Words by Aakash Mehrotra
Stok Palace Hotel, an exquisite century-old building, holds many tales and anecdotes of Ladakhi history and culture. The pristine location of this palace turned heritage hotel, on the top of a hillock overlooking the Stok village, with the Khardungla pass and Stok peak on either side, makes it all the more enchanting.
Stok Palace was built in 1822, as a smaller retreat, since the main palace of the royal Namgyal dynasty of Ladakh was the Leh Palace, some 15 kilometres away. After the Ladakh kingdom was annexed by the Dogra rulers of Kashmir, the Namgyals shifted to Stok village, and Stok palace became their main palace. It’s still a living palace with the king’s family residing in one part, while another section has been renovated and turned into a heritage hotel. These days, it offers discerning visitors a selection of four suites, a royal suite, and the queen’s bedroom.
First glances of the magnificent palace give you the quintessential Ladakhi feel. The central courtyard overlooking the valley is dominated by a huge tarchen (flagpole) and shaded balconies of the different rooms in the palace. A staircase brings us to a smaller inner courtyard with rooms on different sides, and a smaller staircase leading off to the various wings of the palace. The large tarchen in the outer courtyard signifies that the household contains all the main Buddhist manuscript.
The palace has its own monastery, where prayers are held every morning and evening. Perched on the upper storey, the monastery is a large space dominated by a panel featuring large statues of the Buddha and Padmasambhava.
As our first day was spent on resting and acclimatising ourselves to the high altitude conditions of Ladakh, we retired to our spacious suite, only to wake up for an evening coffee in the ramparts of the palace.
The evening was spent enjoying the views, and educating ourselves more about the palace with the co-owner and Prince Stanzin Namgyal. He educated us on Ladakhi history and how the kingdom passed on from the Namgyal dynasty to the Dogra rulers, and then opened up to tell us about his ideas for the hotel: “When we started the hotel, we had an opinion to keep the place rooted in local culture, and not become a soulless hotel.” Our stay was curated likewise, to absorb every element of local culture and design, and be educated of the history the place so dearly holds.
Our suite was a lavishly appointed room dominated by a huge double bed, a delightful mix of pastel shades and traditional wood and mud-brick stylings on the wall, while colourful murals in the Tibetan style adorn the ceiling.
The low-ceilinged rooms with antique furniture, and Ladakhi elements in their build and lay-out, embodied the Ladakhi vibe and heritage. Of the other suites in the palace, the queen’s room is the most spectacular. The room is adorned with splendid old frescoes and a majestic bed, and the antique furniture, old artefacts, and even paintings on the wall add to the charm of the room.
Soon after, we were led to a lavishly decorated dining room overlaid with exquisite murals, gilded signs, and carvings, for our sumptuous lunch. As we sat, the passion for the preservation of Ladakhi culture and history was quite evident. The kitchen highlights traditional, local ways of cooking, and most ingredients are sourced locally or made in-house with locally grown grains, recipes, and even traditional utensils and methods of cooking used.
In the night, our dinner was arranged in the Chulli Bagh villas, three family-sized villas in the palace grounds amidst the apple, apricot, and willow plantations. The villas adroitly mix the traditional and contemporary design, are more expansive in space and comfort. We marvelled at the use of sustainable design elements in the building of the villas.
In a nutshell
The Stok Palace was our introduction to the history and heritage of Ladakh that stays in parts and pieces in random shades of Ladakhi life.
Rooms can be booked from £200 pppn.