I stayed at Banjara Camps’ Sangla property two years ago and visited the same recently. Did anything change during this period? Yes, they have come up with their 12 room Retreat which is not tented accommodation but a built up structure. There was a flash flood that took away some of the land – including the original bonfire area – as the Baspa river changed course. You can see signs of trees being swept away on some of the slopes in the valley as the tributaries of the Baspa also decided to take a different path than normal. These minor changes apart, the Sangla Valley remains as beautiful as ever and the Banjara Camp the ideal place to enjoy it.
Rajesh Ojha and Captain Ajay Sud, the folks behind Banjara, created a new category of accommodation in the country when they set up the Sangla property in 1994. It is comfortable yet gives a feel of the rough, is luxurious without your needing to sell your car to stay here. And located far from the madding crowd where few would know exist – and want to go to once they hear of it.
This is how my experience was when I stayed there in June 2007 and then again in May 2009:
- The Location: Perfect. About eight kilometers (five miles) from Sangla town, it is located along the Baspa river. You get to the camp after a two kilometers descent from the highway to bring you level with the adjacent Batseri village. Once there, you are like in a bowl surrounded by wooded peaks all around with apple trees on the property itself. These are in full bloom in August and September; you never know the apple you buy back home might have come from Sangla. The river can be reached by walking a few steps down except when it is in full flow; the sound of the water acts as a lullaby all night long.
- The Accommodation: 12 rooms in the Retreat (their built up cottage) and another 15 or so luxury tents, each en-suite.
- The Retreat Rooms: In mint condition with 2009 being their inaugural here. Wooden floors, balconies to sit and enjoy your tea, comfy chairs to lounge and beds with 8” thick mattresses. There is a loft with a single mattress for an extended family to stay or if you just want a cozy, quiet corner to yourself. The baths are tiled, clean, with hot water geysers and running water throughout.
- The Tents: Comfortable beds, with chairs to sit around. Each tent has its own little verandah type area to sit around or to dry one’s shoes and clothes after some adventure. They all have their own baths with an innovative LPG gas fired geyser to give you running hot water whenever you want.
- Food: These guys seriously need to do something about the food. Their room rates always includes all three meals, unlimited tea and coffee and cooked snacks with evening tea. And each meal is better and more elaborate than the previous one. It is not heavy, cooked home style, and yet the fare is multi-cuisine. You get Indian, Chinese, Italian and Continental – not all together but by rotation – and it is amazing how their cooks can put such variation together in this wilderness. If you are out on a day hike, they will pack a meal to feed an Army. And all the food is hygienic, wholesome, well presented and tasty. They finally figured they need to cut down on the evening snack as some guests complained of being overfed, but it would invariably be met with howls of protest from at least some guests (including me) who wait all day for their dose of bondas, cutlets, French fries and pakodas.
- Electricity: Generators kick in when power snaps so you need not worry on this count.
- Water: Never does a disappearing act. If the water in the river were not freezing or too fast depending on the time of the year, who will want the showers? A jump in the river would have been better.
- Housekeeping: The best investment Banjara makes is in their washing machines. The bedsheets, duvets, pillows and towels always give that crisp, clean and fresh feel when the weather is cold and wet. Rooms are maintained well, and always feel clean. The staff never flinches if you ask for any additional service. They are thoughtful enough to leave a hot water bottle under the duvet every night to keep you extra warm.
- Activities: This is where the Banjara touch comes in. Having been set up by travel and adventure enthusiasts themselves, guests are never short of planned activities. These include guides taking you for hikes through forests, mountains and local villages, or river crossings or mountain climbing or driving to different attractions. You can join groups already going or have them plan something exclusive for you. You will usually have Rajesh or Ajay for company who never miss out on adding that personal touch. They, and their guides, are full of information and anecdotes to make the experiences even more engaging. You can expect a bonfire in the evening at the camp, which is an opportunity to make friends over bar-be-cue snacks and drinks. They always have books, magazines and indoor games handy for guests.
- Tariff: Rs. 5,500 for tents, Rs. 6,000 – 6,500 for rooms in Retreat. Rates are for a room for two including meals and taxes.
The final word? Banjara is the number you should call if you want to visit a heavenly location, stay in comfort at an affordable price while you are there and have experiences you will be telling your grandchildren about.
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