The High Life
Fine hospitality in an inhospitable terrain
This was our second trip to Ladakh, and we hadn’t thought we’d go back. It is not our thing to return to places we’ve visited, trying to repeat an experience, or recapture a moment. But the prospect of Ladakh pranced in front of us insistently – one way or the other, it was to be these mountains, this summer, this desert, this valley, these gompas, these rivers, these people.
The first time, eight years ago, we went to trek up the imposing Stok Kangri, which naturally fell under the label of ‘roughing it’. This trip required me to stay in a tent as well, but the similarities, as they say, end there. This time, we were camping with a capital ‘G’. Glamping, they call it, glamorous camping.
The Ultimate Travelling Camp (TUTC) pitches its luxury tents for only a few months a year in two beautiful locations in Ladakh – in Thiksey, 25km from Leh, and in Diskit, the headquarters of Nubra Valley, 150km north of Leh. The window is only as wide as the high-altitude summer permits but TUTC gives you a marvellous experience: superb vantage points, classy luxury, first-rate service, fine dining, tailor-made excursions and experiences… A holiday where you can do as much or as little as you care to and maximise it all anyway.
At the reception (which is a handsome affair with curios, board games and a library with seating nooks), we got a taste of the kind of attention we were to receive. We were to have a guide for the entire week, a car at our disposal and a butler. The medic-on-call measured our oxygen levels and, soon, our butler was leading us through the camp. The garden was planted with a riot of flowers and the tent itself turned out to be a plush affair with pretty four-poster beds with sheer net canopies, charming furniture and fittings, and a generous en suite bathroom space with ample cup boards. I was going to like it here. A lot.
We took it very easy that first day to acclimatise to the high altitude, but we were clever enough to do some pranayama right away and the oxygen levels crept up. In spite of plans to get in more rest, some activity formed itself the next day and we got away early under the aegis of Akanksha, the camp’s in-house naturalist. A morning of wildlife spotting in the direction of Wari La – and what a morning it was! We ticked off chukar partridges, hill pigeons, two species of snowfinch, several horned larks, red-billed choughs, ravens… We surprised a little owl on a rock by the road and he dropped a headless carcass of a hare as he flew a little distance away. We saw a woolly-naped hare bounding away, and some marmots, comically surveying the world. And, of course, lammergeier in the distance, circling the thermals. No fox, no wolf… and, ahem, no snow leopard. I’d have to go back in the winter for that one.