WORDS: FABIOLA MONTEIRO
PHOTOGRAPHS: MAHESH SAGARI
GREAT FROM: New Delhi, Chandigarh, Srinagar
GREAT FOR: Comfort with a big dose of culture
The peaks of Ladakh’s Zanskar mountains look like they’ve been dusted with icing sugar, but, actually, it’s fresh, unseasonal snow. Tall poplar trees sway gently in the cool breeze. A rosefinch, the colour of the monks’ robes at the monastery nearby, is perched on a tree. Birdsong fills the air. It’s the perfect sort of morning to curl up with a book on the deck of your luxury tent at the Chamba Camp, Thiksey, a 40-minute drive from the city of Leh.
Glamping, a 21-century addition to the dictionary, takes full form at this camp, run by The Ultimate Travelling Camp. The campsite at Thiksey, a rustic village that’s known for its monastery, has creature comforts like hot water, air-conditioning and wi-fi. But, while you’ll be tempted to blob around the campsite, don’t – there’s a carefully curated itinerary that lets you get under the skin of Ladakh.
At sunrise, the valley reverberates with the sound of trumpeting conch shells. This announces the beginning of the morning ceremony at the Thiksey Monastery where rosy-cheeked kid monks chant prayers like they would poetry in school. When you visit, you’ll see them being naughty, while hiding from the watchful eye of the discipline-master monk, and mixing butter tea with sattu (roasted barley powder) in wooden bowls. Butter tea – it’s better to think of it as a soup while sipping it, as your guide will point out – is also poured into cups for everyone gathered.
While you’ll bump into a bevy of other travellers at the Thiksey Monastery, it’s at quieter ones like Matho Monastery, that you’ll actually acquire a deeper understanding of Tibetan Buddhism. Your guide will point out the beautiful murals of protector and meditation deities and provide insightful context that makes these soul-searing, teeth-baring deities seem much less ferocious. You’ll also see thangkas (Buddhist paintings on silk) being painstakingly restored here.
There are many monasteries in the vicinity, including the famous, tourist-filled Hemis Monastery, but, to understand local culture beyond Buddhism, drive to Leh’s Main Market, where you’ll find everything from pashmina shawls and dried apricots to prayer flags and How I Got Leh’d t-shirts. Wind your way to the recently-opened, four-storey Central Asian Museum to understand Ladakh’s place on the ancient silk route, as well as how Leh looked in the old days. There are pictures of Bactrian camels, household artefacts like weighing scales and stone utensils, and thick, frayed carpets that bring to life the once-lavish kingdom that ruled this region.
It’ll all remind you to slow down and appreciate life. Take this feeling with you when you go birdwatching. At the Shey marshes, 10 minutes from the camp, naturalist Aakanksha Kumari points out citrine wagtails flitting around, and golden orioles hiding in the shadows of a willow. She’ll tell you how the birdlife of Ladakh is changing, with migratory birds flying in earlier than they otherwise would. At the camp too, you’ll spot clever magpies lurking around as you tuck into four-course meals in the restaurant tent. And, as you’re sipping on Himalayan Delight, a deliciously warm apricot-infused tea, you’ll realise that it’s these memories from a world so far away from home that will make your routine life so much better.