Hotel Royal Ladakh in Leh, Ladakh

I stayed in this hotel last August, pre and post my Mentok Kangri climb.  All the team stayed there, and by and large it was an OK experience, with just a couple of quibbles.

Location, first of all.

The Hotel Royal Ladakh is a little way out of town – way too far to walk in the heat –  which is a negative.

It does, however, enjoy fabulous views and has a pretty garden where you can sit out, which is a huge positive.

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On my first stay there – pre climbing Mentok –  I had a lovely ground floor room with a great bathroom and super (if rather public) views.  There were nice touches, and there was TV, so it was a good place to have tea and rest up before the climb.

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On my exhausted return, post successful summit but nursing a broken shoulder that I didn’t yet realise I had broken (does that make sense?) I was put in a room up a couple of flights of stairs.  I explained in vain to very bored staff that I was feeling dreadful, was physically exhausted and please could I have a ground floor room.

Nope.

Could someone please carry my luggage, since my right arm was in a sling?

No one free, sorry.

So I lugged it myself (with a broken shoulder) until a kind waiter took pity.

Could I eat in my room, since I was too exhausted to go down?

Nope.  No room service.

That kind of indifference, sad to say, negated the first experience.

 

Would I stay there again?  Not so sure, mainly because of its location, which does preclude wandering into Leh.

The hotel is clean.

The rooms are decent sized and the bathrooms are good.

Food was the usual bland, indifferent buffet food, but that is pretty standard in all Leh hotels, to be honest.

 

I didn’t tell them I blogged or wrote reviews, and I paid my own bills.

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Looking for a good, reliable Indian trekking and climbing company? Look no further…

Having just returned from a very successful climbing trip to Ladakh, I want to share with you my impressions of the company with which I travelled – the Delhi based White Magic Adventure Travel.

I have trekked and hiked in the subcontinent before, and despite the continual joy and beauty of the scenery, I have usually had reservations about the outfitters, ranging from minor niggles to downright dangerous and unprofessional behaviour. There is one company here in Delhi that I would not touch with a barge pole.

No such reservations this time round.

The level of competence and professionalism I experienced at every stage of my dealings with White Magic inspired confidence, and (once my wretched shoulder gets better) will also inspire further trips with them.

I went to meet the owners of White Magic before I signed up for the trek and climb of the 6155m Mentok Kangri. Their office is in Delhi’s Gulmohar Enclave, and there was an air of calm competence that I found reassuring. Regular emails followed with kit lists, training advice, and individual queries were efficiently and speedily answered.

We all met up in Leh towards the end of July, and since Avilash Bisht (one of the owners of the company) was completing a successful climb on Mount Kun, the pre-departure logistics and the first half of the trip were handled by the charming, serious and uber-competent Tsewang Namgyal. When we met in Leh, Namgyal asked to see all of my equipment, examining everything in detail, including the quality of my glasses for summit day. He checked all my equipment, from my gaiters to boots, even asking how many pairs of socks I had and then checking them for suitablility – great thoroughness which I have never yet had with any other Indian outfitter.

On the trek we were 5 putative climbers + 1 super experienced climber + 2 trekkers who would not be attempting the climb, and we had a staff of 5 (and loads of horses and a darling noisy little donkey).P1040008

At the point when the trekkers would leave us, which was the only place with road access during the trek, Avilash and another young but experienced guide joined us, so for the summit attempt we had a crew of 7.  Since our numbers also depleted with 3 of our group deciding not to try for the summit after all, the ratio became very favourable towards we remaining 3 climbers.

The service and kindness of the staff cannot be too highly praised. Already very caring and always willing to help, they all became super heroes in my eyes.

I slipped on the way down from the summit, damaging my right arm (I thought I had sprained a muscle. Turned out I had an avulsion fracture) and from that moment onward, not only did Namgyal and Mohan virtually spirit me down to high camp then intermediate camp, the rest of the crew were amazing. My arm hurt too much even to tie my shoe laces, so with great kindness every day, some one would lace my boots for me, would pack my things, deflate my mattress, roll up my sleeping bag.  And all with a cheerful smile and a brushing off of my embarrassed thanks.

As soon as I fell, Namgyal tested my arm to see if it was broken (it was, but none of us knew for 4 days until I went for an X-ray in Delhi) as did Mohan later, and then Avilash, who put me on painkillers and into a sling.

So, on that score, full marks to White Magic. I had no qualms re their first aid knowledge. Even I didn’t know I had broken my arm, since it just looked bruised and wasn’t swollen. (Still isn’t)

Tents and equipment were all in good condition, and for the first time ever in over a decade of serious trekking, I could have dispensed with my own mattress.

Avilash told me they supply good thick mattresses, and they do.

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My (superfluous) mattress being packed for the horses.

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When Mohan thought he spotted a leak in my mattress, him & Namgyal calmly set about repairing it, without even telling me till it was finished.

Talk about service.

Food was essentially veg (as am I) so no complaints there. Very generous servings, lots of little extras like a constant supply of biscuits with tea, popcorn in the evening – so there was very little need for the energy bars I took along. I never left the mess tent feeling hungry or short changed. The cook, Ramesh, soldiered away day and night producing endless cups of soup and nutritious Indian meals, with a few stellar performances such as momos one night.

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Even at 5000+metres, there was an attempt at style on this trek.

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Most days, a hot cooked lunch, complete with crockery and cutlery (above) was carried up the slopes for us. Seriously good service.

On summit day, when I collapsed back into my tent at high camp, tired and with an aching right arm, I did not feel hungry (a rare thing for me) and this so worried the delightful first-timer in the crew, 17 year old Zakir Hussain, that he tried to spoon feed me, telling me in a surprisingly maternal way to open my mouth since I had to eat and that it was good for me.

Too, too sweet.

There was always a wide array of jams and honeys and spices and pickles and (always) hand sanitizer on the dining table. Black tea was always on offer, and served in one’s tent at wake up time – what a treat.

We started out with 2 loo tents, but ended up with just one, which wasn’t such a big deal overall despite my misgivings. The logistics of loo tents at altitude, especially when it is difficult to build suitable pits are difficult, and except for one camp site where it was very marshy, the crew managed to make the best out of a difficult job.

Summiting is always a special moment, and when I finally stumbled up onto the rocky summit of Mentok Kangri, it was to the cheers and applause of Namgyal, Mohan, Lapsong, Zakir Hussein (who may be the youngest person to have summited ??) and dear Gangu.  Avilash was behind me with one of our team. Kuntal Joisher, a terrifyingly fit young man, had even managed to change into an Everest themed T shirt, bless him, and so my summit time was a happy mix of tears and prayers and hanging up prayer flags and photos and the ceremonial offering of one of my energy bars.

The Leh office, headed by Tashi Angchuk, was just as efficient, collecting me from my non-team hotel in Leh, then going back to collect my GPS that I had forgotten.  The rental of snow boots and crampons, and airport drop off were all handled seamlessly by Tashi.

I could not have wished for a nicer group of people with whom to share such an emotional (& literal) high.

P1040041Lapsong, Zakir & Gangu hanging out.  As one does at altitude.

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Namygal and Mohan (above) getting ready to set up the fixed lines.

Avilash (below) in a rare quiet moment, at Tso Moriri.  Usually he was in the thick of things :

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Would I recommend White Magic Adventure Travel ?
100% yes.

Will I travel with them again?
Yes, just as soon as my arm heals.

The company has a great website, and though it is Delhi based, our initial team of 8 comprised 3 of us from Delhi, 4 from Bombay and 1 from the UK.

Here’s the link to their website :

http://www.whitemagicadventure.com/

Personally 100% recommended.

I paid my own way (obviously) and didn’t tell the White Magic people that I blogged until the trip was over.

Aravali Bio-Diversity Park, Gurgaon

I first discovered this impressive park last year, when I went to listen to the divine Sonam Kalra in concert.

These last few weeks have seen me re-acquainting myself with the park in a very different avatar.  I am training for a high altitude trek in Ladakh next month, and since one of my fellow trekkers lives bang next door to the park, it has become our Sunday morning training ground.  Sunil and I meet at the park at 5.30 am and walk for several hours, all rucksacked and hiking-booted-up.  I can tell you in the never-ending pre-monsoon heat and humidity, we are both seriously overdressed…

The park is huge, and since there has mercifully been no attempt to prettify it, what you have is kilometres of original vegetation – thorn trees and low scrubby bushes, with good paths winding through them.  It has a wild feeling to it, and certainly makes for more interesting walking, rather than –  say –  somewhere like Nehru Park in south Delhi (where we also train, by the way).  The land was apparently heavily mined, and you can still see the results of quarrying, but as nature takes over, that raw ugliness will soon disappear.

In the early mornings, the park feels safe. There are a couple of guards, and there are always gardeners doing their stuff-  mainly watering the kikar trees – and there are enough people out walking, running, cycling, bird-watching – it’s all quite energetic, despite the searing temperatures.

Over the course of our walks we have seen nilgai, a jungle cat, a “dhaan” or rat snake, a mongoose, birds galore – last Sunday was bee-eater convention day, clearly.  We were told there was a litter of jackal pups last Sunday, too, but we couldn’t spot them.

There are stray dogs, but they don’t seem overly aggressive.  There are often herds of cows grazing.  All quite rural, considering the back drop is the tower blocks of Gurgaon.

A good parking area, otherwise no facilities at all.  No loos, no benches, nothing.  The open-air auditorium is there of course, very close to the entrance.

For those of you who live in Gurgaon –  go use a great facility on your doorstep.

Dawn breaking over the park.

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The open-air auditorium as it usually looks…

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…and during the wonderful concert I mentioned earlier.  Magical.

 

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“Soup for trees” always makes me smile

 

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Nilgai

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It may not be our ultimate goal, Mentok Kangri (all 6250 metres of it –  help!!) but let me tell you that on a baking hot morning, this slope is a killer.

And here is Sunil acing it.

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DLF Phase 3, Sector 24, Gurgaon, HR 122002