OUR INTREPID BECKY HAS BEEN OUT CHECKING ON SOME GORGEOUS NEW DESTINATIONS
DID YOU THINK THAT TRAVEL IN TIBET HAD TO INVOLVE ROUGHING IT?
NOT HERE AT THE GORGEOUS NORDEN CAMP WHICH BECKY GAVE 10 OUT OF 10 FOR LUXURY, AUTHENTICITY AND COMFORT!
As we crossed the line from the end of the sealed road onto dusty gravel, bounded on both sides by rolling green grasslands dotted with yaks and sheep, I knew this place was remote. Turning off the dusty road at last toward the Norden Camp, and driving under the tall banners of prayer flags whipping in the wind, I knew this place would be something different.
Founded by a local Tibetan man, based on the concept of traditional Tibetan nomadic culture mixed with modern eco-friendly practices and western comforts, Norden Camp is a unique accommodation near the famous Labrang Monastery in Xiahe, eastern Tibet.
Winding stepping stone pathways lead guests through the trees and bushes from the reception room out to the communal lounge, bar, library, dining, and relaxation areas, and further over the small ups and downs of the natural landscape to each carefully placed tent and wood cabin.
The camp manager, Jamyang, led me around the wide space. Smiling broadly, he was clearly proud of the place he was leading into the start of a busy summer season. All of the staff are local Tibetan nomads – many from the owner’s extended family – who are being trained in specific tasks such as housekeeping, cooking, and waiting tables. Although many of them can’t speak a word of English, smiles seem to be the lingua franca and for the most part communication doesn’t need words for them to understand and expect what guests require.
The tents and cabins are built on raised platforms over the grasses, to reduce their environmental impact, and have systems in place to ensure water is conserved wherever possible. The interiors are beautifully appointed with wool and felt products from the Norlha handicrafts range – Norden’s older sister project based nearby. From blankets to slippers to pillowcases and hot water bottles, the simple yet elegant designs add warmth to the rooms. Each room also has a stove for extra cosiness on those cold nights, carefully tended by the housekeeping staff through the evening so that the guests feel comfortable and warm by the time they retire for the evening.
Boutique touches such as the wide space of the yoga room, located next to a low bubbling stream, the hot tub that overlooks the grasslands and mountains in the distance, and the Finnish-style sauna add to the experience guests looking for comforts and warmth in the high plateau.
After coffee on the deck outside in the last of the afternoon sun, I headed inside to the bar area to relax in front of the fire while waiting for dinner. With multiple dining spaces, groups have their own privacy to dine in without worrying about others. I was treated to the “Yak Story” – one of three “Stories” that Norden serves, created by the excellent American head chef who lived for two years in Bhutan running the kitchen of a luxury resort. At Norden he has embraced the creative challenge of using all locally sourced ingredients, mostly traditional Tibetan ingredients, to create a range of dishes that appeal to western palates while showcasing the best of the plateau’s unique flavours.
The meal was stunningly presented and tasted as good as in any fine dining restaurant back home – a delicate broth of yak and barley, reminiscent of a French onion soup, followed by a main course of yak steak with mashed potatoes, spinach, and yak bone marrow served with barley toast. Finally, a small yak-milk crème brulee completed the menu.
But not every dish is so meat-based - the kitchen is well equipped for dealing with special dietary requirements, providing alternative menus for vegetarians, vegans, coeliac, and other allergies or requirements. After speaking with the chef about this, his passion for food and experimenting with the local ingredients became clear: he seemed to enjoy the challenge of adapting a traditional Tibetan meal – which is typically meat- and dairy- based – to suit individual needs of customers.
From inside the comfort of the wood-cabin bar, I watched as the grasslands outside turned from green to deep blue and purple and finally settled into darkness. With no light pollution from any nearby towns or houses, the night sky out here seems deep and endless, and completely peaceful.
Hidden out here in the rolling hills of the Amdo grasslands, under the brightly coloured prayer flags, a haven of peace has been built in harmony with the environment. Norden Camp is the perfect escape for anyone seeking a spiritual or romantic retreat with a difference; a touch of luxury in the Tibetan grasslands.