75

The Simplest Hotel In The World

Mulbekh, Ladakh, India
For some reason, this morning, just seconds after waking up, I started thinking about an elderly Indian man. But this was not just any elderly Indian man, it was the owner of a small hotel in the tiny Ladakhi village of Mulbekh, located some three days north of Delhi by car or bus, and at an altitude of 3500 meters, way up in the heart of the Himalayas.

It’s embarrassing to admit but I don’t know this man’s name despite having spent two nights at his hotel some years ago. And while I certainly don’t remember the names of all the hotel and guesthouse owners I’ve met over the years, my stay at this particular hotel was a particularly memorable one…

When I hopped off the bus in Mulbekh, it did not take long at all for me to learn that this 5500-person village had only two accommodation options.

Glancing to my left, I noticed what appeared to be a brand new three-level hotel, conveniently situated across the street from the Chamba Statue, a 1300-year old Buddha image carved out of the rock face, which happened to be the main attraction in the village. There were a few cars in front of the hotel as well as ten or so Indian tourists sitting in the restaurant next to the lobby.

Glancing to my right, I saw a crumbling and faded green and red building with a hand-painted sign above the door that read, “Namchung Hotel & Restaurant”. There was an old man – yes, the old man I thought about this morning – sitting on a plastic chair in front of a tiny shop that appeared to be part of the ‘hotel’.

Without hesitation I turned to the right and walked up to the old man, who turned out to not only be the owner of the hotel, restaurant and shop, but the only employee as well.

He spoke no English. I spoke only a few words of Hindi and zero words of the other languages that could be heard in this remote mountain region. But we managed to communicate nonetheless.

And before long, this man led me around the back of the building and to my room. It was actually the only room available, not because there were other guests, but because this hotel only had one room. The floor was made of dirt, the bed was made of rope. There was no electricity, only candles. There was also no lock on the door but I had a feeling this was the kind of village where I didn’t have to worry about my belongings.

Excited to be spending two nights here, I threw down my backpack, returned to the front of the building and ordered a chai, which the old man naturally prepared himself. And then we sat there drinking tea together, staring out over the beautiful Himalayas as we communicated through gestures and broken Hindi.

NOT YOUR NORMAL HOTEL

After drinking two cups of chai, I asked the man where I could relieve myself, something I had to act out in order for him to understand. He simply led me to a small patch of grass behind the building, a patch of grass that was in plain view to the residents of at least twenty homes in the village. That grass was the toilet, no matter what kind of business you needed to take care of.

When I asked the owner where I could wash my hands, he went into the kitchen and returned with a glass of water. He then proceeded to slowly pour the water into my hands as I rubbed them together.

And when I inquired about taking a shower, a question to which I could not wait to hear the answer, he quickly pulled out a piece of paper and drew me a map. From what I gathered, I had to cross the street, walk down a small path, turn right onto another path, turn left onto yet another and after a while I would reach the Wakha River. So that’s what I did and sure enough, thirty minutes later I found myself bathing in its icy waters, and loving every second of it.

Returning to the hotel after my ‘shower’, I asked the kind man, who always answered my questions with a smile on his face, where I could find some food. He simply motioned for me to sit on a wooden box in front of his small shop and then he disappeared inside.

When he returned twenty minutes later, he handed me a metal plate with some rice and a few spoonfuls of what appeared to be potatoes in some kind of sauce. Whatever it was, I wolfed it down quite quickly, and while this was no award-winning meal, it was definitely edible, which was a good thing considering that he would cook me the exact same meal the next day for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Ladakh, India

And so my two days and two nights passed at the Namchung Hotel. In between bathing in the river and eating rice and potatoes, I also wandered around the village, played football with some Tibetan children and took a couple of short hikes into the mountains. Every evening though, I would sit right back on that wooden box in front of the hotel, right next to the owner, and we would watch the sunset, drink chai and try our best to communicate.

I’m not sure I’ve ever enjoyed a hotel stay as much as I enjoyed this one. Maybe that’s because apart from a room and some food, I also received my most memorable lesson in simplicity. I didn’t need a carpeted floor or even a sink. I didn’t need a toilet or a shower or electricity or a 10-page menu to order from. I also didn’t need nightlife or shops or a cinema or internet.

I found happiness in just being, in witnessing the Himalayan mountains, in breathing in the freshest of air, in the colors of the houses, in the smiles of the locals and of course, in getting to know another wonderful human being whom I never would have met had I not started traveling.

Could I have lived in Mulbekh forever? Nope. But I’ll certainly never forget my stay at the one-room, dirt-floored Namchung Hotel and the life-changing lesson that stay taught me.


Unfortunately, I don’t have more photos of the hotel. My photos of this region were part of a large batch that I accidentally deleted a couple of years ago and the above were the only ones that were saved.

Follow Along! Follow along via Email -- RSS -- Twitter -- Facebook as I prove that a life of constant travel is not so crazy after all. And don't forget to check out my unique, small-group Wandering Earl Tours!

Want to live a life of travel as well? Be sure to check out these useful travel resources!
This entry was posted in India. Bookmark the permalink.

75 Responses to The Simplest Hotel In The World

  1. jay says:

    Travel is all about experiences,it is better to have simple experiences like this than repeating the same routine of booking hotels,welcome drinks,uniformed staffs ,the same artificial experiences,you have to be lucky to experince something genuine like this :)

  2. Puru says:

    What a heartwarming story ! While reading this, I am able to recall how my friends are busy looking for good comfortable hotels for our next Goa trip. So we will end up with a good hotel, nameless staff and no experience worth talking about. But now you show things from a totally different perspective. Thank you so much Earl ! :)

  3. Will says:

    Earl,
    That’s what you call roughing it! However, sometimes that’s the best way to live – simply!

    Will

  4. Prajna says:

    I felt a little something in my heart reading this and got goosebumps

  5. Aamir says:

    Hello Earl,
    Just happen to read your blog looking for some other information. Well I am from Ladakh and my village is not very far from Mulbekh. Appreciate the way you have captured the time and moment in your words, I am from there and I know it well, you have not missed or exaggerated any part of the village life in this part of the world. Even today you go to any part of Ladakh region, people will welcome you with open heart, everything comes later. They would go out of way to help you in distress, I am proud to be from this part of world.
    His hotel is on the Leh-Srinagar highway, next time I cross the hotel, I will go and tell the man about you for sure. Let me know if you would need pictures of the village, I can capture them and send across. Beautiful moments captured even more beautifully.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Aamir – That would be wonderful to have a photo of the hotel again and of the owner! If you do pass by and could do that, I would very much appreciate it :)

  6. Pingback: The Best Travel Quotes of the Year, So Far…Pt.2 » thedepartureboard.com

  7. Meera says:

    Hey!
    I stumbled upon your blog and managed to come across this article. It’s certainly an interesting read and a beautiful insight into the Indian culture. I was wondering which all cities have you visited in India. I myself plan on backpacking around India sometime soon.
    Lovely blog by the way! Very inspiring. You make me want to pack my bags immediately and start exploring! :)

    • Earl says:

      Hey Meera – Thanks for the comment! I’ve actually been all over India as I’ve spent over 2 years in that country in total. And by now I’ve covered almost every region, and have pretty much loved it all :)

      I highly recommend going through with your plans as there really is no other country on the planet that offers the travel experiences that India provides!

  8. N!N says:

    Hey Earl,

    Me again :)
    I’m getting this sense of pride of being an Indian right now as I see how much this part of the world has influenced your mind and soul.
    I alwayz enjoy reading your posts and specially ones about India. But I also feel jealous and sad that even though I stay right in the middle of this country I couldn’t get out exploring this diverse land and get to experience such everlasting memories.

    -[]\[][][]\[]-

    • Earl says:

      Hey N!N – That’s alright, most of us don’t explore our own countries too much :) And India sure does have a lot to see and do…even close to where you live there must be dozens of interesting places to visit!

      • N!N says:

        sure there are, the whole beaches of konkan belt, Saiyadri mountain range during monsoons, mahabaleshwar, various forts of Raja Sivaji arounfd the mumbai\pune area are like the heaven on earth and must to visit.
        soon i will be mailing you my contact number so that you can contact me when ever ur in mumbai.

  9. Honestly, that sounds amazing, and a step closer to a “primitive” retreat where you camp out with just a tent, no running water, electric, etc.

    Sometimes the simplest is the best. You can really breathe in your environment and enjoy it!

  10. Randy says:

    Beautiful. For a moment I was sitting with you.

  11. Wow, you’re hard core Earl. I like living simply and am even happy to sleep on the floor while couchsurfing. But I’m not sure if I could go this far. Especially after the comparative luxury of living on a cruise ship :)

  12. What a fantastic story to be able to re-tell. Reminds me of the reason I travel

    • Earl says:

      Hey Cristina – I think about this experience often and it certainly is a great reminder of the core benefits of exploring this world.

  13. Kurt says:

    The greatest things are most often the simplest.

  14. Craig says:

    Love the Afro Earl LOL!!!! :) Great story. It reminds me even when I travel locally to experience local places instead of the cookie cutter corporate places.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Craig – You have no idea how much I miss that afro! I think about growing it again from time to time but I usually give up after a few months.

  15. Great story :)

    Off the beaten path is always the best way to go.

    These are the kinds of adventures that make traveling so worth it in the long run. It’s those little moments that stand apart as truly defining parts of a person’s life and are the pull to see what’s beyond the horizon. No boring nights spent in suburbia here; there’s the world to explore!

    Great imagery, and spot on.

    • Earl says:

      Hey T.W. – And once you start exploring, it’s hard to stop for that very reason. You never know what kind of small, life-changing moment is around the corner :)

  16. Serene says:

    Lovely post there. Just so you know your story always has a way in lifting my days. :)

  17. Leanna says:

    Love this story!

  18. Colleen says:

    PS Didn’t miss the pictures. You painted them in my mind. = )

  19. Colleen says:

    That was beautiful, Earl. Encourages me do go off the beaten path. Love your site. Colleen

  20. Andrea says:

    What a unique experience, definitely the kind of experience and story you hope to accumulate while traveling :)

    • Earl says:

      Hey Andrea – Very true…and usually it is up to us. If we keep an open-mind and let our travels flow on their own, such experiences tend to happen more often!

  21. PG says:

    I am from India and chanced upon your blog while I was googling if traveling to Turkey would create problems for me when I would enter back in US on my work visa.

    This read was great. This region of India is really nice and people from this region are considered very welcoming and nice. When I was growing up as a kid, I would go with my grandparents to stay next to river. We would stay in ‘dharamshalas’, cheap hotels where we would sleep on floor, luckily had restrooms but we take bath in the river, which was considered good for health and good for washing your ‘sins’. These ‘dharamshalas’ were common in India then and were free and very clean and safe. You could donate whatever you want to when you ‘checked out of them’. Interestingly, my grand parents, who were not very educated, told me that it was a sin to use soap while taking bath in the river because it will pollute the waters for others. We would drink chai and eat home made bread while sitting on the banks of the river. I miss those days and its simplicity.

    • Earl says:

      Hey PG – Seems like you have some great memories from those days next to the river. Those simple moments always seem to be the most powerful and we often find ourselves wishing that we could live them all over again. It’s hard to do these days unfortunately.

  22. M says:

    I read this yesterday and it keeps coming back into my mind. (A sure sign of a good story!) Have you ever thought of writing a book of these kinds of stories?

    • Earl says:

      Hey M – Writing a book has always been on my list but I just haven’t been able to find the time! I’ll hopefully make it happen at some point.

  23. Rod Orgeron says:

    This piece is an outstanding illustration of the differences between “wants” and “needs.” Great commentary.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Rod – With all of the ‘stuff’ in the world today, it’s quite difficult to realize how beneficial simplicity can truly be!

  24. Samar says:

    Amazing ! The article hooks you. If you start reading, you can’t let go without finishing.
    I, along with my friends, stayed in a similar guest house in Nubra valley, some distance from Leh (India). The owner was a sweet ladakhi guy who gave us a room in his house,located right next to the river, and cooked “organic food” for us (he said said that, when he was trying to sell us the place, referring to the vegetables from his kitchen garden) :) . If you ever happen to be in the region again (and I hope you do), be sure to give it a try and you’ll enjoy it as much . The name of the place was/is “Sand dunes view guest house”.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Samar – I have written the name of that guesthouse down! Thanks for that…as I didn’t make it to Nubra last time so the next time I’m in the region, I certainly will get there.

  25. Nancy says:

    I felt like I was there! What an amazing story…you write beautifully!!!

  26. Matt Horwitz says:

    Great post Earl! I could almost feel myself there in the experience. What a time man! So many things about this post were amazing that I find it hard to find the right words. Most importantly, I felt like I was there, and I got a taste of the awesomeness! So nice to see people doing what I will be embarking on :)

    • Earl says:

      Hey Matt – Just imagine yourself having similar experiences and that should be enough motivation to make sure you do whatever it takes to achieve your travel goals!

  27. Laura says:

    So is drinking chai with this elderly man in Tibet must be one of your happy peaceful places. Heck, not my memory and it might just be one of my happy places. Thanks for sharing!

    What a shame about the pictures. I feel your pain.

  28. Mica says:

    Lovely story Earl. Its the simple things. That is what I try to explain to people sometimes.

  29. Bama says:

    Isn’t this the reason why we travel? To meet genuinely kind local people like that old man. As I read through every single word in this post, I imagine how it feels making some gestures to communicate, looking at the grass behind the house, walking to the river, and…smiling to that old man. Well-written, Derek!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Bama – It certainly is why we should travel. These are the experiences that would not happen if we didn’t leave home and these also tend to be the experiences that have the greatest impact on our lives.

  30. It sounds truly amazing and would love live this experience myself some day … but no Internet or electricity to charge the camera batteries or laptop … mmm ouch. Remind me to go there fully charged and stay only until it all dies which likely is in a day or two ….

    • Earl says:

      Hey Irene – Haha…well, sometimes it’s good to put the laptop and camera away and just enjoy our surroundings without them! It’s not easy these days to do that of course :)

  31. Steve C says:

    Earl, I want to be able to write like you when I grow up! When I go back through my diary/ journals, there’s always lots of information of what we did and where we stayed, but there’s no “story pizazz”!

    I have a similar memory of staying at the Yak Hotel in Tukuche, Nepal, half way through the Annapurna circuit trek. We also stayed for two nights in a room with a dirt floor, no electricity and a squatter out back. It was 6 Rupees/ night, which was about 28 cents. We stayed an extra day because it was raining and pretty cold. It snowed on the upper peaks overnight and what a sight the next morning. The Himalayas in all their glory. The couple who ran the place fixed our dinner of tea, soup & Tibetan bread on a fire in a mud “stove”, which was served to us on the front porch. We were entertained by a couple herds of Yaks and a herd of mountain goats that made their way right down main street.

    Like your memories, I often think of the Yak Hotel, the stuffed Yak over the fireplace and what a wonderful experience that was. The owners were very warm, friendly and welcoming. It’s what makes me want to go out and do it again.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Steve – Those are the little experiences that make travel worthwhile! And that’s why a night at the Namchung Hotel motivates me to continue traveling much more than any monument or museum I’ve seen over the years and I have a feeling it’s the exact same with you.

  32. Pamela says:

    Wow…sounds like an amazing stay/lesson. And, at least you have a photo of you and the owner. Bummer that your photos got deleted.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Pamela – Having a couple of photos does help. And the one with me and the owner was my favorite photo anyway!

  33. Heather Blood says:

    I don’t know about the bathroom thing, but I was actually just talking to someone about how nice and simple it is to live out of a backpack. It makes life nice and easy not to have a thousand little things to take care of. The hotel sounds like a very cool place. I’ve never been anywhere like that, but lord knows there have been some interesting hostels. Good read!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Heather – I’m sure you have found some ‘interesting’ hostels during your adventures as they certainly do come in all shapes and forms. And living out of a backpack sure does get addicting once you realize that you don’t need much else to survive!

  34. Cindy Thistle says:

    Thanks Earl. What a wonderful memory and it’s exactly those simple times and those wise generous and gentle people that when they cross our paths however briefly seem to capture our hearts and take a little resting place inside there forever. I had a similar experience with an eighty year old woman as we hiked down from the top of Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka together just after sunrise 11 years ago and we went back to her little one room shanty for tea. Like you I have a single photo of that precious weathered face and I don’t know her name but as I read your article her memory came flooding into my consciousness as vividly as if it were yesterday. Thankyou!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Cindy – That’s so great that you have a similar memory and that it has stayed with you for so long. These are always the type of moments that flash into my head first when I think of a place I’ve been, appearing in my head much more quickly than the image of some site I visited or a train or bus ride I took!

  35. Sara says:

    You’ve got the best writing skills, Earl! Sounds like a wonderful place…but I always wonder how you happen to find these places?

    • Earl says:

      Hey Sara – Finding a place like the Namchung was completely random. I was doing a big loop through the Kashmir region of India and I had seen the town of Mulbekh on a map. And I had plenty of time so I just decided to stop there without knowing much about the place. Turned out to be a good decision!

  36. Sergio Felix says:

    Hey Earl,

    Man… you do have that ‘spark’ with your articles… the story really sucks you in.

    I have to admit I was laughing my ass off where I got to the part where you were showed “the bathroom”.

    I think the last time I actually took a dump completely out in the open was maybe 10 years ago on a surf weekend but there were no more people than my friends and I.

    I don’t know if I could do that in public though.

    Great story man and wow… $1.50 USD the night? You could have lived forever there! LOL

    Sergio

    • Earl says:

      Hey Sergio – The non-bathroom bathroom does take some getting used to but once you realize that nobody around cares at all (it’s just normal for them), then suddenly it doesn’t seem as difficult to do! Or you just close your eyes :)

  37. I know the feeling well. Being a huge tech guy, my friends and I have always make sure to take a ‘tech break’ and go camping for at least a few days. The only rule we have is no phones or computers allowed. However we did decide that digital cameras were ok.

    Take a break from technology and see the world for what it is once in a while. Simple and awesome.

  38. Brian Lackey says:

    Awesome! How much does a night in the Namchung Hotel cost?

    • Earl says:

      Hey Brian – The room rate was 75 rupees per night (about $1.50 USD at the time) and he charged me another 50 rupees per day for the meals. Quite a bargain :)

  39. Very inspiring story.Sometime we wonder why bother with all the material possession in life.Laurence

    • Earl says:

      Thanks Laurence! It’s so easy to become attached to material possessions but they certainly don’t provide long-lasting happiness most of the time.

  40. Carlo says:

    Excellent read. You capture the scene so very well with your descriptions. Fair play. Sounds like an amazing experience.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>