Snowy vista in Ladakh

A snowy vista in the Himalayas, Kashmir

The last we had seen of our legendary bus driver yesterday evening was him disappearing into a tent with the conductor and waving a large bottle of brandy, so we were dubious about an early start. However, at 9am the bus was revving and beeping, so we settled the bill with the locals who had put us up for the night and saddled up for the final leg of the journey over the largest summit so far: up and over the mountain pass at Taglang La, at a whopping 5350 metres (17500 feet). To give you an idea of scale, that’s not far off two-thirds the height of Mount Everest.
Within an hour of setting off, I was busting to pee, despite the fact I’d been less than two hours earlier and had only drank a tiny cup of chai since. It was most unlike me, as I normally have a bladder to rival a camel, and it unnerved me slightly. Loosening my belt, and then my jeans, I rode it out til our first rest stop: the monumentous Taglang La, the highest point I’d ever reached on land. The Scottish chap next to me pointed out the lonely Buddhist temple on the summit bedecked with colourful prayer flags, but I had already galloped halfway to the “toilet” – the back wall of a tumbledown ruined building. Evacuation was a slow and disappointing process, and I knew at that point that the mountain had started to take effect.
Half an hour later the nausea hit and my bus window opened for the remainder of the journey. My guts went to mush, I felt shaky and weak and it was increasingly difficult to concentrate. The only thing in my favour was that we were descending, and would continue to do so all the way down to Leh at 3500 metres (10500 feet). That was the only cure for the altitude sickness I was now unquestionably suffering from.
As I gazed at the barren landscape for the next hour or so, I felt the nausea subside a little and the mist of confusion about my body gradually lift. It was at that point I realised I was very dehydrated. Wanting to avoid the bladder issues I’d had at the start of the journey, I’d been limiting my intake of fluids, and that hadn’t helped my predicament. Mountain air is very dry and can sap the moisture from you, so it’s important to keep drinking – or so I later read. At the next – and final – rest stop, I asked the friendly Scottish chap to grab me some water as I was still too ill to move, and that set me on the road to recovery.
It was a great relief to see the bleak mountain desert scenery give way to little civilisations and irrigated patches of green. We were approaching Leh. My nausea had subsided, although I still felt weak and had little appetite. On arriving at the bus station, we said our goodbyes and we all went our separate ways. My sole thought was to find the nearest guesthouse possible I could collapse at. I fortuitously picked a great place, a private double with its own bathroom and telly for just 150 rupees (£2), and spent the next 24 hours resting, rehydrating and respecting the mountain range that had well and truly defeated me.