Tuesday, September 16, 2014

My Bus Journey from Pathankot to McCleod Ganj + Other Options of getting there

A recent road trip from Pathankot to McCleod Ganj in Dharamshala in a local state transport bus with my dad, made me realize a major something that had been missing from my travels –the joys of travelling in buses as a mode of transport.

A question popped out in my mind out of nowhere: When was the last time I had gleefully opted for a bus over a car or a train?

That’s when, reality struck. I didn't have an answer!

I don’t know exactly when I developed this fascination for luxury and comfort that led me into developing this picture of a bus in my mind – filthy, poor quality of seats, smelly people, long wait in queues at the bus stand, rude conductors and a fat 50% probability of me not getting a window seat!

Buses became the last option for me.

An HPTDC bus for Pathankot to Dharamsala - Himachal Pradesh
A typical scene inside most of the state run buses in India

Thankfully, that’s not how my dad thinks. And he still prefers the bus as THE mode of transport over all others especially when he travels solo. He can see the other side of the picture, I guess – the positive one which I can’t. The good thing is, when I travel with him, he being my travel inspiration; I follow him wherever he goes. And that’s how I get to broaden my perspectives as well.

So the bus it was, and not one, not two but three of them to cover the 90 odd km. distance from Pathankot to McCleod Ganj in Dharamsala. Not only did the 3 hour long journey erase all my bus negativity but also reinstated a few positive points on bus travel that had gathered dust over time.

Here’s sharing the highlights, so perhaps, the next time I am torn between choices, I just need to flip back a few pages and if you are the kind who share my sentiments then well, all I can say is read on, who knows – my experience might just help you rekindle your bus love once again!

1. Helps you budget travel: Saves money!

The cab fare for Pathankot to Dharamsala by car is approximately Rs. 2500/- (non AC) and Rs. 3500 (AC)

Now the contrast and it’s huge.

The bus fare for the same route i.e. from Pathankot to McCleodganj, Dharamsala is a mere Rs. 150 per person per ticket!

Just focus on your wallet for once and imagine the cash saved by the end of such bus journeys. You can spend it elsewhere like shopping or eating. There are options galore. Like consider this one: How about saving it to fund your next travel? Wouldn't that make your journey even more memorable?!

The road from Pathankot to Dharamsala - Himachal Pradesh
Bus or cab... the scenery is going to be the same - then why pay more?

Here's where the buses score, especially those that are run by state transport corporations come really cheap. Even otherwise, when we look at the private sector, there is a swarm of coupon sites online today tied up with companies like redbus.in and ticketgoose.com and together, they are revolutionizing online bus ticketing concept in India. In order to ensure that we save maximum money, all we need to do is simply use one of these sites and get ourselves, for example, a great deal with a redbus offer code or ticketgoose discount code.

Coming back to my case, since it was one of those state run buses, we got the tickets then and there, real time at the most basic prices. Needless to say, I ended up using my entire extra bonus on all these options and more. Indeed, both me and my dad, we alighted the bus and marked the beginning of our Dharamsala journey as two highly gratified souls.

2. Interaction with the local crowd.

When I got on to my third bus from Dharamsala to McCleod Ganj, I saw a man, roughly in his thirties – dressed in a maroon robe, his fingers deftly running through a rosary of beads - sitting among the rest of the crowd. This was my first sighting of a Tibetan monk from Dharamsala and never before had this journey given me a sense of time and the place I was in but now. The inhabiting exiled monks from Tibet have become a unique feature of the Indian town of Dharamsala they now call home.

Tibetan monk in a bus at Pathankot - Himachal Pradesh
Tibetan monk hurries to catch a bus to McCleod Ganj

The cab totally misses out on this aspect of experiencing firsthand the local feel even before stepping in the city. The buses are a great way to warm you up with local people who use them for regular commuting across the region. Interacting not always necessarily mean that you have to strike up a conversation, even a mere glance or a smile can work wonders for your trip which you are just about to start.

Not the amazing snow scenery outside which I had marveled all along but this sight of the marooned Tibetan monk inside the bus giving me a sneak peek into the Tibetan lifestyle and culture confirmed me this – Yes! I was in Dharamsala!

3. Speed is low, interaction with nature is more!

The third and final thing I have come to love about it is that the bus travels at its own pace, never zooming like a rocket launching out into the sky. It is gentle, owing to a bulky body and knows its limitations. That makes for ample of time for interaction with nature.

A scene from my bus window from Pathankot to Dharamsala - Himachal Pradesh
A scene unfolds ... through the bus window, on the way to McCleod Ganj.

The scenes are never thrown at me. Instead, they change gradually and allow me to take them all in. Muddy mashy streams trail along, heaven bound deodhars bathe in sunny splendor and snowy mountain peaks join me for company. I stick my face out of the window to take a deep breath in, and there, the gentle wind comes rushing to join in, kissing my cheeks in a soft whisper. I am thrown off balance at one of those mountainaceous curves, and yet, I catch the cows grazing in the valleys below. The small narrow roads diverge in towns unknown, so that I can wave at the kids and savor those moments when they wave me back. In between, I catch a nap only to get up to the smell of a perfectly bobbed masala chai at the roadside shack. The driver knows exactly when to stop for a quick halt at the roadside dhaba. And suddenly the air is full with a scintillating smell of fresh home cooked subzi and roti - oh so hard to resist.

The bus journey from Pathankot to McCleod Ganj left me tired but these points made it all worth. I came to realize how wrong was I! The fault was never in the buses, it was my perspective.

And, thus began my journey – from the bus to the bustle of McCleod Ganj – on an incredibly gratifying note. A lot of money saved, even more gorgeous sights captured and the biggest takeaway - got to fall back in love with the buses again!

PS: The seats weren't as bad as I have always thought them to be and I got a window seat for 2 of the bus rides I think. As for the one in which I failed to get one, I owe that to no one but my negativity!


How to reach Dharamsala/McCleod Ganj from Pathankot, Pathankot Cantt or Chakki Bank: what are the fares and other traveler information. 

If you are planning a holiday to Dharamsala, Pathankot is the chief junction that you need to get to. Pathankot Cantt or Chakki Bank is the nearest major railhead and Gaggal is the nearest airport.

IRCTC and the confusion surrounding Pathankot Cantt, Chakki Bank and Pathankot:

Please note that Pathankot Cantt (also known as Chakki Bank) and Pathankot are two different railway stations. If you are booking your tickets through IRCTC, don't panic if your planner doesn't throw any results for Chakki Bank. Just type in 'Pathankot Cantt (PTKC)' instead of 'Chakki Bank (CHKB)' and book your tickets - both are the same! From here, hire a rickshaw and get to Pathankot (PTK), 4 kms and 20 minutes away from Pathankot Cantt, to begin your upward journey to Dharamsala.

One more thing is that, if you are travelling from Delhi, you can consider taking the Jammu Mail - it is perhaps the only train that goes beyond Pathankot Cantt (PTKC) to stop at Pathankot (PTK) as well, so you can directly get down at Pathankot station and save yourself the rickshaw hassle.

Once you reach Pathankot (PTK):

There are three options to get to Mcleod Ganj: Taxi (quickest but costliest); bus (convenient and cheaper); the Kangra Toy Train (very very slow and crowded but apparently spectacular, ticket available at Pathankot station, usually available real time).

Pathankot to Dharamsala/McCleod Ganj by Train:

Toy trains leave from Pathankot at regular intervals and reach Kangra station after 5-6 hours. Dharamshala is 17 kms. from Kangra station and Mccleodganj is a further 10 kms from Dharamsala.

Initially this toy train was my choice, but we chucked it for the bus after looking at the crowd that was already on board the train. Also, our rickshaw driver who bought us to Pathankot strongly suggested we take the bus instead of the train. That’s how we decided to go in favor of the bus instead of the train.

Pathankot to Dharamsala/McCleod Ganj by Air:

Gaggal, which is at a distance of 15 kms from Dharamshala, is the nearest airport to Dharamshala. Jagson Airline operates direct flight from Delhi to Dharamshala, thrice a week.

Pathankot to Dharamsala/McCleod Ganj by Bus:

You will have to take an auto/cycle-rikshaw (Rs. 20) till Pathankot bus stand or Chakki bridge. There are plenty of state buses for Dharamsala/McCleod Ganj, almost every half an hour.

My Mumbai to McCleod Ganj Journey Route: Mumbai - Delhi - Pathankot - Gaggal - Dharamsala - McCleod Ganj.

Mumbai to Delhi: By Air.
Delhi to Pathankot Cantt: Jammu Mail (Departed: 20.30; Reached: 6.05)
Pathankot cantt to Pathankot bus stand by auto: Fare Rs. 100
Pathankot to Gaggal by bus: Fare Rs. 126 / ticket (Departed: 7.20; Arrived: 9.30)
Gaggal to Dharamsala by bus: Fare Rs. 17 / ticket (Departed: 9.45; Arrived: 10.25)
Dharamsala to McCleod Ganj by bus: Fare Rs. 13 / ticket (Departed: 10.30; Arrived: 11.05)

McCleodGanj and beyond ...

Reserve a day or two and get a lowdown on the the beautiful views of the town by trekking to Triund. Further, you can also take a detour and roll onto exploring another northern state. Pre-package your tour (Kashmir Tour Packages for example) or customize one of your own - play with all the options available and choose wisely - the choices available are simply endless!

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  1. Informative post, Arti. Bus rides are interesting and nice way to interact with locals. While travelling from Alibaug to Murud, my co passenger gave me the window seat stating that he sees those scenes everyday, while I dont. What a gesture!

  2. Beautifully and poetically written.

  3. Good one, Arti. Love this post. I see the bus ride really has affected you. Buses do have a charm of their own. I've done quite a bit of bus travelling, some public buses even.
    Gosh, it's been ages since I've been on a bus. This post makes me want to do it again, but I'll think I'll have to wait a little more; been travelling with a baby for a few months now. ;)

  4. Hi,Arti !
    Sorry, It has been so long since I visited you the last.
    How wonderful to know that you had a bus Journey with your dad. I agree with your Dad's idea of using buses for your spiritual journey. There are many kinds of transportation here that are very
    convenient and comfortable. Unfortunately, the number of traffic bus accidents is increasing here in japan, especially night express buses because of bus drivers' tight schedule. They are tired.

    Finally it seems that we have a fall. Have a good week!

  5. So true Arti, i have confusing time to decide how to go to Dharamsala from Amritsar. I find info about toy train from pathankot, they say it's good for the scenery around.
    We try to ask the train station officer about that and they not give us much info, even we can't booking seat from amritsar to pathankot. Finaly we decide to rent car and pay around 3800 Rs because we dont have enough brave to take public transport there. But once we reached the hills we just happy scream because we able to see himalaya from distance. Great experience..

  6. A delightful post! Have traveled by ST buses in this region which is an experience in itself:


  7. Even my father travels alone choose the bus as easy and economic mode of transport. Obviously traveling in a bus is not a bad option but only depends on our need and comfort. It’s been ages I went on a bus and due to my differently abled, cars are my only mode of transportation and I always enjoy traveling around mountains. Just observing things happening around teaches us so many things and I am sure you got great experience, and traveling by bus means more expose to local that cruising in cab.

    Lovely photos on the scene!

  8. Useful information Arti! As usual the details in your post help someone travelling to that particular place. Keep up the good work girl :)

  9. Traveling by State transport bus is an experience. I many times travelled by bus from Haridwar to Delhi, Chandigarh to Delhi and even Mount Abut to Udaipur and enjoyed bus journey very much. If I have travelled the road route before I prefer private bus journey otherwise if the journey is first time I prefer local bus. One should try to travel via State transport bus. They are inexpensive, punctual and quick as well. Am I correct?

  10. Nice to read your post, Thanks for sharing.

  11. Very informative & detailed post, Arti. Bus rides, especially in state transport buses are full of stories & experiences. Not done this route but yeah, who knows I'll be telling the same story one day! :)

  12. Very nice post Arti :) Life is very good if we learn to see positive sides of any negatives... Loved to read the positive sides of journey by Indian local bus transport...Happy traveling :) TC! Keep smiling :)

  13. I agree bus jouneys in India leave you very tired ....hope your alright ...beautifully clicked shots :)

  14. Dear Arti – Nice to hear that you travelled with your father again. I like a bus tour, sitting on a seat, looking out of the window, feeling the rhythm of the bus’s movement. Bus tour is convenient and cost-friendly. Though it was not a long ride, I remember you were looking out on the streets with curious eyes in Kyoto. Indian bus tour seems to have given not good impression to you , but without giving it a try once again, you’ll never understand the positive which exist in all the seeming negatives. Your father’s idea made your eyes open, didn’t it?

    My daughter started working (about ten days a month), and I am with the 16-month boy while her absence. I might not be able to visit and leave a comment right away but please keep it in mind that you’re in my thoughts.


  15. True, bus journeys are a great way to interact with the locals and also save on money. But they can be really irksome at times! (I like comfort and luxury over jerks, smells, and long queues)

  16. Wow- great post dear Arti! Must admit I am like you: very limited bus-traveling... I like trains. But you make it sound tempting, and the routes are different of course... A lot of useful info also - saving that till its my turn to go there... at some point hopefully:-) Enjoyed your bus ride!!

  17. I'm glad this journey changed your perception on traveling by buses, Arti. They can be such cost savers and a great way to interact with the locals. It's also a great way to see the scenery. Very helpful information here for travelers.

  18. Sadly I have never been to your country, but we did travel by bus in Central America and had much the same type of experiences (dreading it at first, but coming to love it and learning so much). Good for your Dad and good for you, glad you loved it.

  19. well written yes traveling in bus gives n number of experiences

  20. Helpful post, Arti. I agree with your points.
    Bus-journeys have their own charm.
    I plan to visit Dharamshala too.
    Looking forward to your subsequent Dharamshala posts :)

  21. A delightful read. It reminds me of my college days where We mostly travel by public buses.

  22. The second half was informative, thanks for sharing. I still prefer bus over cabs and all. Trains I opt for sleeper class mostly. The money saved thus is used otherwise. Bus and trains are a great place to observe people and the window seat is Nature's poetry at its best.

  23. Beautiful pics and informative account ....nicely written Arti... :-)

  24. The bus journey that you cannot afford to miss happen in UK (Uttarakhand not United Kingdom). My friend who visited me last year was gawking at the driver the whole journey, wondering how and why he drives so fast. Bus or no bus, a journey without public transport is sterile and boring !

  25. As someone who'd prefer bus rides over other modes himself, I think your reasons are apt. Local Buses gives you a glimpse into the local culture that nothing else can even come close to. But, I wish the authorities would take care of buses and do something about 'filthy, poor quality of seats, smelly people, long wait in queues at the bus stand, rude conductors' because more often than not, these things happen.

  26. You have provided here great information of your wonderful trip.

  27. Beautiful photos and very interesting read with full of information. Nicely written Arti....:)

  28. Informative post Arti...BTW I like traveling by train too enjoying the scenery and interacting is much more at ease there I feel.

  29. True Arti, the more comforts we've been accustomed to, the more we realize we miss out on some small but important things in life. A classic example here. When we travel in buses, we can enjoy the journey, with our thoughts and admiring nature, or even have a nice conversation with those who've accompanied us or even random strangers who travel with us. When we choose the option of travelling by faster means, we do miss out on many such opportunities.

  30. Bus and second class train , are indeed the best way to experience the local flavor and the people.As you said, the economies of bus travel are huge provided of course, safety is taken care. By being cocooned in the confines of a car or an AC coupe in a train, we have almost become isolated from the true flavor of experiencing India. Great read Arti :)

  31. We have mostly visited Himachal in our own car,that too is a good option;but only if you have a full car-load.Otherwise bus ,it is.

  32. Bus journey are really wonderful since we get to know more about other peoples too. Arti,you are a true travel girl and as usual informative post :)

  33. When in India I always try to go to McLeodganj, and always in a bus from Delhi. Travelling with so many people to a common destination, with mostly a common purpose really helps my traveller's spirits.

  34. Certainly buses are considerably cheaper to travel in. You featured two kinds of buses - a smelly badly upholstered state run bus and a second and much better luxury bus where you have a monk rushing to board one.I would prefer the second category !

  35. Γεια σου αγαπητή μου Arti!!!
    Τελικά το λεωφορείο έχει και τα καλά του! Στην χώρα μου προτιμώ να ταξιδεύω με το δικό μου αυτοκίνητο. Αλλά σε ξένες χώρες, χρησιμοποιώ το λεωφορείο ή το τρένο!
    Να περνάς καλά, καλό Σαββατοκύριακο και πολλά φιλιά!

  36. Enjoyed this post Arti.. Bus rides are charming in their own slow way. They often give way to colorful conversations and encounters with fellow travelers, just like you said!

  37. This was a lovely read Arti. Mcleodganj is beautiful :) I think bus rides are highly underrated. They offer such beautiful views to the traveler :)

  38. Interesting .. as usual, very informative..Arti..

  39. Arti, I liked the way you narrated the story with perfect pictures.

  40. Great post, the bus can be a really underated mode of transport, especially when visiting new places, like you say it gives you a real feel for the place. I take the bus quite a lot at home too, but that's just because I hate driving!

  41. Took me almost same price, here is the cost on 5th nov 2015:
    Pathankot cantt to Pathankot bus stand by auto : Rs. 40 (shared auto)
    Pathankot bus stand to Dharamshala direct bus : Rs 126
    Dharamshala bus stop to Mcleodganj: Rs13

    Luckily the same bus which dropped me at dharamashala bus stop was going to mcleodganj, so i had to wait for 15mins.

  42. Is there any bike rentals in pathankot?

  43. Please tell me that is it safe to travel from pathankot to dharamshal by bus during monsoons. What about the availability of buses during rainfall/


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