23rd July 2019
We all know what sleepovers are supposed to mean...popcorn and scary movies, the novelty of being with your friends at a time you wouldn’t usually see them, story sharing, waking up on the living room floor surrounded by sleeping bags. They are seldom about comfort or getting a good night’s sleep, but for bonding, feeling connected, even in the foreignness of night, the best time for secrets to be revealed and true otherness to be felt, little else matters. Just because we leave these kind of sleepovers behind, doesn’t mean you can’t still chase that feeling all across the globe and attempt to get to the root of different cultures and get to know people and how they live their lives whilst travelling.
Up in the spectacular snow-dusted mountain peaks, fairies, gods and ancestors intermingle, playfully riding the wind down through an abundant valley, rustling juniper trees and flirting with the heavy black robes and multicoloured headdresses of the Kalash women. It’s easy to lose yourself between dream and reality when you rise from your slumber in the magical Kalash Valley. Deciphering legend is not made any easier when you’re lulled to sleep on mulberry vodka and pagan song.
The wonderful part of this sleepover is that you almost fall into your bed straight from the energetic dancing that you’ll be swept into on any of the Kalash people’s numerous festivals. Discovering their unique culture in the north of usually conservative Pakistan takes some time to wrap one’s head around in itself, but luckily, with a distinct lack of tourists, your time here will be dedicated to understanding a culture that intrigues anthropologists and, in the face of outside pressures, a community that perseveres under the eyes of watchful deities.
If you happen to like camping in general, then you’re already in luck. Staying in yurts, or gers, depending on the country you’re in (and we’d recommend Mongolia or Kyrgyzstan) is actually a far more romantic and comfortable experience than it might at first sound. Ok, so you won’t have flushing toilets and a shower will consist of a splash of water or hot wet towels brought to you of a morning, but that all adds to the sense of adventure. Camping under the clearest stars, you’ll wake up to the greatest of the great outdoors…rolling hills, mountainous backdrops and expansive skies. You’ll soon see why the nomadic locals prefer to keep it moving when all that scenery is as easy to change up as a Windows screensaver.
The beauty is one thing, but we’re willing to bet you won’t experience this kind of hospitality glamping at Glastonbury. You’ll eat communally in one ger and before you head to bed, your hosts will get a fire started to warm your ger as it can get a bit chilly at nighttime. Although, you might be sent to bed with a belly lined with vodka so it’s not entirely unlike Glastonbury.
It’s one thing to dream of the exotic charms and opulence of life as an Indian royal, but it’s quite another to actually step into that world. Hosted by the eighth Maharajah of Jhalawar in his very own summer residence, no less. Chandrajit, meaning ‘conqueror of the moon’, inherited his grandfather’s 130-year-old former hunting lodge, which is now a stunning heritage hotel adorned with an elaborate display of hunting trophies and should your visit coincide with his, he won’t hold back on telling you all about it over evening G&T’s.
Step back in time into authentic grandeur, surrounded by Raj-era heirlooms, chandeliers, roaming peacocks and even framed photographs offering a glimpse into the lives behind the resplendence, this unique experience falls somewhere between staying in someone’s home, a museum and a palace. A far cry from the vibrant cities of Rajasthan, you will find peace and quiet amidst the overgrown grounds. Yet this is still India, as will become apparent when you smell the traditional Rajasthani cooking luring you to dinner and recitations of the Maharajah’s bedtime stories get you well and truly ready for sleep.
Another one of our more rustic sleepovers is also one of the most rewarding, especially if your pursuit of truly authentic travel is something you strive for. Established with local communities in mind, this is perhaps the best way to integrate into the true heart of the country, amongst its people, in a place tourism has barely touched, and one that offers some of the most spectacular views in the country.
Staying in rural thatched roof huts called tukuls, as far removed from the western world as you can imagine, everyone from the camp managers to the cooks are employed from local villages. This back-to-basics kind of sleepover is entirely eco-friendly, and going to sleep at night by candlelight after a bucket shower genuinely becomes far more charming when you know your experience is also respecting the lands and communities you come into contact with. After a long day trekking, you’ll be enveloped further into a world of sitting around campfires sharing stories, and visiting traditional villages and farming communities. It’s the kind of experience that is exactly what travel should be, where your presence is just as welcome and your story just as eager to be heard, as you are to hear theirs. When you wake up on the verge of the escarpment, looking out into the miles of craggy vista, you’ll feel like you’re a part of a community sharing the ends of the earth.
There’s a certain degree of irony that comes from feeling so toasty in a tepee tent in one of the harshest environments on earth. With snow piled up its sides, building ever gradually as the ornate wisps fall slowly and silently from the sky, Sweden’s Sapmi Nature Camp is one of the cosiest sleepovers you could experience. The welcome from owner Lennart is as warm as the constantly flowing coffee and the delicious food he cooks himself. Add to that snuggly tents, bubbling saunas and the comforting wonder that comes from seeing the night sky light up from the aurora borealis, and no amount of cold could permeate that kind of warmth.
In a place which couldn’t feel less connected to the world, yet more connected to nature, staying at the Sapmi Nature Camp, you’ll learn about the Sami’s - the indigenous people who have for generations inhabited this land as reindeer herders – and their way of life. Wake up to the still silence and brightness of being completely surrounded by snow in one of just six tepees and witness sustainable tourism done oh-so-right amongst unspoiled nature and hospitality born from the desire to spread knowledge about a little-understood culture.
Waking up to the comforting sounds of the Cambodian jungle, or any jungle at that, is exactly the kind of escape that many of us dream of; filtered sunlight through the canopy, the sticky heat of the day already permeating your rustic jungle dorm and lo and behold, an elephant or two roaming around right outside your dorm. While the accommodation is fairly basic, there’s so much to do here that you shouldn’t be spending much time sleeping. As well as watching these graceful giants wandering the 1,500 acres of forest freely, having been rescued from the life of a captive and working animal and given the idyllic elephant retirement this sanctuary offers, you can also go on a jungle walk or participate in a volunteering project.
The Elephant Valley Project doesn’t only give back to the elephants but supports the community and protects the environment, working hand in hand with the local hilltribes and the families who once owned the elephants looked after by the sanctuary. They provide health care, education support, vital job opportunities for the local people alongside caring for sick and abused elephants. It would be nigh on impossible to leave this place not feeling empowered and inspired at the kindness and determination of those who care on such a grand, grey scale.