There is only one cure for altitude sickness in my books – a piping hot cup of Kashmiri Kahwa. Sitting at close to 18,000 ft in a barely furnished army canteen, a steaming cup of this traditional green tea mixed with saffron, cardamom, cinammon, and crushed nuts, sent life crawling back into our numb fingers and wind swept faces.
Advertised as the highest “motorable” pass, Khardung La (La meaning Pass in Tibetan), is a tourist stronghold for Indians and foreign nationals alike. We made the bumpy 3 hour trek from Leh in an SUV—although the adventurous mode of transport is a motorbike—with no restrooms along the way. The road (or a complete lack thereof) was a raw path cut into the mountainside, a rather enjoyable one unless you really have to pee!
The slow ascent gave us a chance to adjust to the altitude. We felt pretty proud of ourselves as we got out of the car and took it all in without having to scramble for the Diamox. But as we started walking around, it hit us like a wall – the shortness of breath, the dull headache, a slight giddiness.
Which brings me to the Kahwa. Although we visited in early September, the weather was still a little nippy and that, along with the dull throbbing of the head, sent us packing into the army canteen in search of comfort food. No amount of medicine could cure us as well as a simple cup of spicy, aromatic Kahwa and a bowl of Maggi noodles did that day (for those who did not grow up eating the latter, it’s a Ramen noodle style quick fix boiled with Indian masala powder that never fails to hit the spot).
As travelers who like to visit a place for more than the photo-op, a crowded spot filled with tourists in search of the perfect selfie can take away from the experience. But serenity can be found in the most tourist-y of places if only you break past the noise and clutter – a job my husband is very good at. Leh is filled with stupas and buddhist temples and Khardung-la is no exception. With that cup of Kahwa fueling our strength, we climbed over rocks to get to the temple, stopping every few minutes just to catch our breath. Even the slightest of physical effort seemed a mammoth task at that altitude, but when we finally made it up there it was no longer the altitude that made us gasp for breath. Yes, we were on top of the world!