For those wanting to get away from it all and take a breather from the frenetic pace of day-to-day life, there are few places as well suited as the mountainous landscapes of Ladakh, as our co-founder Henry Comyn found out when he travelled to India in 2019...
Written by Henry Comyn
After the wonderful chaos of Mumbai and the rich history and culture of Rajasthan, I was looking forward to ending this trip to India with a spot of serenity in Ladakh. The region has the lowest population density in India by far, so is a million miles away from the packed city streets I’d visited in the first half of my trip. Anybody who has travelled to different regions in India will tell you that each has its own distinct culture and character, so I wasn’t surprised that, in some ways, arriving in Ladakh felt like arriving in a whole new country.
Bordered by Tibet, India, Pakistan and China, this part of the world has historically been at the centre of political unrest, creating a melting pot of people, cultures and religions, including Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism. The best way to understand and appreciate the diverse culture here – and our main reason for visiting – are experiences curated by Shakti. Set up over a decade ago, Shakti works with local communities in the Himalayas to set up boutique and extremely comfortable homes. These stylish properties provide the access point for our exploration of Ladakh. While in other regions the focus is primarily on hiking in Ladakh there is so much to experience that we split our time from exploring on foot and bike to travelling further afield in 4x4s.
Over the course of our week in Ladakh we stayed at three properties – each with their own unique character and charm, and providing a different access point to exploring the mountains – our guide was always on hand to explain what we were seeing and discuss the place for the next day.
One of our favourite days was downhill mountain biking from a high pass through the remote villages – stopping off to explore monasteries and crumbling temples – all while taking in the – Ladakh incredible scenery. The landscape here is starkly beautiful, with patches of lush green fields and orchards dotted across otherwise stark desert, tumbling down into the Indus River.
Each day brought a new experience, whether it was visiting local schools, monasteries and markets, or a full day of mountain biking from the top of the hill down towards our home for the night, meeting locals and getting to know the spirit of the place along the way.
The people and culture are what makes Ladakh special. From the ancient Buddhist monasteries where you can hear the conch shell blown each morning calling people to prayer, to the witch doctor that we visited who helped a local woman put her husband’s spirit to rest, being so removed from the comfort zone of daily life was a meditative and spiritual experience. We also got to take a peek into the traditional crafts and craftspeople of the region; Ladakh is famous for its history of brass work, as many workers came to the region to make monuments to Buddha. We were able to meet some local craftsmen making ornate brass tools using traditional methods, and learn about how these crafts have been passed down to modern day artisans.
Each evening after a day of exploring, we got a chance to rest and recuperate in total luxury. The service, food and thoughtful touches that Shakti provide is like nothing else available in the Himalayas. You’re able to really get a feel for the Ladakh culture in an authentic way, connect with nature and enjoy complete comfort all at one – it’s a delicate balance that they’ve truly mastered. Everything you could possibly think of is looked after, from your drink of choice and a biscuit in bed to start the day slowly, all the way through to the delicious evening meal and lighting a fire for you to unwind beside before you sleep, ready to face a new day of experiences tomorrow.
At various times Henry has called Hong Kong, the Middle East, Ethiopia and Turkey home. His early exposure to travel sparked a lifelong thirst for new experiences and has driven him to undertake a number of adventures since: driving 10,000 miles from London to Mongolia, working in Uganda to support start-ups with DFID and spending six months trekking in the Nepalese Himalaya and India.