<strong>Initiation on Longchenpa’s collected works begins at Tharpaling</strong>

Health official says no deaths from mountain sickness

Devotees attending Kawang at Tharpaling attended to by staff of Wangdicholing hospital

Many devotees attending Kawang at Tharpaling monastery in Bumthang have been suffering from altitude sickness, also called acute mountain sickness (AMS), which can become a medical emergency if ignored. There were rumours that an old woman had succumbed due to this. However, Wangdicholing General Hospital’s medical officer in-charge, doctor Pema Wangchk said there has been no deaths.

Around 15-16 devotees ranging from 30 to 80 years were brought to the Wangdicholing General Hospital from Tharpaling since June 22, 2023.

The medical officer of Wangdicholing Hospiatl, Dr Pema Wangchuk said that most of them had acute mountain sickness of mild to moderate severity.

On discharge, the medical officer said that all patients were advised to return to their permanent place of residences i.e lower altitudes or to get 2-3 days of acclimatization before ascending.

There were rumours among the devotees that an old women passed away due to altitude sickness. Clarifying to Business Bhutan, Dr Pema Wangchuk said, “No deaths or severe acute mountain sickness have been reported till now.”

Wangdicholing Hospital had set up a full-time clinic for devotees since the first day, with one doctor, one nurse, one health assistant (HA), an ambulance with one emergency medical responder and a staff from the traditional medical service (sMenpa).

The members of Kawang Tshogpa said that many devotees are affected as they are visiting sacred places above the monastery. The members reminded the people not to make the pilgrimage.

The legendary Tharpaling monastery is situated on 4100 m above mean sea level, overlooking the picturesque Chumey valley in Bumthang.

Kunzang Tobgay, 56, who came from Dagana said it is difficult to adjust with the altitude at Tharpaling. Even walking for a little distance gives him problems. “I feel difficult to breath.”

Karma Lhaje, 66, from Kurtoe Dungkar said that she does not face such difficulties. However, she said, “I cannot breath well while climbing up.” Concerned she went for a check up and found that her pressure was normal.

Her neighbor, who was older than her, was asked to go home or drop down to lower altitude by medical staff.

The medical definition of altitude sickness (or altitude illness) is a disorder caused by being at high altitude. It more commonly occurs above 8,000 feet (2,440 meters).

The cause of altitude illness is a matter of oxygen physiology. At sea level the concentration of oxygen is about 21% and the barometric pressure averages 760 mmHg. As altitude increases, the concentration remains the same but the number of oxygen molecules per breath is reduced. At 12,000 feet (3,658 meters) the barometric pressure is only 483 mmHg, so there are roughly 40% fewer oxygen molecules per breath.

In order to oxygenate the body effectively, your breathing rate (even while at rest) has to increase. This extra ventilation increases the oxygen content in the blood, but not to sea level concentrations. Since the amount of oxygen required for activity is the same, the body must adjust to having less oxygen. In addition, high altitude and lower air pressure cause fluid to leak from the capillaries which can cause fluid build-up in both the lungs and the brain. Continuing to higher altitudes without proper acclimatization can lead to potentially serious, even life-threatening illnesses.

Sangay Rabten from Bumthang