Working for corporate is fulfilling as long as you know how to maintain your Work-Life balance. Ikigai is a Japanese concept that means “a reason for being.” It is similar to the French phrase, raison d’être. Everyone, according to Japanese culture, has an ikigai. Finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search of self. Such a search is important to the cultural belief that discovering one’s ikigai brings satisfaction and meaning to life. For some, it might be work, hobbies, and raising children.

For me, the Himalayas have always been the escape from office’s conundrum and city’s hustle and bustle. I have been lucky to be born in the laps of the Himalayas, which made it easier for me to relate and find my peace in the Himalayas. I grew up hiking in and around Kullu and Manali region, which happens to be the base for a numerous treks. Being Pahari becomes a huge advantage if you are passionate about the Himalayas and can’t give up on the need for adventure and being in the mountains. We, as the true inhabitants, have witnessed its beauty, wrath and solitude since the day we came to our senses; apparently we have better stamina and endurance against AMS on high altitude as compared to an average person of the plains. It was inevitable that being a Mountain Guide became my lifelong dream and here is the story of my pursuit of the Himalayas.

On papers, things were going pretty well while I was working with Tech Mahindra 5 days a week for 9 hours per day. During my long 8 years tenure, I worked on many different Projects and held different profiles. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to travel to various locations including Amsterdam, Den Haag, Rotterdam, Paris, Belgium and Germany along with a more than decent salary at the end of every month.

I was based out of Chandigarh, which is situated at the foothills of Himachal. Being close to Himachal saved me some time, some monthly leaves and it was easier to plan for longer hikes or road trips on bike. I also had the option to pick the days for my weekly offs, so, I would take 4 week-offs combining 2 weeks (Saturday to Tuesday) and a couple of more leaves, if required. This was almost a monthly ritual to take a long trek and 1 or 2 short weekend hikes, all self supported, mostly solo and sometimes, the company of friends was also rejoiced. This helped me exorbitantly to save my leave balance without unduly hampering the job expectations and it’s demanding schedule. I usually managed to get enough weekly offs or leaves but at other times, it would be months at end till I got requisite leaves. The hectic schedule and the same routine that made life monotonous worked for me as long as I continued the said ritual of hiking in the Himalayas.

In 2008, I founded a Hiking Club – The Himalayan Drifters. We at the club were a group of friends and trekkers who would go for hiking or road trips together, mostly me guiding my friends to places I have been before. Those were mostly self supported hikes carrying everything you need on your back.

Image from our self supported Stok Kangri Trek with my friend, Brijeshwar Singh. Our backpacks were at least 25 kgs carrying stove, kerosene, food, tent, sleeping bags, camera, ace axe, crampons, utensils and cutlery etc.

It was always my ardent desire to work in the Himalayas so the inception of our club lead to it being altered into a Adventure Sports Company. I started organizing groups for short treks and road trips for my friends and colleagues from Chandigarh and Delhi that helped me travel and hike without spending from my own pocket if not earning some. I continued to organize such treks till 2015 when I finally decided to give up my job and do it full-time. I’d been planning it for months and I thought I would be incredibly nervous to put in my resignation but it was the exact opposite; there was this sense of personal freedom which can’t be explained in words. Now I could focus entirely on my dream and I could return home – the Himalayas.

After founding Himalayan Drifters as a company, Life took a crazy turn; here I am, doing what I dreamt for so long… Exploring new trails, climbing peaks, herding sheep and crossing high altitude passes with my Gaddi friends while camping beside some of the most stunning Himalayan Glacial Lakes, visiting some of the remotest villages in the Himalayas, cleaning some of the most polluted trails. I have spent more than a year vigorously researching on Shepherds and Headers of the Himalayas while visiting some of the most remote treks in Himachal chasing the traditional Gaddi routes. I have learnt so much from their ancient traditions and migration practices which is one of the most sustainable living on the planet. All that gave me a sense of achievement and contentment.

Travelling and Hiking in Himalayas comes with its benefits like – Better overall health of Mind and Body, a chance to breath pollution free air, stunning views, meeting fellow trekkers and travellers with their travel stories, stress free life and the list goes on… But for me, the best part is to be at home, at Kullu with my family when I am not hiking. It’s has been one adrenaline filled ride with lots of adventures, ups and downs, thrills and some cherishing lifetime memories. With more than 400 treks and 78 different trails under my belt as of now, targeting to complete my 100 trail by end of next year. May this magical journey continues till my last day on this Earth.

What is acute mountain sickness?

Hikers, skiers, and adventurers who travel to high altitudes can sometimes develop acute mountain sickness. Other names for this condition are altitude sickness or high altitude pulmonary edema. It typically occurs at about 8,000 feet, or 2,400 meters, above sea level. Dizziness, nausea, headaches, and shortness of breath are a few symptoms of this condition. Most instances of altitude sickness are mild and heal quickly. In rare cases, altitude sickness can become severe and cause complications with the lungs or brain.

What causes acute mountain sickness?

Higher altitudes have lower levels of oxygen and decreased air pressure. When you travel in a plane, drive or hike up a mountain, or go skiing, your body may not have enough time to adjust. This can result in acute mountain sickness. Your level of exertion also plays a role. Pushing yourself to quickly hike up a mountain, for example, may cause acute mountain sickness.

 

What are the symptoms of acute mountain sickness?

The symptoms of acute mountain sickness generally appear within hours of moving to higher altitudes. They vary depending on the severity of your condition.

Mild acute mountain sickness

If you have a mild case, you may experience:

  • dizziness
  • headache
  • muscle aches
  • insomnia
  • nausea and vomiting
  • irritability
  • loss of appetite
  • swelling of the hands, feet, and face
  • rapid heartbeat
  • shortness of breath with physical exertion

Types of AMS

HACE

High-altitude cerebral edema (HACE) occurs if acute mountain sickness persists. HACE is a severe form of AMS where the brain swells and stops functioning normally. Symptoms of HACE resemble severe AMS. The most notable symptoms include:

  • extreme drowsiness
  • confusion and irritability
  • trouble walking

If not treated immediately, HACE can cause death.

HAPE

High-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) is a progression of HACE, but it can also occur on its own. Excess fluid builds up in the lungs, making it difficult for them to function normally. Symptoms of HAPE include:

  • increased breathlessness during exertion
  • severe coughing
  • weakness

If HAPE isn’t treated promptly by decreasing altitude or using oxygen, it can lead to death.

Severe acute mountain sickness

Severe cases of acute mountain sickness can cause more intense symptoms and affect your heart, lungs, muscles, and nervous system. For example, you may experience confusion as a result of brain swelling. You may also suffer from shortness of breath due to fluid in the lungs.

Symptoms of severe altitude sickness may include:

  • coughing
  • chest congestion
  • pale complexion and skin discoloration
  • inability to walk or lack of balance
  • social withdrawal

Who is at risk for acute mountain sickness?

Your risk of experiencing acute mountain sickness is greater if you live by or near the sea and are unaccustomed to higher altitudes. Other risk factors include:

  • quick movement to high altitudes
  • physical exertion while traveling to a higher altitude
  • traveling to extreme heights
  • a low red blood cell count due to anemia
  • heart or lung disease
  • taking medications like sleeping pills, narcotic pain relievers, or tranquilizers that can lower your breathing rate
  • past bouts of acute mountain sickness

If you’re planning on traveling to a high elevation and have any of the above conditions or take any of the above medications, talk to your doctor about how best to avoid developing acute mountain sickness.

 

How is acute mountain sickness treated?

Treatment for acute mountain sickness varies depending on its severity. You might be able to avoid complications by simply returning to a lower altitude. Hospitalization is necessary if your doctor determines that you have brain swelling or fluid in your lungs. You may receive oxygen if you have breathing issues.

Medications

Medications for altitude sickness include:

  • Acetazolamide, to correct breathing problems
  • blood pressure medicine
  • lung inhalers
  • Dexamethasone, to decrease brain swelling
  • Disprine, for headache relief

Other treatments

Some basic interventions may be able to treat milder conditions, including:

  • returning to a lower altitude
  • reducing your activity level
  • resting for at least a day before moving to a higher altitude
  • hydrating with water

How can I prevent acute mountain sickness?

You can take some important preventive steps to reduce your chances of acute mountain sickness. Get a physical to make sure you have no serious health issues. Review the symptoms of mountain sickness so you can recognize and treat them quickly if they occur. If traveling to extreme altitudes (higher than 10,000 feet, for example), ask your doctor about acetazolamide, a medication that can ease your body’s adjustment to high altitudes. Taking it the day before you climb and on the first day or two of your trip can lessen your symptoms.

When climbing to higher altitudes, here are some tips that can help you avoid developing acute mountain sickness:

What’s the long-term outlook?

Most people are able to recover from a mild case of acute mountain sickness quickly after returning to lower altitudes. Symptoms typically subside within hours, but may last up to two days. However, if your condition is severe and you have little access to treatment, complications can lead to swelling in the brain and lungs, resulting in coma or death. It’s essential to plan ahead when traveling to high-altitude locations.

What are the complications of altitude sickness?

Complications of altitude sickness include:

  • pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs)
  • brain swelling
  • coma
  • death

Can you prevent altitude sickness?

Know the symptoms of altitude sickness before you ascend. Never go to a higher altitude to sleep if you’re experiencing symptoms. Descend if symptoms get worse while you’re at rest. Staying well hydrated can decrease your risk for developing altitude sickness. Also, you should minimize or avoid alcohol and caffeine, as both can contribute to dehydration.

Altitude sickness describes several symptoms that happen to your body when you’re exposed to a higher elevation within a short period of time.

Altitude sickness is common when people are traveling and either climbing or being transported to a higher elevation quickly. The higher you climb, the lower the air pressure and oxygen levels get. Our bodies can handle the shift, but they need time to gradually adjust.

Here are some things you can do to prevent yourself from getting altitude sickness.

  1. Climb slowly

Your body needs about two to three days of slowly going higher in order to adjust to the changes. Avoid flying or driving directly to high altitudes. Instead, go up higher each day, stop to rest, and continue the next day. If you have to fly or drive, pick a lower altitude to stay at for 24 hours before going all the way up.

When traveling on foot, plan your trip up with stopping points at lower elevations before reaching your final destination. Try to travel no more than 1,000 feet each day, and plan a rest day for each 3,000 feet you go higher.

  1. Eat carbs

It’s not often we’re told to eat extra carbohydrates. But when you’re at a higher altitude, you need more calories. So pack plenty of healthy snacks, including lots of whole grains.

  1. Avoid alcohol

Alcohol, cigarettes, and medications like sleeping pills can make altitude sickness symptoms worse. Avoid drinking, smoking, or taking sleeping pills during your trip to higher altitude. If you want to have a drink, wait at least 48 hours to give your body time to adjust before adding alcohol into the mix.

  1. Drink water

Staying hydrated is also important in preventing altitude sickness. Drink water regularly during your climb.

  1. Take it easy

Climb at a pace that’s comfortable for you. Don’t try to go too fast or engage in exercise that’s too strenuous.

  1. Sleep lower

Altitude sickness usually gets worse at night when you’re sleeping. It’s a good idea to do a higher climb during the day and then return to a lower altitude to sleep, especially if you plan on climbing more than 1,000 feet in one day.

  1. Medication

Usually medication isn’t given ahead of time unless flying or driving to high altitude is unavoidable. There’s some evidence that taking acetazolamide (the former brand name of Diamox) two days before a trip and during your trip can help prevent altitude sickness.

Acetazolamide is a medication typically used to treat glaucoma. But because of the way it works, it can also help prevent altitude sickness. You’ll need a prescription from your doctor to get it.

It’s also important to know that you can still get altitude sickness even when taking acetazolamide. Once you start having symptoms, the medication won’t reduce them. Getting yourself to lower altitude again is the only effective treatment.

Symptoms of altitude sickness

Symptoms can range from mild to a medical emergency. Before traveling to a higher altitude, make sure to know these symptoms. This will help you catch altitude sickness before it becomes dangerous.

Mild symptoms include:

  • headache
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • throwing up
  • feeling tired
  • shortness of breath
  • faster heart rate
  • not feeling well overall
  • trouble sleeping
  • loss of appetite

If you develop mild altitude sickness, you should stop climbing any higher and return to a lower elevation level. These symptoms go away on their own when you move to a lower altitude, and as long as they’re gone you can start the trip again after a couple days of rest.

Severe symptoms include:

  • more intense versions of the mild symptoms
  • feeling out of breath, even when you’re resting
  • coughing that won’t stop
  • tightness in the chest
  • congestion in the chest
  • trouble walking
  • seeing double
  • confusion
  • skin color changing to gray, blue, or paler than normal

This means your altitude symptoms are more advanced. If you notice any of these, get to lower altitude as soon as possible, and seek medical attention. Severe altitude sickness can cause fluid in the lungs and brain, which can be deadly if left untreated.

Bottom line

It’s hard to predict exactly how your body will react to high altitudes because everyone is different. Your best defense against altitude sickness is not to climb too high too fast and to be prepared by practicing the tips above.

If you have any existing medical conditions, like heart problems, trouble breathing, or diabetes, you should talk to your doctor before traveling to high altitude. These conditions may lead to additional complications if you get altitude sickness.

Kheer Ganga is a serene meadow in the Parvati Valley situated at 2960 m where Shiva is said to have meditated for 3000 years. The hot springs at Kheerganga are extremely important for Hindu and Sikh pilgrims as well as many others who believe the waters have sacred healing properties. It takes about 4–5 hours trekking to reach Kheerganga Top which is approx. 12 km from the starting point near Barshaini,17 km away from Kasol enroute the pilgrimage site Manikaran.

It is famous for its natural sulphur hot water springs and stunning views of Parvati Valley, the white sulphur makes the water look whitish, hence the name Kheer Ganga. There is a cave above the temple which is said to be a short cut to Mantalai lake but it’s closed now and not in use.

This trail was discovered and still used by local shepherds to cross Pin Parvati Pass to reach Pin valley of Spiti with their life stock migration. But I noticed some articles pointing that in 1884 Sir Louis Dane crossed it first time in search of alternate route to connect Kullu and Spiti but local shepherds state that their families had crossed way before 1884 and have been using this trail for centuries now.

Its was late 90’s when I visited Kheer Ganga for the first time,  there used to be nothing here apart to a small temple and muddy hot water ditch made by shepherds and locals to take bath, only hikers in the region were locals and Israelise hikers later on a temple and Dharamshala was  constructed here which still exits. I have visited this place more than 50 times as of now and man I have seen this place changing like crazy year by year.

Over the past few years Kheer Ganga has become one of the most visited and apparently the most polluted trails of Himachal, thanks to all the insensible and unethical stoners and hikers. With crowd came the plastic and pollution, but in recent past 4 years Kheer Ganga has become the hub for stoners and first time hikers. During season time any given day average of 1000 people visit Kheer Ganga sometime even more, I have witnessed people not getting accommodation as all camps were full, but in past 2 years around 20 new cafe and Camp settlements were established here. Specially from 2005 when locals  started running cafes there,  every year the place got more crowded and today there is barely any place left to pitch a personal tent for Self Supported hikers.

Here is a timeline from 2004 to 2018 by Google Earth  showing the settlements growing in the region.

Kheer Ganga in 2004

 

Kheer Ganga in 2008

Kheer Ganga in 2017

Kheer Ganga in 2018

Growing Polltion Issue

In spite of ban on polythene in Himachal the plastic rappers of edibles like Chips, Cakes, Maggie, Biscuit etc, Packaged water bottles, Cold Drinks bottles, Canned Drinks and Alcohol and Beer bottles continue to pollute most of the Hill stations.

Growing numbers of cafes on the way is another big cause of huge piles of garbage in both the major trails to Kheer Ganga. Local people sometimes burn the plastic to get rid of garbage which is more harmful to the environment. Govt or any local administration is doing nothing to improve the situation, inspite the staggering numbers of people visiting Kheer Ganga.

Himalayan Drifters have tied up with Healing Himalayas Foundation to help clean the polluted trails of Himalayas and already organised two clean drives since last year.  We are organising another clean drive on 28th, April 2018. Care to join? Get in touch with us.

Kheer Ganga is on the path of destruction and needs a lot of care and restoration. Government and local community with help the of visiting hiker can surely achive this by following simple hiking ethics and leave no trace policy.

Please visit our another article about 24 Dos and Don’t on Himalayan Trek.

Granted, Kheer Ganga is one of the most popular hikes in Parvati Valley so I wasn’t expecting pristine solitude. But even so, I was pretty shocked at the number of hikers displaying such blatant indifference to how they were acting. What began as two people running down straight at me as I was ascending the same hill became a person blasting cheesy trance on their phone for his group to collectively hear. A girl eating a chips then throws the plastic on the trail.

Seeing stuff like this happen continuously over 5 km hike to Kheer Ganga made it seem like a 25 km hike through pure drudgery.

So should I have given those unruly hikers the benefit of the doubt?

Now before you scoff and call me a sanctimonious snob, hear me out. Simple trail etiquette, like I’m about to explain, is like driving etiquette with a human component. Practicing good driving etiquette means being a safer driver, and having good human etiquette ensures that you won’t be perceived as a jerk. Same for hiking. Win-win.

With the increasing popularity of hiking, what I’m about to say is a good reminder to us all. Hell, I’ve even been guilty of a couple of these, at one point in my longish life. Everybody’s human.

So here goes Twenty-Five Dos and Don’ts to ensure you’re not being “one of them.”

  1. Stop blasting music on your phone.

Why? For years, people have looked to hiking to enjoy peace, relief from city noise, daily stresses, and technology. Yeah, music is also another way to de-stress – with headphones, people.

But without headphones, blasting music on your phone so that both you and your friend can hear it is almost as bad as littering. It’s the same as that subwoofer schmuck letting it all hang out at any given stoplight. Just because you like your crappy music doesn’t mean anyone else does.

  1. Don’t talk needlessly loud.

Why? Same rationale as playing music. It’s tempting to gab to pass the time, but other people don’t need to be hearing your latest news.

  1. When you’re hiking downhill, yield to hikers going uphill.

Why? Hikers who are going uphill, move slower, have a smaller field of vision, and may not even know you’re there. And do you like being momentarily barricaded when you’re trying to concentrate on your pace going up? Put yourself in their shoes, or remember when you were first making that incline. Of course, you may find that uphill-hikers will choose to yield because they can then take a breather, but it’s up to them to signal it.

  1. When you’re hiking solo, yield to hikers in larger groups.

Why? Because it’s harder for larger groups to move off the trail than smaller groups.

  1. When wanting to pass a slower hiker, greet them first.

That means saying “hi, can I pass?” and not just an “excuse me” as you’re brushing past them. This isn’t a downtown sidewalk.

Why? Often times, a slower hiker will understand you’re wanting to pass upon greeting. And it’s just common courtesy.

  1. If you’re hiking with a dog, always yield when the trail is narrow.

Why? While I love dogs and don’t mind them running near me, not everyone is the same. Other hikers could become startled, scared, or worse yet, they could become mean towards your dog.

  1. Always yield to horses/mules/poerter, etc.

Why? I get super excited when I see a horse, and always want to pet it. However, horses and other pack animals easily spook. I was once leading a mule on a backpacking trip when the mule suddenly bolted. Took off. Gone. Probably trampled everything in its path. Couldn’t find him until nightfall.

  1. Just because your apple core is “biodegradable” doesn’t mean you should throw it on the ground.

Why? Wild animals (read: those that will eat you too) will smell it from miles away. Plus, introducing people food isn’t great for them and detrimental to their habitat. Pack it in, pack it out.

  1. Don’t litter non-biodegradable stuff either.

Why? Hopefully, this is self-explanatory. If not, bring a plastic grocery bag and carry it in your backpack. Place your trash in said grocery bag. Pack it in, pack it out.

  1. Don’t feed wildlife.

Why? Same reason as #8. True story, the marmots in Leh and Kashmir Great lakes Trek have become SO accustomed to this that they’re no longer cute from afar. They will climb right up your back and steal food right out of your hand like beast mode.

  1. Toilet etiquette

Pee/poop at least 50 paces away from any water source, like lakes, rivers, ponds, babbling brooks, etc.

Why? Your pee/poop has less of a chance of contaminated said babbling brook, etc. Fifty paces (200 feet) is the standard distance set by Leave No Trace.

  1. Always say “hi” to other hikers.

Why? Common courtesy. No man is an island.

  1. Don’t knock over cairns.

Why? Trails can be complicated to navigate, and cairns are initially made to help point the way. There have been a few incidents when I lost the trail, and more often than not, seeing a cairn is a savior.

  1. Don’t make new cairns.

Making new cairns increases the probability of confusing hikers. Even if you strongly feel that making a cairn would help navigate someone away from imminent death, think about it. If that were true, the whole trail would be lined by cairns after a week.

And though it seems harmless, don’t make cairns for fun, spiritual purposes, or for any other reason. Doing so is like taking a selfie using nature as a billboard, and letting the world know you’re an ignorant, egocentric tosser. Plus, messing with rocks ruins the surrounding habitat. Think about it. You go scouting around for the perfect rocks. You build your cairn, likely in some random place off the trail. In the process, you trample fragile plants, contribute to erosion and cover the place with footprints. Your cairn has ruined that habitat for life. But in consolation, at least you got to be spiritual and free, and the whole world gets to know that. How does that make you feel?

  1. In fact, don’t make your mark on the trail AT ALL.

Why? Carving your name into anything isn’t a romantic thing like books and movies portray.

  1. Don’t hog scenic vantage points.

Why? Other people have also hiked long distances to see the same vantage point.

  1. Don’t take rocks and other stuff.

Why? It’s tacky and not cool. Think of it like taking something from someone’s home. That “someone” is the bear, insect, mountain lion, flower, etc. that was there long before you were. And don’t try and justify it by the fact that you pay taxes.

  1. Pick up trash.

Why? It’s not hard. If you see gum wrappers, bottle caps, empty water bottles, or anything seemingly not disease-ridden, just put it in your own plastic trash bag that you’re already carrying. Every little bit of plastic helps.

  1. When taking a break, tying your shoe, checking your map, etc., move to the side of the trail.

Why? You won’t be blocking oncoming hikers

  1. Don’t move geocache boxes

Why? People search for them via GPS from around the world. Sign your name and leave it where you found it.

  1. Hike in single file.

Why? Because hikers are like sand people. They always ride in single file to hide their numbers.

And you won’t be blocking oncoming hikers. Moving on…

  1. Stay on the trail.

Why? To preserve the natural habitat as much as possible. The only exception is when you need to pee/poop. In that case, tread lightly and try walking in areas that were previously walked upon.

  1. Don’t smoke.

Why? Because it’ll kill you, man. Smoking has no place on a hiking trail, especially at high elevation.

  1. If you see another hiker in potential distress, always stop.

Why? Hikers need to look out for one another because you can’t exactly call 911. On one occasion, another hiker gave me a bottle of water when I ran out. On another occasion, I did the same thing for someone else. I once gave someone a band-aid. Someone else gave me some moleskin. Etc.

OKAY, hopefully, I haven’t scared you into coming 100 yards of me on a hiking trail. Hope this helps you gear up for Summer/Winter hiking! Please share and tag your favorite hiking bud.

PEACE OUT!