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- by Akshay Kumar


Mercury Himalayan Explorations Ltd. pioneered the concept of self drive off road tours in India when we hosted and organised the Isuzu Challenge expedition from Rishikesh to Leh in 2000. 18 off road SUV’s were specially imported for this humungous project.

In 2002, we took it a step forward by organizing the first ever ATV (Quads) expedition from Manali to Leh.  Special ATV bikes were shipped to India and the tour traversed the most challenging high altitude off road sections between Manali and Leh. Moving off the beaten track the route selected used tracks lying unused for more that 20 years to make the sport challenging.

In October 2004, the first self drive expedition in Rajasthan was launched under the banner of The Queen of Desert. This was an exclusive all woman expedition, where 80 woman participants challenged the off-roads of Rajasthan. This was the first time that Indian vehicles were used for such an expedition.

In a tie up with AVIS, we procured a variety of 4X4 vehicles in the form of Ford Endeavors, Mahindra Scorpios to pick up trucks. The expedition covered more than 800 Kms, travelling from Ajmer back to Pushkar via Jojawar, Chattrasagar, Narlai, Kumbalgarh, Osian, Jodhpur & Ranakpur.

From here on off road in India was there to stay. More than 20 groups were operated in Rajasthan and Ladakh before we got enough confidence to launch this product in the Indian market.

Finally in the winter of 2005 we managed to convince a company to take a small weekend for an off roading experience. A four night trip from Delhi to Delhi where more than 70 executives participated in an adventure of a life time.

The group arrived by train to Jodhpur. The same day a detailed 1 hour safety briefing was provided to them before the 15 Mahindra camper 4 wheel drives were handed over to the group. Akshay, the tour leader was in the lead and in constant touch with each jeep through wireless communications. The first day was a leisurely drive giving enough time for the drivers to get used to the tough configuration of the gears.

They learnt new terms like 4x4 high, 4x4 low, skid control. They were taught basic off roading techniques in dirt tracks and small dunes. Some of the drivers took to it naturally while others took some time in understanding the concept.

The going on the first day was slow and we only arrived in our luxury camp site at Manvaar at 8 pm. The group was tired and exhausted but waiting eagerly for the 2nd day.

An early morning start on the 2nd day began with another briefing where the group was now introduced to the finer techniques of off roading. They learnt the hard way to keep a safe distance between cars, deflate tyres to reduce air pressure while negotiating sandy tracks and dunes, provide a safety back up for the car in front and behind you. By the time we finished the first hour we realized that the group was ready for some serious action. The next four hours were spent climbing dunes, descending 65 degree inclines, pushing and pulling cars out of trouble.

A mere 80 Kms took us more than 8 hours to complete but the challenges thrown at the team gave them a once in a life time experience. Remarks like “wow ! I never thought I could do this” “this happens only on TV” “I’ve seen this in Dubai, never thought India had so much to offer” “ he tried to veer off the tracks ! I told him get into Low” “ if you are scared I will drive!”, were common.

The day finished with a short camel ride to the top of the dunes for a breathtaking sun set. Accommodation ?? Surprise again.  They spend the night under the stars, sleeping on the roof of a 200 year old Haveli in a small desert village. The group also decided to take over the kitchen and cooked up a lavish dinner for themselves. Another small group took over organising team games and activities.

Ready to move out early in the morning, first the group walked around the village and even donated a Solar lamp to one of the houses. Then they were rearing to take on more. Basically, another great day of sand dunes and making new tracks. We finished the expedition at a luxury camp at Osian.

The cars were handed over and the next morning a serious session of team building activities and de briefing finished with a bus ride back to Jodhpur for shopping and the overnight train ride back to Delhi.

The success of this tour prompted us to look at this more seriously and we are now in the process of opening new routes in South India, Arunachal and even destinations with 2 hour drives from Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore are being explored.


  • Self drive tours must be conducted by experienced off road companies and guides. Do not attempt off roading alone.
  • The cars must be legally licenced for self drive and cover legal and insurance issues.
  • The drivers must all be licensed.
  • A detailed self drive agreement as per international norms must be signed before driving.
  • The drivers are responsible for any damage to the SUV.
  • Normally you get a full tank of fuel and you have to return the vehicle with a full tank.
  • Make sure that wireless communication is provided (min 5 Kms range).
  • Make sure that a 4x4 expert is there to teach the group.
  • Make sure that a qualified mechanic accompanies the trip with adequate spares.

Protect the environment drive in a convoy. Follow the tracks laid by the lead car. Driving on sand is OK but ensure nor to damage local plants,



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