How Dangerous Is Motorcycle Touring In Himalayas Of Ladakh?
Motorcycling in the Ladakhi mountains has been and will continue to be an extreme sport that can sometimes be dangerous for riders. Several of the world’s highest peaks, all over 17,000 feet, lie close together in these mountain ranges. And although riding over these sheer peaks is not as challenging as it was at the dawn of the era given the modern-day motorcycles and safety gear, the dangers associated with this sport are still very much the same.
Throughout its existence, the mountains of Himalayas have been given the most fearsome nicknames: Parvateshwara being the most common one, which literally means “Lord of Mountains”. And as beautiful as they are, there is no doubt that they can be extremely dangerous as well. Especially since the danger of avalanches is exceptionally high.
Weather is one of the biggest threats for anyone planning to travel in Ladakh. Temperature drops, snowfall, fog/clouds and lightning strike are all major hazards that can endanger the life of riders. Especially in the elevated regions, where the weather changes quickly and abruptly, posing many risks to the life of a traveler.
Health Risks Associated With Touring In Ladakh
As altitude increases, the air pressure decreases and so does the oxygen concentration in the air. As a result, the lungs are able to absorb less oxygen, which leads to a shortage of oxygen in the blood.
Symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness include headache, uneasiness, dizziness, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and asphyxiation. Hands and feet may also swell severely. These symptoms appear within one to six hours once the rider reaches an altitude greater than 10,000 feet.
According to Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), tourists usually start visiting high altitude areas on the day they land in Leh. They are under the misconception that they are fit and nothing will happen to them. In doing so, they ignore all the possibilities of altitude sickness, which can worsen into HAPE (High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema) or HACE (High-Altitude Cerebral Edema) leading eventually to death.
In recent years, motorcycle tours around Ladakh have become a popular international sport. A growing number of organized motorbike tours and expeditions to the Himalayas have emerged as a viable opportunity for a diverse segment of adventure enthusiasts from the west. However, these promising tour packages might entail certain risks that are overlooked by travelers.
Therefore, a large part of the responsibility lies with the tour operator, who should advise and inform his participants in advance and ideally also exclude them from participation if the risk is too high for the person concerned.
“Mountains are unforgiving”. Anybody who sets out for the mountains should probably keep this old saying in mind. Even if the sky is as clear as it has ever been, the sun is shining brighter than ever, and the desire to ride to the top is as great as it has ever been – caution should always be exercised. This is how experienced motorcyclists and touring specialists (like us) do it.
Read More: Mountain Sickness While Touring In Himalayas
Risk Of Cardiac Arrest
It is well established that oxygen supply at such altitudes is limited. The alveolar oxygen partial pressure (PAO2) is: 99.7 mmHg at sea level, whereas at 10,000 feet, it decreases to 67 mmHg and thus requires major adjustments.
This process, known as Acclimatization, is usually experienced by an increase in respiratory rate as well as heart rate.
Furthermore, Hyperventilation associated with altitude causes Hypocarbia and Respiratory Alkalosis (Source: Cleveland Clinic) that can lead to what is known as uncontrolled breathing experienced particularly at night.
As a result, pulmonary arteries become more constricted, which may progress to pulmonary hypertension with the risk of developing pulmonary edema or even heart failure.
To ensure a safe Ladakh trip, the traveler needs to plan his itinerary carefully, balancing the riding hours as well as the altitude travelled in a day. At the same time, it is important to consult a doctor and the necessary examinations must be carried out to rule out any undetected medical conditions.
In the case of coronary heart disease, for instance, condition in which the coronary arteries are blocked and the heart is supplied with less oxygen, doctors recommend not exceeding specific altitudes. With mild coronary disease, this is 14,000 feet of altitude, and with moderate coronary disease, up to 8,000 feet of altitude.
However, if someone suffers from severe coronary heart disease, experts recommend not traveling in the mountains at all.
Dangers Associated With Motorcycle Touring In Ladakh
Anyone who decides to ride in the mountains of the Himalayas, either for the first time or as an experienced rider, is exposed to certain dangers. As such, threats that are specific to the characteristics of the mountains themselves are referred to as objective dangers. On the other hand, the dangers arising from the riding behavior are referred to as subjective. Let’s look at them in detail.
- Chilly winds
- Lightning strike
- Ice on the road
- UV radiation
- Falling rocks
- Cloud burst
- Insufficient riding skills
- Lack of fitness
- Poor mental health
- Inferior motorcycle gear
- Ignoring weather forecasts
- Miscalculation of the difficulty
- Inaccurate assessment of the situation
- Neglecting acclimatization
Motorcycle touring in the region of Ladakh is dangerous. If you want to be safe, you should be aware of the dangers and risks involved and take them up seriously. After all, this is the only way to protect yourself from serious consequences and make your trip an unforgettable and worthwhile experience.
So, before embarking on any of the touring routes around the Himalayas, it is essential that you familiarize yourself with the surroundings. Seek advice from the local tour operators and discuss everything related to this expedition.
Only if you are thoroughly prepared should you embark on this extreme adventure.
Suggested Read: How To Prepare For Ladakh Motorcycle Trip
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