The Traveller is back with another travel report. This time “India”!! We are going to find out the beauty of the “Indian Manali”.
Again a family tour abroad. This one is not an instant trip like previous foreign travel to China. The idea for this trip was by my father just after our Chinese trip. He always wanted to feel some snow and see beautiful mountains at the Himalayas. So we chose to go to Manali, Himachal Pradesh in India which is the most feasible in aspects of expenditure and less hassle to organize the trip.
As I told you earlier, we were preparing for this trip since last year. We have contacted personnel from Indian tour organizing company called ‘Vacation Lifters‘ and obviously many others, who organize journeys to Manali, sightseeing and accommodation at Manali.
So we have booked 13th January for the onward ticket and 21st January for return ticket without any hassle at our national carrier SriLankan Airlines for this time also.
But as we had on the earlier trip, we’ve got a trouble this time also. Tour organizers asked for an advance payment. To do so they’ve given their bank account details. Meanwhile, we found that they have another option to pay via Paypal. Since it’s familiar and hassle-free, we paid the advance payment via Paypal with an excess of 5% of the amount as they asked for as transaction charges. But they couldn’t get their payment via Paypal for some reason. So we have cancelled the payment. As time was running very fast we moved to the first option, paying via the bank.
We paid the amount via the People’s Bank, Sri Lanka to the Axis Bank, India as an international transaction before a week we’re leaving. Even on the day before we are leaving, payment was not transferred to their account. But the travel agency told us, not to worry but come along and let’s resolve it at India. The story begins with that.
Day 1: Departure from Sri Lanka and arrival to India
13th January 2016 we left the island from Bandaranaike International Airport, Katunayaka on SriLankan Airlines UL195 bound Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi. We were agreed with the travel agent, to send an agent to pick up from New Delhi Metro Station which is the end of the Airport Metro line (Check following links for more info on Airport metro fares and timetables Link1 | Link2).
After having a nice flight for around three and half hours, we landed at New Delhi Airport. There was a thick haze which is usual for Delhi and chilling cold outdoors. We boarded into Airport Metro and reached New Delhi Metro Station within a half an hour. Even there is a shuttle bus service from the airport, I must say Metro is the most convenient and hassle-free method to get into Delhi city centre from the airport as their roads are insanely jammed by terrific traffic.
We were chilling in the bitter cold for nearly an hour as our travel agent didn’t show up (later they said they couldn’t find us) at New Delhi Metro Station. At last, we met Ms Kiran Verma, one of the directors of the travel agency Vacation Lifters which is established just one year before. She gave us the bus tickets and the hotel reservation receipts.
Payments problem, again
As we discussed about the payment, she told that payment has not yet transferred to them, so we have to pay the amount in full and they will return the advanced payment once they receive. At the time, we didn’t have any other option even if we go for another agent we may have to pay a lot more than the agreed amount with this agent. So we agreed to pay the full amount next day and we paid next day. Until to date, no information on the advanced payment has done before. The bank says it’s transferred but travel agent says it’s not. Who knows…
Life in Delhi
Then she introduced us to this driver, with a sticker on his car saying he’s “Ex-Military”, who is a nice and bit aged fellow dressed like an Indian local working for the government in colonial era from films with that iconic moustache. As we instructed them before, he took us to Sri Lanka Pilgrims Rest, which is governed by Sri Lanka High Commission in India, situated nearby to the railway station on No. 7, Chelmsford Rd, Paharganj, New Delhi. Even though the name says ‘Pilgrims Rest’, anyone who’s a Sri Lankan, travelling in India can obtain rooms at affordable prices starting from around 750 INR. But should note this down, rooms are very small and have minimum adequate space to move inside a room. Meals are not provided. You can find plenty of dhabas (Dhaba: eating place or restaurant in Hindi) outside for meals. Our spot was Rishi Vaishno Dhaba on Basant Road, which is nearby the Pilgrims Rest. The only issue is they (most of the dhabas) starts breakfast after 9.00AM.
Day 2: Life in Delhi cont…
Next day we walked and did some shopping through streets in Paharganj and went to see New Delhi Railway Station (NLDS). In the evening we were ready to leave for Manali, Himachal Pradesh by a tourist bus.
Journey to the Himalayas
A quick note on tourist buses. They have numerous AC/non-AC comfortable buses for long distance tourist transportation. Service is running by the private sector as well as government. Tickets are affordable. For Delhi – Manali trip, journey distance was around 550km and the ticket fares starting from 800 INR per head. Our tickets were booked by the agent, at Lion Holidays (Pvt) Ltd which employed a Volvo 9400 for our journey.
Now the journey begins. We started from Majnu Ka Tilla near Kashmir Gate, Delhi. Soon we joined the National Highway number 1 in India bound for Lahore, Pakistan. Meanwhile, we spotted a heavily guarded luxury bus from Lahore, Pakistan. As we got to know it is running daily for the sake of passengers travelling between Lahore-Delhi and Police providing continuous escort for the whole journey.
After about 45 minutes of a drive, we arrived Haryana Pradesh border and all the tourist buses halted and paid the border taxes. Every other bus left, not our bus. We felt there’s something is wrong. My father went out and asked the driver what happened. Alas, the bus has broken down and we have to wait for another bus comes. After an hour another bus came and picked up and speeded up like crazy in congested NH1.
After hours of travelling, we came to halt at a dhaba in a border city called Ambala, Haryana Pradesh. We had some refreshments and soon we’re travelling again through a nicely built city of Chandigarh. After a short ride across Punjab, we entered to Himachal Pradesh.
Narrow winding roads
A narrow winding road ahead, the driver doesn’t seem to be slowing down. The bus is swinging like a boat in rough seas. The time was midnight, we all tried to sleep. We found bus took another halt before Manali when we woke up. The temperature was dropping drastically. We were chilling and trembling all over. It must be around 0° C now. After getting some rest for nearly another half an hour, we’re riding again.
Day 3: Finally… Manali, the Indian Manali
When the sun began to rise, we were passing Beas Valley in Kullu heading to the “Indian Manali”. What a magnificent view? Beas river beneath those giant mountain tops covered with snow. It’s a lifetime memoir. Never had an imagination how will be this “Indian Manali” look like before the journey. When the life began to start in the morning we reached Manali, the “Indian Manali”. The hotel sent us a driver to pick us from the bus station. He was named Bashir; tall, giant man from Mandi, Himachal Pradesh.
Our travel agent booked us a small but nice hotel called ‘Silmog Garden‘ in Manali. We can totally recommend them. The only drawback was they didn’t have Wi-fi. But you can still sneak into the nearby hotel’s wi-fi 😉
So it’s time to explore this little Indian Manali. We took our breakfast from the hotel. Actually, we had a deal with the hotel to swap last day’s breakfast for the first day. After the meal, Bashir came to take us for some local sightseeing. Several temples located nearby the town, including Hadimabadevi Temple and few others and a hot water spring. They took us to a place called ‘Club House‘. They charged us 20 INR per head to enter to the place. There’s nothing to see there. Totally AVOID that place. Day’s tour ended up at nice Tibetan temple located so close to the hotel.
First night in Manali
We returned to the hotel and asked them for room heaters. When we first contacted the travel agent we asked for this. Otherwise, they charge for room heaters 900 INR per night. Talking the truth that cold cannot be beaten by a room heater. 😀
Next day morning we’re heading for snowy mountains….
As the post is getting longer and longer I’ll continue the rest of the story in the next post…