For the Love of Detail – at The Ultimate Travelling Camp, Ladakh
The last time I had a bedtime story waiting for me at night was back when I still believed in fairy tales and dreamed of getting lost in the wild. So a good-night card on our bed in the tent – with a Ladakhi folk tale inside and chocolates outside – came as a sweet surprise on our first glamping night. And became a ritual we looked forward to.
A cherry on top to a day well spent
It is this kind of imaginative and tasteful attention to detail that makes itself known in every aspect of the camp. And in these innumerable details we were treated to something surprising and comforting, with a just-right mix of familiarity and novelty.
Ladakh is the kind of place you bring your wildest expectations to, and then watch them pale in comparison to reality. Nature puts up a show no amount of online trawling or books can prepare you for. Knocking our socks off is in nature’s job description, as evinced by her everywhere in Ladakh. From snow-draped heights to sun-spangled poplar trees. But what one doesn’t expect is a man-made slice of heaven sandwiched seamlessly between those heights and those trees. Enter The Ultimate Travelling Camp or ‘TUTC’ as its known to those in a hurry.
I’ve. Got. To. Be. Dreaming
Welcome to Chamba Camp Thiksey
After a night of two flights and a sleepwalk through the Delhi airport, we rolled through the Chamba Camp gates all wide-eyed under sunglasses and wanderlust. Hot towels (like those on flights) were served with smiles. Three lovely local women in Ladakhi headdresses and robes greeted us with Jooleys and white stoles at the reception marquee’s entrance. Sunflowers as big our faces beamed right back at us, and soon we were led inside.
Inside the main reception marquee of the TUTC
Amidst the decor (all ingeniously foldable) that included a chandelier, a chess board, bookshelves, artwork and handicrafts, the in-house doctor waited to check the oxygen levels in our blood. A little thing called altitude can make a whole lot of difference to the body at 12,000 ft and the TUTC takes no chances with that. While we got tested, we were briefed about the activities in store and advised to rest on the first day so as to acclimatize.
Warm (thanks to the heater) and wooden-floored, the tent was replete with everything that a five-star hotel room would offer. Minus the massive carbon footprint. Between snacks and stationery on separate tables, a queen-size four-poster bed stood in the centre, and some warm robes hung on a stand next to never-get-up sofas. And a cellphone on the night-stand to connect us to the rest of the camp. The en-suite bathroom was a delight with all its thoughtful details.
Everything you see in this photo is foldable, except the glass bottles. This is how the camp travels from one place to another, folding up all its contents to be unfolded all over again in Kohima, Nagaland this December.
Speaking of luxury…
Luxury Meets Wilderness
A luxury camp in the midst of a cold desert sounds enough of a guilty pleasure to rile up the treehugger in me, but here’s where the true marvel of the camp lies. This is a camp where luxury is premised on a respect for nature and its ways, exploring rather than exploiting it. Made possible by people who understand and love the land and all that it offers. Instead of arm-twisting nature until there’s nothing left, the idea here is to give back to nature in every way, while uncorking the best wines and amenities you’d expect in any luxury accommodation. Man and nature aren’t adversaries here, but collaborators on a labour of love and endless detail. ‘Nothing is wasted’ is a phrase we heard often on our walking tours here with the camp’s manager, and we could see that.
The camp benefiting the land and the locals in so many ways, this is a new variant of luxury that sees no point in being at odds with its environment. Luxury that explores nature and new ways of being attuned with it, rather than exploiting it. Most five-star hotels in cities will no doubt continue making a dent in the earth’s finite resources without a thought for the repercussions, churning out all the canned experiences that add up to their five-star ratings. Being cut off from nature may well be your thing, but for a first-hand experience of the wilderness with the amenities and creature comforts of civilization, TUTC is your deal. The elements one tent flap away while your personal butler stands one phone call away. One yank at the tent zip and you step out from five-star indoors into five-billion-star outdoors. A best-of-both-worlds experience that leaves a positive impact on the land and lives of locals.
On the way to breakfast on a perfect morning
For those who like their desert with a side of dessert
The Constant Gardeners
The well-loved garden tended to by Ladakhi women throughout the year, all of them trained by a horticulture expert I’d like to kidnap for my modest urban-balcony-garden someday.
Fresh and organic in the non-supermarket sense of the word
Despite the non-conducive weather most of the year, it had a rich variety of produce to show for the year-long effort that goes into it. Zucchinis, red cabbage and edible flowers, all growing in bunches like they meant it. We were going to be well-nourished by the camp’s kitchen next door to this steady stream of vegetables, flowers and fruit.
An informative tour of the garden led to the creation of this beauty one afternoon. A salad prettier than all the desserts back home
The Thiksey Monastery
View from the tent
The Thiksey Monastery overlooks TUTC in more ways than one, with its head monk (known as Rinpoche) having blessed the camp. Either ways, it would be hard not to feel blessed in a campsite such as this, with tents opening out to wide pastures, a view of the monastery ahead and snow-capped mountains all around.
A monastery-visiting magpie
Flowers and birds show up in a dizzying variety in Ladakh, with as many as 225 species of birds here. The Himalayan magpie made the most frequent appearances, and this one showed up at the Thiksey monastery after we witnessed a surreal early morning call to prayer on the rooftop.
Good Morning Thiksey!
An impossible number of stairs had led us to a rooftop where two monks greeted the day in a way we’ve never taken the trouble to. A sense of occasion filled the air, as did the morning chill that forced us to eventually descend from the rooftop into warmer (by Ladakhi standards) parts of the monastery.
Surprise Barbecue Dinner under the Stars
There was something here for each one of your senses. The people, the laughter, the music, the food, the wine, the views and the sharp nip in the air you could either resist or just acquire a taste for.
This moon-and-lantern lit night was my most treasured memory of the entire glamping experience. Bonfires in buckets and our hot dinner were the long-missed heat we snuggled close to, watching the moon take centrestage amid an entourage of clouds. Lots of music and a little wine later, the dining turned into dancing. Which went on until the cold winds blew us back into the warm confines of our tent. Layers of blankets upon layers of warm robes seemed just about enough to keep us from freezing. I remember dreaming of the barbecue dinner all over again that night, and for good reason.
Cycling through the boondocks of Ladakh
Cycling away an afternoon on roads wending through the Ladakhi mountains made for a wonderful memory, with our guides taking turns leading and following us. Keeping an eye on the road proved quite a challenge here, with the wide open views all around.
One of those bedtime stories had been about four brothers discovering the Buddhist precept of harmony, mutual respect and collaboration. Words that incidentally describe the relationship between man and nature here. A synergy that we’d do well to emulate in the cities, in even the smallest of ways.
Thank you Chamba Camp Thiksey, The Ultimate Travelling Camp for all the details that went into giving us this wonderfully novel experience with sights straight out of a fairy tale. If you’d like to know more, www.tutc.com has the answers!