I have had a close acquaintance with apricot in the past: in the form of fresh fruit, jams and juices, and even the odd dessert. However, I have never had the (dubious) pleasure of squishing apricots under my feet on a stroll through an orchard. Staying in a garden tent at Nimmu House in Ladakh, I find myself doing it, despite my best efforts, each time I step out.
Arriving at Leh airport is always a pleasurable experience: the snowcapped peaks below you for company during the flight and then the actual landing on a narrow strip, watched over by the imposing mountains and the patron saint of frequent flyers. This time around, I headed out not to Leh, with its glitzy new hotels and imminent mall road, but in the other direction, towards Alchi monastery.
After a short drive of 45 minutes, we pulled up at a small gate at the rear side of the guesthouse. Like much of this country, Nimmu House too is a work in progress and there was a lot of construction activity going on near the main entrance. The apricot motif made itself felt for the first time here, as we were welcomed with a refreshing glass of juice. As I was shown to my tent at one corner of the large garden, the first thing I took in was the hammock by the side. The air was thick with the sweet, heady smell of fruit, making me slightly giddy. I used that as an excuse to spend as much time as possible cradled in that hammock.
From its comfort, I now observe this modern-day Eden with a languid eye. A couple of children are playing ‘catch catch’ with small, shiny apples. In the organic garden behind the house, there are rows and rows of vegetable patches. At dinner that night, we have thukpa laden with carrot, tomato and cabbage straight from the backyard.
The five tents spread across the garden are all spacious and cheerful, letting in the mellow mountain light during the day. Each one comes with a small sitting room at the front, where I spend a lot of reading time when the day suddenly turns nippy. There is the airy bedroom then, followed by the bathroom. The décor is simple and stylish with strong accents of wood, which lend a touch of warmth to the whole space.
Then there is the accommodation inside the main house, echoing with interesting stories from the past. The house itself is over a hundred years old, built by a distant cousin of the king of Ladakh. The house originally had 30 rooms, including two Buddhist shrines. The Nangso family, current owners of the house, could not manage its upkeep and the house fell into disrepair. The property was leased a few years ago to a group of people who came together with an aim to preserve traditional Ladakhi architecture.
The façade is somewhat reminiscent of grand palaces from Tibet, familiar from a million picture postcards: walls sloping gently outwards, elegant windows with latticed woodwork and narrow balconies edged with flashes of natural dyes. The 30 rooms—many of them locked, a few occupied by the Nangsos—are located at various nooks and corners of the sprawling house, across three levels. But I believe that is part of the charm of staying in such a property. Of these, only two rooms on the first floor are ready for use by guests at the time of my visit.
The first floor also contains a large common space, once the kitchen of the household, with its black stone stove still intact. Lunch was served in the open courtyard of the main house earlier today, a light meal of chilled gazpacho, stuffed zucchini and, expectedly, an apricot tart (it’s the season, after all). Dinner—when it gets cold outside—is in this room, now converted into a common dining area for guests.
There is a lot of renovation work going on inside the house, with inputs from an assortment of experts, from conservationists to Tibetologists. When finally ready, the main house will have 12 guest rooms, a casual lounge, a formal space for yoga, a spa, a local crafts store and an open terrace with stunning views of the surrounding countryside.
Apart from some rooms on the second floor, the Nangso family also occupies a small house in the garden. The place is full of unexpected delights: children shyly peeping out from a window, all giggly when I wave out to them; two generations of women collecting the fallen fruit; the constant bleating of goats and mooing of cows, which seem almost musical in the deep silence.
One of the best things about Nimmu House is its location, far away from the urban chaos that Leh is rapidly turning into, in a quiet valley close to Alchi monastery and both the Indus and Zanskar rivers. The guesthouse prides itself on its mission of sustainable tourism and the preservation of traditional culture (including food and architecture). Make your way there if you seek the simple life, with fresh air and open spaces.
Where: Nimmoo village; 30km/45-minute drive from Leh.
Accommodation: Currently 4 guestrooms, soon to be 12, plus 5 tents; open only from June 1 to September 30
Tariff: Single—Rs 9,000 MAP/Rs 9,500 AP; Double—Rs 10,000 MAP/Rs 10,500 AP
Contact: +91-124-4062480; www.rareindia.com