The Delhi – Mcleodganj – Delhi drives win the award for the most stressful drives of my life so far. Not only were they full of unpleasant surprises – they were painfully long and spine wreaking as well. Of course, they weren’t completely bad. In fact now when I look back, I find the whole experience mildly funny. (Yep, only mildly). So what really happened?
My college friends and I along with spouses decided to spend the Christmas vacation of ’17 in Mcleodganj. We were a group of 10 when we started the planning in September and were reduced to 7 by the first week of December. (Doesn’t it happen with all trip plans?). 6 of us were traveling via Delhi whereas one friend was going to join us the next day at Mcleodganj via Amritsar. (Lucky him!).
Due to last minute mess up, we booked a tempo traveler through unknown agent based in Solan, Himachal Pradesh. Being Christmas, all the other known/ popular sources were booked so we had to go ahead with whatever we got. As we reached the Mumbai airport, we started receiving calls from the travel agent and many other men including a couple of drivers, third party agents saying that they were facing fog issues on Delhi – Chandigarh highway so they had assigned us different driver who was going to pick us up in Innova. This was the first surprise of the million more that would follow over the next few days.
Since we had no other option, we agreed to travel till Chandigarh in Innova where another driver was supposed to meet us with a tempo traveler.
And thus began the slowest and the most uncomfortable drive from Delhi to Chandigarh. This lovely express highway might never had witnessed anyone driving so slow, but there we were – driving at the speed of 60km/hr as our driver periodically napped and chewed tons of gutka. Nothing worked on this man. He was sleepy beyond recovery. Meanwhile, we made a couple of stopovers to get a break from the anxiety.
We started from Delhi around midnight and reached Chandigarh around 7AM. (It is a max 5 hours drive). Here our savior waited with a tempo traveler for us. He seemed like a charged, well rested guy with extraordinary driving skills.
We thought our hardships were finally over and later that evening as we tucked ourselves in the bunk beds of our cozy hostel in Mcleodganj, we forgot the horrors of the earlier night.
Over the next couple of days we got to know from the driver that he was the last minute arrangement for us and that he was already booked with another group from the second last day of our trip. This called for another panic attack because we did not want to travel back in a smaller vehicle or even worse – be stranded in Mcleodganj! We asked him to get things sorted with his boss and were constantly following up with our agent too. Apparently, there were too many middle men involved in this which had led to a huge confusion. Finally, on the third day he gave us the news that he would be with us throughout the trip and would drive us till Chandigarh from where another driver with a tempo traveler would pick us. It sounded reasonable. So other than the initial mess, we were happy with our driver. He was a man with great driving skills and a kickass punjabi songs collection. He had installed some fancy LED lights in the vehicle that danced with the beats. This time we really thought and prayed that our hardships were over. But fate had saved the worst for the last.
We started our return journey very early in the morning taking into account mountain roads, fog and traffic of Delhi. Our driver was unstoppable and by the time we finished our first nap, we were already somewhere in Punjab. By the end of second nap, we were on the border of Chandigarh. We were now checking with the agent about the other vehicle. The conversations were turning fishy and despite insisting the driver or the agent to not take us inside Chandigarh city, he did. Apparently, there was no second tempo traveler and they had been lying all this while. The driver said that he was asked by his boss to bring us to his office while he made other arrangements for us. We were extremely pissed off! This whole booking through unknown agent was turning out to be the worst decision ever!
The driver parked our tempo traveler in front of a cabin kind of a travel agency office. We all came out and waited eagerly for our next vehicle. Nobody came to talk to us for a long time. Then the driver came out from the cabin and said “Sir wants to talk to you” and we said that we had no business with him since he wasn’t our agent. This conversation repeated a couple more times and then a smartypants came out who talked to us in a very friendly, casual tone asking us what the problem was. We told him the whole story and as a consolation he said the we shouldn’t had booked from any agency from Himachal since those guys weren’t professional. He called our agent in Solan and talked for a while. Then he turned to us and said that he was waiting for his payment and unless the payment was done we couldn’t go anywhere. This whole situation was getting ridiculous with every passing moment. We argued that we had paid everything online and since we had nothing to do with him, he had no right to ask for money from us. We suggested that he should get things sorted with the agent that outsourced his vehicle. Upon this he calmly asked our driver to lock the vehicle from outside which still had all our luggage inside and said that this whole matter needed to be taken to the police as he was being cheated by us. Tejas – my husband who was talking very patiently till then lost his temper and said that under no circumstance he had a right to lock our luggage and if he wanted to involve the police in this he should call them right away. The smartypants was evidently taken back by this reply and knew that if police came he was the one to be in the spotlight. He suddenly started talking loudly and arrogantly to us while we rushed out of his cabin. He was probably expecting us to get threatened or wanted to take a chance with our desperation of catching the flight on time. However, thanks to all the hustling and presence of mind of Tejas, we had started pulling our luggage out from the back seats of the vehicle and soon got all the bags out. We eloped that goddamned place and walked briskly towards a block that looked safer and fairly populated. Though it was a bright afternoon in a well populated city, we were scared that if the goon called for guys to threaten us then we were completely defenseless. Our blood pressures were soaring high! We started looking for Uber cabs (There are regular Uber cabs from Chandigarh to Delhi). Meanwhile our driver followed us and started pleading to pay him his remaining bit since he was helpless and only followed his boss’s orders. Paying him was out of question as he had betrayed us despite us treating him like one of us all these days. Till that morning we were sure that he was the best driver ever. Well, he ruined it for himself and for us too.
Finally after a lot of search and rejections we booked one Uber. Four members got on that cab. Now only three of us were remaining. For a long time we got no vehicle. We were getting extremely restless because we had lost all the buffer hours. Even if we got the cab immediately we had very little hopes of reaching the airport on time.
Somehow, after keeping us on our toes for almost 45 minutes, the fate showed some mercy on us and we got a cab. The driver was slower than expected but he was super confidant that we would reach the airport before time. The last few kms in Delhi with its sick traffic scared the hell out of us but as promised by our savior, we did reach the airport before time.
During this whole time, except for some initial booking amount, we never paid the driver in advance. Even on the last day we had only paid him for the petrol and were going to pay the remaining amount at the airport. This was a good decision since booking two cabs from Chandigarh to Delhi cost us almost the same as the pending amount. Now when I look back, I feel that had we paid the driver in advance, he probably would have eloped when he was supposed to pick up the other client.
So this whole experience taught us three very important lessons – 1. Always book vehicles through known references or better – travel in public transport as much as possible. 2. Traveling to Mcleodganj from Amritsar is a much better option than from Delhi. 3. Always pay for the day to the driver at the end of the day.
Anyway, we came back with a story of a lifetime of hustling with guys in Haryana (Or Punjab) without losing any blood or money. Isn’t that something? As they say – All’s well that ends well. 🙂