Ladakh is an enchanting land, perhaps like no other. For where will you find a stark barren desert and the most pristine blue waters at the same place, or mountains and sand dunes in a shared frame, or the scorching sun and freezing winds in seasons separated by barely a few months, sometimes even a few days or hours?
Here is a landscape that stretches as far as the eye can see. Over the last few years, this remote terrain has been drawing tourists, adventure seekers, photographers and film makers who are experiencing Leh and Ladakh by embarking on long road journeys, treks, motorcycle expeditions, car rallies, camps and now luxury tented glamping.
Leh at 11,500ft above sea level and Ladakh, also known as the roof of the world has opened up to tourists only in the last decade. It has a raw, unspoilt touch to it that is complemented by its people who are welcoming, allowing you into their fold with a simplicity that tugs at the heartstrings. Why the area lends itself to camping and now glamping is also because of its history when early travellers trudged along the best trade routes between Punjab and Central Asia setting up camping sites, cooking meals and discovering uncharted terrains on this beautiful, untouched and inspiring route.
(Choose from one of many cultural experiences including interactions with simple village folk)
(A white tented suite that is befitting for the honeymooning couple)
(Glamping sites, chosen after much recee and research)
(Interiors are rich and resplendent with an aristocratic Indian touch)
From rough and rugged to luxurious
Perched on India’s most northerly tip, Ladakh is flanked between the neighbouring countries of China and Pakistan. Until the 1970s, security concerns combined with the region’s inhospitable topography meant it was mostly closed to visitors. It is only in the last few years that the area has offered a rough-and-ready form of tourism, with its unusual scenery, challenging hikes and Buddhist monasteries. So much so, it is on the bucket list of many travellers who look forward to unusual experiences.
The starkness of Ladakh and its raw appeal, inspite of its high altitude has a pull for people who want to connect with their inner selves or commune with the nature at its best. Also, with a few hugely successful Indian films such as the ‘3 Idiots’ being shot here, the place has seen multi-fold increase in tourist activity. The catch however has been the quality of accommodation on offer, which has been mostly limited to home-stays and basic hotels.
The scenario however has changed in the last year or so. It has now become a popular site for glamping with leading luxury tent companies setting up site during the season. With increased interest of a wide range of tourists from across the world, wanting to come and explore the magnetic charm of this high altitude paradise, luxury camps have come up rather selectively, earning a place of pride in the region.
These “nomadic super-luxury camps” offer luxurious infrastructure in places which are otherwise bereft of luxury hotels. It is a win-win for both visitors as well as entrepreneurs of these glamping sites. Given the extreme weather conditions of Ladakh where for about six months the region is closed, the mobile glamping sites then shift to other locations in India such as Rajasthan, Northeast and Uttarakhand. International tourists are flying in to Delhi and hopping on to a direct 1 hour 20 minute flight for Ladakh during the season. Once back, they unanimously rave about this being a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The Double Humped Camp, set up in the picturesque Nubra Valley is around four hours from Leh. It is a new alpine desert camp that offers camel safaris. The Ladakh Sarai is a 10 minutes’ drive from Leh offering a tribe of 14 yurt-style accommodations in a beautiful grove of willow, poplar, apricot and apple trees. A few minutes’ drive from Leh is the highly rated Tsermang Eco Camp which has eight luxury tents, each named after a Buddhist monastery from the Indus Valley. From here accessing the Nubra Valley is easy. As you cross Khardung la Pass on the way you will find yourself on what is supposed to be the highest motorable road in the world. On reaching Nubra Valley, an added attraction will be to explore the village and surrounding areas.
Another glamping site that is fast gaining favour is that of Thiksey Monastery which welcomes the adventurous traveller to the Chamba Camp at Thiksey. Run by the Ultimate Travelling Camp, the project is an unusual commercial and spiritual partnership that has the participation of friendly monks from the local monastery. This collaboration allows the tourist an opportunity to combine the external beauty of nature with a spiritual connect with one’s inner being. This partnership is able to provide added financial support to the monastery.
(Lounging outside the tent, an equally exhilerating experience)
(Neat and secure tented structures conforming to international standards)
(One of many impromptu picnic sites that can be set up without any fuss)
Feasting on soul stirring visuals from a nomadic ‘suite’
The plush bedroom tents are of excellent quality. They have solid wooden floors and a four-poster bed, along with an elegant colonial-style chest and writing desk. Light-toned drapes cover the walls, while an air-conditioning unit emits warm air to fend off the night chill. The en suite bathroom is also charmingly equipped with crisp linen and a classy brass sink. The view from the glamping site is spectacular. On the left, over the river rises the Himalayas and on the right is the Karakoram Range. Right in front is the well-known Thiksey monastery itself which is one of the most enduring images of Ladakh with its dozen odd storeys of white buildings perched atop of one another, on a hillock.
Gentle walks and mountain-bike rides in the nearby countryside have a charm of their own. Brace yourself to encounter shaggy-haired yak and dzo which is a half-yak, half-cow hybrid and furry treacle-coloured Himalayan marmots scampering about in the distance. Guests are treated to a royal game of polo and are provided options of rafting down the River Indus, enjoying picnic lunches amidst the most picturesque spots with unforgettable views.
Avid trekkers combine glamping with trekking. Some of them drive down from Manali in Himachal Pradesh to Ladakh instead of flying in from New Delhi. They then take a respite with a 3 night 4 day glamping halt before hitting the road again. Either way, they are all unanimous in their feedback of being in Ladakh in a luxury tent. According to them, they being on top of the world, living a dream captured in a snow globe that is set between the Kunlun Mountains and the Himalayas, capturing images and visuals that will last them a lifetime.
(The bathing routine couldn't be more comfortable)
(Set up a breakfast table right in the middle of a herbal vegetable garden)
(The luxurious interiors of a Presidential suite in one of TUTC's tents)
- Leh can be reached by road or air. Via Kashmir/Kargil or Manali, one can drive in or take a flight from Delhi.
- Roads open up during mid-June to early September and this is the best time to plan glamping, camping and whatever else.
- Chamba Camp at Thiksey is operational from 15th May to 10th October.
- Reserve the first day for acclimatising to the altitude and go slow on activities.
- When in Leh, visit the local market of Chanspa and Fort Road; explore small villages and try kebabs on Old Fort Road.
- Head up to Pangong Lake, the highest lake in the world and enjoy the panoramic view of the majestic lake and hills.
- Visit Military Airport, Hall of Fame, Confluence of the Indus and Zanskar rivers and Magnetic Hill.
© This article was first published in August 2016 online here at World Travel magazine.