A week in Ladakh

I have wanted to go to Ladakh for 10 years, since I first came to India, and most people I meet have it on their list. I feel so grateful that I finally made it in August 2017, a perfect time of year to go. As we were leaving, we made a new life plan: move to Ladakh and open a boutique hotel and live there for the four summer months of the year.  Long. Term. Goals.

I feel a lot of people think that one week is too short to go to Ladakh and that is why many people delay their trip. Of course, I would love to take have a really long trip to reach the remote corners, but you can have an incredible experience taking only 5 days off work (4 if you time it over a holiday like we did!), straddling two weekends. Now, 4 days of holiday to have an incredible trip is not bad! 

So the key is to arrive on the Saturday morning (several flights from Delhi or Mumbai to Leh each morning) and leave the following Sunday evening. That gives you 7.5 days in Ladakh and we believe that is enough time to have an experience that does not compromise!

I feel there are a couple of mistakes people make when they go to Ladakh. The first is that they stay in Leh, because they feel it makes a sensible 'base' for then being able to do more things. Whilst Leh is great for backpackery cafes selling German cakes and great momo joints, it is essentially a pretty built-up town. That is not the reason we all want to go to Ladakh (well momos are. But they are available outside of Leh also). I am not trying to hate on Leh, but for a week-long trip, I think there are some amazing places to stay within an hour's radius that will make you feel you truly in the mountains. The second mistake is doing a really long trek. Unless trekking is your number one passion in life, do not spend 7 of your 8 days trekking. There are some beautiful 3 to 4 day treks which are still enough to make you feel intrepid!

I'll go into what I've concluded is the perfect formula for an amazing weekend in Ladakh. It involves the perfect balance of relaxation, feeling a little intrepid, very active, and then very rested at the end. You feel like you've seen beyond Leh into village life, but haven't spent the whole time in cars. First let me tell you about our trip!

So we arrived in Leh on Saturday morning and aside from one of the suitcases going missing, it was still morning and we were at our hotel by lunchtime (my suitcase did not arrive until the next day!). We had decided to stay in a village called Nimmu, which was around  45 minutes drive (downstream along the Indus) from Leh. 

We stayed in a boutique hotel called Nimmu House, an early twentieth century traditional Ladakhi house, which was fully converted to a guest house in 2014. The renovation project took several years, and was mindful of using traditional and technical materials, utilisation of green energy, and preserving an authentic Ladakhi feel. 

Nimmu House

Nimmu House

This is one of the most amazing boutique hotels that we have stayed in. We were staying in one of the five stunning tents in the apricot tree orchard that surrounds the house. The tents are truly beautifully designed, stylish and un-fussy, but with local accents like rugs and bedcovers to match the authentic style.

The interior of the luxury tent

The interior of the luxury tent

So we spent 3 days at Nimmu House. We read our books, played board games, went for walks around the village and took day trips to do river rafting and mountain biking down from Khardong La (the highest motorable road in the world). We were feeling fine, which is why we felt ok to do those activities, but if you were feeling the altitude, you could happily pass 3 days here just chilling and eating the delicious food, alternately fresh french cuisine and delicious Ladakhi cuisine. You have breakfast and lunch out on this gorgeous courtyard over looking the mountains and it is stunning 

The courtyard at Nimmu House

The courtyard at Nimmu House

The next stage of our trip was a four day trek, starting from Zinchan (which was just over 1 hour's drive from Nimmu) and ending at Matho. We started from around 3,100m and climbing over Stok La and another pass I can't remember the name of.- both heights of around 4950m The scenery of the trek was truly mind-blowing and I won't bore you with a day by day account of the beautiful valleys and amazing views from the pass. We even loved the camping, the experience of no bathroom and sleeping wrapped up in tents made us feel suitably intrepid.

Finally,  after 3 night of camping and 4 days of trekking, we arrived at beautiful Matho, and from there drove 25 minutes to Stok, where we stayed at Stok Palace, which is still home to the Ladakhi Royal Family today, with 6 rooms available for guests. This was a lovely place to stay after the trek, and again a great base for exploring the monasteries of Thikse and visiting Leh for some souvenirs. The dining room is beautiful, and dining with the King of Ladakh was a highlight, as was having breakfast on the ramparts overlooking the 

 

 

So, based on our trip and the conversations we had with people, the formula that I believe that really works for a trip of this length goes like this:

1. Stay in a small village for a minimum of 3 nights, allowing you to acclimatise to the mountain air (and avoid over exertion which can result in altitude sickness), read, chill, adjust to the mountain pace of life. I would highly recommend Nimmu House as the perfect place to spend your first few days in Leh.

2. Do a trek! No need to do an 8 day trek to find those moments when you can't believe what you are seeing. I would highly recommend Dream Ladakh which organised everything for us, picked us up from Nimmu House at the start of the trek and dropped us to Stok at the end. The Zinchan to Matho trek worked so well because we did not have to drive long distances. 

3. Spend your final few days in Ladakh relaxing again in one of the small villages. Stok Palace was lovely,

 

Sarah Edwards