A month after the creation of Ladakh as a Union Territory, Amita Sarwal spent a week there.
She, met various Ladakhis, visitors, and tour operators. Each one had a similar concept – advocating and upgrading Ladakhfs charms!
Standing majestically on a hillock, is the circa-1820 Stok Palace, a recognised landmark in Ladakh. Residing here, in what has been turned into a boutique heritage hotel, is H.E. Raja Jigmed Wangchuk Namgyal.
The owner is well aware that the dynamics of development, hence forth are challenging. Yet he is optimistic about the future of Ladakh with its recently attained status as Union Territory.
Over a cup of coffee in Stok’s sunlit Chulli Bagh villas complex, surrounded by tall, slender polar trees and apricot orchards, Namgyal spells out his plans, pertaining to Ladakh’s prime USP – tourism.
“I have a Master Plan for overall development for the region of Ladakh. We also need to continue safe guarding our heritage for future generations. One of the intents is to request Government of India to give tourism an industry status. This will decentralise the sector so that the people of Ladakh can get better job opportunities. It will also provide openings and prospects for equal growth to other destinations within Ladakh. Priority would be to create world-standard infrastructure and facilities for travel, tourism and hospitality. In addition, related institutes should be set up for teaching and learning. Things are changing, but we now hope, as a Union Territory, these changes will come faster,” Namgyal, 50, states about a land mass which has so much to offer.
According to reports, 3,27,366 inbound tourists, including 49,477 foreigners visited Leh in 2018, marking an increase of over 50,000 visitors compared to the previous year. (Source: a senior official of the state tourism department.) “The Responsible Tourism Collective Ladakh, under process of being formed, will comprise a group of businesses that are actively involved in, or pertaining to engage tourism-related activities. These would be well on their way to achieving a sustainable, responsible and ethical business approach. The Collective shall bring together various sustainability advisors to empower not only the business members but also the tourists and travelers to Ladakh’s respective destinations. Attracting and expanding the appropriate market of conscious consumers is our key objective,” affirms Namgyal.
The Collectivefs threefold objective is:
Further, Collective members could be classified into (but may not be restricted to) catering to Heritage or Adventure tourism, Restaurants, Accommodation and Experiential sightseeing. The Collective’s platform will enable responsible and sustainable businesses to exchange ideas and build a framework for activating other businesses, tourism stakeholders, policy makers and consumers to transition towards the same methodology.
Ladakh’s strong initiative will be given relevant exposure through media releases, social media, website, road shows and other marketing tools.
Realising the significance of education for this industry, Namgyal affirms the Collective will partner with educational institutions by offering a series of talks and lectures. Internship and volunteer opportunities will also be made available to students with an aim to raise awareness of the significant career opportunities within a responsible tourism industry.
In the distance, Ladakh’s spectacularly jagged, stark mountains embracing the mystical Buddhist ex-kingdom of, lying at a height of over 3,000 mt., also known as the cold desert, forms the highest plateau in the region.
Strategically located at the crossroads of important trade routes of a distant past, it is now opening its doors to welcome not only tourists but educationists, industrialists, developers, healthcare specialists and corporate professionals.
In the land of centuries old gompas, (Tibetan Buddhist monasteries), their interiors dramatically awash with colourful, intricately detailed hand-painted murals, whitewashed stupas and statuary of countless bodhisattvas. Bright, fluttering prayer flags share their spiritual messages metaphorically, while prayer wheels spinning clockwise, resound with the chanting of ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ and other eloquent mantras. Ribbon-smooth black bitumen highways lead to and from Ladakh – built to perfection by the numerous Army battalions posted across the land.
Despite a variation of temperatures from a warm 22 degrees in summer to a chilling -20 degrees in winter, and lying in a rain shadow area, Ladakh gets only 10-15 rainy days annually in June and July. Taking advantage of the brilliant sunny days, solar panels dot the landscape increasingly as an alternative, natural source of electricity.
“Living here has a different meaning in timelessness. It is a privilege, an honour, and most importantly a sense of responsibility, to preserve, conserve and restore the rich, genteel legacy of Ladakh,” Namgyal signs off.
The Stock Palace Heritage Hotel
Built by Ladakhi craftsmen, the Stok Palace continues to be the sheltered abode of the Namgyal Dynasty.
It traces its origin to its 10th century founder Lhachen Palgygon. With its 198 years of history that encapsulates the lifestyle of the rulers of Ladakh, the Palace was blessed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1980 when it opened its doors as an experiential heritage hotel for discerning global travellers.
Elegantly preserved, with H.E. Jigmed Wangchuk Namgyal personally and meticulously masterminding the restoration, he reveals, “We used traditional methods and elements, which helped revive a dying craft. The original furniture and textiles were sensitively reconditioned and are being used in the guest suites.”
Aditya Mukherji, GM, Stok Palace Heritage Hotel then adds, “Tourism is changing the ethos of Ladakh, just as urbanisation does in most places that it touches. Our endeavour at Stok Palace is to create spaces and experiences which leave our guests with more to think about and take back than just a pretty place. Tourism need not just be about the sights and sounds, but rather encapsulate the way of life of the destination. It is also an understanding of a philosophy which can be imbibed in our daily lives (that has been lost in our urban chambers). Our success lies in providing a unique experience to our guests amidst the culture and heritage of Ladakh.
Mukherji then continues, “In comparison, the experience at Chulli Bagh, set amidst fruit orchards, offers a totally different holiday. Chulli Bagh villas are constructed using conventional Ladakhi building materials – stone, wood and mud – as used in the 200-year old palace. Staying in such a traditional building fitted with contemporary amenities, is an interesting juxtaposition of the old and new.”