Tuesday, November 18, 2014

#ToiletForBabli: In search of hope, hygiene and health

Let me be honest about it. As a young girl who’s spent most of her summer vacations on the highway tagging along with her traveler parents, I understand what this means.

No Mummy. Let’s wait for some more time… we might just spot a petrol pump nearby.

Sometimes, we did. But not every time have we been lucky. Driving across long barren Indian national highways through small archaic villages, with vast jungle lands stretching into infinity and no life in sight, the basic action of answering nature’s call has not always been easy.

Occasions like these have been rare but not totally non existent. As much as these have been embarrassing, in a way I am also thankful for them. For someone who's lived in the suburbs of Mumbai all her life, enjoying the basic comforts in life (and more), instances like these have been nothing less than an eye opener. For they have inspired me in a certain way, and empathized me in a way I am not sure if anything otherwise would have.

Today, I am only glad because I understand and can completely relate to a campaign like #ToiletForBabli. Babli is a young village girl who is forced to walk out in the open everyday in the company of the night, not to gaze at the moon or the stars, but to perform a very basic activity, a necessity of life – of reliving oneself.

While the misery of travellers like me is still short lived, it is heart wrenching to think that of Babli's is permanent. What's even more shattering is the shocking reality that Babli is not alone.

According to a survey by the World Bank, over 600 million people, roughly 60% of Indian households, still have to head to the fields or other open spaces to use them as makeshift bathrooms. Clearly, lack of proper sanitation and shortage of basic bathroom facilities is a major crisis throbbing in India. Not surprisingly, it is girls and women, being the more vulnerable of the two sexes, who pay the heavier price. Venturing out in the dark for defecation exposes them to the risk of horrific, even deadly, attacks of sexual violence like molestation, rapes and verbal and physical abuse. That apart, not being able to access toilets raises threats on health and hygiene leading to a variety of serious infections and ailments impacting the overall health of not just the womenfolk but the entire family and nation dependent on them.

What’s saddening to assimilate is the fact that it’s not a one day ordeal but a trauma that they have to face each and every morning of their life. Just imagine. My heart shatters into pieces just by imagining the shame, indignity and embarrassment they have to bear. Simply put: it’s totally cruel, brutal even life threatening to not have the privacy to perform a necessary bodily function.

In a grim situation like this, what rings hope are awareness campaigns like the recent Domex intitated #ToiletForBabli.

Those days when issues like these were spoken in hushed tones and better preferred to be swept under the carpet are now passé. It’s inspiring and energizing to see such a sensitive issue of eradicating open defecation addressed in innovative ways that could not even be imagined a decade ago when the word 'toilet' was still a taboo, forget speaking about it.

The country’s Prime minister Narendra Modi addressed the cause of proper sanitation in an epoch Independence day speech where he resolved to put ‘toilets before temples’ and urged every citizen to get together for the cause.

Not to forget, real heroes like a 5th grade dropout Savita, who took the bold step of walking out of her 7 year old marriage as her husband was not ready to have a permanent toilet at their house in Mundlana village in Madhya Pradesh.

Savita was still a woman… think of all the Bablis out there. Simple young village girls filled with big dreams in their small round eyes. All they want for now is to lead a healthy, hygienic, dignified life. To accomplish this, they are here along with Domex seeking your help and mine.

Together, we can bring about a change in the lives of millions of kids, thereby showing our support for the Initiative "You Click, Domex Contributes" at www.domex.in. All we need to do is “click” on the “Contribute Tab” on www.domex.in and Domex will contribute Rs.5 on our behalf to eradicate open defecation, thereby helping kids like Babli live a dignified life.

I just clicked! Will you also join in and help Babli lead a dignified life?

Just a click. And, Babli's face beams up, instantly. I saw it. You can see it too. It’s a glow that shall light up your soul.
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Monday, November 10, 2014

'My College Diary' Contest: Cash Prizes Worth RS. 10,000 to be Won!

Are you fond of your college memories and love rekindling them once in a while? Do you love speaking about the memorable times you spent there and wish you could go back and relive them again?

Well, then this giveaway cum contest is for no one else but YOU!

My Yatra Diary… along with collegedunia.com is very excited to host ‘My College Diary’ contest where we are giving away cash prizes worth 10,000 INR (~ 150 USD) for the all the stories that you have got to share.

All you have to do is take a dive back in your college memories and then let your pen do the talking. That’s it and who knows next thing, you could be walking away with your share of prizes!

What are the prizes?

  • The best entry wins INR 5000 Cash.
  • 2 runners-up win INR 2000 Cash.
  • 1 lucky winner for helping with 'Social Media Outreach' will win INR 1000.

What is the topic?

Got an interesting college story to tell in pictures or words? Excited to take us around and show us your college campus from your perspective? Discovered something new while bunking classes and going out for a stroll?

If you found yourself nodding like a little kid, now is the time to flip back all those pages from your #CollegeDiaries, put your writing hat on and blog about it!

A few ideas to help you get started:

  • College Backpack: Been a courageous traveler all along? Have memories of that short field trip you took with your classmates or the impromptu jungle expedition you embarked on with your friends or that first taste of freedom when you decided to venture out alone? Tell us your story. Write about your experience there – what you saw, what you ate, interesting people you met, and what you did. 
  • Around Campus: What was the most favorite spot to hang out while not spending your time in the classroom? The silence of the library? The nearby sea shore? Canteen? Food joints? Quaint little temple you always stopped to pray before going to give your exams? Walk us through around your campus by writing about it on your blog!
  • Festivals and Events: Attended the college festival? Have stories to share? A memorable incident perhaps? Share your experiences and get all nostalgic.
  • Not great with words? No problem, pictures speak volumes. Blog your college memories as a photo story and team it up with interesting captions.

Social Media Outreach Bonus:

Besides writing the blog post, you can always help me spread the word on social media by sharing this banner on your blog/personal FB pages along with a link to this post:


 Share this banner along with the link of this post on your FaceBook page;
one lucky winner wins Rs. 1000

Drop the link to your shared FB post status in the comment section below / on my Facebook page / on twitter. Alternatively, you can also email me the screenshot on 22arti@gmail.com. As a token of gratitude and appreciation, we will be giving out one Rs.1000 cash to one lucky winner!

Mandatory points to follow –

1. All entries should mention this line in the post --> 'This post is my entry for 'My College Diary' contest held by travel blog My Yatra Diary in collaboration with Collegedunia.com' 

2. At the end of your post, tag atleast 3 bloggers or more who you think would be interested to participate in the contest and let them know about it by commenting on their blogs or on social media.

3. Only fresh entries written for the contest are allowed. Submit your entry link through the linky tool embedded below so that we can evaluate all the entries once the contest is over. Multiple entries are not allowed.

4. The winner will be chosen by me and College Dunia. Judges decision is final.

Eligibility?

Everyone who blogs and is a blogger, is eligible to participate in the contest. Nationality does not matter. If the winner is not from India, then the equivalent amount of prize money as USD to his/her Paypal account. This contest is open for all.

Contest Deadline:

Last date for the contest: 7th December, 2014 (12.00 Midnight IST)

Declaration of Winners

Winners will be announced as soon as possible (tentatively before the beginning of the New Year so the winners have something extra to celebrate!) on my blog and my social media pages; so do keep an eye on them.

Happy Blogging and Good Luck! Eagerly looking forward to receiving your entries soon. :-)

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Monday, November 3, 2014

Travelling Withlocals and Why I Think it's a Great Concept for India.

If I were to make a list and thank all the local people who’ve helped me truly arrive at a destination, a single lifetime would not be enough.

Yes, that’s what my yatras have done to me. They have helped me connect with people… people who are unknown, unfamiliar and nameless but people who know it all and are ever willing to share their knowledge - from the must-not-miss eatery hideouts you won’t find a mention in any of the guidebooks or the ‘best thing to do’ when you have got only a day to spend in their city.

I simply call them the friendly neighborhood Samaritans - the unassuming and shy village cowgirl or the gregarious rickshaw puller, the benign woman selling flowers and that scholarly pandit busy chanting mantras for one of his clients – just some of the many portraits whose names I have never really cared to ask. And yet they come to occupy a large chunk of my memories because somewhere they have helped me color my experiences making my travels memorable: one thing that breathes life in my yatra.

A local village girl makes chai in India
A local Rajasthani village girl making chai for me

These people or the Samaritans that I am talking about are none other but the friendly locals of my land, India. India, as a country, can come across as daunting not only to a foreign tourist but for a resident traveler as well for all the verdant diversity it offers. Just stepping in a different city can throw open a whole wide world at you. The healthy profusion of cultures, traditions, dialects, foods, the list of things to do and visit is incredibly impressive but at the same time also paints a picture of chaos and disarray leaving one jagged and confused.

That’s where locals can help out and help, in a big way. I know that can sound clichéd especially when talking about a country like India but it’s all about the choices you make. Strike the right connections with the right people; and the true mystical magical India reveals.

So, you can imagine how and why the concept of Withlocals.com and the news that it’s coming to India got me all rolled up to write a piece about it. A peer-to-peer marketplace where local people offer homely experiences and regional familiarity to travelers, Withlocals seems to have hit the bull’s eye by visualizing a space that erases cultural border gaps so that travel experiences can thrive in a friendly manner.

What does Withlocals offer?

Travel is so much about people and this is exactly what forms the core of the vision set up by the team of Withlocals. Travelers, for their part, seek experience and locals, for their part, are always happy to share: Withlocals is that bridge that aims at connecting these two aspects together thus creating authentic connections that thrive in a fun, friendly, unique and sustainable manner.

Keeping promise with this vision, Withlocals is themed around three ideas namely Eat, Tours, and Experience.

Eat Withlocals

Eat Withlocals offers a delicious dining experience immersed in the city you are in, in the comforting environment of a home.

There is really no substitute to a home cooked family meal. The personal touch of love, warmth and affection can never be replicated in five star restaurants or traded for any amount of money.

Eat Withlocals - Travel tip in India

I looked up reviews given for some of the listed hosts in this category and found most travelers reiterating these very notions. Like for example, this is what Florine K, a traveler has written about her Vietnamese eating experience with her local host Phi:

'Phi was very considerate about diet requests. She and her friend who joined for dinner were so much fun!'

Geared up with an objective to facilitate over 10,000 ‘home restaurants’ In Asia, the team at Withlocals seem dogged on intensifying the mere act of eating into evocative travel meals that  serve as a memory for a lifetime.

Tours Withlocals

In most circumstances, we rely on guidebooks or the internet when chalking out our exploration itinerary for ‘Things to do’ and ‘places to see’ in a new location. Though these options are pretty good but the thing is most often, they show us only the way to the trodden path missing out the local essence of the place. Withlocals solves this problem by taking the help of the local people who indubitably make the best tour guides for all the knowledge, love and passion they embrace of their homeland.

Tours Withlocals - Travel tip in India

By offering a marketplace where the travelers get to experience authentic expeditions led by really passionate individuals, it’s nice to see the team at Withlocals paving the way to sightseeing as a novel and a fun experience.

Experience Withlocals

This has to be my favorite of all the three activities – experience Withlocals gives you an opportunity to drive past all our inhibitions and actually do something the way the locals do. Yes, you heard that right – DO!

Activities Withlocals - Travel tip in India

The satisfaction and thrill derived from learning a new skill or getting involved in the local culture can form such a big aspect of our travels especially when travelling to foreign locales. For now, you can choose from a plethora of activities that range from driving a tuk-tuk to carving your own musical instrument and indulging in extreme sports. 

With it’s launch in India soon, I can’t wait to see this marketplace as a big cultural fest booming with an abundance of interesting skills and extraordinary experiences since India boasts of such a rich cultural heritage and individuality.

Highlight of the Withlocals concept and what it means for a country like India?

India, as we all know, can be a land of myriad ironies where one moment hearts swell in pride to know how talented and competent so many people of this country are and the very next moment, hearts break in disbelief to see so many of them going unnoticed and unappreciated in the due course of time resulting in their poor economic state and substandard conditions of their living.

That's precisely where I am pretty excited to hear that Withlocals will soon be expanding their concept in southern India.
We want to enable people to earn a sustainable income by doing something they’re passionate about. ~ Withlocals Team

By far, Withlocals strongest suit is that of empowerment by giving each host a separate space requiring them to directly represent themselves and their hometown.

The idea is to seed travelers in the concept of genuine local-ised traveling in India by creating a economically sustainable conduit between the two. To me, this strategy seems to be checking boxes at many levels so that they fit in seamlessly: a country, India, rich in cultural arts; the grinding poverty of the smaller towns, the getting together of the community, the economic push derived by the people - see a pattern? There we go. An emerging generation of conceptual hosts now having a market place of their own, where they connect such that it makes a social and economic difference not only to their own living but to the lives of others as well. Bring it on, I say.

Interested in exploring more for yourself?

For now, you can do that by expressing your interest to become a 'Host' or a 'Brand Ambassador' for your region. Withlocals team is looking for hosts and brand ambassadors prior to its launch in southern part of India and is calling out to anyone who's passionate to make new friends, earn money and offer local experiences! Unfortunately, as of now, I don’t fit the bill as I reside in the western region of Mumbai but if you think you have it in you, all you need to do is sign up here: https://www.withlocals.com/locations/india/ Not only will you gain a big packet of happiness by making someone’s travels memorable but also make some income by following your passion.

Disclosure: This article is written in collaboration with 'Withlocals'. I endorse only those services that I believe in. All opinions expressed here are purely my own.
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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Rediscovering 'Atithi Devo Bhava' In A Foreign Land


Atithi Devo Bhavah [Atithi Devo Bhavaḥ]

(Sanskrit: अतिथि देवो भवः; English: 'The guest is God' or 'Guest become God')

~ Taittiriya Upanishad, Shikshavalli I.20

‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ my granddad would say - often. ‘Guest is God’. He saw to it that every visiting guest – impromptu or planned – was personally looked after and taken good care of. One of the most vivid childhood remembrances I have is that of a differently-abled beggar who would visit our house every Saturday. ‘I am hungry, bauji’, he would affirm. Even when the entire house would be finished for the day and all utensils washed and tucked in their places, dadiji would quickly serve up something – even if it meant something as simple as a puri and curd. When curd was not there, she always had the home made nimbu mirchi achchar. I remember, that after relishing the food, when the content beggar humbly thanked my grandpa, my grandpa’s eyes would often turn misty and in a flicker of a second, he would outstretch both his arms upwards and say – Denhar koi aur hai, lenhar koi aur… (The real giver is someone else (not me), who sends enough to be given away.)

I had little clue of what all this meant. Yet, all such episodes, left deep marks on my little mind… the heart deciphered; something. That something was very beautiful... very pure... positive, and, so powerful that it tugged the strings of the soul of a 10 year old kid to create a melodious symphony… for life.


…………* …………* …………* …………

A trip down memory lane

Recently, as I sat down cleaning the showcase of our house for Diwali, a muddle of things came tumbling out: an old calendar, a rickety clock, a very charming Ganesha, a few picture frames, sea shells I’d pick up during my travels, etc. Among them was a picture of my grandpa and an origami paper bird sticking precariously on one of the arms of Ganesha. Taking time out from the cleaning chore, I sat down; gazing lovingly at my treasures. These were special. Very special. I placed the bird on the photo and flapped its wings. The bird never moved. But something within, did. Soon I was off… flying through a wind of memories…

I am sorry, I couldn't understand what gift I should give you… so I got these origami papers. I hope you like it and make something out of it; I am sure it will always remind you of Japan.

I turned over the origami papers that Yoko had handed over to me the previous day. Her words echoing in my ears. Carefully, I kept it in my bag as the India bound plane took off.

It was the end of summer, 2012 and, I was all set to leave home.

The flight was a long one – 16 hours in total - plenty of time to watch the movie that had by then begun reeling on the screen of my mind.

It had all started around a couple of months back …

Anxieties of my FIRST International Trip!

The trip was special.

For more reasons than one. First, it had fallen in my lap by winning a travel contest at IndiBlogger. Second, it was my first trip abroad. And finally, my best buddy, my inspiration had agreed to give me company all along – my father. Together, for one week in Japan, we were to experience and explore life as guests in a foreign country.

Of the two of us, my dad was more relaxed and excited about the expedition while the nervous wreck within me grappled with a fair share of anxieties, nervousness and apprehensions.



With only a few days to go for the trip, I had begun lapping up the big fat lonely planet guidebook frantically and most of everything the previous travelers had to say about the country. The country, it seemed, followed certain codes of conduct and protocols religiously in their day to day life and if you, as a tourist, were to expect a rewarding experience, the advice was to simply come prepared and follow suit.


The Japanese are a warm and welcoming people whose unique culture can be both frustrating and enlightening in its complexity and contradictions. It can take many years to get a good grasp of the Japanese language and psyche. Even then, some say it’s impossible for a non-Japanese to be fully embraced by this homogenous society as one of their own. ~ Lonely Planet

Each time I read about this exotic country, I discovered a new custom it a number that kept on increasing, rivaling closely only to the density of the rituals in my own country!

So, I learnt people in Japan generally prefer keeping to themselves, are quiet, and their cuisine primarily is non vegetarian consisting of fish and meat (bummer since I am a pure vegetarian) and are not very comfortable to people speaking English. To bridle this barrier, I started taking self help lessons in Japanese to overcome the language barricade that the people in the country had apparently fenced themselves in. There was more, what with an entire chapter on holding chopsticks and eating food having its own mannerisms too!

The list was long and one I could never really remember. Eventually, I ran out of time trying to memorize everything before the D day.

It was an entirely different thing that in the due course of time, all these were never really to matter.

Overcoming the biggest barrier of stereotype

My introduction to Japan came as soon as we stepped out on its land, onto the streets – bags lugging from our shoulder and a printed paper dangling from my hand. In bold fonts, it read the address of our hotel given to us by our travel company that was sponsoring the trip - Hotel Villa Fontaine. It was nowhere to be seen.

Signboards dotted our way but all of them were useless as Japanese was a language alien to us. People passed by casually - eyes lowered, paces hurried – without any trace of glance as if the two of us had gone invisible. Finally, exhausted by a 16 hour flight, I decided to take the initiative and ask.

Nervously, I approached a man – pepper haired, perhaps on his way to work - and said ‘Sumimasen, could you please help us?’ pointing to the paper which carried the name of our hotel. He mumbled something in Japanese and gestured us to wait. He ran across to his car parked half a km away and returned with a large atlas mapbook in his hands.

Next moment, he was sitting on the ground in the middle of the pavement, on the main road, searching for directions to our hotel.



The scene moved me beyond words, something shifted within. At that very instant, I threw off a large part of the baggage I had carried along. Mind you, here I am not talking of toiletries or the clothes that we were carrying on our shoulders. But, a baggage much bigger than that. That, that we tend to carry in our minds. That of stereotype!

A voice within repeated… Arti, you ain’t seen anything yet. This is only the beginning. You, are going to love Japan.

And indeed, it ringed true in the days to come.

Hospitality-ness is next to Godliness

The trip had been special right from day one and even more now, as it dawned that anyone and everyone I was meeting was hell bent on making me feel special as well. People bowed in respect and I bowed back - this served as my ice breaker - just like an Indian Namaste making Japan that much more friendly to me.


So there was the subway office lady who came out of her cubicle to help us book a ticket, the bullet train booking staff ‘Midori ni Midogachi’ who left his seat so that he could return my camera that I, in my excitement to book my first bullet train ticket, had forgotten in his cabin, the man who left his own metro train just so that he could help us catch ours, the pretty lady who went out of her way to help us get out of the confusing subway network and there were many more. There was the time I was surprised to see a “vegetable” sushi waiting for me specially ordered by the folks of the travel company that had sponsored my trip; and the time a man literally jumped off his train when he saw me stranded at the metro.


Most of them, including the man who helped me find my way to the hotel, did not speak English fluently – but, it didn’t really matter. What really mattered was they spoke the universal language of love and had humility and kindness sowed in their hearts which sprang out in their smiles, friendliness and eagerness to make sure we felt relaxed and eased.

Meeting Nara blogger friends and discovering the similarities in the essence of living

Our itinerary included meeting 5 of my blogger friends from Nara and spending 3 days of my trip with them. We had been online friends for about a year or so, communicating sporadically with each other through our blogs and comments.

Frankly, I had been a little apprehensive about this part of the trip as always grappling with a few anxious questions rippling in my mind:

Would I be asking too much from a bunch of online friends whom I had been in touch only via blogs? Would they trust me – a stranger visiting from over the seas – enough to let her in, into their houses?

But the subsequent email conversations we shared wiped away all my anxieties and apprehensions leaving behind a very good feeling about my blogger hosts and the treatment I would be receiving.

  • Arti, I hear you are a pure vegetarian? Would dairy products be okay for you?
  • Arti, we would like to offer you a homestay at one of our houses in Nara.
  • Arti, what kind of a hotel should we book for your stay in Kyoto?
  • Arti, we are planning your sightseeing in Nara, but here’s your rough itinerary...


Nara in Japan proved to be a different world in this oriental country, a small countryside – with a lot to see and even more to feel.

Yoko, a petite woman with kind quiet eyes and a soft speaking tone, welcomed us into her pretty home surrounded by beautiful flowers and trees. Like in India, I was offered to leave my slippers outside and wear house slippers before stepping in. We gathered around the dining table for supper where my dad (perhaps the eldest and the only male in the group) was escorted to sit at the head seat of the table. When they saw me fiddling with the handling of chopsticks, immediately I was offered the fork and spoon along with a warm assurance ‘Don’t worry Arti, use these’.

Days were spent exploring Nara with my blogger friends who took time out from their busy schedules to show me around. Ancient heritage temples dotted the nooks and corners giving me a taste of their rich fascinating history. We purified ourselves' by washing our hands and hit the gong before entering most of these temples. Visiting these temples, paying reverence to the deities, also feeding the very-friendly deers in the park felt so much like embarking on one of my very own yatras all over again.



A warm comfy cushy bed awaited us at cosmos's house where we had been invited for a homestay. Tired by the explorations of the day, we fell asleep to the peace of the countryside.

We were deeply touched when we realized the degree of kindness extended by cosmos and her family only later. That night, they had slept on tatami mats while we enjoyed the comforts of their bedroom.

It was not for nothing that I felt that way. Over all the 6 days I spent in Japan, I felt like God because I was treated like one. It wasn’t my home but it was home jaisa with the same laughter, chatter, food and the warmth. I wasn’t a guest anymore but felt someone of their own family…

Stories, continued reeling one after another in those moments and after…

More Indian than I thought

Once back in India, with the help of instructions on the wrapper, I folded the paper into an origami bird and placed it lovingly in the showcase shelf near Ganesha as a good luck memento for my yatras.

This was sometime in 2012.

2 years have passed by since then… today, the bird is a member of my family peeping through the showcase glass reminding me how the world is so much more beautiful if we can break the cage of stereotypes and train our minds to fly.





Yes, Japan was an international trip and some sort of nervousness was implied with culture shock coming into the picture but the only way to fan all these feelings out and feel at home was by connecting with humans on a humanitarian level and following the basics in the etiquette of life, my dad always told me even before the start of the trip, but I learnt it my way.

Japan was very different, culturally but very very similar to India in the very essence of life. In fact, it was much more Indian than I could think. Just like they show in the new Lufthansa TVC. The profusion of history soaked in temples, the loving compassion towards animals, the simplicity in words, the thoughtfulness in actions and the love in gestures tugged my heart strings with something… something that was very beautiful and pure… creating that melodious symphony again… after so many years later, recreating the same magic of a masterpiece which had been etched in my soul by my grandpa as a ten year old… Atithi Devo Bhava!

Today, I am sitting in India – a country I proudly call home. But as they say home is where the heart is.

A fairly big piece of my heart still very much beats in Japan. My heart yearns to go there someday... surely, there are more stories to be told. 

Disclaimer: This post is written for an IndiBlogger contest in association with Lufthansa Airlines on the topic "More Indian than you think (http://bit.ly/MITYTIndiblogger)". Do check out their video below!



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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)

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