If time is no object then this extensive tour takes in all the best elements of this unique region. From the sumptuous Golden Temple of Amritsar, through the lushly forested hills of Himachal Pradesh, and up into the high plateaux and valleys of Kashmir and Ladakh, this month long itinerary covers them all. On one level this is arguably the most scenic part of India, and yet there is so much more on offer here than just day after day of jaw-dropping mountain vistas. The diverse cultures of this area are beguiling, and the welcome is as warm as the winters are cold. Due to road access issues, this tour can operate only during the summer months, generally early June to mid-September.
Day 1: Arrive Delhi. On arrival in Delhi you’ll be met at the airport and assisted with the transfer to your hotel. No set programme for the day- time to relax and acclimatise. Overnight in Delhi.
Day 2: Delhi Sightseeing.Explore Delhi with a local guide including visits to Jama Masjid - India’s grandest mosque- and many other ancient and modern monuments. Overnight in Delhi.
Day 3: Delhi - Amritsar.Transfer to Delhi airport for morning flight direct to Amritsar, where you’ll be met on arrival and transferred to your hotel. In the afternoon, drive out to the India/Pakistan border at Wagah where the nightly border closing ceremony mixesmilitary pomp with high melodrama- and unforgettable experience. Overnight in Amritsar.
Day 4: Amritsar - Dharamshala. In the morning visit the Golden Temple - the most sacred site in the Sikh religion- and later depart for Dharamshala, arriving late in the afternoon. Dharamshala is a busy market town, but just above it perches the enclave of McLeod Ganj, best known today as the home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This is one of the most popular places in Himachal for visitors- drawn by the warmth and hospitality of the Tibetan community in exile which has lived here for over 50 years, as well as beautiful scenery and the serenity and sense of joy which emanates from a place of spiritual learning such as this. Overnight in McLeod Ganj.
Day 5 & 6: Dharamshala/McLeod Ganj. Two full Days to explore the area around McLeod Ganj- the programme can be as structured or as free as you wish. Aside from some lovely walks, varying in length from an hour to a full day, there are numerous scenic and historical points of interest, reflecting the town’s past as a hill station during the Days of the British Raj. 2 more nights in McLeod Ganj.
Day 7: Dharamshala to Pragpur. Descend from the hills for a while, and spend a night in the historic heritage village of Pragpur. This small village, with its cobblestoned lanes and wooden buildings is quite unique in India and not only is it a fascinating place to ramble around for a few hours, but there is a fantastic heritage hotel here- Judge’s Court- which provides traditional hospitality in luxurious surroundings. If you have the time, we recommend including a second night here just to enjoy the accommodation and atmosphere of Judge’s Court. Overnight in Pragpur.
Day 8: Pragpur to Mandi.Today’s drive towards Mandi is as picturesque as any in Himachal, with wide river valleys, tumbling waterfalls and tranquil villages along the way. Mandi is a small market town with a long history and a huge number of temples- you’ll be able to see some of these this afternoon. Overnight in Mandi.
Day 9: Mandi to Manali. The serious ascent into the mountains begins today, with a 4 hour drive up the Kullu Valley. You’ll arrive in Manali for lunch, and have time in the afternoon to relax and explore the old town on foot- Manali has a main street which is closed to motorised traffic- something of an oddity in India but something to make the most of.Overnight in Manali.
Day 10: Manali. Enjoy a full day of sightseeing around Manali and Naggar which is on the opposite side of the valley. Places to visit include Naggar castle, the estate and museum of Russian ex-pat painter Nikolai Roerich and hot springs at Vashisht.Overnight in Manali.
Day 11: Manali- Sarchu.After breakfast, depart Manali and begin the ascent to Ladakh, firstly climbing to the Rohtang Pass at early 4000 metres above sea level, and then continuing on to Sarchu, a little higher in altitude and situated on the Himachal Pradesh/Ladakh border. Here you will stay in a deluxe tented camp. All the way through today’s drive and at the eventual overnight stopping point, the scenery is utterly stunning. Peaks soar high above the road and equally precipitous cliffs and ravines plummet away into deep gorges below it. Massive ice sheets, high waterfalls and vast expanses of bare rock complete the picture- an amazing area of natural beauty. Overnight at Sarchu Tented Camp.
Day 12: Sarchu-Leh.Leh is actually at a lower altitude than several of the passes which the highway crosses. The highest point on the road is Taglang La at over 5300 metres! Leh itself is nearly 2000 metres lower. These numbers do scant justice to the vastness of this environment- it is humbling in a way that only mountainous areas can truly be. Coming up to Leh by road should alleviate the worst symptoms of altitude sickness, but we will always allow an extra day for acclimatisation on arrival in Leh. You will reach Leh only in the late afternoon today so no activities are planned. Overnight in Leh.
Day 13 & 14: Leh.Two Days to enjoy Leh and its surrounds- Leh Palace is one highlight, although parts of it are in need to repair, while Old Leh and numerous Buddhist stupas are interesting. Traditional mud-brick Ladakhi houses and old murals can be seen in the oldest areas of Leh. Special mention should be made of the people of Ladakh- arguably they are ‘Indian’ only due to geo-political events over the last half century or so, and their culture, language, cuisine and physical appearance all set them apart from the archetypal idea of India and her people.Two more nights in Leh.
Day 15: Leh - Nubra Valley.Depart Leh and drive via Khardong La to the Nubra Valley- the road into this area passes over the highest vehicle-accessible pass in the world at some 5359 metres! The valley itself has long held strategic value as an access point for passage to Kashgar in the extreme west of China. From here you can visit local gompas and stupas and marvel at how people can eke a living out of such seemingly arid and inhospitable land. Overnight in a Deluxe Tented Camp in the valley.
Day 16: Nubra Valle.Here you have a full day visit to the small villages, monasteries and Gompas through the valley and
Day 17: Nubra Valley - Leh.The morning is free for exploring the valley further, before a relaxed afternoon drive back to Leh for overnight stay. (Alternatively the tour can end here with a flight back to Delhi)
Day 18: Leh - Uletokpo.Morning drive to Alchi Monastery and onto Uletokpo, the main staging post on the road down from Ladakh to the Kashmir Valley. Among the unmissable ‘events’ during your time in this region is an evening spent stargazing - the night skies in Ladakh and Kashmir are remarkably clear. Overnight in a deluxe tented camp at Uletokpo.
Day 19: Uletokpo – Srinagar. Descending through yet more stunning scenery, you will visit Lamayuru monastery, pass through Kargil and later in the day reach Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir. Your accommodation in Srinagar will be on board one of the ‘floating palaces’- the famous houseboats of Dal Lake. Overnight in Srinagar.
Day 20: Srinagar. Sightseeing of Srinagar city includes several beautiful traditional buildings in the old part of the city, the magnificent Moghul Gardens at Shalimar Bagh and numerous mosques and mausoleums. Each journey to and from your houseboat will be by shikara, a long, narrow boat paddled by a single oarsman. Aside from the city itself, the very setting of Dal Lake is stunningly beautiful and you may wish to spend some time simply relaxing on the deck of your boat. Overnight on a houseboat, Srinagar.
Day 21: Srinagar - Gulmarg.Gulmarg is a ski resort in the winter, but in the spring and summer months the snows melt and a delightful valley (complete with one of the world’s highest altitude golf courses) is revealed. The drive up to Gulmarg takes a couple of hours- you will pass through an area of orchards and saffron fields on the way as well as enough roadside cricket bat merchants to seemingly supply all of India - Kashmiri willow has long been considered the finest in the sub-continent for the all important manufacture of bats. Time in Gulmarg in the afternoon to relax and walk in this delightful alpine setting. Overnight in Gulmarg.
Day 22 & 23: Gulmarg.Two Days in Gulmarg with options including a cable car ride to Mt Afarwat from which height (nearly 4500 metres) it is a beautiful walk back down through forest and alpine meadows to Gulmarg. There are also shrines in the vicinity, and there will be plenty of time for a round of golf or two. Two nights in Gulmarg.
Day 24: Gulmarg to Pahalgham.Another of the most scenic areas in all of Kashmir is the Lidder River valley and the town of Pahalgham. Drive here from Gulmarg and prepare to be awestruck- yet again- by the beauty of the scenery. Overnight in Pahalgham.
Day 25 & 26: Pahalgham. Two Days around Pahalgham with options to trek short (or longer) distances above the town, or take a pony for a less strenuous day, or enjoy white water rafting, golf or visit the 11th century Mamleshwar Temple. Two nights in Pahalgham.
Day 27: Pahalgham - Srinagar - Delhi. Return drive to Srinagar airport where you will board a mid-afternoon flight to Delhi. On arrival in Delhi, you will be met and transferred to your hotel. Overnight in Delhi.
Day 28: Delhi - Depart.