Saturday, 2 August 2014

‘Ladhu’(high altitude sickness)



The gradual ascend from the mean sea level, above the tree lines where only the bushes and grasses hugging the ground survives, the view is amazing being able to see the tops of the mountains till the snow capped mountain touching the blue sky. The cold breeze slapping the bare cheek reminding you of the temperature of the atmosphere otherwise forgotten due to heat produced by walking and sweating internally. Resting is out of question for you may get frozen due to the evaporating sweat and ice cold wind. 

The rarefied air with less oxygen makes you feel breathless forcing you to breath faster but that is obstructed by the smell of the shrubs growing around. The smell is actually aromatic and its fragrance enticing under normal conditions but that time when you are breathing and with abundance of it makes you feel sick and you either get used to it sooner or fall sick with fragrance.

There were stories of people feeling sick and some dying due to the smell with symptoms like: giddiness and vomiting when crossing the high mountain passes which is considered, commonly by the locals as  ‘ladhu’ its literal translation is ‘mountain poison’. It is believed that people suffer from ladhu due to the smell of the high altitude plants combined with drinking water while trekking the high altitude passes.

I had experienced mountain sickness -ladhu once while going to Lingshi. it was while crossing the highest feature known as nagayla a brownish coloured mountain pass that stood out like a sore thumb and it looked like a sand dune picked up from the Sahara desert and placed it there. The overpowering smell of the scented air that I breath in made me have headache and on further ascend felt little dizzy too. Little did I doubt that I was suffering from HAPE. Luckily, what saved me was that after crossing nagayla it was descending journey losing altitude. 

Later i learned that the sickness is scientifically known as HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema). The sickness is caused by the rarefied air and lack of enough oxygen in the air, and also due to the decrease in atmospheric pressure (and not due to the fragrance of the plant). It also causes insomnia and if you tend to vomit with all the symptoms of ladhu like dizziness, you are advised scoot down and lose height as fast as possible to save your life.  
 
nagay la

The locals however, advice the one who is suffering from ladhu to cover their nose and breathe as slow and less as possible; a genuine advice if the cause of the symptoms are what they thought to be - the fragrance of the "balu sulu" plant found in abundance oozing very sweet odour in the atmosphere. But how it contradicts the scientific solutions to cure HAPE - the lack of oxygen in the system may get aggravated by covering the nose and trying to breathe less.  
 
nagay la(brown barren)
At the camp I could not sleep for rest of my tenure except for the first night. Perhaps it must have been the symptom of HAPE/ladhu. But my comrades there told me that it must be because of me being a new face at that location and the deities are not familiar with me. They conducted some puja which did little help.
 

In the absence of detours to not to climb the highest peaks en-route, you should get prepared for such journey with adequate acclimatization and knowledge of the High Altitude sickness. The locals may try to advice and help you but it may be doing more harm than good, scientifically.