Find yourself a bit of high ground – not hard if you happen to be wandering in the Himalayas, get comfortable and wait for the Sun to sink low enough that its rays refracted by dense atmosphere, haze and water vapour, paint the high peaks in rich hues of orange and magenta.
Breathe deep and enjoy until the Sun disappears and the peaks turn grey; wait a bit longer and suddenly the peaks glow pink for a few moments before darkening to hard silhouettes against the star-bright sky. It’s the daily magic of High Mountain country – and doubly magical if you are able to enjoy this from the balcony of your luxurious room with all the comforts of a full service lodge.
On a flattened ridge-top, in the lush and beautiful Kumaon region of the Western Himalayas is one of the most magical mountain lodges in the subcontinent – Leti 360, where huge picture windows wrap themselves around your bedroom facing a magnificent panorama of Himalayan giants from Nanda Devi to Panch Chuli. Luxurious with a simple elegance, Leti is one of a small but increasing number of mountain lodges which, with their superb locations offer the best places to stay in the Himalayas.
Scenery apart, their location amongst vibrant hill communities, offers you the opportunity to experience the simple but culturally rich lifestyle of the local hill people, moving to the rhythm of the seasons. Cheerful, revelling in their ancient traditions and with the warm and genuine hospitality of mountain people everywhere, they draw you in with their warm smiles happy to interact and connect and share their experiences with you.
There are several such fantastic places in the Himalayas – the splendid Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge perched on a ridge above the haze of Pokhara with Fishtail and Annapuran seemingly within touching distance and surrounded by charming Gurung and Chhetri villages; the stylish Glenburn near Darjeeling with Kangchenjunga towering above it to one side and a precipitous, tea-bush covered valley dropping away on another; Samthar Farmhouse – simpler but full of character near Kalimpong.
The lovingly restored Raj era homes in the lush wildlife-filled Binsar Valley near historic Almora in the Kumaon – not far incidentally from where the great conservationist and hunter of man-eaters operated – transports you instantly to an earlier more gracious era (but with mod-cons!). But there is always place for simplicity: late this winter I sat in a room in the tiny village of Ulley at the head of a valley dwarfed by towering fanged ridges in the northern Indian district of Ladakh close to the borders of Tibet.
At 13,000 feet and in the rain shadow of the Central Himalayas this is essentially a high-altitude desert. And the scene before me is truly awe-inspiring. The valley falls away from the house with a frozen stream at the bottom of it and dense but leafless clusters of poplar and wild rose; two hundred yards away a gaggle of magpies call in raucous frustration as a 4 wolves tug and chew on the carcase of a dzo (cross between a yak and a cow) killed the day before.
High on the opposite slope balanced at the very edge of a thousand foot drop is an Ibex – scimitar horns silhouetted against a darkening sky as the first stars wheel into position. For all the simplicity of the humble homestay I’m in, I can’t think of a more awe place anywhere in the Himalayas.
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