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Haridwar-Rishikesh trip with a guide from hell
Jun 26, 2017 06:13 PM 18023 Views
(Updated Jun 26, 2017 06:28 PM)

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Panicker's Travels is no longer what it used to be. At least, this has been my personal experience. I booked a Delhi to Haridwar-Rishikesh tour through this tour operator. I was traveling with my mother, who is a senior citizen, and since both H-R are nearby Delhi, I opted for a same-day package.

Firstly, the telephonic response from the travel team was far from the definition of courteous. The lady at the help-desk sounded like she was suffering from chronic pain and you had to pry each word out of her mouth. The travel started 20 mins late, and we soon realised that we were stuck in the long-weekend-rush with the world's most well-behaved driver. Our guy drove dead slow on open roads, let alone congested lanes. And he was sure to give way to every truck, van and cycle along the way. I admit there was a lot of congestion, but nothing that an efficient driver could not have managed. But rest assured, he was not the worst part of the trip. That cake goes to the guide.

The guide single-handedly brought down the entire spirit of the trip through his sheer inefficiency and adamancy. He had no back-up plan, and when he finally realised we were delayed by well over 2 hours, he started to panic and began changing plans on the fly. He started off by canceling the morning dip in the Haridwar Ganges, instead opting for a dip at Rishikesh. So he checked us into a deserted motel last-minute for our morning ablutions. We had one hour to get going, just six rooms and 4 people per room. His logic was that simply everybody would opt in for a dip in the Ganges, and that would count as our morning BATH. He assured us that there would be changing rooms at Rishikesh - so why waste time here when we could simply eat/dress up there?

So we left the motel in a rush after a quick brush and toilet. No morning tea or breakfast. It was already well past 9 a.m. by the time we reached Rishikesh. All along the way, guide promised us that we'll have tempos and autos to drive us from the drop-off point to the river bank. However, once there, he announced the next change of plans. As per police restrictions(due to weekend rush), no tempos and autos are allowed at the drop point today, he explained. His solution was: so we'll just WALK to the river bank. It's after all quite a short walk at only HALF a kilometre.

And so we walked in the scorching sun, through the sand-and-pebble-ridden non-road. Once we reached the river bank(near Ram Jhula), I asked the guide where the changing rooms were, for my mother who was planning to take a dip in the holy river. There don't seem to be any changing rooms around here, said the guide, casually. He suggested that we should all just soak through and then sit out in the sun to dry. He wasn't kidding; that was his ACTUAL plan.

An unnecessary boat-ride followed, and finally at 11:00 a.m., he took our starving group to a jam-packed restaurant on the other side of the bank for breakfast. We had to wait another 10 minutes to even get a table. Afterwards, he merrily took advantage of the heat and the humidity to propose to our group that we go to a nearby emporium for some air-conditioning. You don't have to buy anything; at least there will be some relief from the AC, he said. Of course, it was a sales ploy.

After shopping, a long walk to Lakshman Jhula followed(which could have been easily avoided given the time constraint we were facing and the fact that we were already so close to Ram Jhula - which is the bigger bridge anyway). We opted out because my mother couldn't bear to walk any further. Thanks to the precious hours we lost in the Lakshman Jula visit; return boat ride; a rickshaw ride to the bus-parking(for which we paid Rs 250/-); and heavy congestion along the R-H route, it was 7 p.m. by when we we reached Haridwar.

Incidentally, amidst all the disorganised chaos, the guide FORGOT to collect the two of us from the boat dock(where he had asked us to wait), and we were left stranded in the scorching sun, with no idea where the rest of the group was. It took 2 panic-stricken phone calls to the Panicker's office, 2 panic-stricken calls to the driver and about 5 panic-stricken UNANSWERED calls to the guide, to finally have him arrive and pick us up from the dock.

There was no mention of lunch on the bus, and finally one of the passengers questioned the guide - it was 5:00 p.m. already and none of us had eaten. Another change of plans, he said. I'll buy you bananas along the way; let's all have bananas for lunch. Then followed a 5-minute lecture on how he himself was on a no-salt-fast that particular day; how salt and sugar are bad for health; and how we must all be willing to starve(this was implied) given that he himself had not eaten much that particular day. Anyway, the banana plan didn't work out. He must have done the math and figured out bananas would cost just as much as lunch. So next change of plans - he hopped off along the way and returned with some biscuits(Rs 5/- pack per person). Justification? He couldn't find any fruit stalls. We spotted at least three along the way.

I must pause here and point out that all along the R-H route, you can spot a trail of dhabas, multi-cuisine restaurants, street stalls and decent hotels. Many of them have good parking and restroom facilities as well.

By the time we reached Haridwar, the guide cancelled Manasa Devi visit as it was too late in the evening. I suggested we watch the Ganga aarti in that case. A long walk followed to the place of gathering. Guide didn't come along, and asked us to regroup at a "Vishnu bridge" near "Anand van parking lot" afterwards. Ask anyone for directions and they'll tell you, he said. It was quite dark post the aarti, and we spent another panic-striken hour walking around and asking questionable people for directions. The group itself was dispersed and people were just relying on their instincts to get back to the place of gathering. My mother couldn't keep pace with them, so we pretty much kept to ourselves. I did call the guide several times for directions. But he was really vague each time; and never bothered to call me back to check because - who has the 0.50p to spend on a phone call?)

Finally with the help of a pundit and a rickshaw person(a god-sent, truly), we spotted the bridge. The guide was there, wondering aloud why so many of us were facing problems spotting Vishnu bridge, as several people in our group were still missing by the time we reached. Once everybody arrived, our group was ready to take-off to the bus, and the general consensus was to stop at one of those highway restaurants for a nice, elaborate dinner.

Unfortunately, all those plans were thrown to the wind by the guide. He had mentally zeroed-in on a hotel on the other side of the bridge, and we absolutely had to follow through with his wish to eat there. He rubbished our suggestions to stop anywhere else for dinner. We had to walk nearly half a kilometer BACK and through some dingy alleys to the restaurant he suggested. Finally, at about 9:30 p.m. or so, we arrived at a beaten down and seemingly rat/roach-infested joint somewhere in the back-lanes of Haridwar.

Here, ladies and gentlemen who have had the patience to read through my long review, I must inform you that I totally lost my cool. My mom's knees were swollen and hurting from all the unnecessary walking(she is arthritic and a borderline diabetic), plus she had missed all her regular meals/mealtimes. We were repelled by the restaurant(it didn't have a restroom either), hungry, constipated and we had to pee badly. At this point, I dissed the guide and said I was really disappointed at his approach. His demeanour changed instantly, and he responded vehemently, emphasising that NOTHING was his fault and patronisingly told me that if everyone else was fine to eat here, he had indeed done well. It was either the company's fault or the driver's fault or the passengers' fault - but never his. He completely overlooked the fact that nearly everyone had protested coming to this restaurant, and they were going along with his ploy since it was late and they had had enough(by their own admission), and just wanted to get home.

After dinner(which the my mom and I skipped) and a heated argument, we were made to WALK all the way back to the bus parking. We reached Delhi at 3:00 a.m., over 5 hours delayed and fatigued.

I know this review is detailed, and perhaps too much so, but I wanted to make clear how cheap, calculating and conniving seemingly innocuous people(or operators) can turn out to be. And the devil, unfortunately, is always in the details. My lesson is to avoid low-cost bus tours, especially when traveling with senior citizens. I hope this review is useful in helping you decide your next tour plan with PANIC-ker's Travels. Thanks!

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