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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

4x4 Jeep Safari in Himalayas- Mission aborted

We always write about our trips completed and seldom analyze the plans that were abandoned or postponed. This post tells you about a crazy idea I got, subsequent enquiries, information gathering and thoughts which eventually forced me to drop that crazy idea. (Crazy because cost factor can’t be justified for my income level) You may read the post and go for it if you can…

I saw an advertisement by Mercury Himalayan Explorations (MHE) in Outlook Traveler that they organize Self Drive 4x4 Safari in the Himalayas (Leh Ladakh tourism). Driving an Off Roader like Mitsubishi Pajero or Endeavor Thunder+ at such a high altitude, on one of the highest motorable roads (4.5kms above sea level), in the backdrop of mighty Himalayas would have been an experience of a life time. Deep inside I knew it would cost a bomb but out of curiosity dashed a mail enquiring about the itinerary and price.(For the uninformed, a 4x4 vehicle will have all four wheels powered by engine while conventional cars will have only 2 wheels powered)

Below was the itinerary-which was really tempting. I’ll hold the price for now

  • Day 00: Delhi-Manali by AC Bus, (night journey)
  • Day 01: Acclimatization at Manali in a resort, 
  • Day 02: MANALI - JISPA (3142m/147 Km) 
  • Day 03: JISPA – SARCHU (4253m/75 Km) 
  • Day 04: SARCHU – TSOKAR (4485m/115 Km) 
  • Day 05: TSOKAR – LEH (3506m)
  • Day 06: LEH 
  • Day 07: LEH - DELHI 
Detailed itinerary would run to 3 pages, hence I’ve removed the details. In summary self drive would start on Day 2 from Manali and will continue till Lay on Day 6, via Rohtang Pass and several other landmark places. Stay in luxury hotels where available and in tents otherwise, Vehicle rent, Services of a mechanic, guide and local sightseeing included, while fuel expenses, air travel and some other expenses will be extra.

How much do you think above expedition would cost per person? 10k? 20k? 40k? 80k?

Well, the price quoted was 46k per person for 4 pax and 39k per person if there’re 8 people. Other expenses like air travel, fuel etc would amount to another 15-20k, taking the total to 65k for 7-8 days. More expensive than an international holiday in Singapore or Malaysia. Kenny suggested that one can try for corporate sponsorship-I felt the case is not convincing enough for someone to fund it (unless we do it on a much larger scale like a rally or something)

But then, for a moment I thought it is reasonable- I knew that SUVs like Scorpio would cost 3-3.5k per day or 20k for a week. Above trip was in Ford Endeavor or Mitsubishi Pajero, costing nearly twice as much as Scorpio and would command a rent of Rs 5-6k per day easily (Companies like MHE should be getting them at much lower rates than Individuals). Other expenses like stay in resorts, food, guide and mechanic charges etc made it sound reasonable and I thought it is a good deal at 50k. I was thinking that when there’re four people they’ll give four Jeeps, one for each participant. But I was in for a shock: I was told all four people will be made to sit in one SUV and will have to share the driving. That was the most disappointing part for me. If I pay to sit in a 4x4 I should be sitting in Driver’s seat-nowhere else. I didn’t see any value in paying 50k and spending 75% of the time sitting in passengers’ seat-I would rather travel in a bus.

Upon further enquiry I was told that cost would be almost 2-3 times, if different vehicle needs to be provided for each participant. My balloon was pinned. Tussssssssssssssssssss! 

I asked how much they would charge just to provide a guide and a mechanic while I’ll rent the vehicle on my own. Got a reply that they don’t operate that way and it is either full package or nothing. (Driving in the Himalayas is not like our intercity drives-could be too risky without proper guide and mechanical help)
Some tastes are really expensive… Hope they become affordable one day…More over it is a recession time where one shouldn’t fancy spending big money this way. With a heavy heart I replied to MHE that I’m standing down. Abort Mission-I repeat, Abort Mission…

If any of you are interested please proceed. Itinerary is quite flexible as per your needs and cost would vary accordingly. The roads open May 15 onwards…
A little search on internet tells you there’re several other operators who conduct similar safaris for around INR 20k onwards, but I understand most of them are not self drive ones and are held in much cheaper vehicles

Related Info: Mahindra conducts off road Rallies which one can attend if he/she has a Mahindra Product. Jeepthrills.in is an online community of 4x4 enthusiasts. More about Self drive in this post.

5 comments :

mohanbn.com said...

Though it seems a little expensive, I am sure this kind of trip would b e a life time experience.

If given a chance to travel all the places you have mentioned with some discounted price without compromising on the itinerary, I would be game for it :)

Shrinidhi Hande said...

If you're serious I am sure you can negotiate and bringdown the price by 10-20%. I didn't try negotiating as I was not sure if I want to go for it. Due to slowdown tourism is likely to be lean this season and they should be happy to give some discount...

Also if you don't want self drive and can manage with a cheaper vehicle I am sure cost will come down by several thousand rupees without compromising on itinerary

Vasanth said...

Hi Shrinidhi,

Me along with 7 of our friends took this journey on our bikes. It is the journey of a lifetime. I would suggest you take it.

We were 8 guys, 6 bikes and totally we took 18 days (Bangalore to Bangalore). The cost per person came upto about Rs 15,000. These are the places we covered:

Delhi - Chandigarh - Manali - Keylong - Sarchu - Leh - in and around Leh - Kargil - Srinagar - Amritsar - Delhi

I'm currently trying my hand at putting our journey in blog. It's an amateur attempt so not that great though. You can visit at

http://www.vasanth62.blogspot.com/

Thanks,
Vasanth

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Hi Vasanth

Read your post.. waiting for the next part... Thanks for sharing...

Anonymous said...

last week our group held a similar talk about this subject and you point out something we have not covered yet, appreciate that.

- Laura