Ladakh in January was the first trip of 2016 and was really special to me. I went on a FAM trip with the Grand Dragon Ladakh. I have been on a few trips since. And it is usually the most recent trip that dominates the mind space!
So I am going down the memory lane to see what comes out from the top of the head when I think of Ladakh in Winter.
My nostrils would hurt from the effort to breathe at the high altitude.
The first few nights I would wake up every few hours. It was only the last night that I slept through without waking up.
I was so scared of cold before going on the trip but I managed fine!
To me it felt insane to sit out for bonfire when the temperatures were in minus. But with fire and heaters I actually enjoyed it.
I was scared that I would find it unbearably cold to sit and watch Spituk Gustor Festival. It was a sunny day and I did just fine!
I loved the feeling of having Ladakh to myself. At Lamayuru, they opened the monastery just for us, there was otherwise not a single tourist around!
I warmly remember the hospitality of Danish and his team. The home cooked dishes and Chang (and that is not the beer but the local brew) were just awesome!
I saw a frozen waterfall for the second time in my life!
I wore a Ladakhi dress for a photo opportunity!
I loved the fact that the vehicles had heaters!
I think I can do an high altitude winter trip again!
I loved the fact that the room I stayed in was heated.
I have to close my eyes and I can see those majestic mountains again!
I wonder if it is only me, or it happens to others too that only fragments of a trip remain, unless I go back and read my posts or watch the video!
When the Go Air flight started to taxi at the Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport at Leh, they announced that the outside temperature was -3 degree Celsius. I am no stranger to temperatures in minus but I never get used to them. I was happy that I was staying at the Grand Dragon Ladakh in winter because it is centrally heated.
On our arrival to the Grand Dragon Hotel, Leh, we were offered the Khata (the white scarf) as a welcome. The lobby was warm, I knew I would survive the cold. However, Leh is 11,500 meters above sea level and I was wondering how the altitude would treat me this time. It was my first experience of flying into such a high altitude. I felt fine at arrival. I didn’t take Diamox before, during or after the trip.
A Late Breakfast
As soon as we arrived we were invited to a late breakfast. Out flight landed at 10.35 am and food was what I was looking for! We were offered garlic soup as it is said to help in acclimatizing. It tasted good as well! The breakfast at the Grand Dragon is an elaborate affair. They have Indian, continental and some local jams and butter as well. I would start with fruits, go on to porridge and finish it off with their South Indian spread!
Tea, coffee and juice was also there. I enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate too. It tastes so good in cold weather. I tired the apricot apple jam and quite liked it as it was without any artificial sweeteners.
The Room with a View
After breakfast I headed to my room which was on the second floor (207). I immediately fell in love with the view of the Stok Range from my room.
After the view I searched for tea. I had Twinnings tea bags, creamer and a kettle for hot water. There were, cookies, dry fruits and fruits in my room. I was all set to enjoy my stay.
There was a comfortable double bed in my room. The room was heated. The windows would open, so I could take pictures of the Stok Range at will.
The bathroom didn’t have a bathtub. But then wasting water in Leh anyway is a bigger crime. So I was happy not to have the temptation. There was hot water and I was happy with it. The floor of the bathroom is heated for the guest’s comfort. Now that was luxury!
On the first day I was the only person to go down for lunch after that late breakfast. I had a soup and noodles, both were good. All the other meals I had at ‘Zasgyath’ were well done. The high tea was served at Tusrabs. Kahwa was my hot favorite.
Meeting the Doctor
On the first evening a lady doctor visited us. She told me that my oxygen level was 93, and I had already acclimatized. I was happy to hear that. My BP was also normal. However, that said, I still had mild headache by the night. The first night I woke up many times. The second night was more peaceful. By the third night I could happily sleep through the night.
I have a mild nose bleed from the trip but I am sure it will go away in a few days. I also realized that it is better to take the Diamox if the doctor prescribes it! I am happy that I didn’t need it as usual!
Bonfire Dinners in the Chilling Cold Weather
We had two bonfire dinners out at the terrace of the hotel! It was a barbecue. The hot rum and the fire helped a lot.
I was wrapped from head to toe. But it is doable, to sit out in -15 degrees around fire and enjoy food and drinks!
The owner of the hotel Mr Ghulam Mohiuddin sat with us had a long conversation about his family’s journey into hospitality. He said Ladakh was opened to foreigners in 1974 and 60 ‘hippies’ visited Leh that year! I wonder who they were and if they can be traced! In 1976 the family took the first foreigners in their home! The first guests were 3 foreigners who stayed with the family. They extended the home to 30 rooms eventually which was the old Dragon Hotel. Even now the family lives next to the new Grand Dragon Hotel.
We saw the paintings done by his elder brother, Gulam Mustafa. Many film crew stay in the hotel when they shoot in Ladakh. A big star wanted to buy a painting but Mr Mustafa refused as he does not sell his art!
I also enjoyed talking to the hotel staff. They were from Nepal, Solan, West Bengal, Srinagar among other places. I could see the staff quarters behind the hotel. When I asked Gaggan about heating in his room, he told me they too have heaters and cold was not a problem. The young drivers on payroll too.
I quite liked the food at the hotel. They did the dishes mildly for me. As I do not like too many spices, the food was perfect for me. I particularly enjoyed marshmallows by the bonfire as it was a first for me. The jacket potatoes were done to perfection. Desserts were awesome too!
Sauna and Steam
I enjoyed the steam and sauna for one evening. They go well the cold weather. They are located next to the gym. There are separate areas for men and women.
I saw the gym and I happily gave it a miss. My head anyway was protesting against the altitude. But if you need it, there it is.
You can book your excursions with the hotel. We did two long trips, one to Alchi and Lamayuru and the other to Thiksey and Chemdey. The hotel uses heated Innovas and their drivers are courteous.
Overall, I had a great time at the Grand Dragon, Leh, Ladakh. The central heating helped a lot to deal with the severely cold weather.
PS. I was invited by the Grand Dragon Hotel on this trip.
I started my India travel blog, Travel Tales from India in 2005. In 2016 I realized Travel Tales from India and Abroad better reflected my writings. I love to walk and ride in metros around the world. I have not been everywhere, I am not even close, but it is on my list. I also quit my job as a professor in 2015, it was a happening year! I did a Ph.D. from IIT Kanpur ages ago!
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