Luxury Camping In Ladakh With Wendell Rodricks
Wendell Rodricks, fashion designer, writer and environmental activist from Goa, shares his experience of glamping with The Ultimate Travelling Camp as part of his journey across luscious Ladakh!
“When the wind calls, you know, that somewhere in the mountains, it has found the answers that you were looking for. The pull of the horizon overcomes the inertia of reason…And you just have to go.”
“We use the words peace, calm, quiet, serendipity rather loosely these days. Here in Ladakh, the words not only resonate with their true meaning, they seem almost inadequate to describe the emotion in this remote part of India.”- Wendell Rodricks
Ladakh: Nothing Less Than a Fairytale
Chamba Camp Thiksey is everything that a traveller can hope for and more. It is a place where nature comes alive and creates art, according to Wendell. From the cool breeze, fluttering butterflies and colourful flowers to the pearl glow of the Thiksey Monastery in the early morning light, the place is prettier than anyone can imagine. Wendell talks about how eagles soar high above the chilled air and black choughs hop about without a worry in a place that compels you to relax.
Orientation & Discovery
Wendell likens the first day in Ladakh to a quiet, lazy holiday as one acclimatises to the thin air that comes with the high altitude. And the best place to do this is at TUTC’s Chamba Camp Thiksey, which is tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Leh. The welcome solitude is like a total surrender of one’s soul, he says. On a walking tour of Thiksey village, with guide Yang-chuck, Wendell found it easy to relax and just breathe. The air may be thin but clean and fresh and that itself is therapeutic, he adds.
The next afternoon, Wendell passed the Naropa Photang Enclave, with its 1,000 stupas near Thiksey and the Dalai Lama’s expansive residence on his way to Leh. He tells of how the Old City was once a bustling trading post along the Silk Route, now dominated by new lanes and a market, buzzing with hippies and Ladakhi women selling fresh produce. While politicos have declared it a slum, UNESCO needs to step in and rescue Old Leh from complete deterioration, he says, adding that it is a jewel just waiting to be polished to its former glory.
According to Wendell, the only saving grace here is the Ladakh Arts and Media Organisation, founded by Monisha Ahmed, which is a reservoir of artful calm in the decay surrounding Old Leh. Within it walls you can explore historic homes, balconies and even an art gallery that exemplifies Ladakh’s rich heritage.
What Leh Has In Store For Travellers
There are destinations that warrant more than one visit and Leh is one of the best examples of this fact. Jigmat Couture is the sole beacon for Ladakh, where Jigmat Norbu and Jigmat Wangmo proudly display their textiles, woolens and costumes. Their love for fabrics could soon lead to a museum, Wendell says, adding that it could be just the reason he needs to return to the charming city. If you’re visiting Ladakh, don’t miss out on the Shanti Stupa. Go for the panoramic view and stay for the tranquil sunset, he says.
The Magic Of Music & Food
Meals at Chamba Camp Thiksey are no less than culinary magic, with a range of Indian and global cuisines. Start your days with eggs, hams, parathas, local jams and freshly baked bread, savour imported Australian lamb chops and fresh pink salmon, and feast on an assortment of delicious deserts.
Close the day with a drink around the bonfire and enjoy a dance performance by the locals under the stars for guaranteed satisfaction. This engaging blend of food, music, dance, folklore, mythology and pageantry makes the night perfect in every way, Wendell says.
Answer The Call To Prayer
The Thiksey Monastery, to put it simply, is dramatic. Just before dawn, the call to prayer rings out across the valley and monks, both old and young, make their way to the main prayer hall. As melodious chants drown out the world outside, yak butter tea and barley powder is passed around to ward off the chill, creating a zen-like experience. Emerging from the prayer hall, Wendell saw that dawn had broken and was playing a game of hide and seek with the mountains.
Apart from Thiksey, Wendell also stopped in at the Matho and Hemis Monastery. He fondly recalls being awed by the first sight of the powerful River Indus. There a one-car-at-a-time bridge hung precariously high above the raging river, leading through valleys, past fruit trees and up the mountain to Matho Monastry. Apart from some of the most amazing views, this monastry also houses a museum, two prayers halls and a restoration centre, where an NGO restores old parchments, armour, paintings and Ladakhi art.
Of Spirituality, Faith & Beer
Wendell was sure this couldn’t be bettered until he visited Hemis Monastery. With 500 monks in residence, this is the largest, wealthiest monastry in the Leh valley. Apart from prayer halls, temples, an informative museum and a walk around its corridors and lanes, Wendell also suggests making time to visit the grand terrace for spectacular views of the countryside. It’s here where time stands still and you realise how serene and peaceful the whole city is.
But for Wendell, the TaktThog Monastery was the most spiritually enriching. This is where the holy Padmachamasava meditated in a cave and one can sense his presence in this low, dark, soot-filled cave. Here, he added his rupee note, segued with yak butter, to the low ceilings decorated with currency from many countries.
As he makes his way to Wari-La Pass, Wendell learns about how monks from the Chemdey Monastery used to make beer. And while this famous brew is no longer made, there was a time when it, the Arrak and other weaker distillations kept Ladakh’s people, cattle and kids on a happy high. Yes, the cattle too!
Nature & Wildlife In Ladakh
Ladakh is also famous for its stunning flora and fauna, one of the many reasons people visit this magical land. Here, the yaks are as large as bison and griffins, bearded vultures, red beaked choughs and Himalayan eagles rule the skies. Plus, Wendell tells of how the cattle go up in summer while the snow leopards and wolves descend into the valleys in a kind of reverse migration. The locals are full of stories, if you have time to listen, he adds.
Spectacular Views & A Luxurious Picnic
From the top of Wari-La pass, at 16,800 feet, you can see the mighty Karakorum mountain range well beyond the Nubra valley. The realisation that this is higher than Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain, is both humbling and exhilarating, Wendell says.
Lower, at about 16,000 feet, Chamba Camp Thiksey is ready with a luxurious surprise – a tent on the ridge of the mountain, replete with a bar and a hot three-course meal. Chilled vodka with pistachio nuts, Greek feta salad, carrot and orange soup, chicken biryani and chocolate mousse in a jar. You can trust The Ultimate Travelling Camp for splendour in the rocky terrain, he says. Sheer decadence!
On a sweeter note, Wendell says the Ladakhi kids offer sweets to the tourists as they come and go. So cool, right?
Good Things Take Time AND Bruises
Wendell also visited Khardungla Pass at 6,000mts/18,380 ft, which has earned its fame as the highest motorable pass in the world. It’s so high that signs here warn tourists not to stay on for more than 25 minutes. On the way down, he stopped at Khardung village, the first in Nubra, where yaks and zho (a cross between a yak and a cow) roam free and prayer flags flutter in the cool breeze.
The Destination Is What Matters
You’re introduced to ever-changing landscapes, deep ravines, formidable rock formations and the mighty Shyok River as it gushes into the valley. Wendell says that this is all breathtaking and achingly beautiful. Literally! He was tossed around rocky roads for over six bruising hours before he reached his destination.
But all his aches and pains vanished once he arrived at Chamba Camp Diskit, Wendell said, adding that like Thiksey, the camp offers a surreal view of Diskit Monastery, with the imposing golden Maitreya Buddha.
Of Sand Dunes & Docile Camels
But this glamping bliss is short lived for Wendell as he is bundled over to Hundar village. High up in the mountains, this region reveals a geographical surprise with sand dunes and camels rides. Compared to the smelly double-humped Bactrian camels in the Mongolian Gobi and the badly behaved camels in the Chinese Taklamakan, the Hundar Bactrians are clean and docile and make for easy rides.
TUTC Redefines Luxury
A short drive away, TUTC throws up another luxury surprise for Wendell with high tea in the dunes. On a makeshift bridge over a gurgling river, he gorged on tea, coffee, chilled vodka, smoked salmon canapes, hot crumb fried basa fish and spinach pakoras served under an open canopy. Cheers to another great day in Ladakh.
Wendell loved Chamba Camp Diskit, which he says is smaller but cosier than Thiksey. The camps have the latest tents from Africa, with top-of-the-line amenities and world-class luxury that’s hard to beat. With beautifully appointed with leather trunks, safari furniture in orange leather, and free Wi-Fi, the tents are luxury redefined, he adds.
Making New Friends
The next day, Wendell crossed some of the roughest terrain on his way to Turtuk, the furthermost village of Nubra valley located on the banks of the Shyok River. Here, clear Himalayan water streams past every stone house and courtyards are filled with apricots, apples and vines laden with grapes. He also spent time with Miriam, 75, who shared stories about the India-Pakistan partition.
Wendell also met Yabgo Mohd Khan Kacho, the village chieftain and descendant of Afghan royals from the 13th century, who guided him towards his home. With delicately carved wood in a pale turquoise blue and green, the chieftain’s house was filled with treasures such as regal headwear, armory and costumes.
He ended the day with a posh three-course picnic, with dessert, under the shade of apricot trees. The Ultimate Travelling Camp really does take care of the details!
Rise To The Challenge In Diskit
Returning to the camp, he climbed to Diskit Monastery, which is a tough climb after a long day. Wendell advises a slow climb with regular breaks. Persevere, because the sweeping panoramic view from the rooftop is worth it, he adds. Take in the awe-inspiring sight of the gigantic 32-metre-high Maitreya Buddha statue, which faces Pakistan and the mighty Shyok river.
All Good Things Come To An End
Back at Diskit, he enjoyed a gastronomic four-course dinner and slept in utter bliss. A landslide at Khardungla forced Wendell to take the Wari-La Pass back to Leh and it was one of the best decisions he made. With barely any traffic, the road throws up astounding views at every turn. He stopped near an icy, sparkling clear rivulet to eat the boxed lunches, surrounded by greenery, yaks, marmots and pink daisies. A huge eagle soaring above the craggy peaks and snow-capped summits made for a surreal scene, Wendell adds.
A Parting Gift From Ladakh
Back at Chamba Camp Thiksey for the last glorious night. The skies turned purple bringing with it heavy rain for a few hours, before magically clearing up. And in the East, Ladakh’s parting gift for Wendell – a glorious double rainbow rose high above the mountains into the fields and across Thiksey Monastery. That rainbow and the moment is one that Wendell says he will hold forever sacred.
That was fashion designer Wendell Rodricks for you! To have your own Art Of Glamping experience BOOK NOW!
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