Sporting a stubble, sunglasses and a hat, with his securitymen trailing him from a discreet distance, Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, 39, visited Leh with two companions like any well-to-do tourist last weekend.
Dressed in jeans, T-shirt and a half-jacket, the Congress general secretary stepped into the three-star Grand Dragon hotel on Saturday evening, walked about the main market for 15 minutes with his companions without inviting attention.
He then stepped into the Continental Golden Dragon restaurant, played chess and tucked in.
The young MP had sweet corn soup, vegetable pakoras, mutton masala and dal fry and insisted on paying the bill despite the protestations of the restaurant owner.
“We did not recognise him at first. He walked in like any other customer. But when we took a closer look, we realised who he was,” said restaurant owner Rinchen Namgyal, 31.
“We told him our tradition doesn’t allow us to take money from a guest, especially one who is a great leader of our nation,” said Namgyal.
But he said Rahul insisted, saying, “No, it is illegal for me as an MP to accept anything free of cost. If you are insisting so much, get me a 10 per cent discount.”
Said steward Manohar Lal, 26, on the phone from Leh: “It was the biggest occasion of my life. I had seen him from a distance at a rally in Kullu (Himachal Pradesh) and had dreamt of seeing him from close quarters.”
Ghulam Mustafa, 50, owner of the Grand Dragon, is elated that Gandhi checked into his hotel. “We were told a VIP would check into the hotel. We had a suite ready. But Rahul Gandhi opted for a double bedroom,” Mustafa said. The Congress leader spent the night and left for the airport on Sunday morning...”
“Rahul made us feel extraordinary by his stay here and his simplicity,” the hotelier said.