It was about 4 years ago when I saw an ads at the back of some airline’s seats, it was a picture of a dreamy winter wonderland, called Himachal Pradesh, situated in the north India, just at the foot of the Himalayan mountains.
You know sometimes we see a beautiful place in a picture and decided to put in in out list? This is one of those moments.
Bandi and I spared 2 weeks to explore Himachal Pradesh, the longest trip we have this year! We initially planned to fly in to New Delhi, but the price was just ridiculous; so thankfully we have our beloved Scoot, which offers flights to Amritsar for only $300 return! Off we went!
Himachal Pradesh is unquestionably beautiful, with snowy mountains surrounding you, everything was magical there. But, this trip is exhausting, it will drain you like no other trip! Oxygen level was thinner, roads are tough (I’m talking about car sick, like serious car sick), and if you go during winter, weather can be harsh. Bandi and I crown this trip as our toughest trip yet. It’s not about the temperature degree per se, we’ve been to sub-zero places before but this gotta be the harshest because most of Indian houses were not built for winter, it was cold in and out of the house.
If you decided to go, let’s talk about some planning. I chose to talk about technical part of the trip because I reaaaaally think it’s the most important part for this one. Well, not so many people know Himachal Pradesh and want to go there. Even when I was planning for it, I couldn’t find a decent amount of blog posts about it, most of the tourists are local tourists so very limited source of ideas from a foreigner perspective.
i) Plan your route and budget
Your first priority should be your route, so you can book hotels/airbnb and then look for driver. Since I planned to spend time in New Delhi and Agra the first 2 days in India, my route is from New Delhi and back to Amritsar. So here’s my route:
New Delhi to Kalka – by Train (2,380 rupees / 4 hours)
Kalka to Shimla – by heritage Train, The Himalayan Queen (520 rupees / 5 hours)
Shimla to Manali – by car (we started to hire driver at our last day in Shimla) (7 hours)
Manali to Dharamsala – by car (7 hours)
Dharamsala to Dalhousie – by car (4 hours)
Dalhousie to Amrtisar – by car (4 hours) (Total cost for 9 days booking a driver and car is 16,000 rupees)
Once you have your route fixed, book your driver (I book it from here, they’re very helpful and the service is good. Email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org) and book your accommodation.
I did a lot of research on our drivers, compared quotation prices and asked my Indian friend to call them asking about the company; and I didn’t regret my decision making. Another point to highlight is to get a local Himachal drivers who knows their way to drive in Himachal (t’s a different world out there) and this company is based in Shimla.
ii) Hire a driver
Himachal Pradesh is hilly region, and the only way you can explore from one town to the other is by car. But remember this, no matter how good your driving skill is, DO NOT SELF DRIVE. Just book a driver + car, it’s not worth the risk and the energy; the region is a totally different world for a driver, even if you’re used to driving in mountainous area, in India, people drive like they’re inside Fast and Furious movie all the time. Indian drivers are crazy awesome, man!
Bandi and I love to do road trips, we mostly drive anywhere we go if possible, and this time we skip it because of advices from locals. Now that we have gone there, we are giving the same advice.
iii) Apply a visa
One of the annoying about holding third-world passport is getting visa to go almost everywhere, including India. To give you contacts, Indonesian used to have a visa-on-arrival scheme, but not anymore. :(
Please be patience with the visa website because it will crash a couple of times, and after talking with friends who went to India with visa as well, this happened to them too. And oh boy, did they ask you soooo many questions, including your grandpa’s name. I hope you do remember your granpa and give him a call today! :D
You can click here to apply for India visa.
iv) Pre-purchase Indian Sim Card in your home country
I don’t know if this option is available in all countries, but I know this is available in Singapore. At first we didn’t understand why Changi airport offered this, why don’t we just but it in India? It’s gonna be cheaper, isn’t it?
It turns out, you can’t just buy a sim card in India. We got rejected so many times because they needed local guarantor to sign up for a sim card. Of all the countries we have travelled to, this is the first time we couldn’t get a sim card. In India, everything is based on relationship, this is indeed true.
The other option is to buy it in Airport, however again, we couldn’t get the sim card because the seller told us it’s sold out. Really?
v) Understanding India
If this is your first time going to India, I suggest to read up some cultural information about India so you won’t do something funny there. Cows are sacred, don’t ask for a beef burger in their McDonalds, that would be ridiculous. Minimize PDA (public display affection), tipping anybody that serves you; these are some of the key points that I remember. Just be as mindful and respectful as possible. Bandi told me India is the one country where he felt the most un-describeable energy. You’ll understand when you’re there. India is indeed magical.
If you still have some questions about your planning, you may leave a comment below of message me via facebook. I hope I can help. :)
And now, here are some interesting points from our trip that hopefully can give you ideas:
- India is now joining Bandi and May’s list of “Country where we never had bad food at”; following Thailand and Japan. We love spices and India didn’t fail us on spicing up our palette, we were looking forward for every meal, whether it’s street food or buffet in the hotel, every meal is delicious! We had the best home cooked meal during our airbnb stay in Dalhousie and Bandi couldn’t help but finishing everything!
- Indian people put Masala on all food and drinks; seriously you name it. They put Masala on hash brown, sausage, french fries, Lays, tea, coffee, candy, everything! So if you don’t like spices, probably a bad idea to visit India.
- People are generally nice. I know there are a lot of bad media about traveling to India, but we’ve met a lot of good people and people asked to take pictures with us just because we look different; which I found innocently funny at first (but more irritated with the stares.) Keep your scepticism whenever you travel, but be open with kindness. We’ve troubled a lot of people during our runaway to Banikhet and we were so grateful to meet good people.
- Animals are even nicer! This is the thing I love the most about India!!! I looooovveeee animals, and in India, you find them EVERYWHERE. Dogs, monkeys, cows, horses, donkeys, yaks, sheeps, they’re roaming around the street; and the best we’ve ever encountered is… wait for it… ELEPHANT! Yes, a f***ing elephant walking in the busy road of New Delhi. I’m serious. People will just nonchalantly avoiding the animals but everyone and everything are living together in harmony.
- I’m disappointed that the real romance in India doesn’t involve dancing and singing in the rain. Growing up watching dancing scene of Sharukh Khan, I thought people in India literally dance on the road when they’re in love. But not even once we witness this in our 2 weeks life in India, not even one flashmob.
- The only negative part: India is filthy and messy; and this is coming from an Indonesian. And it’s not “organized messy” like in Hanoi, it’s chaotic messy! It’s messy and filthy. You won’t know the real filth til you see slums in India. We passed by slums in the outskirt of Agra and they have tough life, seriously. Rubbish are everywhere; even in the middle of nowhere in the mountains, you still see piles of rubbish. I had to google about waste management problem in India because it really bothered me, and can you believe most of big cities in India had up to 2000% of waste increase in the last 15 years and the infrastructure couldn’t catch up with that. The good thing is: we never receive plastic bag in India. Starting this year it has been banned (at least in the north?) and we only received either paper bags or cloth bags.
- I need to highlight Taj Mahal. Taj Mahal is REMARKABLE. I seriously thought it’s gonna be overrated, but holy cow… it’s one magnificent well-thought building full of details!!!
- Shimla has one of the best sunset view in the world. Hands down.
- Dharamshala is a must visit, learn about Dalai Lama’s flee from Tibet, it’s very intriguing! #freetibet
- Amritsar is just 45 minutes away from Lahore, Pakistan. If you intended to visit Amritsar, might as well as apply for Pakistani visa and visit Lahore. We regret we didn’t plan it well and have visa beforehand, otherwise it would be another amazing experience. You’re welcome.
- And since you’re in Amritsar, you would want to visit the Golden Temple, it’s the pilgrimage place for Sikhsm. To be honest, I didn’t even know about Sikhsm at all until I came to visit and it was very interesting. They are welcoming people to understand their religion, you can see how people travel so far to visit he holy tree and to bathe in the holy water.
Like always, I hope my travel post can inspire you to… GO. :)
I know traveling is not always fun, sometimes we suffer during our trip, but everything is part of the experiences, part of learning, part of growing up to be a better and wiser person.
May, coming back stronger.