ROOM AT THE TOP
National Geographic Traveller India|September - October 2021
The mountain property’s humble hospitality is an invitation to experience the local way of life
POOJA NAIK
I’ve always wanted to run a place that could bring travellers together,” Rigzin Namgyal, the co-founder of Ladakh Sarai, addresses my group of travel journalists over lunch. We’re at Chansa, the property’s communal dining space. Although our encounter isn’t happenstance, the 51-year-old’s philosophy still holds water. He flits between manning his staff in the main kitchen and sharing life stories with guests over warm bowls of chutagi—a local soup loaded with vegetables and bow tie-shaped chunks of cooked dough. Ladakhi hospitality is no marketing gimmick. And just like that, I forget I’m on a work assignment, my first in the pandemic.

Lodged in Leh district’s Saboo village, the 19room retreat remains a popular choice amongst tourists for two main reasons: its proximity to Leh Market and the Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport, and its magnificent vistas of the Stok Range of the Trans-Himalayas. I spend a better part of my first day of the week-long trip acclimatising to an altitude of 11,600 feet whilst mountain gazing from the deck of my chalet. The July sun scorches the barley fields and willow trees that frame the village settlement in the periphery. Jagged mountains dusted with snow frosting protrude in the backdrop. I couldn’t tire of the view even if I tried. It’s only at the heels of dusk that the air becomes nippy and I step out for a leisurely stroll.

Three distinct styles of accommodation—rows of mud houses, duplexes and chalets—each named after villages in Ladakh are built in traditional wood-and-stone architecture. A yoga class is in motion on the first storey of the meditation centre. But I find it far more invigorating to follow the stone-laden pathways flanked by lush flower gardens that snake across the four-acre property. Magpies warble in the distance and prayer wheels welcome guests at the main entrance. It’s 7 p.m. and the sun refuses to dip. Perhaps, even the forces of nature find it difficult to part with the scenery.

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