| Choosing a Travel Agency - Do's and Don'ts. |
Here are a few thoughts that could help one in picking up the right agency. After all, your
experience on the yatra depends on who is running the show as well:
* Talk to several tour operators - remember most are sales folks who absolutely have no idea of what
the yatra is like (from what you would like to experience) and will talk promising the moon at times.
They will have no clearcut
itinerary ('somehow adjust' types). And yatra pricing could be high because each of the pilgrim
aggregator (the travel agents) in the chain take their cut. So choose to directly interact with the main agency
to get the best pricing and deal. In fact our travel agency's managing director deliberately put in a wrong mobile
number (typo) in his visiting card - so that access is difficult! Cornered he sheepishly corrected it.
* Book your air tickets early! I had to postpone my trip because getting confirmed reservations was difficult. The
Royal Nepal Airlines flight to Bangalore was found to be unreliable - so check the past history of flight arrivals as well.
* On the one side doing the Yatra alone is great. Nothing like it!
On the other, you might want to have good company.
If you can get like-minded folks to come with you - in multiples of four, you are better off in having a
vehicle for yourselves during yatra. Bargain this out with your travel agent.
* Do not buy into the sales pitch about buying yatra accessories - you can hire them cheap or borrow them.
Or you can buy locally too on your own. The key is in bargaining and enquiring in several places. Many get
ripped off when lax.
* If you are a vegetarian, then opt for the vegetarian cuisine and ask that it be cooked and served appropriately.
Many times, the cook and the helper sherpas get to cut short their cooking chores by combining the cooking
(Ex: frying is done is the same pan; and with the same used oil; and cooking spoons are interchangeably used).
Eating together with trekking folks who like to appreciate their non-veg cuisine should be welcomed - it is nice to
see them respect your sensibilities - the trouble sometimes is with the sherpa cooks. This happens when doing the
yatra with international
groups. You can pleasantly convey your requirements to the cook and others during the yatra and ensure that it
* Bargain on the price upfront. Year 2004 prices were around INR 53000 all inclusive ex Kathmandu. (Add
another 50% for other expenses). Along with the price, ensure that
the standard aspects of the trip are as agreed upon (in writing).
Do not pay any money in advance before reaching Kathmandu (no need for wire transfers). Pay after visiting the travel agent in
their office (checkout that they are not fly by night operators). Ask for receipts ('What receipt?' is typical).
If you wish to get in touch with several travel agencies in several cities of India
or in Kathmandu, search the Internet with right keywords. Ask for a quotation and
possible dates. Here are some big organizers:
* Kailas Tours - www.neelkanthtoursandtravels.com
* Karnali Tours and travels.
* Ecotreks - www.ecotreksnepal.com
* Atma darshan from Mumbai
* Arun Treks Nepal
* Parikrama Treks Nepal - the one I used.
Ask for and get the travel agency commit to the following:
** Stay in decent guest houses, Inns, and hotels in all the places enroute. Typically the good places would
include a clean and modern toilet perhaps common to all rooms as well as ventilated window within the rooms.
(Some cheaper rooms will not have any ventilation). Ask that you would inspect before selection at every place.
** All costs due to any delays in starting or in completing the itinerary will be borne by them fully - this should include the
costs of staying at Kathmandu as well. Similarly, any disruptions in the itinerary will be fully compensated for by them - and all incidental expenses borne by them (Like
the truck not arriving so the chinese guide will arrange to serve food in the local hotel wherever at his costs!).
** The group and the sherpas will not be split. And that the sherpa guide will accompany you in the land cruiser and will not come in the truck. We had several occasions
were we did not know what to do because the sherpa guide got struck in the truck. Campsite location and other decisions
just got held up when this split happened.
** The chinese will provide good vehicles - sometimes most are hired off the streets of Zhang-mu.
Ask for the new versions (less than 5 years old)
of the 4500 Toyota Land Cruisers - these might add to your overall costs perhaps by another INR 4000 but could be
worth it. Remember, the agency will promise for such vehicles and take the monies but will not deliver! So pay separately
on return in case you get these vehicles. Also ask that vehicles be cleared off garage junk (spare parts fill up the vehicle)!
** The Chinese guides should be committed to: a) being helpful in all communications b) listen to what the group
members have to say; c) resolving all issues in a meaningful and professional way; (when the chinese guides
overshot their meagre permitted budgets
they put several travellers accomodation and food preparation into jeopardy). Ask that all these will be conveyed - you will receive
a lot of big assurances! But insist.
** The chinese drivers will: a) stop the vehicle during the drive when you request them - during the diamox
therapy you will have to relieve yourself several times during the day (Ironically, ours coincided many times with the vehicle
breakdowns!) b) They be courteous in their interactions with you c) understand and respect your religious sentiments
d) will not smoke during the drive (especially with the window panes up). e) will not put on their pop music loudly
(though you might be playing your personal stereo) - sometimes obnoxious pop even though it could be Hindi.
f) that when ladies wish to attend the natures call - the driver takes a long walk away - especially on the flat
plateau where there is no rock to use! (Ladies, pack your private toilet tent gadgets (bedspread etc) - several
unprepared ones do things
clumsily and become the objects of joke and derision for the chinese!)
** Mineral water will be packed and served as part of the general package and none shall be charged for it separately.
Remember that mineral water bottles that each individual is asked to get along (24 liters+ in my case) were either
used up by others or damaged or dirtied up.
** During the parikrama, the guides will take you to Chuggu Gompa, Chiu Gompa and its hot springs,
Rakshas Tal, Darchen Gompa, Ashtapad, Tar-po-che,
Dheer Puk Gompa, Gauri kund, Zutul Puk Gompa, Thirthapuri hot springs etc. The parikrama should include that of the
Lake Manasarovar too - many of these are skipped if you are lax.
(Invariably they get to disappear at critical times).
** Price for yak and horse rides during the parikrama will be capped upfront. Many times, after reaching darchen, pilgrims
get a shock with the price tags. There is a lot of unpleasant arguments - and finally the 'tough bargaining' happens!
The hapless ones succumb to this tactic and get ripped off!
** The sherpas will bring on the yak, the toilet tents and mineral water bottles on the parikrama of Mt. Kailash. Optimizing
on the yak to be hired by them for bringing the rest of the camp equipment, they skip these! You are asked to 'use the rocks' - i.e.,
relieve behind the rocks in the open!
** Any monetary tips that you will give to the sherpas or the drivers will be based on your
satisfaction only - there shall be no compelled tippings! This builds into the incentives for their
good behaviour and performance.
** All medical emergencies are carefully and appropriately handled - ask the agency what procedure would be adopted
if one is: a) acutely ill with food poisoning b) acutely ill with High Altitude Sickness c) down with broken limbs d) down
due to flu / fever / cough. In case you wish to remain in darchen for the three parikrama days, what happens and how
will it be handled? e) how are refunds (how much of it) handled? (Clarity and commitment here will help handle the chinese folks appropriately!)
** Your luggage will be handled such that it is always clean and dry while bringing it in the truck! Typically such
baggage gets dirtied up and becomes drenched, exposed to the elements (rain) and the fuel drums! It can also get
squashed because some guy decided to use it to cushion his/her bumpy back-of-the-truck ride! My baggage was pretty
** Every member of the group gets to have a separate tent! You live in your private world within
during rest and meditations! Also ensure that the tents are rain proof - mine dripped in the middle and we did
something ingenuous with another plastic sheet spread over the tent - ofcourse the billowing winds made for
a noisy night with this sheet flapping intermittently. In other groups, ladies and gents were packed 8 members to
a small tent - all cramped up!
** Every day menu will be shared upfront the previous day! Oil used once for frying will not be used again? Non-veg
cooking will be separately handled with no interchange of used oils, pans or spoons. Though you will face assurances galore,
tell them that the cooks who will be introduced to in the office, will comply enroute!