“Rashmi, the moment you reach the airport, get into your car. Don’t talk much. Lie down on your bed and rest. And if you need water, take baby steps.”
Now, conversations like these made me have second thoughts about travelling to Ladakh, a place that I hadn’t visited before, but scared me nevertheless.
The reason: Aarna, my 5-year-old daughter. I was taking her with me.
It felt like a reckless thing to do. “What would happen if she fell really sick? Why am I taking her to a place so hostile?”, I thought to myself.
But never was I so wrong. In fact, travelling with my daughter made me learn new things and inspired me to be braver.
Chapter 1 : A (Not So) Hostile Place
The moment I stepped off the plane with her, I wondered, “Should we take baby steps? Or should we walk fast? “ Then I saw the others walk normally and felt a little embarrassed about being so over-cautious.
The first glimpse that I got of this place made me forget about low oxygen levels and the altitude; you get this sense of comfort thinking there is nothing to worry about in this beautiful land.
And the hotel manager reassured us. “It’s not as bad as people put it – all you need to do is give your body some time to acclimatize.”
Aarna seemed to enjoy herself so far.
I also decided not to take diamox (medicine for altitude sickness) with me, since it can’t be prescribed for children. If my kid couldn’t take these medicines, so shouldn’t I.
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Chapter 2 : Soldiers, Mountain Passes and Lakes
Two days went by and we felt at home in this mountainous land, except for one small instance where Aarna felt uneasy near the Khardung La (world’s highest motorable pass). Luckily, there were free medical camps everywhere in Ladakh and she was okay after taking some medicines.
The next day, we journeyed to Pangong Tso. The landscapes changed every 5 kms or so. We saw brown mountains. And suddenly, there were purple ones. Grey. Green. Aarna was gazing at it all, eyes wide with wonder. And so was I.
We met some army men along the way as we neared Chang La pass, the second highest motorable pass in India. Aarna was very quiet and felt a little shy(she usually is, when she meets someone for the first time).
I didn’t want to accept them, since they were offering it from their provisions for the month. But one of the soldiers said, “We hardly meet any guests here. I have a daughter who’s the same age, and I miss her.” Every time I recollect this experience, I feel so proud about these kind and brave gentlemen, smiling, ready to assist us and endure harsh climates to protect our country.
5 hours later…
“ There! ”, the tour guide shouted. “That’s the Pangong Tso!”. This was our first glimpse of the Pangong Tso- a tiny blue patch.
After a long bus journey, we were tired and I was worried that Aarna would feel really tired and would not be able to enjoy the view. But as we got nearer to the shores, the patch grew larger and more beautiful, raising our spirits and making us more energetic.
The lake does that to everyone who goes there- it makes you feel cheerful !
Aarna had fun picking pebbles on the shores, throwing them, and counting the different shades of blue in the water.
We were there for 3 blissful hours (wish we could’ve stayed for longer).
Chapter 3: The ‘Family-Friendly’ River
“Rafting with a 5-year-old kid?!” – you must be thinking that this is a crazy idea.
But if you head downriver along the course of the mighty Zanskar, you’ll realize that the water isn’t swift and torrential – it is calm and totally safe for children to sit on a boat.
I was panicking despite this reassuring fact. For one thing, I didn’t know how to swim. “Forget the adults, please catch hold of my daughter if the boat capsizes”, I said to the tour guide.
Aarna was nervous initially when she got into the raft – she was going to sit by herself, not on my lap. But when she saw everyone getting ready and wearing those wetsuits, she got excited and was ready to do it.
This surprised me and made me think, “Well, it isn’t that scary and my daughter seems fine with it. I should experience this too.”
I made sure that Aarna was comfortable, safely strapped to the boat, sitting between two adults, with me in front of her.
The water was COLD. It sprayed everywhere as we navigated the boat through the river. There were bumps, turns and the raft swayed. But all throughout, Aarna was excited, screaming with laughter and enjoying the ride.
An Inspiring Journey
This trip with my daughter made me realize that you learn a lot during and after adventures. For me, it was learning to overcome that fear of water and it even encouraged me to learn swimming after that trip (I can confidently say that I know how to float now).
And it wouldn’t have been the same without my kid. She surprised me ever so often, being brave, meeting new people and making new friends.
There was this sense freedom that she could find walking in the villages without me accompanying her or worrying about her getting lost. And she can proudly say that she went rafting as a 5-year-old!
I am definitely planning to revisit Ladakh once again with her – you never know what new lessons and surprises lie in wait.