An Active Summer Holiday in Ladakh + The Maldives
Looking for summer holiday inspiration? Dive into this incredible itinerary in Ladakh, India and the Maldives, a trip designed by our Asia experts for a client’s family holiday this August, filled with adventure, culture and relaxation.
The remote and wildly beautiful region of Ladakh is quite unlike any other part of India, a world of dramatic, snow-capped mountains, imposing monasteries and meandering rivers. Tourism only kicked off here in the 1970s and, as such, the landscapes remain wonderfully unspoilt and free from the crowds found elsewhere in India. Despite being so far from civilisation, there are exciting ways to explore this captivating destination, combining luxury with action and authenticity.
We love Ladakh as a location for active families thanks to its huge wealth of exciting activities and scope for learning; we can arrange visits to local monasteries, nunneries and temples, plus meditation classes, trekking, cycling, cooking lessons and rafting. We suggest our clients stay in traditional village houses, beautifully renovated yet rustic homes consisting of two-three ensuite bedrooms and always taken exclusively. Each village house offers remarkable views and great access to the finest sights and activities, as well as a private chef and accompanying guide. It takes at least a day or two to acclimatise at this altitude which is why we recommend no less than seven nights in the region.
For clients looking to combine an exhilarating trip of this nature this with time on the beach, we suggest flying to the Maldives. Not only is it only short flight away, but there are a vast variety of islands to choose from – our experts will make sure to find the perfect fit for you. For those looking for a casual, relaxed island experience that echoes the atmosphere in Ladakh, we recommend Six Senses Laamu, a beautiful beach escape that redefines barefoot luxury.
DAY 1 + 2
On arrival at Delhi Airport, you will be met at the gate and fast-tracked through immigration before being met by our representative and driven to The Imperial hotel, an urban oasis that could easily double as an art history museum, with no less than three galleries dedicated to colonial and post-colonial art – the largest collection in the city.
The following morning, you will be collected and driven to the airport in plenty of time to check in for your domestic flight to Leh Airport. On arrival, you will be driven to the River House near Stakna, around an hour from the airport. The River House is located in Stakna’s neighbouring village, Ranbirpur. The two villages are separated by the river Indus and the area is surrounded by the Stok Kangri range, offering spectacular views of the mountains and three monasteries – Stakna, Matho and Thiksey.
Interestingly, a hillock located close to the River House is believed to have once housed a castle of ‘Bon’, an ancient religion that dominated Ladakh in the pre-Buddhist era. The house is located on the banks of the Indus, with stunning views from the bedrooms and two of the bathrooms. As you will be acclimatising today, we recommend that you spend the day taking it very easy, relaxing at your house. Your guide will give you a thorough briefing of your itinerary today and there will be therapists at your disposal should you want to have a massage.
After breakfast, depending on how you are feeling, head out on a walk around the village of Stakna and visit Stakna monastery.
Literally meaning ‘tiger’s nose’, Stakna was given this name because it was built on a hill shaped exactly like that. Founded in the late 16th century by a Bhutanese scholar, Stakna monastery is the residence of about 30 monks. Return to your village house for lunch, then in the afternoon, cycle from Stakna to the village of Shey, a two to three hour round trip, before drinks and dinner are served at the River House.
For those who are prepared for an early start, we recommend departing at around 5.30am and cycling for 30 minutes to Thiksey monastery to experience the early morning Buddhist prayers. Built around 600 years ago, Thiksey monastery is one of the finest examples of Ladakhi religious architecture. The monastery consists of twelve levels ascending the hillside crowned by the current Lama’s private residence. Below the monastery proper are chapels and houses stretching down the hillside where 100 monks of the Yellow Hat Buddhist sect reside.
After this incredible experience, return to the River House for breakfast, then cycle for two hours to the impressive Hemis monastery. Ladakh’s largest monastery, it was built in 1630 and belongs to the Red Hat sect. After you have visited the monastery and the museum, enjoy a picnic lunch at a nearby spot, before a walk of around an hour and a half up to the Gotsang caves, named after the renowned Buddhist teacher Gyalwang Gotsang, who once meditated there in the 12th century. It’s a cycle of 1.5 hours back to the River House, where drinks and dinner will be served.
After breakfast you will cycle for 1.5 hours to Stok village before a full day hike. The hike we are recommending is the first day of the four-day return trek to the top of Stok Kangri, which is the highest in the Stok range and Ladakh’s most famous mountain. You will follow a small river up a narrow valley for around an hour and a half to two hours until you reach Changma, where you could stop at the tiny tea house for a rest and some refreshments. The higher you climb, the more impressive the scenery gets, with some beautiful and unusual rock formations and stunning views of the Stok range.
You may wish to finish your hike at Changma after having a picnic lunch, returning the way you came. For those who would like more of a challenge, it is well worth walking another hour to an hour and a half to Moncarmo, where again there is nothing but a teahouse and even more stunning views. Return to Stok and check in to your new village house.
After breakfast you will cycle for 30 minutes to Choglosar before a raft down the river for three and a half hours. This route consists mostly of Grade II and III easy rapids. It passes through astoundingly beautiful mountains, many of them with tiny hamlets and imposing old monasteries nesting among the valleys and ends at the Zankasar confluence at Nimoo.
You will then be driven by bike for 10 minutes to your next village house – Nimoo. After lunch, head off on a three hour walk around the Nimoo Valley, then return to explore the village for a fascinating insight into rural Ladakhi life, before heading back to the village house to relax. Drinks followed by dinner will be served later at Nimoo House.
This morning after breakfast you will be driven by bike to the entrance of Likhir village from where you will cycle to Likhir monastery and school where approximately 40 monks study per year. A visit to the monastery will leave you awestruck by the beauty of the illustrative paintings on the walls, the spectacular 25-foot statue of the Buddha and the witty construction of the buildings. Cycle for around three to four hours from Likhir to Yangthang village where you’ll enjoy a picnic lunch, then either walk or cycle back to Likhir from where you will drive back to Nimoo village, just 20 minutes by bike. Farewell drinks and dinner will be served later at the Nimoo House.
This morning after breakfast you will be driven for an hour back to the domestic airport for your flight to Delhi. On arrival in Delhi Airport, you will be met at the gate, fast-tracked through immigration before being met by our representative and driven back to the The Imperial for a two-night stay.
DAY 9 + 10
Using The Imperial as your base, make sure that you take the time to discover the fabulous city of Delhi – too often it is overlooked in itineraries and some of its treasures and history are left unexplored. The ancient culture of Old Delhi and grandeur of New Delhi, combined with excellent shops, hotels and restaurants, mean that it is definitely worth spending time in the city itself. We always recommend arranging some specific c+l activities, unique to us, that will bring this incredible city to life, and are able to organise a car and driver to be at your disposal or you might prefer to get around by local taxi or rickshaw.
For foodies, we suggest exploring the bustling streets and bazaars of Old Delhi by bicycle rickshaw, stopping at various traditional food stalls en route. At each stop you will unravel the history, traditions and culture behind the ‘house specialties’. The experience will end with lunch at a well-known Mughlai eatery in Old Delhi. For those wanting to see Delhi from a different viewpoint, we suggest cycling through Mehrauli District. Starting early to avoid the heat and traffic, you’ll be led off the beaten track to unknown temples teaming with monkeys, deserted tombs, colourful markets, rose gardens and much more. The beauty of this time in the morning is that there is rarely another tourist in sight. Alternatively, the Nizamuddin Basti walk will introduce you to life on the streets: vendors selling sewiyan, the calligraphy and attar shops, the tombstones of unknown ancestors, children enjoying themselves on a broken cart. Interactions with residents make the Basti come alive and give it a soul that leaves behind an impression that cannot be captured by a camera. It is the experience of everyday life from the perspective of the Basti youth that makes this tour unique.
Today you will be collected from The Imperial hotel and driven to Delhi International Airport in plenty of time before your onward flight to Laamu. Once you arrive at the domestic airport after having enjoyed a bird’s eye view of the beautiful Maldives archipelago, you will be met by your butler who will accompany you on the 20-minute speedboat ride to Laamu island. Laamu Atoll forms the southern limit of Central Maldives. It is mostly rimmed by barrier reefs, the broadest of which are topped by islands. There are many islands along its eastern and southern boundaries, however only 12 of these are inhabited. This atoll is quite regular except for the projection of the reef at its NE corner. Its reefs are generally of little breadth, with no signs of vilu (deep pools), except for its eastern fringes which are covered with islands that are quite large by Maldivian standards. The lagoon is comparatively open, containing scattered shoal patches.
DAYS 12 – 15
Owned and run by the luxury hotel brand Six Senses, Laamu has a very natural and chic style. We love the eco-friendly ethos of the island and the fact that it is big enough to cycle around, but still manages to remain intimate. The service is exceptional at Laamu, whilst still maintaining an atmosphere of laid back, relaxed luxury. In our opinion, Laamu’s perfect white and natural beach is one of the best in The Maldives, offering world-class dive and snorkel sites (during the day and at night) and incredible surf between May and November. Water sports are plentiful including water skiing, windsurfing and catamaran sailing. We love arranging private picnics on a neighbouring desert island or a barbecue dinner on the sandbank. The surrounding islands also make for a fun day island hopping, snorkelling amongst the colourful coral reef or discovering the local island culture.
The villas are spacious, light and natural, with enormous open bathrooms. Laamu plays host to six fabulous bars and restaurants including Longitude, the impressive over water all-day dining restaurant. Dinner is usually à la carte, but twice a week there’s an impressive buffet dinner with live cooking stations. Leaf is perched above the organic garden and serves up delicious and healthy food, most of which is straight out of the garden below. There’s also a Japanese restaurant, Zen, on an upper deck by the Chill Bar — perfect for an evening cocktail followed by fresh sashimi! On land is a fantastic Six Senses Spa, with an extensive array of treatments, as well as complimentary yoga and aerobics classes, along with holistic extras including de-stress workshops and acupressure sessions. Additionally, there is a jungle cinema, and the fabulous communal, ocean facing pool which has a hip bar and restaurant, offering fresh-from-the-oven pizzas, salads, and home-made ice-cream and sorbets.
After a wonderful and relaxing stay, wave goodbye to your island paradise and prepare for the journey home.