Hotel Review: the Grand Dragon Ladakh, Effortless Luxury in the Lap of the Himalayas!
The more I talk about my stay at the Grand Dragon Hotel during the peak winter in Ladakh, it does not suffice! Against the backdrop of barren mountains and azure blue sky vistas, the Grand Dragon Hotel rises like a phoenix from the ashes! Towering poplars protect the color-bubble of the huge hotel, inside which guests are well protected from the fierce sun and ice cold whispers from the mountains. You may secure a seat by the window of the luxurious heritage suite and watch the day unfold. Myriad cloud forms crowd at the horizon dotted with snow peaks.
Ladakh frowns at the visitors at first glance, as if emphasizing on how hard life is at the fold of the mountains, but then lets in those who persists with a promise of magic. The Grand Dragon Ladakh is a prefect escape route to evade Ladakh’s raw nature’s wrath, yet soak in the stunning atmosphere seldom found on the face of the Earth.
The Grand Dragon Hotel: Shining Hospitality Star of Leh!
Shining like a bejeweled star on the Old Leh Road, you can not ignore the proud presence of the Grand Dragon Hotel. It is one of the best properties in Leh Town, with only one relatively new contender in 5 star category.
I loved the central location of the hotel. One evening, we walked uphill for about 1 km to reach the thriving Leh market. The Leh main market could easily become yet another M G Marg of Gangtok, Sikkim but the local vendors selling myriad vegetables and hand picked saffron retain the beautiful rustic charm. On the opposite side, you drive for around 10 minutes and you bid adieu to Leh city for the prized wilderness of Ladakh. The long stretched roads call you for adventure, with a promise to return you to your beautiful stay at the Grand Dragon Hotel by the end of the day!
The hotel started with 3 rooms two decades back. Since then, it has come a long way to be the most sought after luxury property hosting the who’s who of entertainment industry. For the uninitiated, Ladakh was the shooting place for Bollywood biggies like Jab Tak hain Jaan, 3 Idiots etc. Central location of Grand Dragon Ladakh makes it very easy for tourists to pay a quick visit to the main attractions of Leh city, take for example the Shanti Stupa and the airforce base!
Few more amenities available at the Grand Dragon Hotel, Ladakh
- Doctor available on call
- Provides handy kits to deal with AMS and provides a detailed checklist to prepare for the harsh winters
- All the rooms have stunning views of Stok Kangri mountain ranges.
- A very handy lip balm and spray sunblock is provided
- The Grand Dragon Hotel in Ladakh can host upto 200 people for official conferences.
- Last year, the hotel opened for staycation at an affordable rate. Internet speed is viable for working from the mountains, that is when you can take your eyes off the snow white peaks at a distance.
My Room at The Grand Dragon Ladakh
I stayed at the Heritage Luxury suite of The Grand Dragon Hotel. The detailed room tour I had posted on Instagram has grabbed quite a few eye balls! This suite had a lunge area, with a sofa couch facing the TV unit, a small washroom, cosy chairs by the window overlooking Stock kangri peaks and a low lying sitting area laden with mattress and bolsters. Once you step into the bed room, you will be enamored by the large French window, a round mirror reflecting the beautiful wooden bed tucked with ivory white upholstery, a writing table and bed side lights.
The adjacent walk in washroom has a bathtub, separate areas for washing and a WC. The wash basin reflects the mountain ranges beyond the bedroom, yet again! This is where I spent relaxing evenings after a day of exploring Leh and surrounding!
I video called everyone back home to show this beautiful stay. All the rooms of the Grand Dragon hotel overlooks mountain peaks. It is irresistible to ignore the call of the giant terrain, hidden in the mystic clouds and dense poplar crowd. I could spend the nights looking at the sow capped peaks dazzling under the profound canvas of the sky, often painted with the endless milky way and shooting stars.
The Grand Dragon Ladakh has more than 70 rooms which are operational for the all 12 months of the year. Central heating system, fast wifi, running water and many small gestures come as a part of unified service of the Grand Dragon.
The room categories are roughly segregated into 3 types, Luxury suites, Heritage suites and deluxe rooms. the suites are of 750 sq feet upwards in space. All of them have large window pens.
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The room tariff of the Grand Dragon Ladakh ranges between 8k to 30k with taxes.
The Grand Dragon Hotel also boasts of a lounge, a library with plenty of books, a children’s room, a gym, a sauna and an indoor games room. It is suitable for an office gathering or a conference. The souvenir shop is well stocked with beautiful artefacts denoting cultural heritage of Ladakh. Do check out the Ladakhi bridal outfit studded with precious stones and sheep skin and the elaborately decorated headgear. My favorite ones are the Samovars though! The silver of the samovar has intricate details bearing the history back in the times of Gandhara era.
The Gourmet Experiences at Grand Dragon
The Grand Dragon hotel has a sprawling dine in area and a beautiful coffeeshop. Breakfast is a delight here! From saffron infused Kahwa tea to power packed mix of nuts: everything is available for the diners. For breakfast, the hotel arranged for a detailed buffet.
It had staples like pancakes, breads, eggs, juices, cereals, jam and butter, and a myriad variety of fruits, sausages, Idli and Vada. For lunch and dinner, a buffet was available depending on the number of guests. The dine in the restaurant is open for walk-in guests as well.
We were served with two bespoke meal experiences during our stay at the Grand Dragon, Ladakh. We opted for the ala carte menu for a couple of days, with specific requests for typical Ladakhi cuisine. Our wish was fulfilled with a surprise menu planned for the last night of stay! We were served sumptuous mutton stew, supple dimsums, aromatic short grained red rice, and root vegetables. There was restrained use of few specific spices highlighting the natural aroma of the meat which definitely felt fresh. It was beautiful! So was an elaborate Khao Suey as a part of a dining experience for a night. I suggest spending the evening walking down the steep roads of Leh in order to make space for the amazing food on offer!
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The dine in area was swank clean, like the rest of the hotel and had attentive stuffs masked up in trending N95s. In good times, when shared bonfire resumes at the lawn in front of the hotel, do not forget to sip on Chang, the local brew of malt and barley which will keep you in warm company in the chilli prolonged nights of Leh!
Responsible Luxury & Friendly Stuff
Although a luxury establishment, the Grand Dragon Hotel sticks to sustainable hospitality practices at every step. It was easy for them to build a swimming pool but they showed restrained, instead built a beautiful lawn. The hotel amplifies everything local. Due to Ladakh practically being a cold desert, half of the year you need to use stored food, or food supplied from the plain land. Yet, the Grand Dragon Ladakh tries to serve you a large spread of locally sourced Ladakhi meal cooked with the warmth of a Ladakhi household. For those with AMS, the staffs will personally highlight the quality of Garlic soup instead of medicines.
The stuff of the hotel were patient, well mannered, trained in the best of hospitality across the globe and answered all our queries with elan. They suggested we take some hot garlic soup every time we came back from the outside world, half frozen. Small gestures like providing a packet of camphor with the door key, asking whether the linen needs to be changed, replenishing the fruits and nuts of the suites, they were just a call away.
Safety procedure during a Pandemic
I visited the Grand Dragon Hotel during February end, which was the beautiful time in India in between first subtle and second furious lag of this pandemic. We were advised to carry a negative test report of RTPCR conducted within 72 hours. We could enter the hotel premises only after a thorough temperature-check and baggage sanitization process. Being one of the few 5 star properties of Leh, the Grand Dragon also experiences frequent visits by Indian Army personnel. Needless to say, security measures was strict. Also, restrain yourself from taking pictures with the Airforce staff or army people on uniform. It is against the protocol of the institute.
The service personnel wore mask and gloves at every point of time. You can opt in for in room dining as well in case you want to minimize touch points.
Art and culture
One could easily compare the beautiful interiors of the Grand Dragon Hotel with that of an authentic museum. the luxury hotel is run by a local family of Ladakh, the Abdus. Needless to say, they are more than proud and capable of showcasing the best of Ladakhi heritage and tradition.
I will set aside the praise for the tastefully done interior of the hotel for the time being and emphasize on the beautiful pieces of art that adorns the hobbies and sprawling halls of the Grand Dragon Hotel. My eyes got stuck to the eloquent eyes of an Aryan playing flute. It took me a while to register it is a painting. I saw that man a few days back at the Aryan village in Kargil. The pictures are varied and amplify the voices of sons of the soil of Ladakh in a few brush strokes of oil painting. The paintings are done by the famous modern age artist of Ladakh, Mr. Ghulam Mustafa, one of the director partners of the hotel who practices his art at the top chalet.
The hotel has multiple themes that resemble with a traditional Ladakhi heritage palace. Bursts of colors adorn the towering pillars. Boxed beaded Topaz jewelry proudly replace modern artifacts at the suites. Apricot wood is used to furnish the hotel interiors. Bed spreads and pillow covers dazzle in typical Tibetan fabric with gold threadwork. Hand painted Dragons and other Buddhist motifs completed the furnishing inspired by Rabsal tradition of the land. Life makes its presence felt through a burst of colours everywhere against he stark barren backdrop.
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Curated Experience of Ladakh with the Grand Dragon Hotel
As soon as I reached the hotel, I was welcome with a Khatag (the white scarf) wrapped around my neck. The hotel staff were wearing traditional Ladakhi attire. It was a lot like accepting hospitality of a local home, rather a professional institute.
We met the director of the hotel, Mr. Danish Din. An extremely humble person, Mr. Danish spoke to us at length about the looming threats of the industry. First he pandemic, then the rumors of a war mongering neighbor that has thwarted incoming tourists at the Grand Dragon, Ladakh. He sounded hopeful though, with the new adaptions and strategies made at directorial level to ensure safety and cater to tourists of New-Normal. Offering Staycation was a part of the drill.
I have been to Ladakh twice. The last time I was traveling to this hidden kingdom beyond the Himalayas, it was September. It was the last remnant of summer in the valley. The nights were cold but in the morning I would even sweat! Ladakh felt like atypical desert.
I spent around 5 days in Leh during both my trips. 5 days are a bit rushed to experience everything Ladakh has on offer, for example I had to miss traveling to Kargil in the first trip. But this was enough to experience the best of Leh! The next time I explored winter Ladakh with the Grand dragon Hotel, I had a chance to wait for the weather to clear and visit a handful of local villages nestled in the fold of barren mountains.
While I will shortly write in detail about a 5 to 7 days itinerary suitable for Leh, I want to highlight the experiences I loved the most with the Grand Dragon. In Instagram, they trend with the hashtag #tgdlexperiences .
We visited a quaint little village named Chilling. Located by the banks of the fierce Zanskar river, which was half frozen at the end of February, Chilling is a small village inhabited by the metal casters. Once in a week or month, they avail the public transport, a rickety bus to Leh market, sell what they shape and buy back some raw materials. The fantastic Dungchens, traditional trumpets used by the Tibetan Buddhist monks to resonate the call of the elephants, are built here. So are the Samovars, the elaborate silver tea pots which made way to the sub continent from Central Asia along the Old Silk Route.
The river Zanskar was half frozen, meaning we tiptoe-ed around the deceiving ice sheets. While we waited the snow blizzard to open up at the top of Chang la Pass, visible from the hotel room, in order to set put to Pangong Tso, we explored every monastery around Leh, some are not even highlighted in the usual travel itinerary. Time stands still in these olden gomphas, safeguarding invaluable manuscripts and somber rituals.
Here is an itinerary highlight with experiences around Leh curated by the Grand Dragon Hotel:
- Day 1: Check in at the Grand Dragon Hotel, exploring the Leh Market
- Day 2: Visit to the Chilling village followed by Sangam when Indus and Zanskar rivers meet
- Day 3: Since road to the Pangong Tso was closed, we could either rest or choose to visit Khardungla pass, world’s highest motorable road, a crucial connector between the border and army base. We chose to rest. You could also visit Alchi/Likir/Basgo monasteries instead. A trip to Lamayuru would require a whole day but the drive is beautiful nonetheless!
- Day 4: Visiting the early morning prayer session at Thikshey Monastery followed by a visit to the Hemis monastery
- Day 5: A visit to Stakna Monastery
You may also opt for visiting the Leh town instead of these day trips, visit the Shanti Stupa in the evening, explore the old town of Leh with a curated heritage walk with the guides from the Grand Dragon Hotel. The small windows and doors of a typical Ladakhi house is typically designed to protect against the sheer cold wind blow from the north of the mountains.
This was also during Lent, the Buddhist religious month in February when a number of pilgrims visited the monasteries from distant mountain villages. Some took an oath of not speaking a word for a certain period of time. Some walked barefoot for days. Some walked and lied on the ground, stood up and walked again.
Also read: Photo blog from Kargil which will inspire you to make this epic winter trip!
Why Choose Grand Dragon, Ladakh
Usually, people associate Leh with plethora of adventures! In Ladakh, the world has shown you its honest true face, it is scarred, sun burnt and wrinkled with history written over since millennia! It lures you to take a dive right into the heart of mystic nature. It will leave you bruised and victorious at the same time, adding a cause to celebrate life! After that hike, that road trip across the high passes, after you went near the high altitude lakes, after that search to find some of the oldest gomphas of the world.
Once you have done it all, your body seeks the familiar and more. You want to return to a place wrapped in the comfort of a warm home. The Grand dragon Ladakh is where your search ends with a homely bed and temperature controlled luxurious washrooms. After you have created unforgettable memory at the otherworldly landscapes of Ladakh, you totally deserve the treat that the Grand Dragon Ladakh is. The Grand Dragon Hotel has redesigned luxury in the form of comfort and warmth and not just exuberance. With that, I strongly recommend to sign up for the Ladakh experience with the Grand Dragon, be it summer or the winter. Honestly, that is the most hassle free way to travel in Ladakh.
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