Sunday, August 14 2022

Dive In

Travel isn’t reward for working, it’s education for living.

That’s the peerless Anthony Bourdain, continuing to bless us from the afterlife with his wisdom. Indeed, if you’ve been feeling a sense of ennui (no? just me?) and general malaise, it’s worth remembering what travel to faraway lands can teach us. I last went to Ladakh 12 years ago, and that journey remains my most unforgettable travel experience even today. The people, the air, the lands, the food—what is it about this cold desert, inhospitable for so many months a year, that absolutely envelopes you in its warmth? Tell us, if you find out.


Editor’s note: There is so much travel content everywhere—websites, blogs, reviews…and yet it is almost impossible to find trustworthy recommendations except from friends or fam. We partnered with Urbanaut—founded and run by the amazing Samyukta Ranganathan—precisely to help you rediscover India. You’ll get their travel recommendation once a month. We love the integrity and passion that Samyukta and her team bring to everything they do. And no, we’re not making a dime out of this. As with all our weekend newsletters, this is about supporting the work of talented, committed founders and journalists. That’s the splainer way:)


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Experiences we love

Take a trip to Ladakh this season

The TLDR: It’s much easier to get to Ladakh than you would think—especially if you live in Delhi or Mumbai (direct flights!). Visit before the middle of October to get the best of this magical destination—with Urbanaut in your pocket of course. 


A reminder from Urbanaut: We know downloading an app is a pain—but you will not regret getting the Urbanaut app (and if we’re wrong, it’s an easy delete!). We’ve got tons of curated recommendations that you can save and plan with, and fantastic experiences that you can book with your kids, folks, pets and friends. What you see in this newsletter is but a tiny slice of all the options that await on the app. 


Let’s dive right in and give you some ideas about things you can do this month in Leh. We’re going to switch up the format a bit and give you a full holiday peppered with unforgettable Urbanaut experiences that will hopefully do justice to this incredible place. 


Some R ‘n’ R at a homestay: Day 1: Land in Leh and take the day off. Seriously, the altitude is no joke and most tourists ignore the advice. Don’t be that guy. Check in to a lovely hotel like Nimmu House or homestay like Nimmu House or like Jade House and relish your forced rest.


Leh Old Town Heritage Walk: Days 2 & 3: Start with a wondrous walking tour of Old Leh. This is a fabulous way to discover the architectural and cultural heritage of the old town. ​​It is located on the southern slope of a rocky hill and preserves Ladakh’s ‘living heritage’ in the face of increased urbanisation and unplanned modernization. 


Silk Route Revival Meal: The walk leaves you feeling entirely enlightened—as walks usually do—and you can dedicate the rest of your day to pure pleasure. Indulge in a soulful meal at one of the most atmospheric restaurants in Ladakh. The dishes are those that have made their way down the Silk Route, drawing on Leh’s history as a trading town linking Tibet, Kashmir, Central Asia and Yarkhand. Using mountain herbs and spices, and traditional cooking techniques, the seven or 10-course meal is one to remember.


Stargaze from a coffee shop: Take the evening off. Perch yourself at a coffee shop in the Old Town—Bodhi Terrace is a good option, and the locals love Lehvenda Cafe or Lala’s Art Cafe. At night, glance ever so slightly up toward the sky and watch a literal tapestry of stars descend over you. Overheard in Ladakh: “it’s like the sky has a bad case of dandruff”. We’ve never liked dandruff so much. 


Serenity Trail: An Introduction to Monasteries: If you’re in Ladakh, visits to the ubiquitous monasteries are an absolute must. Avoid a cursory trip though and instead try our guided tour. You’ll be taken on an immersive trip to Hemis and Thiksey monasteries with a knowledgeable guide—ensuring you get the most out of your visit.


Stok Palace Heritage Hotel: Days 4 & 5: make your way to the serene village of Stok—about 20 minutes from Leh but presenting a different feel altogether. Stay at the 195-year-old Stok Palace, which still serves as the summer home for descendants of the Namgyal dynasty. You can choose to stay in the heritage hotel section or at the ethereal ‘Chulli Bagh’ villas in the orchard. Brushes with royalty are almost guaranteed.


Stok Heritage Walk: Maybe you want to spend the day doing nothing, but if you get to Stok village early enough, and enthusiasm is your forte—try the Heritage Walk experience. It culminates at the Chulli Bagh and presents a different experience than the Leh walk.


A Bodhic ExperienceYou’ll want to take it easy the rest of the day and soak in the surroundings. The next morning, an absolute must-try, can’t-miss is this Bodhic Experience—an immersive tête-à-tête with the in-house monk for the morning prayer in the Ladakh Royal family’s temple. Get into complete relaxation mode by partaking in a meditation session. Then, if you wish, you can sit with him for a question-and-answer session. 


Explore Nubra Valley: Days 5-7: Wend your way to Nubra—home of the two-humped camel and a favourite with tourists. Avoid the crowds and stay at the glorious Lchang Nang Retreat or the equally stunning The Kyagar—whose owners come from a long line of Ladakhi hospitality (their ancestors served Silk Route traders). A visit to the stunning Kyagar Tso is a must and if you have the desire to explore a bit further, a trip to the otherworldly Tso Moriri comes highly recommended. While Pangong Tso is overrun with not-so-respectful tourists, Tso Moriri is still relatively undiscovered and even more incredible to behold.  


Wind down in Sumur: Try our Sundowner at the Dunes in this peaceful village—which is away from the crowds of Hunder dunes and absolutely breath-taking. You can also experience Local Cuisine @ The Old House, a quaint and immersive local experience to give you all the feels.


Experiences in Leh: Days 8-10: Hopefully you’re already feeling very relaxed with the mix of experiences and down-time. During your last couple of days in Leh, you could choose to do nothing or try out a few more things if you’re trying to maximise. Culinary experiences are a win. Ladakh on a Plate is a brilliant way to relish local, fresh cuisine one last time. If you feel like you’ve been doing a lot of driving and not much activity despite being in the Great Wide Open, why not Pedal through Leh? In fact, if you’re the adventure-seeking sort, there are plenty of options for you—ride pillion on a motorbike, go rafting in the Zanskar, or try mountain biking.


Or do nothing. Walk the streets, soak in the peace and the warmth as you channel your own inner Anthony Bourdain—marvelling at the priceless education you’ve received merely by being a guest in Ladakh. You’ll be back. 

What's up urbanaut

Ok, it’s time for introductions—so you know who we are. Urbanaut curates authentic recommendations from those who know best—creative, discerning locals in different cities. We often joke that even if no one else ever uses Urbanaut, we have a treasure trove of places that we would have never heard of without this job. So win-win for us! But 25k+ travellers do use our app just in case you were wondering!

We’re an early-stage travel tech startup (fancy lingo for the win!), female-founded, and with dreams of being in cities and countries around the world. The discerning traveller is having their moment, and we’re here for it—and we sure as hell plan to be a part of it!

We’ve got recommendations in 25+ cities and bookable experiences that you’ve never heard of, but definitely want to try in Goa, Mumbai, Alibag, Manali, Ladakh and Dharamshala—and we’ll be launching soon in plenty of exciting new destinations in India and abroad. 

Download Urbanaut on the App Store or Play Store to get started. Or visit our website (we’re better on the app, but we get it) to view our experiences and recommendations!

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