Ladakh: The Stok Palace Heritage Hotel

Ladakh: The Stok Palace Heritage Hotel

This royal palace built in 1822 is Ladakh as an exquisite miniature

Bibek Bhattacharya
September 09 , 2016
07 Min Read

After a quick but delicious lunch in the lavishly decorated reception room, Sudhamma takes us on a tour. The interior of the building is dominated by a central courtyard with another, smaller tarchen tied to a yak head, with shaded balconies and small staircases leading off to the vari­ous wigs of the palace. We go up a short flight of stairs to the museum, which is open to all visitors. The main objects of in­terest here are the royal family’s collection of thangkas, some of which are over 400 years old but retain a vividness of colour that’s a marvel to behold. Other rooms in the museum hold ceremonial dresses of the king and queen, beautiful jewellery, copper pots for serving chang, exquisite jade and porcelain cups, a collection of modest weaponry and a huge royal perak that was worn by the queen of old.

The throne room at the Stok Palace

The palace has its own monastery, with a priest from the Chemrey monastery officiating for a year at a time. It’s a large space dominated by a panel featuring large statues of the Buddha and Padma­sambhava. There are also some exquisite little bronzes here, some of which are very old. From the monastery, we descend to the throne room of the king. Like most of the interiors, this too is colourfully painted and the ceilings are supported by the typical Ladakhi wooden T-beams, carved and painted gorgeously. The throne itself is an upraised pedestal, with a large ceremonial back dominated by a sculpture of two deer flanking the wheel of dharma. The king of Ladakh is a chakra­vartin raja in the old Buddhist monarchi­cal tradition and this shows in the throne room’s artwork.


Of the other suites, the most spectacu­lar is the queen’s room in another wing of the palace. A small, dark corridor leads to a low wooden door with a huge ornate knocker in the shape of two dragons, surrounded by the eight auspicious Bud­dhist signs. Inside is a huge room with old frescoes adorning the walls and a majestic four-poster bed. There’s an adjoining liv­ing area with a great view of the Indus Val­ley. Photos of erstwhile queens and some of their memorabilia, like an old transistor radio, add to the room’s charm, which manages to be both grand yet understated.

There’s much to do when you’re at the palace. The pretty village of Stok is named after the strong mountain stream that flows through it, draining the Stok mountain range to the south. You can take a leisurely walk through the village, past its swaying poplar, apricot and willow groves, to the local monastery and the immense statue of the Buddha that’s come up near the gompa. If you have more time, you can also head deeper into the moun­tains for a short trek to the Stok Kangri base camp.

The Royal Kitchen at the palace

Within the palace, visit the royal kitch­en and take part in impromptu cooking sessions. It’s a large space, a more lavish version of the traditional Ladakhi kitchen with its stone hearth with a chimney overlaid with gilded signs of the auspi­cious symbols and layered rows of copper utensils in which delicious fare is cooked every day. You could also just laze around at the ramparts of the palace, next to the small café, and watch the unending play of sunlight on the vast Indus Valley, as the mighty river moves past the distant Shey and Thikse gompas.

We had our dinner with the king on our second and final night at the palace. His family is still held in great respect by Ladakhis. Jigmed Wangchuk is an urbane man who divides his year between Stok and New Delhi and he’s passionate about the conservation of Ladakhi culture. Over a delicious meal of gyathuk and mutton momos, Jigmed deplored the mess that Leh has become. “When I decided to open up the palace to let visitors enjoy our hospitality, I was of the firm opinion that the palace should remain a home, and not become a soulless hotel that so many royal palaces in India have become,” he said. In that he has certainly succeeded.

A chat in the shade of the royal garden in the Stok village

Stok Palace is open only in the summer months, but three lavish villas have come up in the royal gardens just outside the palace walls, which will be open all year round. Tastefully designed in a traditional manner, they would be perfect, the king says, to enjoy Ladakh’s winter. “There’s nothing like it,” he smiles. Just as there’s nothing like the Stok Palace.

The Information

Location Stok village/15km from Leh
Accommodation 4 suites, 1 royal suite, 1 queen’s bedroom and three garden villas.
Tariff Suites 17,250, royal suite 28,750, queen’s bedroom 34,500. All inclusive and on double occupancy. Heritage villas: 32,000 for four people, all inclusive
Contact +91-124-4062480,

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