Ladakh in today’s date is definitely the most sought after tourist destination in our country. Hundreds of thousands of people visit here each year now; some solo, some with friends and a lot of people with their families. Gone are the times when only the adventure junkies traveled here. What once was termed as biker’s paradise now gets considered even for a vacation with children and elders as well. If you too were planning a trip to Ladakh with family; have your parents or other elder members of your family accompanying you; then in this article I will provide some information on how safe it is to travel to Ladakh with your parents or other elders of the family; and a few tips on how you can make this a hassle-free journey.
Even though the article I am writing below is from the point of someone who is bringing their parents for the trip; it will also apply for elders traveling on their own. If, after reading the article, you have any other questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section towards the bottom of this page.
Ladakh with Parents
First of all, and I may sound a little naïve while saying this, but there are of course elderly people in Ladakh as well. It is a city where people of all age groups exist. Why am I saying this? Just to imply that Ladakh is not really a “dangerous for elders” place. It is high in altitude but as long as you are in good health with no ailments, you are free to travel to Ladakh like you would to any other place. Some general precautions that are applicable to everyone will apply towards elders as well.
With that being said, the fact cannot be denied that old age has its own set of challenges (and I mean no offense by it). So these precautions will apply even more so with senior citizens. There are of course senior citizens living in Ladakh but the thing with them is that they were born and lived all their lives here. For a tourist however, it is an entirely new environment that our bodies are not accustomed to and hence the precautions.
Before I go any further in the article, please note though that I am not a Doctor, do not have any medical background; and have never really traveled to Ladakh with my parents or an elder. Information I am sharing below is completely based on my own travel experiences of Ladakh; research done on the web and feedback shared by other travelers.
Consult a Doctor
This is the most important part of all. Do not ask anyone or look over the web for an answer. Before going to Ladakh, you must consult a doctor and get a professional opinion. In the past, people have asked me If it was OK to bring their parents to Ladakh; and then they list down the medical issues their parents have. As a matter of fact, I have received similar queries from some senior citizens themselves. This is not right. These are serious questions which if not answered seriously can have some serious implications. You must get a medical check-up done and have a doctor advise you after looking at your medical history.
Also Read: Important Tips for Driving in Ladakh
While you are preparing your itinerary, plan your trip in a way to ensure that the gain in altitude is gradual; and you are stopping for night at places that are relatively at lower heights. For example, do not take Manali route to reach Leh. Rather, take Srinagar Leh highway to get to Ladakh and return via Manali. Once you get to Leh, keep at least one complete day of rest or maybe more depending on the situation. These days can also be utilized for arranging permits. For local sightseeing, first go to Nubra Valley and then to Pangong and Moriri. Nubra is actually at an even lower altitude than Leh city; so visiting there first will allow more time for altitude acclimatization.
If your elders complain of any of the symptoms of altitude sickness while visiting Pangong or Moriri; then it will be a good choice to cancel your stay there and return to Leh. This also means that you will have to plan your day in a way that you leave from Leh as early as possible; so that you reach the lakes well in time and have enough daylight left to last a return trip in case you had to rush back to Leh the same day. For more details on Acute Mountain Sickness, to know what its symptoms are and how you can deal with it better, please read How to Handle Acute Mountain Sickness in Ladakh.
Diamox is widely popular as a medicine against altitude sickness. Please do not blindly take this medicine without consulting a doctor first. Diamox is essentially a blood thinner. It is also a sulphonamide drug, so people who are allergic to sulfa drugs should not take Diamox. There could be other side effects as well depending on the health and any other medicines your parents may be taking. Please talk a doctor first and use Diamox only if they prescribe.
Apart from Pangong and Moriri in Ladakh; Pang and Sarchu are two more places that I would recommend to avoid staying at. Majority of the people going to Ladakh for the first time suffer from AMS at both these places. Towns like Hanle and Changthang Valley too are among the highest altitudes here and should be avoided.
If you are reaching Leh by Air, then your Day 1 and Day 2 should be complete rest. Do not plan any trips on these days and allow to your bodies to adjust to the new heights that you have brought it to. Your gain in altitude in case of a flight is huge and that too in a matter of few hours so there is really no way that you can escape AMS this time.
Your clothing must be carried in layers. What it necessarily means is that do not carry all heavy woolens. Bring clothes that can be worn on top of each other in layers. Temperature fluctuates highly in Ladakh between Day and Night, Sunlight and Shade, high altitude vs lower areas so you may have to keep adjusting your clothes accordingly. A heavy windproof and warm jacket is must. Make sure you are carrying something to cover your head and neck with as well. Woolen gloves and socks will be of great help.
Also Read: What to See on Manali Leh Highway?
Do not got too remote
Areas that are too remote must be avoided at all cost. When I say too remote, I am really talking about towns that are too far away from Leh. Just keep a general itinerary that takes you to Diskit in Nubra Valley and brings you back to Leh the next day. Then go to Pangong and return to Leh. Do not venture towards routes like Wari La, Changthang Valley, Hanle, Turtuk etc. Why am I saying this? Because all these places are a bit far from Leh (about 18 hours of road trip at least) and if there was a medical emergency, you may not be able to get back to Leh in time.
Do not Rush
Take the trip at an easy pace and do not rush through the journey. Give a minimum of 2 days to both Srinagar Leh and Manali Leh highway; and if possible, break the journey in 3 days. Keep at least one day of rest after arriving at Leh and if required, more. Long hours of traveling will just put unnecessary physical stress which in turn may trigger the symptoms of AMS.
One of the primary attractions of a Ladakh trip is to camp near the lakes and under a sky brightly lit with countless stars. While this may sound like an amazing thing to do, fact is that most of these camps are really not that comfortable. They are warm and proper bedding will be provided but in my experience, it is still more comfortable to stay at a hotel than in a tent. The surroundings and the ground is also not really mostly even and easy to walk on. For senior citizens, I will really recommend that you stick to staying inside hotel rooms. If you really do want to stay at a camp then keep it limited to Pangong only where you have the option of choosing from a long line of luxury camps. Chadar tents are a big no and you should avoid staying at these.
Also Read: How Safe Ladakh is for Tourists?
I am not a doctor and have no knowledge in this field but if you are suffering from a respiratory disease then think twice before making this trip. Carrying an Oxygen cylinder is a must for you. If you are suffering from a coronary heart disease, I must strongly urge you to not make this trip. A doctor however will be a better judge so please consult one.
Once you have consulted your doctor and have their OK to travel to Ladakh, please ensure that you are carrying all of your prescribed medicines. Some other basic medicines for headache, vomiting, upset stomach etc will be of huge help while staying at places like Pangong. Sun is really harsh up here so please make sure that you carrying a good sunblock lotion; the highest SPF you could find. Cold creams, lip balms, sunglasses are some of the other essential items.
Keep Yourself Hydrated
Please make sure that you keep yourself hydrated throughout the day. Consume plenty of water or other liquids like Juice. Avoid eating too many chips.
In case of any medical emergency, please reach the Leh Memorial hospital; also known as Sonam Norbu Memorial Hospital. They are a good hospital and well equipped as well. If however, you needed medical aid while traveling or anywhere else than Leh, then please head towards nearest Army Medical Camp or a post that you could find.
Other Items to Carry for Ladakh Trip
Please take a look at this article, Ladakh Checklist – Things to Carry for Ladakh Trip for a list of some other essential items that you should carry to Ladakh; not just for senior citizens but for everyone.
I have a laid out an example of an itinerary which is a bit easier and highly recommended when going to Ladakh with family or senior citizens. Please read An Ideal Srinagar to Ladakh Itinerary for more details.
I hope the information above on traveling to Ladakh with parents or for elders / senior citizens was of help. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section below; or at our Community Forum; and I will be glad to answer. If you have been to Ladakh with your parents; or are a senior citizen yourself and have been to Ladakh, then I please welcome you to share your experience in order to help others.