Opening May 1, 2016, Norden Camp is the realization of a dream shared by Yidam Kyap, a Tibetan nomad raised in these grasslands, and his Tibetan-American wife Dechen Yeshi, to create opportunities for the Tibetan community in this pristine corner of China’s remote Gansu Province.
Overseen by Dechen and Yidam, whose relatives still live in this undulating, wildflower strewn landscape here at 3,200 meters (10,500 feet) above sea level, Norden Camp offers priceless natural luxuries like fresh air, Himalayan fed river water and vast expanses of emerald-tinged terrain along with Tibetan hospitality, authentic gastronomy and unexpectedly plush comforts. The campsite, a grazing area in winter for sheep and yaks, unfurls across 11 hectares ringed by Himalayan foothills. On any given day, nomadic neighbors may host horse festivals or Buddhist celebrations. Norden Camp guests are invited to participate in such timeless traditions.
Back at camp, Dechen and Yidam incorporate stylish aspects from their other family business, Norlha Textiles
, a successful community based enterprise producing cashmere-like yak khullu
for European fashion houses including Lanvin, Celine and Sonia Rykiel. Four nomad Khullu
Tents, made of hand spun and hand woven yak fiber, and seven traditional Log Cabins, inspired by those found in the woodlands of the Tibetan Plateau, spread out along a gently meandering river. Each extends to a private wooden deck where Norden Camp confers the ultimate luxury: doing nothing but listening to birdsong and the sound of water rippling over time worn river stones.
Tents and cabins are tastefully furnished with custom Tibetan furniture and local antiques. Norlha felted carpets and pillows feature stylized interpretations of these grasslands’ animal inhabitants. All accommodations incorporate polished wooden floors, high quality European beds and bedding. A traditional Tibetan wood furnace provides heat in each unit while other sustainable initiatives include environmentally sensitive plumbing and advanced insulation, plus solar power in the cabins. For added warmth, walls are insulated with a layer of yak felt. On arrival, guests are escorted to their cabin or tent by Norden’s Tibetan staff who introduce the camp’s easy to use, eco friendly facilities: the freshwater fed copper basin sinks, bucket showers and Finnish dry earth toilets (one scoop or two, depending). Come nightfall, snuggle under the generous pile of Norlha thick-ply khullu
blankets or take one outside to keep warm while counting shooting stars amidst the constellation filled sky.
Norden Camp will operate between May 1st and October 15, 2015. May is comfortably warm with temperatures of 12-16°C. Wildflowers cover the landscape in June, July and August when days range from 15-25°C. Fall arrives in September with temperatures of 6-12°C. October’s crisp, clear 10°C days give way to considerably cooler nights.
Sightings of hares, marmots, gazelles, owls and migratory birds are common around Norden Camp during these warmer months. The Finnish sauna can be reserved for up to four guests. In the evenings, all are welcome to gather by the traditional bonfire. Activities off property include picnics with Yidam’s relatives and other nomad families on the Gyenjia grasslands, guided walks and treks, grassland yoga, and horse riding on the backs of nimble Tibetan horses dressed with traditionally embellished leather saddles and hand knotted Tibetan carpets.
The camp’s serene location belies its proximity to a treasure of Tibetan cultural heritage. A twenty-minute drive brings Norden campers to Labrang Tashi Kyil Monastery བླ་བྲང་བཀྲ་ཤིས་འཁྱིལ founded in 1709. One of the six great monasteries of Gelukpa Tibetan Buddhism, also known as the Yellow Hats, Labrang remains one of the most important Tibetan Buddhist sites outside Tibet and is home to around 1,800 monks. A short walk through Labrang’s vibrant local market brings our guests to Norden Café operated by Yidam’s sisters who serve homemade sandwiches, pizza, brownies, cakes and cookies plus freshly squeezed juices to expats, travelers, and Xiahe’s upwardly mobile locals. Up the road, Dechen and Yidam operate a factory-price Norlha boutique where crimson and saffron robed monks are among the clientele.
Norden Camp maintains a wholesale priced selection of Norlha goods too at the camp’s trading post located near the juniper-scented Buddhist offering alter. Those who are interested in sustainable chic luxury may visit the Norlha Textile workshop in Ritoma, a 2.5-hour drive from camp. Textile aficionados are invited to try yak felting under the guidance of experts among Norlha’s 125 Tibetan staff. Traditional lunch is included.
Eating is essential to Tibetan hospitality. Norden Camp is fortunate to welcome Chef Andrew Notte, formerly of Aman Resorts and Whole Foods, to oversee the riverside kitchen. Organic by default, dishes are predominantly made from ingredients sourced in the surrounding area. Milk from ‘bri
(female yaks) that graze on land teeming with medicinal plants, is known for its high nutritional value and reduced lactose content, and is the source of Norden’s healthy and delicious butter, yogurt and cream. During summer, pastures here abound in local herbs and mushrooms that Norden’s kitchen crew collect daily for the seasonal menu. Bread is baked in traditional mud brick ovens and noodles are freshly hand pulled. Other staples include momo
, everyone’s favorite Tibetan dumplings, as well as Tibetan salads, lamb, sausages and the region’s famous Black Pig that feeds on the droma
root. Freshly brewed imported coffee, Western comfort foods and homemade desserts fill out the freshly prepared fare. Vegetarian dishes are on offer as well.
Norden Camp offers the rare opportunity to experience a truly new frontier in sustainable tourism. Norden’s young staff of around two dozen Tibetans feels especially proud that their community effort has already attracted the attention of the Financial Times’ How to Spend It
, TimeOut Beijing, TimeOut Hong Kong
, Voyage Deluxe
(France) and been named to the 2015 Travel + Leisure It List.
Their authentic smiles and genuinely warm welcomes await adventurous global nomads.