When We Went Glamping in the Land of Lamas
I wrapped my jacket tighter around myself as I walked out of the Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport in Leh. There was a nip in the air; winter was to arrive soon. It was still summer, though. I was wide-eyed, awake, and hungry as I walked in the direction of my personal guide, and driver, Phunshuk (à la 3 Idiots) and Salim. “This is going to be a trip of a lifetime in the Land of Lamas,” I muttered to myself. This was just the beginning of my rather adventurous six nights and seven days of glamping with The Ultimate Travelling Camp (TUTC) and experiencing the Ladakhi summer. Read on.
Image courtesy: TUTC, Thinkstock, and Getty Images
My trip was divided into—the first leg was a stay at the Chamba Camp, Thiksey, and the second at the Chamba Camp, Diskit.
TUTC’s Chamba Camp, Thiksey, was a 22-minute drive from the airport, passing through pastoral fields, multi-hued mountains, prayer flags, and colourfully decorated monasteries. Upon reaching the Thiksey Camp, I was greeted by traditionally-dressed Ladakhi women. The second camp at Diksit, Nubra, was a long, long drive away, across the Nubra Valley. I distinctly remember the entire staff, all smiles, waiting to receive us at the entrance of the camp for our second leg.
The tents, both Thiksey and Diskit, exuded a luxe gypsy vibe. Although they were rustic on the outside, their interiors were fully-equipped with the facilities of a luxurious hotel accomodation—24-hour butler service, plug sockets, hot-cold shower, quality toiletries, a small wooden chest (mini bar) and more. The decor was fine-finished, with wooden chandeliers, Persian rugs, wooden flooring, and ivory bedspreads. It also had a sit-out area with camp-style chairs, where I started most of my mornings, sipping on some tea and enjoying flower blossoms (planted right outside the tents). The snow-capped peaks in the distance were a sight to behold. More often than not, I would end up chatting with the women tending to the green spaces around the tent.
The entire camp area was beautified with picture-perfect, vibrant flowers and vegetation. Each element of the camp—reception, guest tents, restaurant, etc—was connected with stone-made walkways.
Food=Priorities in Life
Being a hard core foodie, my meals were one of my biggest concerns. But at the TUTC camps, meals turned out to be nothing but elaborate glimpses of the culinary magic. From local Indian to global cuisines, the camp’s restaurant served meals prepared using farm-fresh ingredients grown stone’s throw away from the reception area. My days would usually begin with fresh bakes, local fruit jams, eggs, and Indian breakfast dishes like poha and upma; and end with stuffed chicken, salmon, vegetable lasagne, or Rajasthani thali (a plate full of the region’s snacks, mains, and desserts). Oh and how can I forget the delectable, generous portions of desserts? Every night, I would return to my tent to a chocolate and bedtime story—the camp’s way of wishing its guests a good night. Adorable, right?
Apart from the restaurant at the camp, there were two other places that I absolutely loved for their food—Cafe Cloud (located on the Leh-Manali Highway, beside the glamping area) and the Nimmu House (near the Leh city). An idyllic setting furnished with wooden tables and flowers, Cafe Cloud was a good option for indulging in some European food in that part of Leh. Nimmu House, on the other hand, was a setting I thought was perfect for having lunch. Imagine savouring an authentic Italian meal—sphaghetti pasta, apple salad, brownie— in Ladakh, under the shade of a beautiful apple tree? Ten points to the hotel-cum-restaurant for that humbling meal, another plus five for the ambience.
The too-good-to-be-real herbal tea deserves a special mention. I downed the Himalayan delight almost 10-times a day (no exaggeration)!
Leisure and Entertainment
To make sure there’s never a dull moment during one’s stay, the camp has a mini library, an indoor gaming area, and a shopping space—all inside the reception tent. Most of my free time was spent at the library glancing through coffee table books based on Ladakhi legends, Indian royalty, and wildlife.
For entertainment, one evening, the management arranged for a dance performance by local men and women under the stars. It was pleasant to see these pink-cheeked men and women sway to live Ladakhi music. The performance was accompanied by lip smacking finger food—pahadi kebabs, grilled mushrooms, cheese poppers—and drinks. It ended on a beautiful note, where the fellow guests and I tried our hands at dancing.
My favourite activity was to stroll along the camp side and admire the striking contrast between the lush meadows at the camp and the mountains.
Out and About
Historical and Monastic Treasures:
The best way to know a region is to explore its culture, history, and architecture; Phunsukh and I did just that. Since Buddhism is the dominant religion there, he took me on a trail of the monastic treasures constructed in the bygone era and accompanied the visits with interesting stories and legends associated. We visited the Hemis Monastery, Thiksey Monastery, and the Diskit Monastery. Each of the monasteries we visited was filled with both, gigantic and small structures and paintings of Buddha in his various forms. While it was one hell of a walk to up to these places, once reached, they would fill us up with serenity.
One of my best memories is one that will stay with me forever; it was the early-morning prayer I partook at the Thiksey Monastery. It started with two young monks playing the dunchen (a.k.a dharma trumpet) on the terrace and continued inside the prayer room with everyone coming together and chanting mantras. The prayer ended with flavourful butter tea.
We strolled back in time at the Hunder village in the Nubra Valley when we rode the double-humped camel (Bactrian camel). The backdrop of the ride was rather unbelievable. Think: riding sand dunes and gazing at snowy mountains at the same time.
The Visual Tour
Thiksey-Khar dung La-Nubra Valley—Leh-Manali Highway-Thiksey
Prepared with small oxygen cylinders, Salim, Phunsukh, and I headed for the second half of the glamping experience—the stay at the Chamba Camp, Diskit. My first long drive, and the most difficult one because of my motion sickness. We started off early in the morning from Thiksey and decided to go via the Khardung La Pass (at 18,000ft, the highest motorable road in the world). While the road up to Khardung La was smooth and too pleasing, the one from the pass to Nubra was rough and difficult. The drive was full of curvy roads along with natural diversities, there were orchards and fields, and then there were brown and black mountains with a dash of white (snow). We took a two-minute halt at the Khardung La Pass, it was beautiful but we couldn’t wait for long because of the lack of oxygen.
After several stops to ease down, we finally reached the camp.
Our return, after a two-day stay at Nubra, was via the travellers’-favourite Leh-Manali Highway (and I couldn’t be happier to avoid the road to Khardung La). This one was even better than the last one. We traversed through several passes and rivers, making it a drive-of-a-lifetime with a backdrop of the Himalayas.
In a nutshell, my experience at TUTC is just what the tired soul of a city dweller needed. All it took was the will to hit the way to Ladakh.
When can one visit the camp: May to October
How to get there: Chamba Camp, Thiksey can be reached via a flight to Leh and a 22-25 minute drive there on. To reach the Diskit camp, one will have to take a five-hour drive.
For bookings contact: tutc.com