in the evening. Dry skin and chapped lips can happen due to the cold environment and dry air. Carry a cold cream, a lip balm and apply frequently.
Also Read: Mobile Connectivity in Spiti Valley
Protect from Sun
High altitude places like Ladakh and Spiti mean harsh Sun which is another one of your concerns. A sunscreen lotion with highest SPF will be one of the necessary items to pack. Even adults traveling to Spiti for the first time can get some serious sunburns if they weren’t careful; so you can imagine what will happen with a Child’s skin if you left them uncovered. Bring full sleeve clothing to protect their arms, socks to protect their feet, gloves to protect their hands and a large enough hat to protect their face. Sun rays are really strong at high altitudes which may cause irritation in eyes with some children so using a shade would be a good idea.
Medicine and Health
If your baby has an ailment related to heart or lungs then my advice would be to not bring them to Spiti Valley. Same applies in case of an infant born prematurely. Even if there is no medical history, consult with child’s physician still about their ability to tolerate the altitude. If there is a medical history involved, please do not forget to bring all the required details reports along.
You should also consider that your access to doctor or a clinic will be severely limited. If help wasn’t available, even a simple toothache or upset stomach can turn into a major problem with a child. To be better prepared for this, consult your child’s pediatrician before departure and carry any medicines recommended by the doctor. Some of the common medicines to bring are for fever, cough, cold, medicines to stop vomiting, breathlessness etc.
Diamox is a well-known medicine against AMS but please do not administer it your kid without asking a Doctor first. Diamox is a blood thinner and while it helps prevent altitude sickness and breathlessness, it can have its side effects as well. A homeopathic medicine called Coca 30 is available as well for altitude sickness which sounds like a safer option with kids but once again, ask a Doctor. Do not administer any medicines into your baby without professional advice.
ORS packets will be a great item to bring along specially if you were traveling to Spiti Valley with toddler. Have your child drink this with water to make sure that they are getting enough minerals even if they weren’t eating like usual.
Ginger can prove to be one of the best remedies for altitude sickness. Chewing on some raw ginger can also combat nausea, dizziness, and vomiting at high altitudes. What you can also do is to consume it mixed with water. Peel the ginger, grind it to extract the juice and mix it (1 tbsp) in 1 glass of water. Consume it in the morning before you start climbing up and then again midway if you begin feeling dizzy or nauseous.
Garlic is known for two things, both of which can be helpful while experiencing AMS. First is that it thins the blood and enhances the circulation. Second is that it helps the body use oxygen more efficiently; which reduces breathlessness at a high altitude place like Spiti. All you need to do is to peel off 2-3 garlic cloves and start chewing on them. Breathing through camphor (Kapoor in Hindi) or garlic helps reduce breathlessness. Clove is another natural home remedy that helps the body to be more efficient while using oxygen.
Also Read: What to See in Spiti Valley
Spiti Valley With Infant
In case of an infant,my first advice would be that Spiti should never be your first trip with the baby. Travel to a few other places first, the easier ones. This way, you will get an idea and experience on how to travel around with the baby; and will also know how to take care of your infant better. If you are completely new to parenting, then Spiti cannot and must not be your first vacation after child birth. You should also get used to using baby gear while on the move like car seats for babies, baby carriers and booster chairs.
You must keep your baby hydrated at all times. Nurse your baby frequently or offer several additional ounces of formula or water daily while you remain at the higher altitude. Another problem could be putting your infant to sleep at high altitude. Keep them warm, comfortable and offer sips of an electrolyte solution to keep them hydrated. This will help the baby sleep. Your child may start to sleep in short duration but more often. This is normal as long as they are getting enough sleep everyday.
Last but not the least, you must also allow your baby time to adapt to higher altitude so plan a trip with frequent stops along the way. Do not rush through the journey and ensure that gain in altitude is gradual.
Solid Food / Formula Milk / Fruits for Infants
When traveling with an infant, there are a few other things that you will have to consider. Is your baby breastfed; or on a formula / mixed fed diet? On the trip you will come to know that traveling with a breastfed baby is actually easier; except for the times when the child may ask for a feed at awkward times and places. If on a mixed diet then your baby will also start to depend more on breast milk and will reduce intake of solid food. You will also notice them to start refusing water as well and ask for milk instead. This is completely normal as long as you are nursing your child regularly.
Have you introduced solid food to your baby’s diet? And if yes, how well have they taken it? Has your baby already crossed the initial poop related hurdles like upset stomach, lose motions, constipation etc after introduction of solid food? If your baby is on Formula milk then please ensure that you are carrying enough of it. You may also want to bring some packaged Baby food because fresh milk and vegetables are rare in Spiti. The hotels mostly use the powder milk and fruits / veggies are mostly stocked for several weeks ahead. I would also advise asking your doctor about feeding Formula milk to your child at such an altitude because it is heavier than Breast milk.
Read their Behavior
To handle all that I mentioned above, best way would be to keep an eye on your child’s behavior. It is not really easy to identify symptoms of altitude sickness in a baby as they are non-specific at first. Some of the common symptoms however are trouble eating or sleeping, becoming unusually irritable, crying too much in case of infant, change in skin color, headache, dizziness, fatigue or difficulty in breathing. If either of these symptoms continue to remain for a longer duration or start get worse, seek medical attention immediately and move towards a lower altitude place. Do not stay for the night at Nako or the villages near Kaza like Kibber and Komik as all these are at high altitude.
Vomiting a couple of times is normal for children so if that happens, you have no need to panic or worry. It doesn’t necessarily have to be AMS; could just be motion sickness with all the driving up in the hills on winding roads. Just give some anti-vomiting medicine and that will do.
In continuation with what I mentioned above, Chandratal would be another place that you should not plan to stay at for the night. Accommodation here is only in the form of camp sites and it can get extremely cold here. I was here last in the month of June; and the temperature at night dropped so drastically that I had to sleep with my thermals, shoes and jacket on under two layers of blankets. It is also at the highest altitude in your entire itinerary which poses a risk of acute mountain sickness. Either skip Chandratal or just cover it while on your way to Manali but do not go camping here for the night.
Do not Chase your Child
And I mean it in the best way possible. Please do not run after your child everywhere. I have seen parents (specially mothers) doing it. You are just making the trip less pleasurable for yourself and annoying for your kid. I am not saying that you should not keep them safe or protect them but do not overdo it. All of your are on a trip so let them enjoy themselves too. Do not get up and run every time your child starts to walk away from you. Do not try to sanitize everything around your baby.
Spiti Valley With Kids – Conclusion
And that is pretty much it. Just keep the above mentioned tips in mind and I am sure both you and your child will have a fun trip. Once again, please do consult a Doctor before you start the journey. Do not just take my word for it. I am not a medical professional and have never been to Spiti with a Child. What I shared here is mostly just some practical information. I do hope the information above was of help. If you have some other tips to share with others, please feel free to mention in the comments section below.