In the previous article on How to calculate cost or budget for Leh – Ladakh trip I mentioned that if you hire a private taxi for Manali – Leh journey then it can easily cost you about Rs 15000 – 18000 just for a drop from Manali to Leh or Leh to Manali. However, there is another way out if your luck is with you. What is it? Well, there is a rule that Leh registered taxi cannot pickup passengers from Manali while coming back and same rule applies that Himachal or Manali taxi cannot pickup passengers from Leh while coming back to Manali. Hence, the charges of private taxis are so high as the drivers have to get costing for both ways. But, we are humans after all and at times these rules are broken for the benefit of both passenger and driver. Driver charges the operational and fuel cost to take you back from the place where he is not authorized, i.e., if you can get hold of one, then Ladakh taxi can take you back from Manali by paying just fuel and operational cost and similarly, Himachal/Manali taxi can take you back from Leh at around similar cost.
Now, the best part. This operational or fuel cost can range from Rs 4000 – 6000 depending upon how you bargain with the taxi driver. Hence, the cost of Manali – Leh and Leh – Manali comes down from 2 X (15k-18K) = Rs 30K – 36K to a mere Rs 8000 – 12000… And, you save the entire cost of food and accommodation almost for the entire trip 😯 😯 …
Ha ha ha, However, the toughest part is to find such a deal in both directions until unless you have sufficient contacts with both Ladakh Taxi drivers as well as Manali taxi drivers who are friendly enough with you to fix such a deal. May be on your third or fourth trip to Ladakh you can manage such a handsome deal. Realistically speaking, with little ease you can at least chip in with Rs 10K – 11K savings. How?
When you reach Manali try to fix the deal with Himachal Taxi driver first for one side journey to Leh. He will of course ask you anywhere about Rs 15-18K for a drop to Leh. Once you settle for one side, then tell him about your interest to come with him only from Leh as well on one of the day he will be returning from Leh. Depending on your Leh – Ladakh itinerary, fix the day and deal with him. He will probably ask you anywhere between Rs 4000 – 6000 depending upon the bargaining skills or may be for entire package. If the taxi driver do not agree then move to some other one and repeat the same process or in a way you like. You will need to definitely explore some options to find such a deal. Hence, reaching Manali or Leh taxi stand a day before or early morning is highly advisable.
A true account of my friend who followed the above process and successfully booked such a deal for Rs 21,000 in June 2011 where he paid Rs 4000 for return journey from Leh to Manali. Thereby saving good Rs 11K – 12K for investing in local taxis within Leh – Ladakh 🙂
Problems or Challenges finding such deals
Ideally, the driver while coming alone from the other end, does this journey in single day. So, you be ready for some tough time with this single day cannon ball run. Otherwise, you can always pay a bit more and ask him to cover the journey with a night halt. If you are short on time then finding such a deal will be bread on butter 🙂 …
It might be possible that the day when the driver return to his native place from Leh or Manali, you may not be ready to return as per the itinerary. Hence, tweak and synchronize your itinerary with taxi’s near by return date or ask him to accommodate you in some of his friend’s taxi who is returning on the day you have planned to return.
AMS is always an issue while traveling from Manali to Leh. Hence, you do not have the option to go via Srinagar side and minimize AMS related issues. So, follow the tips on minimizing AMS and may be halt your Manali – Leh journey on Keylong or Jispa thereby avoiding stay at high altitudes of Sarchu or Pang. If you need more details or tips on AMS and importance of acclimatization then do read the article linked here
It may not be possible to find such deals if you plan to go via Srinagar side and come back via Manali side or vice-versa. The problem gets complicated here in way exactly like you are finding such deals on both sides i.e. from Manali as well as Leh without knowing any driver. However, one day when you have made sufficient trips to Ladakh and had enough contacts of drivers then yes, such a deal is possible too 🙂
Few tips to find cheap taxis to Leh – Ladakh
As soon as you find a non-native (Ladakhi driver in Manali and Himachali driver in Leh) exchange your contact numbers. Do not talk much there at the taxi stand and fix the deal and pickup point over phone or away from taxi stand so that other native drivers cannot get into the act and create problems for that non-native taxi driver.
If by chance, some native driver get into the act confidently tell him that you were just clarifying on the raod conditions and status as you are having your own vehicle to drive back and little concerned. Then fix rest of the deal and pickup point over phone.
Try to stroll around mall road in taxi stands of Manali or Leh around night, when most of the non-native drivers reach. Get hold of any of them and quickly exchange phone numbers and may be tell him to come over away from taxi stand. (Thanks to Dhiraj Debbarma for sharing the idea of night stroll in the comment below)
I am sure that after one trip to Leh – Ladakh you will feel the itch to go again (such is the beauty of this heavenly place), so try to keep records of contact numbers of such drivers, such that they can be contacted for such deals on the next trip. Share the numbers with other fellow travelers too, may be here, other forums, your friends who are traveling to Ladakh etc.
Find and ask on forums, blogs, sites etc for such contact numbers of taxi drivers doing Manali – Leh, Leh – Manali, Leh – Srinagar, Srinagar – Leh… Contact them and try to fix the deal or ask them when they will be reaching non-native place based on the itinerary. (Thanks to Kaushik Da for this tip in the comment below)
Note-: Same rules apply between Srinagar and Leh but I have heard many drivers of Leh and Srinagar both, run their taxis from other ends as shared taxis where they charge about Rs 1200 – 1500 per seat for a drop. In that case, it will be more difficult to find such a deal. Hence, I have not mentioned anything about Srinagar though you can apply the same process between Srinagar and Leh as well, who knows your luck is on higher end of the curve at that moment 🙂 …
In the end, all I have said is a bit difficult to find but it is indeed possible and few people do it or have done it. Just it depends on your luck and the way you deal with people after meeting them. So, while planning your trip to Leh – Ladakh try to explore this option as well or keep it at the back of your mind and who knows you may "manage a 2N/3D Nubra and 1N/2D Pangong Tso trip from the savings you get from it.", as quoted by one of my friend and a super passionate traveler Kaushik da in this IM thread here. In fact, the source and motivation of this article is Kaushik da and that IM thread only, so special thanks to him for pointing me out.
I would be really happy if any one of you found such a deal and have experience with it. Any tips, suggestions, contacts, anything that save us money for taxis 😉 to Leh – Ladakh, will be helpful for other fellow travelers too. So, do share your thoughts and valuable inputs or resources on the same with us too.