“Wo to yahan ka sabse top wala [hotel]  hai!”

[It is the topmost hotel here!]

Thus, was The Grand Dragon Ladakh (henceforth called TGDL) summarily introduced to us by our driver Dorje Saheb when I declared that it was going to be my stay for the rest of my days in Ladakh. Looks like our Spartan ways had convinced him that I was incapable of indulging in any luxury and would rather be found sleeping under a rock than in the finest hotel in the region.

There were reasons to crave for some comfort. After two weeks of crisscrossing Ladakh, whole days on dusty or nonexistent roads, diets of Maggi and stays in expensive hotels without any comfort, I had two perpetual states – was either hungry or cold, or often both. A soft bed, heated room and hot water shower followed by good food were desperately needed.

Sometimes reality is better than expectations!

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The Gold Standard In Luxury 

TGDL had humble beginnings, the idea taking shape at one of the first guesthouses in Leh owned by the Abdu family. The guesthouse is still there but the establishment moved on to higher paradigms.

The Abdu brothers established TGDL in 2007, conceptualized as the finest luxury hotel in Ladakh that would be a unique mix of comfort, aesthetics and environment-friendly. The hotel is equipped with state of the art amenities, with a careful attention to the carbon footprints – it is centrally climate controlled, built to run even during the harsh winters of Ladakh while being solar powered. The attention to details and care for the planet is reflected across the corridors, rooms and facilities of the property.

No wonder the who-is-who of India (and abroad) decide to stay here when they are visiting Ladakh. We had our own quota of celebrity watching while we were there.

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क्यूंकि हर कोना कुछ कहता है …

[Because each corner has a story…]

Aesthetics

One of the founders of TGDL, Mr Ghulam Mustafa is a famous artist from Ladakh, well known for his work on conservation of art and heritage in the region. His eclectic taste is reflected in the lovely aesthetics of the hotel, be it the overall design with a symbiosis of tradition and modernity, or the equally enchanting décor. The walls of the hotel are adorned with beautiful paintings and portraits reflecting different moods of Ladakh, most of which have been created by Mr Mustafa himself.

Overall, TGDL is very pleasing to the eyes. It does not try to overwhelm you with too many architectural complexities, there is a beautiful simplicity that may very well represent Ladakh itself. The rooms are tastefully designed, with an eclectic combination of pastel colours, and golden and red of the dragon. We were given a tour of the rooms and suites (four categories – Deluxe and Premium rooms and Family and Luxury suites), and came back much impressed.

The only exception to this pattern is Zasgyath, the oriental restaurant overlooking the gardens with a bright red and golden décor in sharp contrast to everything else, and still fits in perfectly with its theme. 

The Views

محفلِ قدرت ہے، اک دریائے بے پایانِ حسن
آنکھ اگر دیکھے تو ہر قطرے میں ہے طوفانِ حسن

The pageant of Nature is a fathomless ocean of beauty,
If eyes were to see every drop has in it tumultuous beauty.

That feeling when you open the blinds of your window and let out a gasp at the view outside… very few places that I know, can boast of having the capability to make you do that. 

TGDL is blessed by being located in one of the most beautiful places in the world – Ladakh, and its blessings are evident to the uninitiated as soon as they take a peek outside. My favourite activity was to sit at my balcony and just look at the not-so-distant peaks of Stok. Clear blue skies, puffs of clouds that looked like scattered cotton candies and the serenity of the Himalayas, all of it made for some pretty good ogling.

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View! That incredible view! 

When Leh came under the weather and it started snowing on higher altitudes, the bare peaks turned white-grey due to the snow; and we could witness the great drama unfolding from the comforts of our room, insulated from the elements…

Indulgence 

Hot water shower, a warm bed that won’t let you shiver, and a promise of excellent food the next day – if you laugh when I mention these under indulgence, you need to travel more. When it is always a balance between spending some more on comfort and saving for the next vacation, we often settle in favour of the latter. This comfort was what our broken bodies were craving for after two weeks of wandering. It was such a relief I am telling you! 

Breakfasts at TGDL are an elaborate affair, the spread is extensive and the ambience – the setting at Zasgyath, and outdoors are the perfect way to start the day. The other meals were as good as it gets. We even got a live demonstration of how dumplings and sausages were made and were treated with exotic dishes from the region during the dinner.

The hotel comes equipped with amenities like spa, gym etc; but being the lazy soul I am, I failed (alas) to make use of any of those.

Galle Fort-Pedlar_Street

Yes, the skies are that dramatic in Ladakh! And yes, this place is that gorgeous! 

Warmth

When I think of a place in retrospective, it is not the softness of the bed, luxuries of the bathroom or the taste of the food that I remember; it is the people who make the longest lasting impressions in mind. The real warmth does not come from the climate control but radiates from the smiles that greet you in the lobby. TGDL and everyone associated with it represent the same warmth and a feeling of wellbeing that Ladakh is so uniquely famous for. They are friendly and are genuinely helpful in a warm way and I am especially thankful to Hafiz for all the support he extended during our flight cancellations due to bad weather.

We made a good friend in TGDL – Khan Saheb as I fondly call Humayun, who became our friend and companion during the advent, in fact, Nubra and Turtuk. He is in fact a much better photographer than I will ever be and is a gem of a human being. A friend gained on the road means a journey well travelled…

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A Happy place! 

Adventures

Talking of adventures, we had a great share of that during the trip and some of those we experienced while travelling with TGDL. We travelled to Nubra and got to click some good photographs of the Bactrian camels, travelled all the way to Turtuk to experience the Balti life and then came back playing hide and seek with bad weather on the Khardung La.

On the sober side, we experienced the heritage and culture of Leh during the heritage walk, visited a living textile museum and accidentally stumbled upon the Ladakh Festival that had commenced on the same day.

However, let’s take a pause and let the stories come up at their own pace. The stories (and photographs) will come very soon…

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