It seems for as many people heading to Ladakh these days, there are a similar number of travel and tour companies offering packages for Ladakh. Of course, this isn’t just limited Ladakh; it seems the internet and in particular, facebook is full of tour companies selling packages for popular and somewhat offbeat places in Ladakh, Himachal and other states.
This is great because if you just have to take a packaged tour, you have a plethora of options.
However, for the vast majority of people, it is better to travel on their own and experience not only the beauty of these wonderful destinations but also the trials and triumphs which come your way, when you travel on your own.
This blog post would not only help you make up your mind if you still aren’t sure if you wish to travel on your own or with a tour company. It will also help you ask the right questions if you do decide to go in for a packaged tour to Ladakh.
Most tour companies do not have a contingency plan: What happens when their vehicle breaks down or someone in the group has a major breakdown or an accident? Does your tour suffer due to no fault of yours?
In case you’re the one who has the unfortunate luck of being the one involved in a breakdown or accident. Do they take good care of you and have a backup plan to take you to the nearest medical facilities or provide breakdown services or will they leave you behind to fend for yourself?
When the tour groups for Ladakh, Spiti, Rajasthan etc. started initially, they used to charge a premium and had not only a backup vehicle and mechanics with them (in case of motorcycle and self-drive tours), but also trained paramedic staff (at times even a doctor).
Unfortunately, most of the new tour companies just don’t have that sort of facility nor experience in dealing with emergency situations.
So before deciding to go with a tour company (if you must), ask them what happens in the case of an accident or medical emergency (with you and with someone else)? Ask them if they have oximeters, backup oxygen cylinders, and trained paramedic staff at all times?
Because at the end of the day, if you have to take care of your own breakdowns and medical emergencies, why pay a premium to a company, instead of going alone?
Most tour companies have no experience in conducting these tours: Organising a trip for yourself or a handful of your friends is different from organizing a trip for paid clients and the majority of these companies have no experience whatsoever in doing that. Worse still, these fly by night operators will have tour photographs either stolen from other’s websites or bought/borrowed and even fake reviews on their websites and FB Page in order to make them look like an experienced bunch.
While everyone has to start somewhere and a brand new company might actually provide you better service due to their enthusiasm. Truth is, experience matters and there is a learning curved involved.
Having said that, I would gladly pick a company who is honest about the fact that they are just starting out, rather than one which is trying to misrepresent the facts. So ask them questions about years in operation, past tour histories, references and check the age of their domain names to make sure, you are picking the right tour company.
Don’t fall for we are not making a profit trap: Every business is run for a profit and tour companies are no different. New operators might claim this as a marketing strategy, that they aren’t going to be making a profit, however, this is rarely true.
From hotels to taxis, everyone offers anywhere from 10% to 40% margin to tour operators. So if they are saying that you’re getting a room worth Rs. 2,000 a night, it is likely costing them Rs. 1,500 or less.
If they are actually naïve or small enough to pay for these services at a listed price and don’t have margin baked into their prices, then they won’t have any headroom in case of any exigencies during the tour and there are always some while traveling. And let’s be frank, no one likes to dip into their own savings to pay for someone else.
So overlook this fluff and instead try and find out, where exactly are they cutting corners or giving you less, in order to use this “I am not making any profit” excuse.
There are always hidden costs: Irrespective of whether you go with a small operator or a well-established player. There are always some hidden costs, which you only learn at the time of book or worse still, later.
From airfare component of an advertised packaged tour being a variable based on date of flight to entry ticket to monasteries and museums to charging for oxygen, spares, mechanic service, extra food etc.
Professionally managed companies are honest enough to be upfront about it and list it in their terms of service, while a poorly managed one will tell you this at the 11th hour.
So don’t believe whatever the price is listed in their ad or initially on their website is the final cost you will end up paying. Understand the hidden costs, taxes and extra chargeable before finalizing anything.
You don’t really need a tour company for visiting Ladakh!: At the end of the day, all that you require for traveling to Ladakh is determination, common sense, ability to search Google for answers, a little bit of planning and help from experts at travel communities like BCMTouring to help you come up with a fantastic plan for your trip.
If you’re planning to use public transport then please keep in mind that taxis and buses in Ladakh are easily available, even taxis on sharing basis is easily available.
You don’t really need a backup vehicle as long as your own vehicle has been serviced properly, you’re carrying the basic tools and spares and drive/ride carefully. (Check out How to prepare your motorcycle for Ladakh and How to prepare your car for Ladakh.)
Add to that, the ideal group size for a Ladakh trip is often between 2 to 4 people. Any more and it sort of ruins the solitude and calmness Ladakh has to offer.
At the end of the day, Ladakh is no longer a remote and offbeat destination. Each year over 2,00,000 visitors travel to Ladakh and help run a tourism industry, which is the primary source of revenue for the region. There are numerous hotels, restaurants, and other medical and travel services are easily available in Ladakh.
You can also find helpful fellow travelers in case you need help in the middle of nowhere. I have stopped at times to help a fellow biker in need. And know of even taxi drivers in Ladakh who would do the same for a traveler from elsewhere. Then there is the Indian Army, ITBP, and Police with its numerous checkpoints and bases, always ready to extend a helping hand in case of an emergency.
In fact, the only reason to go in for a packaged tour is due to the convenience factor, as it requires zero inputs to find and book hotels and come up with a travel plan. Of course, for those traveling on motorcycles and cars, it can also mean a backup vehicle with trained mechanics and paramedic. Beyond that, there are few things a tour operator can provide that you cannot do on your own.