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Many people shy away from traveling to Ladakh (and other regions of the Himalayas), because they are afraid of the effects of high altitude. And yes, Ladakh is only in a few places below 3,000 meters above sea level. At that altitude the air is thin enough that keeping it inside requires some effort. But with just a few tips, all travelers, big and small alike, can learn to adjust faster and enjoy a safe stay.

acclimatization (c) Barbara Esser

The one who gets well acclimatized in Ladakh can easily reach altitudes over 6.000m (c) Barbara Esser

First of all, a disclaimer: Of the several thousand guests that we welcomed so far in Ladakh, less than 10 have had to leave due to altitude sickness. So that is really not much.

Some discomfort and height adjustment difficulties of course are more common, but also much easier to overcome with just a bit of patience and discipline.

The acclimatization starts in the mind

We are not trying to deny or dismiss the effects of altitude sickness, but our experience in the field for over ten years has allowed us to notice that most of the people that have trouble with the altitude worry too much in advance. Consequently, we believe that a positive approach and perhaps a slightly naïve “it will be all right” attitude are more successful than the headache of overthinking and preparing for the worst. By this we do not mean either a complete indifference: most people will definitely feel some of its effects. The goal should be a healthy balance between positive thinking and cautious respect.

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Who keeps it low the first few days, can soon start hiking (up).

 

Stick to simple rules

There are some simple rules that you should always follow when you arrive at a high altitude location (such as Leh, at 3.500m). This begins with a first day of rest and relaxation. And it is hard to believe how many people nowadays have difficulty with simply doing nothing for a full day! Because your legs are already itching with anticipation, and you want to run and explore. After all, you didn’t come all this way to lie still! Ok, if things go well you certainly don’t need to spend the whole day lying in bed, you can go for a walk… just keep it easy and don’t try to go climbing any mountain! Listen to yourself and your body and you will know what is good for you.

What is even more important is to have plenty of fluids and oxygen. That means a lot of drinking (alcohol is excluded, and you should keep away of it at least at the start) and getting out in the open, sitting and breathing the fresh air in the hotel or guest house’s garden. When sleeping, try to do so in a relatively elevated position and, if possible, keep the windows open.

You can download the main tips for height adjustment as well as a PDF: PDF

Self-pity

“How are you?” Most people answer to this question automatically with a “Good, thank you!”, even though that may not be true. You don’t want to come off as self-pitying nor be a burden for anyone. But that’s what you should be in Ladakh. Ailments and discomfort should be notified before they become bigger problems. Especially when you are traveling in an organized tour, your guide will ask you this question not only out of politeness and interest for your mood, but because he wants to know how you’re doing in relation to the height. He is also the one who can give you valuable tips and, if necessary, bring in a doctor.

Unsurprisingly, by the way, doctors in Ladakh are very experienced with regard to the altitude sickness, and can be of a great help when things go awry.

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Children can also visit Ladakh. Our 8 year old son, at 4,500m.

 

Traveling with children?

Although long-distance travel with children is quickly (and happily) increasing in popularity, it is still a good idea to be cautious when traveling to higher altitudes. Obviously, you want to save your children as much trouble as possible. In our experience, though, the concern is not very justified, because children usually tolerated the height change better than adults. We believe that the child’s body adapts to the altitude more easily than the adult’s.

Teenagers are the exception: we have noticed, although at the moment we can’t explain scientifically, that pubescent kids often have a somewhat rougher time adjusting, compared to adults or children. This of course does not mean that all young people have difficulties, nor that they can’t normally adapt when appropriate measures are taken. Every year we welcome many young people who enjoy high altitude trekking (5,500m) or have even successfully climbed up to 6,000m.

Proper preparation

We are constantly being asked by our guests about how they can properly prepare for their visit to Ladakh and its mountains. Here are a few tips:

  1. Be healthy and fit! It is always important that you take care of yourself and are physically fit and healthy. This is especially true for people who trek in Ladakh or want to go mountain climbing. Whoever suffers from a heart condition or has a lung disease and still wants to take a trip to the roof of the world, should first have a long conversation with his/her doctor!People who arrive with a cold or are suffering other ongoing symptoms of illness, have usually a very hard time adjusting to the altitude. We have often seen how a common cold, caught just before the flight to India, developed in a bad flu after arriving to Ladakh.
  1. Up, up and away! Those who have enough time to prepare should definitely try to get used to the altitude already before leaving for Ladakh. This is of course easier if you live in Austria or other Alpine region, than if your home is in a flat one like Northern Germany. Things are fairly easy in Ladakh for people used to regularly hike over 2,500m or that slept repeatedly in high-altitude mountain huts before flying. However, this kaind of “training” is most effective the closer it happens to the departure day.
  1. Hypobaric chamber. A few of our guests were before departure even in a pressure chamber. They are nowadays easy to find in many major cities. In the past, they were mostly used by elite athletes and professional climbers (many Himalayan travelers use them these days). However, hypoxia training is relatively expensive. Again, the closer to the departure date, the better. (Just google for “hypoxia training” in your closest big city to find institutions that offer it).

Getting to Leh: should I travel by land or on a plane?

Again and again we hear or read that travelers are advised to arrive via Manali for a better acclimatization. But we consider this brutal shock treatment. After all, this journey entails crossing several 5,000m mountain passes, and in many cases sleeping at over 4,000m. This means that many will be ill for some time during the journey and then still a bit longer in Leh. After that, they are doing well, but was it really worth it? We recommend traveling by plane, enjoy a few lazy days in and around Leh and then, after the tour and if you want, go back by land. In that way you can really enjoy the ride and the scenery.




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Hemis Festival is held every year, but every 12 years it is very special. 2016 will be one of those years. In the 5th lunar month of the monkey year several hundred thousand people from tibetan-buddhist areas and the whole world will gather to celebrate the life of Naropa.

 

Hemis Festival: Every 12 years 1 month celebration

Hemis Festival 2016 will be one of the most important festivals of the decade in india. 1 month long several rare events will be held. Tibetan buddhists believe if you watch these events you will liberated through sight.

At the same time the famous silk thangka of Padmasambhava will be displayed that reaches from the roof of the monastery nearly down to the earth. This thangka is only displayed in public during Hemis Festival.

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Naropa

 

Who is Naropa?

The real high light of Hemis Festival 2016 is the display of the famed, holy 6 bones ornament from Naropa. It will be shown by Gyalwang Drukpa, the head of Drukpa School. The six bone ornament is said to be one of the holiest treasures of the himalayas.

Naropa lived during the 11th century and is one of the most remarkable buddhist holy men that lived at that time in india. He is one of the 84 Mahasiddhas. A Siddha (Sanskrit for: great ruler of perfect skills) is a person who gained Siddhi – a level of spiritual practice that enables a person for supernatural powers and abilites. In tibetan buddhism a Siddha is someone who reached a higher level of realization til awakening.

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The Drukpa are commonly called “red-hat-sect” in the west

 

Drukpa: What is it?

Hemis Festival 2016 will be the biggest gathering of Drukpa teachers. Drukpa is a lineage or school of tibetan buddhism, most commonly called “red-hat-sect”. They belong to the Kagyu- (Kargyud-)lineage of tibetan buddhism and to the schools of “new translations”. And to make things a bit more complicate: the Drukpa lineage has again several sub-school. The Drukpa lineage is prominent in Kham (eastern Tibet), Ladakh and Bhutan. Especially in Bhutan it has a great significance, as it is the dominant school and state religion.

 

Are you going to join?

If you want to attend this special occasion in 2016, you can contact us. One of our fix tours visits Hemis Festival on the most important day (on the other days you will see other highlights of Ladakh): Basics of Ladakh with Hemisfestival

If you prefer to visit Hemis Festival with your friends/family and/or if you want to spend more time at Hemis Festival, we will be happily building your own individual tour: Contact

Hemis Festival for buddhists
If you are a buddhist and would like to join Hemis Festival with your buddhist group, we would like to help you with booking of accommodations, flights and the arrangement of transports.  We could also reserve special seats for you at Hemis festival, so you are able to witness as much as possible.

 

Pictures from the festival 2015

 

Short video from last year’s festival




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It soars 8586 meters high: the Kangchenjunga. The third highest mountain in the world, the highest peak of Sikkim and India, and, since part of it lies on its territory, the second highest mountain in Nepal. There are so many different ways to write its name: Khangchendzonga (with or without “h”) in the original, Kangchenjunga when translated to English, or simply Kantsch (in German), as it’s commonly known by the more regular mountaineers. But the mountain is much more than just numbers, rankings and different spellings.

khanchendzonga

Mighty Khanchendzonga

Mountain of treasures

Kangchenjunga translates as something like “the 5 treasures of God” – and with its 5 symbolic peaks this mighty giant of the Himalayas is more than just a mountain. The inhabitants of Sikkim believe that in these peaks five treasures are hidden: gold, silver, gems, grain and sacred scriptures. The Sikkimese believe, like most Himalayan people, in guardian spirits and deities who roam the mountains. Dzonga is the most important mountain spirit of Sikkim, and his throne is precisely the Khanchendzonga, where he sits and looks down over Sikkim and its people. Others swear that the Dzonga were (or are?) really Yeti, and it is not hard to find local stories, third-hand testimonies and written documents about the existence of these snow creatures, especially in the region around the Khanchendzonga.

Expeditions to the sacred mountain

The Khangchendzonga was climbed for the first time by Joe Brown and George Band (both part of a British expedition) on May 25th, 1955. Following the request of the Chogyal (King of Sikkim), who didn’t want to see the honor of the mountain stolen and lose the protection of the god Dzonga, they stopped short of the actual summit. Since then, this tradition has become the norm, and all expeditions end just a bit before the mountain’s top. At the moment, the Khangchendzonga can be climbed only on the Nepalese side; the Indians allow no climbing expeditions.

Sikkim (c) Roland Amon

(c) Roland Amon

Nevertheless, one can at least hike to the foot and/or the base camp of the mighty mountain giant. For this there are several access options:

  • Bakhim – Dzongri – Thangshing – Samuteng – Goechala
  • Thangsing – Lam Pokhari – Kasturi Orar – Lapdong – Tashiding
  • Yuksom – Tshoka – Dzongri
  • Dzongri Basislager – Rathong – Khangerteng
  • Lucanes Jakchen – Yabuk – Rest camp – Green lake
  • Lachen – Thangsu – Muguthang – Thay La – Khyoksa La – Rest Camp – Green Lake

But even those who just want to admire the mighty mountain from a distance can (and will) feel rewarded, because there are several places in Darjeeling, Pelling, Sandakhphu and Rinchenpong that offer fantastic views of the Khanchendzonga. Good photography equipment is here always a good investment!

Our Advice
Anyone who wants to enjoy a good mountain view should definitely arrive in autumn/winter, the season of clear skies. In spring, the view is not so good.

Check out our tour Sikkim in Wanderschuhen – this route focuses strongly on the Khanchendzonga.

 

This tour could be also interesting for you

Sikkim & Dzongri-Trek: In the shadow of the mountaingod
Dzongri-Trek to Goeche La; impressive trekking in the shadow of the Khanchendzonga; max. 10 participants

Date: 11.-27. November 2016
Price: 1.930 EUR




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When in Rome, do as the Roman do. You do not have to adapt to everything what the Romans do, but knowing a little bit about how to behave in their country while on a visit can avoid annoyance and disrespect to the local customs and hence earning some unexpected friendly treatments. Some experiences and acquaintances might last for lifetime.

Von Tashi Wangail

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10 things you should not do in Ladakh

First of all, Ladakh is not a difficult place to travel. Most of the people will tolerate and forgive the awkward situations of a stranger quite naturally. However it is simply a noble sign to make an effort to understand and know some local customs before venturing into a new country.

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1. Tables are tables and no benches

The Ladakhi people sit on the floor in crossed leg positions and for this reason, the Ladakhi Table (Choktse) is even lower than the western chairs and therefore quite appealing to sit on it, especially people with Joint and knee problems. But sitting on a table or walking over it is considered quite unpolite. Anyone in such conditions (Joint and knee) can always ask the host for something to sit on or at least a raised platform, if a western type of chair is unavailable

(c) Roland Amon

Don’t sit on the small tables (= choktse) in Ladakhi houses and monasteries. Photo: Roland Amon

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2. Observe sitting hierarchy

It is important to note that a lay person do not sit on the seat rows meant for the monks and also refrain from sitting on the tables where food and tea are served. Lay person sit in accordance with the local custom and never above or on the seat meant for a monk unless a monk offer you to sit, which they do often, especially by a young monk running around and serving tea and food to the assembly of monks and visitors.

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3. Stepping over legs

While moving among people sitting in a raw, one must not step over a table (Choktse) or over people’s leg who are sitting in outstretched positions. Walking behind the people sitting in row to the desired place is always polite.

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4. Direct your feet correctly

Most Ladakhi sit cross-legged and solve the issue within itself of where to direct their feet. We “Westerners” often find this sitting position hard and have to stretch our legs. In this case, please be careful not to stretch your legs in the direction of a person, and certainly not in the direction of a Buddha statue.

Maitreya-Statue (c) Roland Amon

Please don’t direct your feet at a Statue of Buddha. Photo: Roland Amon

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5. Never step over books

One should never step over books, especially not when it comes to religious writings!

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6. Keep your spoon in your own plate

A Ladakhi does not like, if their food gets touched with the spoon of others. Whereas in the west, it is quite common to ask your friend or colleague: May I try your food? And dig into other’s plate. There will be always an extra cutlery for each dish to serve your plate. Ladakhis, while cooking, never taste the food with the cooking spoon. They always take out a little bit with the cooking spoon and put on the palm or on an extra plate and try it, but not directly with the cooking spoon. If you are offered Tsampa (roasted barley flour) please never wet your finger and try it that way! Take the spoon, put it on your palm and then into your mouth. If you are well trained you can also throw it into your mouth directly from the spoon – but this is only for experienced people. Ladakhi will never drink from your bottle, if your mouth touched the opening. They will always drink in such a way that their mouth does not touch the bottle at all.

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7. Dress appropiately

Dress appropriately especially when you visit a monastery: Please avoid shorts and shirts that do not cover your shoulders. The most monks will not say a word if you don’t dress correctly, but still why one should invite dislikes when it is not such a hard work. For the ladies: Also avoid to show too much of your cleavage and other distracting parts.

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8. Bend while entering a room

When you are about to enter a room take care not to hit your head. Sometimes this is difficult as a lot many doors in ladakh are really low. In many monasteries, especially at the entrance to certain temples, you will often find a note “Mind your head! In this case you show your respect to the sacred space by lowering head while you avoid your head against a good chance of hitting one of the door frames. Although Many Ladakhis do believe if you hit your head it is an obstacle forbade, of course not by intention.

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9. Kissing forbidden

Please don’t kiss in public. This is something uncomfortable and causes uneasiness. Even holding hands between different sexes is something you will hardly see. Whereas you will see many of the same sexes holding hand in hand or walking hand around shoulders. Do not perceive them as you might do at home. So if you come with your partner to Ladakh, simply keep your signs of love strictly to yourself and when possible away from public places.

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10. Don’t urinate in/next to water

Ladakhi do believe in lhu (serpent spirit) or spirits living in the water. So peeing in water or next to a water body is considered polluting which will cause wounds and sickness onto yourself and the people living nearby. So please – even when you think this is superstitious – don’t do it! You generally do not pee in water as people drink from the streams rivers.

Pangong




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Once a year, every monastery in Ladakh is celebrating with a festival. Most of the monastery festivals take place in the winter months – those are the ones we recommend visiting the most – but of course there is one or the other festival happening in summer.

 

Dates for Monastery festivals 2016

Spituk Gustor in Spituk: 7. + 8. January 2016

Dosmochey Leh & Likir Monastery: 6. + 7. February 2016

Yargon Tungshak Nubra (Yarma): 12. + 13. February 2016

Stok Guru Tsechu in Monastery Stok: 16. + 17. February 2016

Matho Nagrang in Monastery Matho: 21. + 22. February 2016   – Our tour Ladakh & Goa will visit this festival

Saka Dawa all over Ladakh: 20. May 2016

Yuru Kabgyat in Monastery Lamayuru: 1. + 2. July 2016

Hemis Tsechu in Monastery Hemis:  14. + 15. July 2016  – Our journey Basics of Ladakh will visit this festial!

Stongday Gustor in Zanskar:  22. + 23. July 2016

Karsha Gustor in Zanskar:  31. July + 01. August 2016

Phyang Tsesdup in Monastery Phyang: 31. July + 01. August 2016

Sachukul Gustor in Monastery Sachukul: 21. + 22. July 2016

Korzok Gustor at Tsomoriri:   5. + 6. August 2016

Dakthok Tseschu in Monastery Thakthok:  13. + 14. August 2016

Sani Nasjal in Zanskar:  17. + 18. August 2016 – Our journey Trekking & Culture in Zanskar will visit Sani-Festival

Deskit Gustor in Nubra: 28. + 29. October 2016

Thiksey Gustor in Monastery Thiksey: 17. + 18. November 2016

Chemday Wangchok in Monastery Chemday & Padum Chemray Monastery (Zanskar):  27. + 28. November 2016

Galden Namchot all over Ladakh:  23. December 2016

Ladakhi Losar (Ladakhi New Year):   30. December 2016




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Even though Ladakh is for the most part a high altitude desert and therefore very, very dry, it can surprise you with some really beautiful lakes. The best known are the Pangong Tso, the Tsomoriri & the Tsokar.

These three lakes have a lot in common: First of all their names contain the word “Tso”, the Ladakhi word for “lake”. Moreover they are all three also very beautiful. And: They are located over 4000 m in the Changthang – the highland steppes of the Tibetan Plateau, who spreads up all the way to Ladakh.

 

Pangong Tso: The Superstar of the Ladakhi lakes

Pangong-See

Lake Pangong

Lake Pangong is the most visited lake in Ladakh. However, only one-third of it lies on Indian territory. The rest of this extremely elongated lake lies on Tibet and therefore belongs to China. Since the relationship between these two countries is problematic, there are many soldiers stationed on both sides, always vigilant and suspicious.

Rumor has it that the Chinese use submarines regularly to infiltrate Indian waters. Due to the nearness of the border, foreigners are not allowed to move and explore absolutely freely. Currently, it is only possible to visit up to the village of Merak. So also hiking around the lake is not allowed by the authorities, but thanks to Google Earth it is possible to enjoy a little virtual trip along the banks. The lake itself is very long (134 km), but very narrow in comparison. At its widest point, the lake is just 8 km from shore to shore.

Pangong Tso became popular only a few years back, after it appeared in the Bollywood film “3 Idiots”, partly set in Ladakh. Since then, thousands of Indian tourists visit every year the high altitude lake, ready to shoot tons of selfies and photos in which they pose like their film hero Amir Khan.

 

 

 

Tsokar: A white lake for wildlife fans

Am Tsokar (c) Roland Amon

Black necked crane at Tsokar (c) Roland Amon

The Tsokar (literally “White Lake”) is further south and a good distance from the Chinese border. It is located at about 4500 m of altitude and is very salty. Crusts of salt form at the mostly turquoise-colored lake, giving it its name. Despite the variations in water depth and salinity, the lake is a haven for wildlife, in particular the feathered kind. Its most prominent inhabitants are the black-necked cranes, some of whom have found in the lake an ideal summer camp and hatchery. Additionally, it is possible to find here great crested grebes, brown-headed gulls, bar-headed geese, ruddy shelducks (called Brahminy ducks in India), terns, diverse types of plovers and of course the Tibetan sandgrouse. But the Tsokar and its adjacent plain also provides an ideal habitat for many mammals, like the Kiang (wild ass), and several Tibetan varieties of wolves, gazelles, foxes, marmots and pikas.

 


Trip from Leh: about 4 hours drive (an overnight stay is therefore suggested) via the 5.400m high Taglang La (La = mountain pass).
Spending the night: One possibility is the “Deluxe” camp Pangunagu on the North shore. Alternatively, Thukje also offers Homestays. Otherwise, there is always the option of camping, but beware: drinking water is scarce and hard to find around the lake. Camping on the adjacent Startsabuk Tso is not allowed.

 

Tsomoriri: A blue pearl in the southeast

Am Tsomoriri (c) Markus Brixle

At Tsomoriri (c) Markus Brixle

The Tsomoriri is located in the southeast of Ladakh – also in the Changthang – and is easily spotted from the air. It is located at about 4500 m of altitude and covers about 120 square kilometers (27 km long, 8 km wide). The lake, donning a magical deep blue color and flanked by the white tops of several majestic 6000 m peaks, possesses an unparalleled beauty.

As in Lake Pangong, you need a local permit to visit the Tsomoriri.

 

Trip from Leh: about 6-7 hours drive (an overnight stay is therefore suggested) through the Indus valley.

Spending the night: It is possible to spend the night in you own tent, in one of the several “Deluxe” camps, or at one homestay in Korzok. Korzok however is not a very beautiful settlement. Due to the lack of drinking water, it is not easy or advisable to camp away from Korzok by your own, unless you are part of a trekking tour – then Kiangdam in the south bank offers a wonderful opportunity.

Tip: The Tsomoriri can be combined very well with the Tsokar. At the same time, the arrival and departure do not share the same route

 

More lakes

There are many more, although much smaller lakes in Ladakh. For information about smaller and lesser-known alternatives, write us to: daniela@gesar-travel.com or tashi@gesar-travel.com




spacerThis post is not a theoretical essay on long-distance traveling with children: it is a collection of my own experiences as a mother of three who, for at least two months every year, packs her bags and takes her young on an adventurous journey. And no, it is not always a cheerful, problem-free scenario, and it sure requires lots of energy. But the workload at home is already heavy enough for a 3-times mother… So off to India!

By Daniela Luschin-Wangail (Mother of Elvis, 8, Luis Thayas, 4, and Emil Kenrab, 0)

The ultimate thrill

Are you one of those people who are always on the lookout for a new kick? Bungee jumping, skydiving and base jumping make you yawn? Then I have a great suggestion on how to get your adrenaline fix: take a baby, a stubborn child with Down Syndrome who loves nothing more than to resist parental authority and a know-all pre-pubescent boy, and sit with them in an airplane. Oh, did I forget to mention that the father is already at the destination point and won’t be flying with you? So forget any hopes of an adult helping hand. Believe me, there have been many exciting moments in my life, but none as nerve-racking as this. I was so worried I started losing my sleep several days before the actual trip. And then, surprisingly, it all works out (almost) like clockwork. The children somehow know that you can’t manage without their help and behave exemplary (the two younger ones were asleep most of the time). The stewardesses come in 5-minute intervals and ask kindly (pityingly, even) whether they can help you in any way, and you can even watch almost an entire movie on the screen in front of you. The babies that cry all around do not belong to you, and none of the passengers look disapprovingly at you, with that self-righteous expression that means something like “What kind of mother are you that can’t control your kid? Make it stop already!”

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Travelling with children? An extra pair of hands would be very useful!

 

Was I just lucky? Maybe. But then I was lucky because I have been traveling to and in India, with my child(ren), for eight years already. And there have been certainly some complications when flying with my boys, but nothing unsolvable. For example, a kid’s nose that wouldn’t stop bleeding even after trying different (and completely contradictory) methods suggested by the very excited flight attendants, until a doctor, answering to an on board call over the speakers, came as an angel and provided both immediate clotting and general relief. For the child I had a change of clothes ready (please never forget to bring one!), but I had nothing with what to replace my own blood-drenched outfit which caused a little chaos at the arrival port as some people thought I needed first aid.

Then there was that time when my dear middle son threw up an abnormal amount of his stomach contents all over the seat. The flight attendants, suddenly victims themselves of severe nausea, weren’t able to clean the mess, so I threw a couple of paper tissues on top, removed the bigger food bits I could find, and covered the seat with a clean towel from my hand luggage (Tip #2: Always pack a towel in your hand luggage!). My son, exhausted and with an empty stomach, slept peacefully the rest of the flight.

But in spite of all the stressful moments and energy-draining situations that take place during a flight with my children, I wouldn’t stay home for anything in the world. Even at home, things happen that will bring us to the brink of a nervous breakdown, and even there we are sometimes helpless and desperate. So why not change at least the scenery, so that the everyday horror scenarios shine with a new light? That’s another reason why I enjoy alternating my residence between Austria and India.

 

Es geht los, Baby!

Here we go, baby!

India is a paradise for kids

Only on the surface is Austria a great country for children. “Do not do that!”, “This isn’t right!”, “Please, be quiet!”, “Behave!”… I don’t know how many times I have to tell my children these things whenever we leave our house to go to public spaces (or other people’s houses). At the supermarket, at the restaurant, at the city offices, on the train, at the doctor, at relatives’ or friends’… Everything is clean, beautiful, calm and orderly. And it should stay that way. Children here become quickly disruptive factors. I am not one of those anti-authoritarian mothers who let their children do whatever they want. We are in Austria, after all, and they have to behave according to the country’s cultural rules. And they do… after I tell them so two or three or four times in a row 😉 But it’s sooo hard!
India on the other hand is just like a paradise! Children can be children. Run around. Be loud. Be naughty. Protest. Get dirty. Break stuff. Here, the burned-out, responsibility-choked mother can finally breathe and stop worrying. No one looks at you, shaking his head in disapproval. No one feels disturbed when your child runs endlessly in circles inside the restaurant. If you’re visiting someone’s home and something breaks or gets stained, and you reflexively scold the children, you are immediately stopped by the hosts, who tell you not to be so strict. They are still children after all! This will warm your heart and make you remember: oh, yeah, I’m in India! J

 

Daniela und zwei ihrer drei Kinder am Pangong-See

Daniela and two of her kids at Pangong lake

Lock up your worries

When someone asks me for advice about traveling with children, the first thing it occurs to me is that you need to stop worrying so much. Positive thinking brings positive experiences. Believe in yourself and your luck, ask the children to cooperate (even babies seem to understand this!). Don’t overthink things, don’t try to prepare for all that could go wrong. And this brings me to a very important aspect of long-distance travel with children: healthcare. For many parents, this is the top priority and seems to require a lot of thinking and preparation… well, I don’t consider it that big of a deal. I usually carry nothing but a Nureflex bottle (thank God for this miraculous panacea ;-)) and some band aids. There are no other drugs to be found in my luggage. Negligent? No, practical. India is one of the largest producers of generic pharmaceutical remedies in the world, so there’s no reason to worry, in case my children, or I, would need medication. Also, the country is home to many fantastic doctors – both trained in conventional medicine, or with an Ayurvedic or homeopathic background. I usually feel better supplied here than in Austria.

I don’t want to give the impression that our trips with the kids are always smooth and relaxed. But the alternative – staying at home – is, for me (us), out of the question.

I prefer to spice up the soup called life! 😉

Moments like this in Kerala compensate for everything

 

 




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Many tourists travel with a bad conscience and think that travel, in general, brings more harm than good. It destroys the environment, the traditions and the culture of the host…  And yet they travel, hoping to be the exception.

Every traveler leaves traces. Every step does, even at home. It is the nature of a step to leave a footprint. But it is up to us to decide what shoes to wear and how to act. If we put the shoes with spikes on, and trample carelessly through the neighborhood, the footprints will be very different to those we would leave while walking softly with leather slippers. The choice is yours!

There are several arguments for staying home. Let’s take a closer look to some of them:

Argument 1: Tourists destroy traditions

Tourism is hastily blamed when mobile phones, televisions and Co. suddenly appear in formerly idyllic places, changing or downright replacing old traditions and outdated ways of communication. Let’s take Ladakh: How easily is the tourist made responsible for the way in which, nowadays, the local girls and boys prefer to don jeans instead their traditional Gonchas, or the monks ride colorful mopeds, take selfies with their smartphones, and would rather look at the world through trendy Ray Bans than from a Buddhist perspective. It is quite obvious that things have changed, and that today’s Ladakh is very different from that of the 70s. But isn’t that true for the whole world? Many cultures have also changed, sometimes radically so, without the intervention of tourists. In Austria, with the exception of special holidays and festivals, people no longer wear Lederhosen and Dirndl or go around yodeling. Therefore, we claim here that Ladakh would have changed even without tourism, because no region of the world is completely secluded from the rest. Even centuries ago, during the apogee of the Silk Road trading routes, it was practically impossible to remain completely isolated and avoid intercultural exchange. And so it is now that every corner of the Global Village is just a mouse click or a touch-screen tap away.

On the contrary, we say: Tourists are strongly interested in ancient cultures and traditions, and so their interest promotes and revives old customs and rituals, bringing new life to what would otherwise, maybe, be lost to the local youth.

Gochak – a buddhist ritual

 

Argument 2: Tourism destroys the environment

Yes, they do exist: the littering-prone tourists who leave garbage everywhere and do more harm than good. That is undeniable. Let’s use Ladakh again as an example. Leh has become a “big” city thanks to tourism, hotels and guest houses sprouting all around like mushrooms, with barely a thought given to sustainability and environmental impact.

And yes, the solar energy hot water system has taken roots, plastic bags are banned, and the sewage network is growing steadily, but there are still many shortcomings and a general disregard (mostly ignorance-fueled) for environmental protection. But let’s see more closely! Who throws carelessly his garbage away? Most waste is naturally caused by the Ladakhi and the Indian guests themselves, and cutting tourism completely would have a negligible effect on the problem. In societies such as India, in which just a few years ago non-biodegradable trash was basically unknown and then, suddenly, faced a sudden invasion of plastic packaged goods, you have to start at school… just as we did back in the 80s. Subject: Environmental awareness. Those who don’t see the problem, will continue to throw plastic bottles carelessly out of the car window, or leave chips bags everywhere for the wind to lift up and carry away. Also on the trekking routes, seldom are the European and American tourists the ones leaving their trash behind – rather, it is the accompanying trekking crew that is to blame, always reluctant to bother to collect the garbage and bring it back to Leh.

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Trekking in Ladakh (c) Roland Amon

And again, just like we said about the local traditions: it is usually the (Western) tourist that demands an ecologically gentler way of life, and thus, many local agencies and administrations are forced to make a change.

 

Argument 3: tourists have no respect for the hosts of their travel destination

Constantly putting their monstrous camera lenses in the face of their photo subjects, sitting on the tables of the praying monks, speaking disparagingly of their hosts, repeatingly disrespecting the values ​​and traditions of the country they are visiting: this is the 3rd category of tourists in our prejudice-list. We have seen (and silently condemned) many. And we have also dealt with people expelled of their staying place, because they have simply gone too far. Often, the transgressor isn’t even aware of what rule or norm he or she has broken. That’s why it is so important to inform yourself beforehand. We always recommend to put yourself in place of the people visited. What wouldn’t I like if it happened in my own home? Would I enjoy someone entering my garden and taking a close-up picture of me? Would I feel happy if a horde of loud, fast-clicking people would disturb my herd, drive my clients away or interrupt the Morning Prayer while scurrying from one corner to another?
For more about respecting localtraditions in Ladakh, read: 10 rules forLadakh

Leh (c) Roland Amon

 

There are many arguments against it, but like so many things in life, tourism has two sides. It is important that all parts of the golden triangle (the guest/traveler, the host/local, and the tour operator/organizer), find a common solution as balanced as possible, giving everyone what they want, while respecting what they need.

 

So put your light shoes on and watch your step – we’re together in this!




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News: India declares 500 and 1000 rupee notes worthless
The Indian government withdrew all 500 and 1,000 rupee notes on 09th november 2016, essentially leaving millions of people with invalid cash in their wallets. The move is designed to combat corruption and the black money economy. The old notes can be exchanged for cash or deposited into accounts at banks and some post offices in India until Friday December 30. Customers can exchange any number of notes but will only receive up to 4,000 rupees in cash. Any value above this won’t be issued in cash – it’ll be paid into a bank account.

Instead of the old notes Indian government issued brand new bank notes of 500 and 2,000 rupee denominations.

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For your planned travel this will be of not much effect. The new notes will be soon available. But please be aware and check the notes you are getting to avoid getting invalid old ones. If you still have old notes at home you better travel quickly to india or check within your country if there is a possibility to change it there. Elsewise you can burn them as they will be worth nothing. As at 11.11.2016

 

Whoever goes on a trip also needs money. Even as the most frugal backpacker you still have to pay for various things, from food and accommodation to souvenirs and tips. But how much is appropriate? How much money should you plan on spending? How much should you take in cash? When and where can you pay with credit or debit card? Many of the questions you should ask yourself before traveling to India.

The first thing to consider is the manner in which you will travel. Are you on your own, focusing on one issue at a time, taking care of things on site as they happen? Or do you have a trip already booked and planned from home? Both ways have its advantages: the backpacker can often (but not always) arrange cheaper accommodation – rooms are generally cheaper if you negotiate locally and point out to the owner that a cheap room is better than an empty one. On the other hand, the tourist who has booked in advance, if at a higher cost, doesn’t have to waste time wandering from hostel to hostel looking for a room to spend the night. At the same time, arranging things locally usually means spending a little more money with small things, because booked tours usually include everything from airport transfers to hotel breakfasts (please always read thoroughly the services provided!).

 

Cash or card?

We would advise you to rely on both. Take some cash with you for emergency cases or spontaneous purchases, but don’t leave your credit card at home, because now most businesses in big cities accept payments with it, and also there are ATMs everywhere. Attention however when retrieving money from an ATM, especially with a debit (instead of a credit) card: normally it will be accepted in any bank, including India and other non-member countries, but there can be extra fees and withdrawal limits. The daily limit for withdrawals amounts generally to 20,000 rupees, but some banks allow a maximum of 10,000 rupees per ATM use … so you’d have to make two withdrawals of 10,000 each. In any case, like in every place on Earth, machines sometimes fail, so a little cash is always good.

Rupees can’t be changed abroad, so you must always enter the country with foreign currency. However, it is no longer necessary to carry US dollars: the Euro is often taken anywhere. Of course the British Pound and even the Swiss franc are popular currencies!

Traveler’s checks have the advantage that you have a certain degree of security in case you lose your wallet, so this is an option to be considered.

A note on credit cards: in the larger cities you can often also pay directly with credit card – but for traveling to Ladakh or other remote regions of India one may very well leave the plastic currency at home.

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Daily expenses: 100, 1000, 10,000? How much money do I need?

We are often asked by our guests how much extra money they should bring, per day. Our travels usually consider, for the big cities, just breakfast or half pension; but anywhere else (small towns, rural areas, etc) a full pension is expected. So how much money should be calculated for food, when some important meals are not included in the reservation? This is a difficult question, because it is highly variable.

Do you eat meat, or are you a vegetarian? Do you usually drink alcohol when you eat? Do you enjoy eating at a local Dhaba, or do you prefer a chic restaurant in Hauz Khas in Delhi? If you eat locally and simple vegetarian, even 100 rupees are enough. But for those who prefer to go to restaurants that “promise a more hygienic” preparation, 100 rupees will be too short. Whoever wants to eat meat in such restaurants should expect to spend at least 250 rupees. You want a beer with that? Then the bill quickly raises to 500 rupees (alcohol is generally very expensive in India!). If the plan is letting oneself go and enjoy the experience at a trendy restaurant in Delhi or any other big city, the budget, including drinks, shouldn’t be less than about 1,000 rupees. As you can see, there is a wide range: 100-1,000 rupees / meal / person. But we just want you to get a taste (pun intended) of what to expect when paying for food in India. Likely, you will also have a coffee with a piece of cake at the end, so add some rupees to the sum. As a tip you should give as much (relatively) as you are used to do at home (for example, if the bill makes 370 rupees, leave 400 rupees).

 

Souvenirs, Souvenirs

Well, that’s the other thing. And even more difficult than the food question! So, what do you want to bring home? A silk carpet? A real Pashmina? Or just a few prayer flags or a small wooden elephant? Sure, you can find enough cheap souvenirs, but also at least as many luxury items that (sometimes) are also worth the money. And one thing to remember: bargaining is almost always a must – because the price can quickly drop to a half (or even less) of the originally stated. But I said “almost always” for a reason – Ladakhi sellers for example often do not listen to reason and stay with their fixed prices, no matter how high they could be.

Tipping etiquette

And the question of all questions concerning the money is: the tip. How much should you give? What is appropriate? What’s too little? What too much? Our experience over the years has led us to recommend, for trekking / tour packages (mostly in Ladakh), a tip of 4-6 Eur per guest per day (4-6€/guest/day). This is an average and can (and should) of course vary, because ultimately the amount to tip depends on the performance of the team. That is also the reason why we did not include tip expenditure in the tour price. Where else is the incentive for a particularly good performance?

The tip should be given to the team members at the end of the travel / trekking journey – don’t give it all to the guide and hope that he distributes the tip fairly (which he would probably do, we are not insinuating the opposite). If everybody in the group had a similarly good performance, the tip is to be divided according to the team hierarchy – the guide is always at the highest, followed by the cook, then the helpers and the porters/horse men.

For examples of how to distribute the tip, you can check the entry “What about the tip? Does anybody expect anything? How much?” in our FAQ section.

In many hotels, many employees expect a tip for every service. To avoid a daily endless whipping out of 10-rupee notes, you can also point out friendly that you will leave the tip at the end of your stay, in the tip box on the front desk (in this way the money will also reach all those who work “behind the curtains”, eg. the kitchen staff).

 

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How, when and where to change?

The best exchange rate is always found in banks, but the opening times are often very unfavorable (from 10:00 to 16:00, minus lunchbreak) – exactly when you’re most probably traveling. Therefore you won’t visit them often. It is worth to compare a few money exchange offices before taking a decision, as prices often vary greatly. Be aware of moneychangers that promise a good rate at first glance, but then pile charge after charge until the end result is ridiculously high. A tip: do not change your money at the airport in Delhi, or do so with only very small amounts – the exchange rates are terrible there and several exchange offices earn a fortune with their fees. It’s much better to get a few rupees with your card directly from the ATM.

And when changing money, remember always to ask for a few notes of small denomination – especially if you intend to spend a long time away from larger cities – because a rural shop owner on the countryside may not have change for your 1,000-rupee note when you just want to buy a small bottle of water!

Last but not least: 1 EUR = about 70 rupees (as of November 2016)