Sunday, January 8, 2017

Visits to some North Indian tourist spots [Part 1]



Disclaimer: Views expressed here are more focused on precautions and are based on a single visit, so would be lacking a complete perspective. Advice from locals are also included.



This post is geared primarily toward South Indians. If you are visiting North India, it's helpful to have someone with you who speaks Hindi as well as the North Indians do. The North Indians have a hard time identifying what a South Indian is trying to say in Hindi.

Do your research. Find out what the rates are for tourist operators and avoid taking help from people who offer you a hotel or taxi. Basically, be a bit suspicious of anyone who approaches you to offer help. Try to arrive at places only after sunrise, and approach tourist operators after you have left your luggage in a hotel, as that'll give you a better chance of negotiating prices. Remember that bargaining is very prevalent in North India. Even in the "fixed price" shops. When you state the lower rate you are willing to pay and start walking away, they'll come after you with a discounted rate. Make sure you bargain and do your research before bargaining.


General Info


You could also call up hotels and ask. People are generally very helpful.



Delhi


As of 2017, if you want to visit Delhi, first get a good mask. The pollution there is indeed bad. You'll see the difference in the clarity of the air, when you later visit places like Manali. The alternative would be to return from your Delhi vacation and get a lung transplant from a donor who used to live in a hill station.
  • Transport: Delhi is an excellent place to use the app based taxi's. Uber was our cheapest and best option. Ola was also good, but more expensive. Avoid the autorickshaws. They overcharge you and a fellow traveller we met said he was even bullied into paying double of the fare he was asked for, at the beginning of the ride.
  • Sight seeing: Use a combination of the HoHo sightseeing buses, app based taxis and the Delhi metro. For HoHo tours, the start point is near the Connaught place police station adjacent the Hanuman temple where if you are lucky you'll see a blue HoHo bus waiting. If not, wait for a while and it'll arrive. The HoHo office is on the opposite side of the road and is not very visible. Most of the locals aren't even aware of HoHo. Ask for the Delhi Tourism office instead. There are more pickup points at places designated with a HoHo board. There are buses that reach the various tourist spots every 40 minutes. The buses are indeed very timely and we once had to run to the entrance of Humayuns tomb knowing that we missed the bus by a minute, only to reach the entrance and see the bus moving out. Keep a tab on the amount of time it takes you to reach a monument, once you leave the bus. You'll need that much time to go back to the entrance to catch the next bus. If you missed any tourist spots, just use a taxi or the metro the next day.
  • Food and water: As in almost every city where food is cooked with apathy, the restaurants in Delhi are unreliable. Don't expect food that's fully cooked. Expect food that's burnt. At least one hotel I found where the food was of reasonably good quality is Saravana bhavan. The others were obviously McDonalds and KFC. A cousin says Karim's chicken is overrated and the amount of oil in it is good enough for bathing in. What's worse, is that if you want to skip the restaurant food and depend on just bread, it's rather difficult to find a bakery. The water is even more unreliable. A friend used to say that if you drink the water in Mumbai and fall sick he'd be surprised. But if you drink the water in Delhi and don't fall sick, he'd be even more surprised. You'll find mineral water available everywhere. Even in chemist's shops. Do not pay more than the MRP and buy only known brands. Try ordering food online. It's not easy to get access to good restaurants in Delhi.
  • Hotel bookings: Before booking hotels online, try to contact someone you know in Delhi and get info about certain localities. I booked using Oyo, and got a hotel room in a place which seemed nice on Google Maps, but was such a crowded marketplace that the taxi driver couldn't move forward or take us till the hotel. We had to carry our luggage and walk through the crowd. As we reached closer to the hotel, we noticed we were walking in a dark alley where it seemed like we were in danger of being robbed. I've requested Oyo to start providing pictures of the localities too. Also requested Google Maps to have a layer to display the crime rates of an area. Try booking hotels that aren't too far from the Metro stations. They come in handy. I hear AirBNB is also a good option.
  • Traffic jams: Although there are fewer traffic signals than Bangalore, the roads are good and wide, the majority of Delhi traffic is cars. They easily cause jams, and you had better start early if you plan to catch a flight, bus or train.
  • Ice skating: Delhi (actually Gurgaon) has a very good indoor ice skating rink (we went here because Shimla's ice skating rink is an outdoor rink which gets closed during heavy snowfall). The rink is at Ambience mall, but be warned that some wise-crack has named two malls as Ambience. Don't go to the one at Delhi. Go to the one at Gurgaon. This rink has actual ice on which you skate. Make sure you choose skates that fit you correctly, and make sure you carry socks that are higher than ankle length (otherwise you'll have to purchase socks there for Rs.60). They also have lockers of 1.5ft depth, 1.5ft height and 1ft width, to store valuables. These lockers have a nice smartcard which locks and unlocks them, but using the locker costs Rs.150. A ticket to iSkate costs Rs.450, and you can skate for 1.5 hours. Make sure you carry a bottle of water with you, as skating for that long is extremely tiring and they charge Rs.50 for a bottle of water. If you just want to watch people skate, there's a bar (not a metal bar. A bar where they serve alcohol) on the balcony with a good view of the rink. Don't go to iSkate before viewing some tutorials, and make sure you exercise your entire body for at least a month before going, because it takes a lot of strength in your leg muscles and back muscles to support your body on thin pieces of metal. Don't be afraid of falling, as that's what helps you learn. Just keep your center of gravity low so that you don't fall hard. I've written to iSkate to make a water dispenser and a TV display with a tutorial available. Let's hope they implement it.
The Taj Mahal is said to have been inspired by this



You have to walk barefoot here, so carry a bag into which you can keep your footwear. The official shoe rack will cost you Rs.10.





Agra

Info here.




Mussoorie



I feel Mussoorie is quite overrated. Sure, it's a place with a great view of the mountains, but the poor accessibility, cramped spaces and exorbitant tourism rates make it worth missing.

  • Reaching Mussoorie: If you get off at the railway station, the bus stand for buses to Mussoorie is at walkable distance. If you get off at the ISBT (Inter State Bus Terminal), you'll have to cross the main road to reach a chowk full of blue auto rickshaws. They'll take you to the bus stand for Rs.10. Buses to Mussoorie are available every half an hour. One bus goes to one part of Mussoorie and the next bus goes to another part of Mussoorie. Buses are available from 10am to 8pm. There's a conductor in the bus who issues a ticket. The ride up the mountain is a 1.5 hour swingy curved route, so make sure you get a seat in the bus. Once on top, you'll enjoy the lovely view of the valleys and evergreen trees. You'll also find yourself stuck in a jam. There's very less space for vehicles to move, and a taxi driver says he's even been stuck in a jam for 4 hours, when the distance he needed to cover was just half a kilometer. The better way would be to have your own motorcycle to navigate the roads there.


  • Getting out of Mussoorie: Now this is the difficult part. To come up, you have buses every half an hour. To go back, you only have buses every one hour. Moreover, you have to stand in what is purported to be a queue, at a ticket counter, on a narrow footpath where a restaurant owner chases you for standing in front of a washbasin he's constructed on the footpath or for standing at the entrance of his restaurant. What's worse, is that the ticket counter won't issue you a ticket unless the bus has arrived. The ticket costs Rs.56, but you won't get change for Rs.4. This time there's no bus conductor to issue you a ticket when inside the bus. The ticket counter has a perpetual queue of people waiting to get out of Mussoorie, and being disappointed that they have to wait for a full hour for the counter to start issuing tickets for a small bus that surely wouldn't accommodate all of them. The other way to get out is by taxi. They charge Rs.100 per head. No app based taxi available here. You won't go through all this trouble if you simply skip Mussoorie altogether.
  • Sight seeing: Firstly, there's a local bus tour for which you'd have to register early at Gharwal travels. Costs around Rs.250 per head. Secondly there's a taxi union with fixed rates that'll cost you Rs.1800+ for a max of 5 people (each person pays 1800/5). Thirdly, there are cycle rickshaw wallahs who'll charge you Rs.400, but are slow and are said to ask the passengers to disembark and walk on uphill slopes. If you've seen waterfalls already, there's no fun watching the Kempty falls. Same goes with boating. There's a place called the Clouds end and echo point where you just get the same view of the mountains that you'd have seen anywhere else without having to shell out Rs.50 per head, and echo point has no echoes. Then there's company garden for which you'll have to shell out Rs.18 per head, and you enter to find it more ordinary than any other garden you've seen anywhere else. There's said to be a tiny boating area which I was told isn't worth visiting. A wax museum where the wax figurines have almost no resemblance to the actual people they represent (but they still charge Rs.100 per head for entry). Sir George Everest is another sight seeing place from where you get a good view of nearby mountains and can hear some echoes too. But again, this isn't any different from any of the other mountain views you get at Mussoorie. There are said to be some adventure activities at George Everest.
  • Purchases: Woollen clothing is available at reasonable rates at Mussoorie. Scarves for Rs.100, gloves for Rs.100 to 250, Jackets for Rs.800.
  • The wax museum: Skip this. It just isn't worth the money. On the way to Mussourie, you'll find a lot of advertisements about the wax museum, with pictures of Mr.Bean. When you reach the museum, you'll be sorely disappointed. See the pictures below.
Mr.Bean (really?)
Charlie Chaplin (Ewww...)
Bruce Lee (why so perplexed?)

Einstein
Gandhiji


Obamas (Whaaaat??)
Saddam (lost weight?)


Try to skip Mussoorie if you can. Not really a place that offers anything significantly different to a tourist, is rather cramped up and difficult to get out of.


Continued in part 2


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