Kibber 37

Kibber: My First Encounter with Acute Mountain Sickness

I have heard many things about Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) ever since I started visiting the Himalayas but I hadn’t experienced the same myself. It is true that I mostly hang around the lower Himalayas where there is no possibility of it. But even on the occasions when I’d gone above 4000 metres, the dreaded symptoms had left me alone so far. But it all changed the day I visited Kibber.

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There was a strange sense of anarchy in Kaza the day I arrived there from Dhankar. Most of the local buses were not running and no one knew why. There were many stories floating around in the air. The best one I heard was that petrol reserves got stolen and so many buses were grounded. The next day I tried to get a bus to Kibber but they were still not running. Mike from New York, with whom I trekked to Dhankar, was there too, along with two Canadians and six Israelis, trying desperately to find an alternative. Finally, we joined our forces and hired a car. The cost came to be at around 100 rs per head, so it was mostly reasonable. New, smooth roads have been built all over Spiti of late. Although the main road connecting it to the rest of the world remains notoriously difficult, these inner roads to various villagers are surprisingly smooth.

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So, the car started soon and rushed past the famous Key Monastery in no time. But as it did so, I was beginning to feel a little awkward, so much so that I was not longer enjoying the marvellous landscapes unfurling in front of my eyes, nor did I feel like taking photographs. It took around an hour to reach Kibber and the touristy party disbanded as different groups opted for different accommodations. Three of us opted for a homestay run by a local family. I just walked behind the other two and let them do the talking. How I was feeling was not easily describable. I wasn’t exactly down and out. I could walk but there was a strange feeling in my head which was the lovechild of dizziness and exhaustion. I opted for a siesta.

I woke up later in the evening and the feeling was showing no sign of going away, although thankfully it hadn’t worsened and no new symptoms had come up. So, I took it as a positive sign and decided to go out with my camera and a bottle of water because I’d read many AMS guides that ask one to remain hydrated in such situations.

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I was requiring respite after every few minutes but could not help but admire the views all around. Kibber, just like all other Spiti villages, is more like an oasis. The dryness all around stand in stark contrast with the ephemeral but lush green cultivations in these villages aided by thoughtful irrigation.

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The light was still bright and there was much to see. I noticed a small shrine up one of the hills and walked up there with a lot of effort and realized that it was the shrine of one of the Dalai Lamas or his teacher who passed away here. There is also a holy source of water slightly above it. The water from that spring has magical properties, as I was informed by several villagers. I am really sorry about incomplete and probably inaccurate details as I was not operating in full capacity. I am reproducing whatever my tired mind could remember. The monk out there was helpful and he also let me take photographs inside.

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Later on, I also walked inside the village and located the old monastery but it was closed by then. came back and rested for a while. The only good news was that my appetite was intact although loss of appetite is a classic symptoms of AMS. The food was rice and local beans followed by green tea. It felt good. That night II saw the most number of stars that I’d ever seen in my life but again was not fully fit to make the most of it.

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The next morning, I was still feeling the same. On top of that, the weather had worsened. The azure sky was gone. It was gloomy and dusty. Villagers were taking their cattle and donkeys out towards the pastures beyond the mountains. Mike followed them and disappeared along with the herds and I never saw him again. I wanted to do the same thing but was in no condition to do so. The area beyond the village is the Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary. But I guess I’ll have to visit again for that.

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I tried to click some more pictures of the village and the pastures around but that feeling did not go away. I looked for a vehicle to return but all of them had left early morning. So, I started walking down the hilly roads, hoping for the AMS symptoms to ease as I lost altitude. However, another car arrived at that point and I took it quickly. The symptoms disappeared almost as soon as reached Kaza. On hindsight, I think the roads have become a bit too smooth for this altitude. A slower ascent would have saved the day for me. Anyway, let’s see when can return to complete the unfinished business. What about this winter when the snow leopards come down closer to the villages?

Jitaditya Narzary

21 thoughts on “Kibber: My First Encounter with Acute Mountain Sickness”

  1. Altitude sickness is no joke! I live at 7,000ft and experienced altitude sickness when I did a race at about 10,000ft. Living at such a high altitude I never thought that altitude sickness would be something I would experience. You feel so crappy its hard to do anything! You still got some great pictures!

  2. I experienced something similar in Bolivia, they call it soroche. Despite the fact I gradually went from almost sea level to more than 4000m, making stops in various cities for a week more or less, when I was there I felt dizzy, headache showed up and some nose bleeding too. The solution? Chew coca leaves!
    But symptoms lasted anyway more that I wanted them to last eheh…

  3. Wow…Kibber is fascinating and your pictures are really gorgeous. The wider landscapes and the finer zoom shots, both make the post so appealing. The mountain sickness, though…is discouraging for me. Ah, you win some, you lose some. 🙂

  4. As usual, in love with your photography Jityaditya!

    BTW, did you face AMS related issues on any other trek?
    I personally has AMS related issues during my Indrahar Pass trek. Totally worth it though!

  5. I have learned that the best remedy for altitude sickness is descent to a lower altitude. I have been to Peru and hiked very high mountains but I did leave myself enough time to accommodate with the altitude and that saved me from having symptoms on the trek. However, I do know people who felt really sick. There are also some pills you can take, but I don’t know how much they help.

  6. Kibber looks surreal and your pictures are breathtaking! One I went to Rudraprayag in India along with my grandma and she had altitude sickness. Though I didn’t feel anything but I have never been to very higher altitude! I did skydiving from 12,000 ft but that was completely a different experience!

  7. Altitude sickness sounds scary, I have never experiences it before. I have once had shortness of breath on Lesotho. The pictures of the place are amazing… 🙂 Glad that all is good now!

  8. Your photography is amazing! Sorry about the altitude sickness 🙁 that doesn’t sound pleasant at all! But the views and experience sound like they are worth all the discomfort. Thanks for the great article!

  9. Rashmi and Chalukya

    We have been to Ladakh and traveled through the mountains but luckily did not have any problem with AMS. Your captures of the shrine of one of the Dalai Lamas is beautiful. Kibber is stunning We haven’t covered these parts yet but would love to some day.

  10. First of all, I applaud you for pushing through and trying to enjoy the place even though you felt so sick! It’s always the hardest decision when falling ill while travelling. Should you stay in bed and miss a great experience or just fight it?
    But your pictures are stunning all the same and I appreciate all the trouble you went through to be able to share them with us!

  11. Sorry to hear about your altitude sickness but glad you are well now. I do a lot of hiking around the world but the only real time I got it and felt horrible was when I was on the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro, mix it is with being tired and I felt terrible. I have not heard of Kibber but it looks amazing through your pictures. I will need to check it out myself.

  12. Such an interesting journey! The small shrine looks like a great find. Isn’t it curious how very often people have built churches or any other religious institutions around water spring that were believed to have magical powers and heal?

  13. I’ve never experienced altitude sickness myself, but it doesn’t sound like a great feeling!
    In spite of this and that the weather wasn’t great on your second day, it looks like you still have a great experience. Those pastures where all you can see is with villagers and their cattle look amazing! I actually didn’t know that the Himalayas were so dry

  14. yes AMS is a killer! I got it really bad when in bolivia at around 4000m, its not fun at all! Looks like you had a lot of fun though!

  15. When I first hiked Mt Ijen in Indonesia I had Mountain or elavation sickness.
    Your photos are amazing. You took really good and quality photos. May I know whats the file size and pixel sixe when you upload your photos?

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