Preparing for high altitude treks

Kang Yatse

And finally, after months of contemplation and efforts, I could manage to do my first high altitude trek. A lot of questions revolved around my mind when I planned to invest nearly all my vacation days in a solitary, outlying place in the depths of Himalayas. I thought of sharing some common concepts here about high altitude treks. Inbox me if you still have any questions.

Idea in mind

The whole idea of a trek erupted after I read a Facebook ad about Stok Kangri by an adventure group emphasizing the statement- ’Highest trekkable peak in India’. Such ads quite excite the target audience like me. I did a real good research on what this peak is, whose name I haven’t ever heard of. Web search dictates this peak as one of the highest trekkable destinations in India with a cloud touching altitude of 6153m. Six thousand meters! The highest I had ever done till that date was 4200m in Himachal and never thought that some normal naive trekker with limited climbing experience can summit a SIX THOUSAND meters peak. It really excited me to dig further about it.

Further reading and a few discussions with diverse adventure groups suggested that Stok Kangri has become a commonplace. People don’t even get proper place to erect their tents at the base camp. And indeed, it is very much crowded. You won’t be able to figure out  if your tent is on a poop. Even people who haven’t got trained enough for the trek attempt the summit. They face the consequences later. Neverthless, the word ‘CROWDED’ itself drained all my interest in this peak and I began my search for similar such peaks in India. As a matter of fact, the peaks in 6000m club are mostly at Ladakh. I found a couple of others, certified as ‘trekkable or require minor mountaineering skills’. These peaks were namely Kang Yatse 2 in Markha valley (6250m. Remember, Kang Yatse 1 at 6400m is very much technical.) and Mentok Kangri (6400m) in Tso Moriri region of Ladakh.

Kang Yatse 2 or any such high altitude peak for that matter, I later learned, is not that straight forward and requires you to build quite a good amount of endurance, strength and stamina. If you are going there without getting trained, you might end up quitting even before you reach the base camp. In many circumstances, one might face AMS as well. So beware to do your homework starting a couple of months before the start of your trek. I did a lot of crossfit sessions and running sessions before I considered myself fit for it.

READ: My adventures during Kang Yatse 2 trek

Reason to train

Okay. I got your question. Why do we need training?

In the Himalayas, it’s not just about going down the trail. After a certain altitude (say 2500m), human body faces the effects of altitude. This is because of the decrease in environmental air pressure as the altitude increases, which results in decrease in the amount of oxygen. If your body doesn’t get the required amount of oxygen, it will not work efficiently. The brain itself, even though it weighs just 5% of the total body weight, uses around 15% of the oxygen the body gets.

Building physical endurance

Now how does training help?

  1. Proper cardio exercises like running, swimming or even cycling can help build the cardiopulmonary systems stronger and also build the required endurance. If your lungs have more capacity to hold oxygen, it will be beneficial where the oxygen is less.
  2. Breathing exercises will help you gain control over your heart beats.
  3. Some high intensity trainings like crossfit and boxing will make your body adapt to less amount of oxygen.
  4. A little strength training can add icing to the cake as you need to carry your own body weight plus the backpack up on the hills while ferrying from one camp to the other.
  5. Apart from this, it’s better if you follow a proper diet (not for reducing weight!!). Increase the intake of protein, iron, antioxidants and vital vitamins in your food. This will help build immunity and increase oxygen-carrying red blood cells in your body.
  6. Plus, a complete no-no to cigarettes and alcohol before a couple of months and during the trek.

Also READ: How to start running

Building mental endurance

Physical training is absolutely necessary but what most of the crowd miss out is a proper mental endurance. Due to high popularity and glamour such kind of expeditions carry, most of the people don’t understand the importance of mental preparation which is required. This is mainly because majority of the crowd is first timer for high altitude treks and have not been exposed to such unforgiving conditions before.

Following are some of the ways to build the same:

  1. Build confidence in yourself that you can do it. Be prepared for adverse weather conditions and the resulting effects on your body and mind.
  2. Visualize the game before starting it. Look for the complete picture, read the blogs by people who have already did the trek, converse with your trek leaders about diverse terrains to be encountered.
  3. Build your passion towards travel and motivate yourself and the team. As your brain might not function normally at higher altitudes leading to depression and negative vibes, it’s your will power and the control over your mind which will define your achievement in the end.
  4. Understand your limits and build tendency to accept failures. Even if you are not able to do it today, you can always come back with better preparation tomorrow. Mountain will always be there. At least, you will get to know your limits and the areas to work on.

Things to carry

For the summit day, you will require crampons/snow boots, gaiters, ice axe and a helmet which are normally provided by the adventure group you would be associated with. You are required to get your own basic trekking and winter gear. For me, the most difficult part was to decide on what to wear during the trek and how much to pack in the bag. It’s a common rule that your backpack should be light.

You should read about a real good explanation on the concept of layering of clothes here.

I carried the things mentioned below for the trek which I have shared on my Insta as well. I got nearly everything from Decathlon.

Backpack stuff
Things to carry for a high altitude trek
  1. 60L backpack
  2. Rain cover for the backpack (40-60L)
  3. 20-35L backpack (useful for the summit day)
  4. 10L daypack (useful in your initial acclimatization days)
  5. Couple of quick dry breathable t-shirts
  6. Couple of pairs of quick dry breathable socks for trek, woolen socks and one pair of woolen gloves (just in case), muffler
  7. Waterproof trekking shoes (>=5000mm. Make sure the midsole of the shoe is not very soft. For me, Forclaz 500 did the job. It costed me around 5000 bucks.)
  8. Flip-flops or sneakers (useful while on the camps)
  9. Biodegradable garbage bags (can be used as laundry dry bags as well)
  10. Toilet kit (sunscreen with >=40 SPF is most important)
  11. Notepad and pen, energy bars, reusable water bottles(2), napkins, head cap
  12. Tiffin box, cup, spoon
  13. Quick dry towel
  14. Down jacket (or a fleece jacket, for the cold)
  15. Waterproof and thus, windproof shell jacket (RET 12. This will not keep you warm. It will just protect you from wind and water.)
  16. UV protective polarized sun glasses (most important), night glasses (optional)
  17. Breathable inners or thermals
  18. Light weight hiking pants (couple of them will do)
  19. Baliclavas
  20. Identity documents (for permit to climb mountain)
  21. Headtorch (you will need it for the summit day and while on the camp), lighter, compass, camphors, insect repellant, playing cards, carabiners, scissors, clips, fevi sticks
  22. Medical kit

It was a mixed feeling of gamble, mystery, excitement and fear.

At an altitude of 6200m, this summit chase was my first ever high altitude trek. Proper training is required to conquer such a height, as already mentioned by me, and Cultfit helped me in my quest.

A lot of time, energy and money was spent for this trip and it is worth all the resources.

Why to travel solo?

Why to travel solo

A lot of people have been asking me this one simple question which has a lot of answers. Why go Solo? It always adheres to one notion – “Security and boredom of being alone have to be compromised”. But believe me, it’s not true and even if it is, you will get over it. Here are a few reasons why you should try it.

1. Meet new people

meet new people

People say they are social and extrovert. Are you gregarious enough to meet new and varied people every other day? And are you willing to listen to the different stories of people from different corners of the world? Stories about their lives, stories about their adventures. Also, in turn, are you interested in telling them stories about your life, your adventures? I say, go solo! 

2. Earn respect

Earn respect

Traveling alone also gains a lot of attention and respect from other fellow travelers or the locals you encounter. You will always find help wherever you step your foot at. You will not just find an easy assistance, but may be a company along whom you can tag up with and save costs and efforts during your travel. You will make friends with the locals which might help you on your next trip there. And then you start respecting yourself more.

3. Gain benefits

gain benefits

Land up at a decent hotel or a restaurant. Tell them you are traveling solo. And may be you will get a discount on the services, better facilities or a complimentary drink! Plus, as locals who know the place better than anyone, they will definitely guide you for your next day travel in the best possible way. If you drop by at a hostel and the dorms are getting filled up fast, you as a solo traveler will get priority. Effortless logistics! Being a single person, you can be accommodated anywhere, whether it’s a hostel or a shared cab service.

4. Do what you want to do and do nothing of what you don’t want to do

Be yourself

Do you want the independence of choice of your stay, your cuisines, your itinerary and your way of travel without compromising? You may want to taste the local cuisines every day, drink the local wines every night. Or let’s just say, do you want to make the things abrupt, surprising as they come? Do you want not to stick to a plan or not make any? You may also not want to visit crowded tourist places and just want to sit under the canopies along a beach or read books staying in your homestay all day. Group travels seldom entertain such fancies.

5. Be a smarter person

Be a smarter person

Do you want to actually learn some of the life skills which include time and resources management and communication skills? Most of the life hacks were not developed by a group, but by a single person. These skills will not only help you while you travel but also at various other stages of your life. Stay in a hut wearing rugs with minimal equipment and you will get to know the reality of life.

6. Know yourself

Know yourself

Finally, at some or the other stage of your life, you will want to explore yourself within. You want to know your limits, your strengths, and your weaknesses. You want to know your aspirations and your true nature. Even if that time hasn’t come, why not try going solo to get awareness on such precious things? Ignorance is not always a bliss!

7. Don’t delay

Don't delay

How many times has it happened to you that you plan a travel with your friends and one of them is not able to manage leaves at that time or may be two sides are formed with different opinions about places to travel, places to stay, etc.? Ahh! Annoying, I know. That’s all.

Also READ: Hampi: A voyage into the past

Amritsar: A backpacker’s outlook

amritsar

If you had ever wanted to experience a blend of spirituality and urbanization, culture and trend, painful history and yet, delightful souls, I bet Amritsar is the place to be. Even the most demanding gourmets can settle right here, satiated to the next level. Indian revolutionaries or freedom fighters once had a hold of the political situation at this place. Patriots also find their pleasure here as Punjab is a border state and Wagah border is not so far from Amritsar.

I went backpacking to this Golden city with one of my friends, Shivam, at the end of October 2016. Planning for a travel in any city was never in my set of interests as I am a man who likes to keep away from the hustles and bustles of city life. But then I had to see it for myself and today, I consider it as one of my best travels.

Amritsar is around 450 km from Delhi and around 230 km from Chandigarh. Regular flight services are available from major Indian cities. If you happen to start from Delhi, Chandigarh, Dharamsala, Shimla or Jammu, there are several state as well as private run buses. Additionally, there are a few trains from Delhi, which takes just 6-7 hours to reach Amritsar. Also, if you happen to visit Amritsar, do so between the months of October and February, as it is the best season. As a general tip, avoid traveling during summers as the temperatures can rise well above 45 deg Celsius.

Daal Makhani and Roti at Amritsar

I met Shivam at Chandigarh from where we caught a local bus to Amritsar at around 10 PM. There is a huge frequency of buses to Amritsar. The bus was more than full till Jalandhar. We had a good amount of luggage with us so we purchased 2 extra seats just to keep our bags. It felt bad to see people standing while our bags were resting on cushion seats. But then, we had no option. The bus came to a halt at a small Dhaba on the way. I need not mention how awesome the Dhabas are in Punjab, which is supposedly the mother of all Dhabas. After we were done stuffing the unbelievably excellent Dal Makhani with Rotis, the bus started again. We reached Amritsar at around 3 AM.

Also READ: Hampi: A voyage into the past

Just a couple of hours before boarding this bus, I found this really cool backpackers’ hostel at Amritsar on the Internet called Jugaadus’ Eco Hostel. It is situated at Ajit Nagar and hardly takes around 15 mins from main bus stand. As soon as we reached the premises, we could see a neatly trimmed, electric-blue turbaned, handsome man waiting for us. His name was Prabhat. He greeted us and asked us to follow him up towards his small den. It’s a 2-storeyed building. I still remember the narrow red-lit stairway leading us to their first floor. Initially, it seemed like, ‘Did we make a mistake by booking this hostel?’. And it was obvious on our part. They haven’t done any publicity of this place unlike Zostel or any other chain of hostels across India. The only basis on which we could trust was- ‘Go and check for yourself!’. So, we entered this common area after removing the shoes outside. Even at this dark and quiet hours, it felt lively. It was an inventory of arts with a pile of graffitis and loads of innovation. Prabhat guided us to our dorms where we fell down immediately and slept.

Mornings are never early for us. It was 10 AM when we woke up. Now, Jugaadus have a neat day planner board hanging right in the common area. This is the best concept I loved about this place. You can see it in the image above. So basically, they have 7 different types of activities which you can opt for during your stay at Jugaadus. It includes Heritage walk, Golden temple tour, Border tour, Village tour, Food walk, Morning cycling and Cooking classes. You can sign in a day before for any activities you want to do. If they find they have at least 3 members for any activity mentioned above, they will arrange that activity in their specified time frame. We opted for Golden temple tour, Border tour and Food walk for our next couple of days stay. There were many solo travelers from outside India who joined us on our tours.

Aloo kulcha Chhole
Aloo kulcha and Chhole

After getting ready, we had a nice breakfast of Chhola Kulchha nearby. You will love the Kulchas anywhere you end up at Amritsar, I bet. Today, we have planned to take up the border tour. The Wagah border is around 28 km from Amritsar. There you can see Indian and Pakistani troops engaged in artful and aggressive rivalries showcasing their respective talents, hatred and yet respect for their opponents. The Wagah Border security restricts any entry after 2:30 PM, so make sure you reach the place well before 1:30 PM as the queue is quite huge, especially on weekends and holidays.

The place was filled up with patriotism, for different countries on different sides of the gate. I really feel perturbed by the thought that all these people were a part of one country before Independence, and everyone was called ‘Indian’. That glory is lost after the historical partition of 1947. Looking at the people sitting on another side of the gate, it seems like they are like us, in every aspect. I believe people sitting on another side of the gate feel the same. I and Shivam were sitting among the bunch of foreigner friends we made back at Jugaadus. It felt really great looking at the pride and respect Indians hold for their motherland.

India Pakistan Border
India Pakistan Border so near!

It would be around 5:30 PM when you will finally leave the place, taking another hour to reach the city, depending on the traffic. Back to the hostel at 6:30, we took some rest and got ready for the Golden temple tour. We had an instructor named Diljeet who told us incredible stories and facts about this marvelous wonder.

The Golden Temple during night hours
The Golden Temple during night hours

The Golden temple, as also called Sri Harmandir Sahib, is the most important shrine of Sikh religion. The temple has entrances from all the four directions. It stands in all its glory in the middle of a holy tank called the Amrit Sarovar, which is a man made tank. Pilgrims usually take a dip in the holy water which is believed to bear special healing powers. The main hall of the Golden temple houses the Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred scripture of the Sikh religion. This place also holds the largest Langar every day, where around 100,000 people a day are fed for free by temple volunteers and the number doubles during special occasions! Around 12,000 kg of flour, 1,800 kg of rice, 13,000 kg of lentils and up to 2,000 kg of vegetables are consumed every day. Most importantly, the langar caters to people of all castes and creeds. Such a kind fact.

At 10 PM, we observed the departure of Palki Sahib from Harmandir Sahib, carrying Sri Guru Granth Sahib to The Akal Takhat Sahib. It is an interesting ceremony that happens every night. We sat for a while around the lake, observing the golden beauty getting reflected brilliantly in the waters of Amrit Sarovar. I experienced tranquility. The positive atmosphere here will never let you want to leave this place.

Next day, we went for a food walk around Amritsar. And believe me, every single place listed here is a must try and anyone visiting this city should never miss these food joints.

paneer bhurji
The special Paneer Bhurji full of delicious Butter

It was mostly a try and taste tour. We needed to keep some space in our tummies for the next landing place. We started off with Tara Chand Special Paneer Bhurji wala. The delicious Paneer Bhurji completely soaked and fried in heaps of butter! I already started feeling heavy after eating this! Then we moved ahead towards Bhai Kulwant Singh Kulchha wale. We all had nearly half a Kulchha with the tasty Chholas.

Next one on the list was Kesar da Dhaba. Now, this place is quite old with no branches. It was established in 1916 and still retains its old ambiance and delectable recipes of its forefathers. You crush and squash its Kulchha in your hand and by the time you leave it, it would have regained its original shape without falling to bits. And the Paneer Butter Masala- it never tasted this awesome till date. We tried Lassi and Ferni as well. This place is so economical that you can feed 10 people in just around 800 bucks, with desserts!

Next was Gian di Lassi. Believe me, this is the freshest lassi you can get in the whole of Amritsar. They had various flavors of it. This place was, fortunately, the last one because this Lassi will try its best to fill your stomach well above its normal size. So satisfying the meal, so exciting the tour. We had a great time with our host named Sanjay for this food walk who is apparently the founding director of Jugaadus.

Jallianwala Bagh
The historic Jallianwala Bagh

After this walk, I and my friend went to Jallianwala Bagh where hundreds of innocent lives were lost due to the cruelty of a British officer named Colonel Reginald Dyer. We paid our respects to the mighty souls who had a generous and non-violent intention to get India independent.

 

Finally, I and my friend went to The Golden Temple again to glimpse it in broad day light. During day time, it has a different flavor and showcased its true colors. I loved this place to the core.

Amritsar is a place where your heart connects! With its typical Punjabi demonstration, this city has won my heart in all the parameters. I will surely opt to offer services in the kitchen of The Golden Temple the next time I visit.

Also READ: Why to travel solo?