The Ultimate Travelling Camp (TUTC), is a nomadic mobile super-luxury camp that introduces the discerning traveller to different adventures in carefully selected exceptional locations within India.
TUTC won two awards at the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Gold Awards 2015. PATA is the leading voice and authority on travel and tourism in the Asia Pacific region. TUTC won under the Heritage & Culture category for their endeavours to preserve legacies of culture, flora & fauna, performing art forms, secret recipes and ancient healing forms, as well as under the Marketing Media category for their Consumer Travel Brochure. The awards ceremony took place at the Bangalore International Exhibition Centre in September 2015 during the PATA Travel Mart 2015.
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The Art Of Glamping
When India’s only nomadic luxury camp sets up base in Ladakh’s picturesque alpine terrain.
When India’s only nomadic luxury camp sets up base in Ladakh’s picturesque alpine terrain, you know you’re in for an experience of a lifetime. Prachi Joshi goes glamping with The Ultimate Travelling Camp (TUTC) and comes away impressed.
Dawn broke over the horizon as my flight hurtled through pink and orange-hued clouds. I was desperate to catch a glimpse of the Himalayas from the air, but the weather gods didn’t seem too kind. Then, suddenly just as we began our descent, the clouds parted and we were zooming past snow-capped peaks, over a rugged Martian landscape; just before we landed, I glimpsed a red-and-white monastery precariously hugging the side of a cliff. Touchdown, Ladakh – the land of high passes and spectacularly jagged peaks, of red-robed monks and white-washed stupas, of fluttering prayer flags and a Zen-like spirituality.
It was early July and hordes of tourists had descended upon Leh and the airport was a cacophony of mixed tongues. My husband and I dragged our bags off the carousel and walked out into the crisp morning. We had been warned about the thin mountain air but it washed over us like a cool sheet, a relief after being cooped up in a completely booked flight. Our guide and driver were waiting for us and we were whisked away to Chamba Camp Thiksey, a 45-minute drive from Leh airport. Located in a large clearing near Thiksey Monastery, TUTC’s camp was a welcome respite from the hubbub of Leh. The large reception marquee was beautifully appointed with oversized sofas, period furniture, and a small gift shop. While we checked-in, the resident doctor checked our blood pressure and oxygen levels to make sure that the thin air was not affecting us adversely. Our smiling valet brought us a welcome drink, aptly called Himalayan Delight – a hot concoction of Earl Grey tea, honey, and local apricot jam – and it quickly became our favourite drink of choice.
Our luxury suite tent was pristine white and made of triple-layered canvas, which was weather-proof, fire-resistant, and offered natural insulation. The spacious tent sat on a raised thick wooden deck, which also served as a patio giving a splendid view of the yellow-flowered alfalfa field and the majestic Stok Mountain Range – the sheer pleasure of waking up to the Himalayas practically in your front yard never got old. Inside the tent, a king-size four-poster bed occupied pride of place, complete with soft sheets, a pillow menu, wispy curtains, and a bejewelled chandelier hanging above. The rest of the room was done up tastefully – gleaming hardwood floors, Kashmiri carpets, a vintage travel trunk, elegant colonial furniture, colourful woollen throws, and a complementary refreshments bar. The en-suite bathroom with its deep copper washbasin, shower cubicle, and Ayurveda-inspired amenities could rival any five-star hotel bathroom.
Our first day at the camp was given to acclimatisation. We had a long, leisurely breakfast – al fresco, outside the dining tent and with a view of the Thiksey Monastery. Fruits, juices, eggs, cereal, and more made an appearance, all washed down with some excellent coffee, and accompanied by an impressive bakery basket of flaky croissants, airy muffins, and pillowy bread rolls. TUTC’s kitchen staff was truly adept at conjuring up all sorts of cuisines – during our stay we had a range of Indian, Continental, and local Ladakhi dishes, all meticulously executed, artfully presented, and uniformly delicious.
After the mandated acclimatisation rest day (spent napping, eating, lazing about, watching the sun set, and eating some more), we stepped out of the camp for a scenic drive across the Indus River to the 15th-century Matho Monastery perched high up in the Stok Mountains. Here, our guide Namgyal Dorje gave us a crash course in Buddhism as we explored the monastery and the upcoming art and culture museum. From the terrace of the under-construction museum we had a sweeping view of the Indus valley flanked by the Ladakh range and the Stok range with the mighty river gushing through it. Later, we went exploring Leh – crowded, dusty, choc-a-bloc with cars and bikes – it’s no wonder we made a beeline for the quiet environs of our camp where we stayed put for the evening. There were long walks in Thiksey village, a gander past the many chortens that lined one of the boundary walls of the camp, and a local dinner to the lilting tunes of the kopong (Ladakhi guitar).
Our visit coincided, quite luckily for us, with the renowned Hemis Festival. We drove to Hemis Monastery, about an hour’s drive from the camp, where TUTC had arranged for us to have VIP seats. From the balcony we had a bird’s eye view of the proceedings – monks in colourful outfits and elaborate masks performed ritual dances to the beats of drums, cymbals, and trumpets. The festival is held to celebrate the birthday of Lord Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche), an 8th-century Buddhist master widely revered as the second Buddha. After an exhilarating day at the Hemis Monastery, we returned to camp but stopped to visit Thiksey Monastery. It was 6.30 p.m. and it was the monks’ dinnertime. They kindly invited us to join them in their simple meal of thukpa (Tibetan noodle soup with noodles) and salty butter tea – probably the most delicious meal we had in Ladakh. The experience was made more special since we got a chance to interact with a group of young monks, an informal affair accompanied by a lot of questions and laughter. We later climbed up to the terrace of the monastery just in time to watch the setting sun cast a golden glow over the Leh valley.
Day 4 began bright and early as we left the Thiksey Camp to drive to Chamba Camp Diskit, TUTC’s second camp in Ladakh located in Nubra Valley. It was a long drive, nearly five hours of it, but the highlight was our passage through Khardung La – the highest motorable road in the world. It was a rough ride, with the rains having washed away parts of the road, but the view from the top was worth it. It had been a long winter and the pass was still lined with thick snow and everywhere we looked we could see the brown mountaintops liberally streaked stark white. As we descended into the Nubra Valley, we were met by the confluence of two rivers, Nubra and Shyok, flanked by craggy mountains of the Ladakh Range, interspersed here and there with pockets of green where tiny villages had sprung up. Chamba Camp Diskit is just outside Diskit village and is done up in a more rustic style compared to the Thiksey camp. The surrounding dramatic landscape added to the rough-and-ready camping vibe. The tent itself was anything but rough – the triple-layered beige tent stood on a solid wooden deck with a private sit-out and an uninterrupted view of the Diskit Monastery, which seems to have been hewn out of the very cliff it stood on. Inside, a four-poster bed, bright orange furniture, and a gorgeous vintage leather trunk-turned-wardrobe completed the safari camp style.
The next day we went out exploring the many villages in Nubra Valley. The highlight was Tirith village where a 350-year-old Ladakhi house still stands, complete with a traditional kitchen preserved along with its old stove, copper and brass utensils, and a wood-beamed ceiling blackened with three centuries of soot. We chatted with some women from the village who plied us with cups of chhang, the local tipple of choice made with fermented barley. Later that evening, we drove to the Hunder sand dunes – a surreal landscape of tall, undulating dunes hemmed in by the snow-covered Ladakh Range. Seated astride the two-humped Bactrian camels, we felt much like the nomadic merchants of centuries ago when the Silk Road passed through here.
On our last day in Ladakh, we made our way back from the Diskit camp to the Thiksey camp, via an alternate route that went through Wari La. This is a lesser-frequented mountain pass compared to Khardung La but no less scenic. It was a bright, sunny day and the sky had taken on a stunning cobalt hue. We drove through the alpine Himalayan landscape, encountering yaks and dzos (a hybrid of cow and yak), lightning quick marmots dashing about amongst the yellow buttercups, and a few golden eagles soaring overhead. By now the Thiksey camp felt like home. With a personal valet, a warmly hospitable staff, and a talented chef in the kitchen, TUTC was a ‘camping’ experience like no other.
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When We Went Glamping in the Land of Lamas
I wrapped my jacket tighter around myself as I walked out of the Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport in Leh. There was a nip in the air; winter was to arrive soon. It was still summer, though. I was wide-eyed, awake, and hungry as I walked in the direction of my personal guide, and driver, Phunshuk (à la 3 Idiots) and Salim. “This is going to be a trip of a lifetime in the Land of Lamas,” I muttered to myself. This was just the beginning of my rather adventurous six nights and seven days of glamping with The Ultimate Travelling Camp (TUTC) and experiencing the Ladakhi summer. Read on.
My trip was divided into—the first leg was a stay at the Chamba Camp, Thiksey, and the second at the Chamba Camp, Diskit.
TUTC’s Chamba Camp, Thiksey, was a 22-minute drive from the airport, passing through pastoral fields, multi-hued mountains, prayer flags, and colourfully decorated monasteries. Upon reaching the Thiksey Camp, I was greeted by traditionally-dressed Ladakhi women. The second camp at Diksit, Nubra, was a long, long drive away, across the Nubra Valley. I distinctly remember the entire staff, all smiles, waiting to receive us at the entrance of the camp for our second leg.
The tents, both Thiksey and Diskit, exuded a luxe gypsy vibe. Although they were rustic on the outside, their interiors were fully-equipped with the facilities of a luxurious hotel accomodation—24-hour butler service, plug sockets, hot-cold shower, quality toiletries, a small wooden chest (mini bar) and more. The decor was fine-finished, with wooden chandeliers, Persian rugs, wooden flooring, and ivory bedspreads. It also had a sit-out area with camp-style chairs, where I started most of my mornings, sipping on some tea and enjoying flower blossoms (planted right outside the tents). The snow-capped peaks in the distance were a sight to behold. More often than not, I would end up chatting with the women tending to the green spaces around the tent.
The entire camp area was beautified with picture-perfect, vibrant flowers and vegetation. Each element of the camp—reception, guest tents, restaurant, etc—was connected with stone-made walkways.
Being a hard core foodie, my meals were one of my biggest concerns. But at the TUTC camps, meals turned out to be nothing but elaborate glimpses of the culinary magic. From local Indian to global cuisines, the camp’s restaurant served meals prepared using farm-fresh ingredients grown stone’s throw away from the reception area. My days would usually begin with fresh bakes, local fruit jams, eggs, and Indian breakfast dishes like poha and upma; and end with stuffed chicken, salmon, vegetable lasagne, or Rajasthani thali (a plate full of the region’s snacks, mains, and desserts). Oh and how can I forget the delectable, generous portions of desserts? Every night, I would return to my tent to a chocolate and bedtime story—the camp’s way of wishing its guests a good night. Adorable, right?
Apart from the restaurant at the camp, there were two other places that I absolutely loved for their food—Cafe Cloud (located on the Leh-Manali Highway, beside the glamping area) and the Nimmu House (near the Leh city). An idyllic setting furnished with wooden tables and flowers, Cafe Cloud was a good option for indulging in some European food in that part of Leh. Nimmu House, on the other hand, was a setting I thought was perfect for having lunch. Imagine savouring an authentic Italian meal—sphaghetti pasta, apple salad, brownie— in Ladakh, under the shade of a beautiful apple tree? Ten points to the hotel-cum-restaurant for that humbling meal, another plus five for the ambience.
The too-good-to-be-real herbal tea deserves a special mention. I downed the Himalayan delight almost 10-times a day (no exaggeration)!
To make sure there’s never a dull moment during one’s stay, the camp has a mini library, an indoor gaming area, and a shopping space—all inside the reception tent. Most of my free time was spent at the library glancing through coffee table books based on Ladakhi legends, Indian royalty, and wildlife.
For entertainment, one evening, the management arranged for a dance performance by local men and women under the stars. It was pleasant to see these pink-cheeked men and women sway to live Ladakhi music. The performance was accompanied by lip smacking finger food—pahadi kebabs, grilled mushrooms, cheese poppers—and drinks. It ended on a beautiful note, where the fellow guests and I tried our hands at dancing.
My favourite activity was to stroll along the camp side and admire the striking contrast between the lush meadows at the camp and the mountains.
Historical and Monastic Treasures:
The best way to know a region is to explore its culture, history, and architecture; Phunsukh and I did just that. Since Buddhism is the dominant religion there, he took me on a trail of the monastic treasures constructed in the bygone era and accompanied the visits with interesting stories and legends associated. We visited the Hemis Monastery, Thiksey Monastery, and the Diskit Monastery. Each of the monasteries we visited was filled with both, gigantic and small structures and paintings of Buddha in his various forms. While it was one hell of a walk to up to these places, once reached, they would fill us up with serenity.
One of my best memories is one that will stay with me forever; it was the early-morning prayer I partook at the Thiksey Monastery. It started with two young monks playing the dunchen (a.k.a dharma trumpet) on the terrace and continued inside the prayer room with everyone coming together and chanting mantras. The prayer ended with flavourful butter tea.
We strolled back in time at the Hunder village in the Nubra Valley when we rode the double-humped camel (Bactrian camel). The backdrop of the ride was rather unbelievable. Think: riding sand dunes and gazing at snowy mountains at the same time.
Thiksey-Khar dung La-Nubra Valley—Leh-Manali Highway-Thiksey
Prepared with small oxygen cylinders, Salim, Phunsukh, and I headed for the second half of the glamping experience—the stay at the Chamba Camp, Diskit. My first long drive, and the most difficult one because of my motion sickness. We started off early in the morning from Thiksey and decided to go via the Khardung La Pass (at 18,000ft, the highest motorable road in the world). While the road up to Khardung La was smooth and too pleasing, the one from the pass to Nubra was rough and difficult. The drive was full of curvy roads along with natural diversities, there were orchards and fields, and then there were brown and black mountains with a dash of white (snow). We took a two-minute halt at the Khardung La Pass, it was beautiful but we couldn’t wait for long because of the lack of oxygen.
After several stops to ease down, we finally reached the camp.
Our return, after a two-day stay at Nubra, was via the travellers’-favourite Leh-Manali Highway (and I couldn’t be happier to avoid the road to Khardung La). This one was even better than the last one. We traversed through several passes and rivers, making it a drive-of-a-lifetime with a backdrop of the Himalayas.
When can one visit the camp: May to October
How to get there: Chamba Camp, Thiksey can be reached via a flight to Leh and a 22-25 minute drive there on. To reach the Diskit camp, one will have to take a five-hour drive.
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10 things to do in Kohima
‘The Ultimate Travelling Camp' pitches its tents in a jungle outside Kohima with the Japfu Range as a backdrop. The super-luxe tents come with en-suite bathrooms, a private sit-out deck, four-poster beds piled high with cushions, sheer mosquito nets, leather chairs and even a tiny study. There is also a living room tent with books and WiFi. You can even enjoy gourmet meals and the services of a private butler who will wake you up with bed tea and cookies.
Try and time your visit with the Hornbill Festival where 16 Naga tribes showcase their culture at Kisama Village, 12km from Kohima. But if you can’t make it to the state in December, you can visit the village through the year and explore its typical tribal longhouses or Morungs with wooden carvings, hunting trophies, spears and shields that showcase distinctive cultural aspects of each tribe. Another place that gives you a window into tribal culture is the Kohima Museum, with its exhibits of weaponry, clan motifs, and large ceremonial drums.
A must do in the city is a visit to the Kohima War Cemetery, with 2337 graves and memorials located on a wooded spur on Garrison Hill, maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. In April 1944, a small force of British and allied soldiers (including Indians and local Nagas) was surrounded by 12,000 Japanese troops trying to reach Delhi. More than 3,000 Japanese and 4,000 British casualties resulted from this bloody battle. Today, it’s a humbling experience to walk through the cemetery with terraced graves and touching epitaphs. Near the entrance is a memorial to the 2nd Division. It bears the inscription; " When you go home, tell them of us, and say: ‘For your tomorrow, we gave our today.’
A way to a city’s heart is usually through its food-—visit the Naga Market where locals stock up on all kinds of meat, vegetables and a fair share of creepy-crawlies. From honeycombs, rabbits in bamboo crates, silkworm larvae, Borol—a larvae delicacy of hornet grubs; tadpoles in plastic bags, forest ferns, fermented tofu and beef to the super hot Raja Mirch chillies, you’ll find it all here. The atmosphere is lively with Naga women dressed in shirts and sarongs, chewing betel leaves, selling slabs of pork, beef and even dog meat. Warning: not for those with weak stomachs.
Kohima is a great place to stock up on handicrafts like vibrant woolen Naga shawls with traditional tribal motifs. Choose from Angami tribal shawls with animal patterns, bone jewellery, black metal craft, bamboo curios and Phom Black pottery. You can also visit the lively night market that sells souvenirs, street food and toys for children.
The unexplored lands of Kohima, India
- By Kalpana Sunder
The capital of the far north-eastern state of Nagaland is on a mountain ridge, and remains largely off the radar of tourists. Torn by insurgency for many decades, it’s finally enjoying peace after an accord signed last year by the government and tribal groups. Nagaland is a biodiversity hotspot, with a wealth of birdlife, flowers and trees, and the Intanki Wildlife Sanctuary, home to the rare hoolock gibbon.
Most travellers to India are yet to discover the area, with its backdrop of mist-enshrouded mountains, vast swaths of paddy fields and rivers. It’s home to the Hornbill Festival, held each December at Kisama Village. The festival gives a unique opportunity to enjoy the incredible diversity of 16 tribes in one place. Kohima is also attractive to hikers, with the second-highest peak in the state, Mount Japfu, at 3,048 metres. It’s also home to a vibrant music scene – rock ‘n’ roll and Naga pop.
A comfortable bed
The new Kohima Camp, Nagaland (www.kohimacampnagaland.com) pitches luxury tents in the middle of a forest, at the foot of Mount Japfu, complete with butlers and other mod cons. With solar-powered tents, beds draped with mosquito nets, leather chairs, cupboards and even a study, it’s “glamping” at its best. The camp offers two-, three-, four- and five-night itineraries, costing from 116,000 rupees (Dh6,304) per person, on a twin-sharing basis, including transfers from Dimapur, meals and excursions.
The Hotel Orchid (Chandmari Road, Midland) is a boutique hotel with 14 rooms, plus a restaurant offering Naga delicacies. Double rooms cost from 4,500 rupees (Dh245) per night).
Another option is Hotel Japfu (www.thenagalandhotels.com), which has comfortable doubles with hill views from 3,000 rupees (Dh163) per night.
Find your feet
A convenient way to get your bearings and take in all the city’s sights is a visit to the Kohima War Cemetery (www.cwgc.org), designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the architect of colonial Delhi. It was here in April 1944 that a small force of British soldiers was surrounded by 12,000 Japanese troops trying to reach Delhi and take over India. The cemetery has a great panoramic view of the city.
From here, make your way to Kohima Zoo. Drive to Kisama Heritage Village, 12 kilometres from the capital, which is an open-air museum and the venue for the Hornbill Festival. It gives a window into tribal culture, with traditional Naga long houses called morungs. There’s no public transport, so hire a tourist taxi to take you around.
Meet the locals
The Naga Market is where you will find locals buying their groceries – buckets of snails, honeycomb, borol (a delicacy of hornet grubs), tadpoles in plastic bags, wild mushrooms, banana flowers, forest ferns, beans and lentils, fermented tofu and beef, and hellishly hot Raja Mirch chillies. Also head to the thriving night market in downtown Kohima, where local bands perform, grilled meats are sold, and local families with children enjoy the kitschy atmosphere with masks and balloons.
Book a table
For a taste of authentic Naga food – a carnivore’s dream that also uses flavourings such as bamboo shoots, yams and fermented soy – head to Orami (near NSF Martyrs’ Park). Tastefully done up with tree trunks and branches painted silver, earthen pots and tribal paintings, it also serves a complimentary tea made from a local wild berry. A meal for two costs about 750 rupees (Dh41).
Ozone Café (Imphal Road) serves great coffee, and is one of the best places in Kohima for fried momos.
Kohima is known for indigenous crafts such as shawl weaving and basketmaking. The Bamboo Pavilion in Kisama Heritage Village is the best for bargains and a taste of traditional shopping. Look out for bamboo baskets, beaded and bone jewellery.
A must-buy are bright woollen Nagashawls. Each tribe has a distinctive design – the Angami use red and yellow bands on a black background, while the Ao warrior shawls have elephant or tiger motifs. Try the Nagaland Emporium (opposite the bus station) for handwoven bedcovers, cushions covers, etc.
Western Book Depot (Main Road), set up in 1983, is the oldest bookstore in Kohima, and is a good place for books by Naga writers and historians.
The three-floor Kohima State Museum (near the bus station) is a must for all tourists. It houses rare artefacts belonging to different tribes of the state. Colourful traditional dresses, weaponry, clan motifs, tableaus with mannequins and even “hunted” human skulls are displayed. Don’t miss the ceremonial drum, which is similar to a canoe and struck with huge oar-like poles.
What to avoid
Kohima’s pleasant climate allows year-round tourism, though it’s best to avoid the wet monsoon season (June to September).
Etihad (www.etihad.com) flies from Abu Dhabi to Kolkata from Dh1,760, including taxes. Indigo (www.goindigo.in) flies from Kolkata to Dimapur, Nagaland’s only airport, from 8,000 rupees (Dh435) return, including taxes, then it’s a three-hour drive from Dimapur to Kohima.
'The high canvas flaps are drawn open like the curtains to a play. Wooden decking, shadowed by a beige and white cotton stripe awning,...meadow is backed by willows and poplars...15th-century Thiksey Monastery...'
- Sophy Roberts
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'Watched over by a hilltop monastery and the craggy peaks of the Himalayas, the Chamba Camp is opening up a corner of India rarely seen by outsiders - All without comprising on comfort.'
- Jill Innamorati-Varley
'The Ultimate Travelling camp is a mobile tent compound that brings guests to Northern India's remote spellbinding events and rate cultural experiences.'
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'In India, The Ultimate Travelling Camp is the country's first mobile camp operation, offering five luxurious nomadic experiences in exceptional locations...'
'The Ultimate Travelling Camp (Chambacampthiksey.com) sets up a regal summer encampment in a meadow near Thiksey featuring smart white tents, wooden floors...'
- Nigel Tisdall
'Chamba Camp is so simple it's brilliant. Take a beautiful but difficult-to-access place with a narrow season and build a pop-up dollop of luxury fit for a maharaja.'
'A seasonal encampment of luxe tents has pitched up below a monastery in Ladakh, bringing a measure of sophistication - and support - to this remote corner of India.'
- Cynthia Rosenfeld
'Finding Luxury Accommodation in the middle of rugged Ladakh can be an uphill task. But those in the know can now head straight to the Chamba Camp in Thiksey.'
'You open your ten flap to a breathtaking sight...Experience extraordinaire,...'
- Nigel Richardson
'New "glamping" holidays at Chamba Camp in Ladakh are enabling exploration of this isolated region, without compromising comfort.'
- Nigel Richardson
"The Ultimate in Luxury for Discerning Tastes"
'A new pop-up camp is bringing luxury accommodation to some of India's remote and most beautiful regions... The aim to grow all our vegetables in the chef's garden.'
- Amar Grover
Dressed in rich red robes and sitting cross-legged on the floor, the elderly monk in front of us doesn’t look much like a tourism entrepreneur.
'Next month sees the launch of the Ultimate Travelling Camp, a nomadic Indian retreat that starts by exploring the Ladakh region.'
- Laura Holt
'Opportunities to truly explore the vastness and variety of India's remarkable landscape and its diverse history without compromising comfort...'
- John McNamara and Claudia Whiteus