Q: We are a group of six interested in a driving holiday from Manali to Leh. Please suggest the best time, type of vehicle available for self-drive, cost, number of days and tour operators.
Marco Says: The Manali—Leh route takes about 13.5 hrs (approx. 473km) and most people spread it over two days (overnight at Jispa or Keylong), which gives you time to acclimatise to the altitude. The Leh—Manali Highway is open to vehicles between May/June and mid-October/early November, depending on the weather. Since you are six people, you’ll need an SUV. I recommend a four-wheel drive. There are many providers for self-driven cars–Mylescars (mylescars.com), MyChoize (mychoize.com) and Avis (avis.co.in) are my picks. With Mylescars, a 4WD Mahindra Scorpio picked up in Delhi costs â‚¹43,330 for 10 days, with one tank of fuel; while MyChoize is â‚¹25,860 and Avis â‚¹31,055 base rental (no mention of 4WD in either case).
You should set aside at least 10 days if starting from Delhi. Reaching Manali takes 12 hours, and Leh another two days, so six days travelling to and fro. You’ll need a day to acclimatise at Ladakh. That leaves you three days to visit attractions like Nubra Valley, Thiksey Monastery, Zanskar Valley, Pangong Tso Lake and Hemis Monastery.
One tour operator immediately springs to mind–Adventures Overland (adventuresoverland.com). They have two itineraries that include a Manali—Leh drive. The shorter 8N/9D tour, along the route Delhi—Manali—Jispa—Leh—Pangong Lake—Leh—Khardung La Top—Leh, includes river rafting, mountain-bike rides and trekking (price on request).