Hidden Wonders of Ladakh
Our Asia Specialist, Katie has just got back from what she describes to be the most natural, culturally enriching experience in Ladakh, the trans-Himalayan region in the state of Kashmir and Jammu in India.
Ladakh, the land of high pastures has a fascinating history, gaining its importance initially from its strategic location, being a crucial crossroads for the Silk Route where Tibetans, Pakistanies, Indians and the Chinese would meet. My overall experience in Ladakh was hugely enhanced by my encounters with the locals I met and befriended. Every individual has their own story, one that only by taking a slower pace through Ladakh will allow you to unravel.
The views from the plane of the mountainous Himalayas were an impressive sight. All you could see was an ocean of endless mountain ridges merging with clear blue skies. Cut off from the rest of the country for many months of the year, the area is really only open to tourists in the summer months from May – September. Hidden within these barren mountains, there’s a population of 1.3 million, that live here throughout the year.
Shakti Ladakh has seven spacious and beautifully done up houses scattered around the valleys. With Shakti, I was able to get off the beaten track without having to sacrifice on the creature comforts I secretly do prefer when on holiday. Shakti have renovated local villagers houses in a very natural way. They have installed floor to ceiling windows, log burners in the corners of each bedroom, piping hot powerful showers and such comfy beds.
Within an hour of settling in at Shakti's River house, I had befriended Lucy, the family dog and although there was a slight language barrier, I was getting to know the owners of the River house I was staying in too as we connected over the menagerie of animals, both cattle and dogs.
At an altitude of 12,000mt above sea level, we really were meant to do as little as possible in the first 24 hours to acclimatise. I was keen to walk in the direction of a local monastery; I could see a mysterious old bridge, decorated heavily in bunting that I wanted to explore. Instead, we discussed all the possible activities on offer over the coming days and what I soon realised was, that there was no rigid structure. This way, it allowed for us to get lost wandering through local villages, spend time having tea with monks in the monastery or watching local ceremonies in Leh. Without this flexibility, we wouldn’t have had some of the local experiences we allowed ourselves to get into.
One fond memory of mine was the evening when one of the daughters in the family was explaining her wedding to us. Ladakhi women wear an attractive headgear called ‘perak’, made of black lambskin studded with semi-precious turquoise stones, covering the head like a cobra’s hood and tapering to a thin tail reaching down the back. The next thing we knew, we were prancing around her garden in all their best jewels and rich fabrics, having a photo shoot.
Each night, we'd dine in an authentic setting, my favourite being the cosy kitchen at Likhir House where I could interact with the chef, watch him cooking our Dahl’s and lamb, goat and vegetable curries – we were never short of exquisite food or our next cup of warm tea. Tika cooked endless curries and let me join in with the cooking. We would also wander around the garden looking for any spices to use.
Rudi, our guide was like an encyclopaedia. He fascinated me with his knowledge of ancient history and helped unravel the ancient stories of the many monasteries we visited. For a truly authentic trip, look no further than Shakti Ladakh.