Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Second Noble Truth

So, apparently, we are those people.

You know, the type of people that get suckered by smooth-talking, salesmen. The type that get talked into parting with our hard earned cash in questionable places... like Dehli.

As regular readers here have no doubt sensed, Sarah and I have been less than happy with the Travel Agents we've been working with in India. As I explained in an earlier entry. Sarah and I made the somewhat dubious decision to work with a Travel Agency in Dehli to arrange the transportation and accomdations for this leg. In hindsight, it wasn't the smartest decision. But, at the time, it had a lot of appeal.

First off, after being on the road for over three months we were getting a little burned out with having to arrange hotel rooms and bus/train tickets on a near daily basis. We figured that by paying a little extra, and letting them arrange these things, we could focus on the better aspects of travelling... sightseeing, food and just taking in the chaotic world of India.

Second, the guys we talked to at the travel agency seemed like genuinely decent fellows. The father that ran the business, in particular, seemed like he had his act together. He told us about how he'd visited close to 50 countries, and how he used to arrange overland trips for Europe to Nepal via the old silk route. We figured that people with that much history and experience had to have their act together.

And, at first they did.

The flight to Srinagar went fine, as did our stay in Srinagar on the houseboat. But slowly, day by day, more and more problems emerged with their service. The following is a list, in roughly chronological order of the problems we encountered while dealing with them.

* When we first figured out the price for the trip, they quoted us one US price, and then used a 44:1 exchange rate to determine the price in Rupees. But, after having withdrawn the money to pay them, Sarah later noticed that the bank used a 40:1 exchange rate. As a result, we were charged rought $285 more US then the price they quoted us.

* As we were loading on the bus from Srinagar to Leh, it was suddenly announced to us that we would have to find our own room during our stop over in Kargil. This ended up costing us 400 Rs (roughly $10 US). True, that isn't much money, but it was annoying in principle, since our package was supposed to cover all accomdations.

* In Leh, as we've talked about before in this blog, we were supposed to depart for Manali on the 11th. But, on the day of the 11th, they still hadn't provided us with our jeep or bus tickets. Furthermore, it took them roughly 2 days more to secure us a ride to Manali. That was two days that we were stuck in limbo. Twiddling our thumbs and never quite certain when we'd leave.

* During our many phone calls to them while in Leh, they frequently told us they'd call us right back in "30 minutes" or "in about an hour." Generally, they never called us back.

* After the confusion in Leh, they promised our bus tickets for Manali to Dharamsala would be waiting for us at our next hotel. They never sent them. Furthermore, when we called them, they made excuses saying they had sent them. And, when those claims proved to be untrue, the hotel got stuck making the arrangements for us.

* In addition, since we were arriving a day late in Manali, they were supposed to notify the hotel there, and let them know that we'd be arriving a day late, and departing a day late. They never did. Leaving it to us to explain things.

* Finally, we had explained to them early on that we wanted to stay in McLoud Ganj, instead of Dharmasala. Yet, not only did they not set us up in a hotel in McLoud Ganj, they set us up in a hotel roughly 14km outside ofo Dharamsala... which means it was roughly 25km from McLoud Ganj.

Some, you can see why Sarah and I were a little fed up with them by the time we reached McLoud Ganj.

Now, since McLoud Ganj is the head of the Tibetan Government in Exile, the home of the Dalai Lama and is a mecca for Buddhists around the world, it seems to make sense to put our problem into the context of Buddhist doctrine.

Buddhism rests upon the concepts of the Four Noble Truths. Which read as follows (Tyler paraphrased version):

1) Life is suffering.
2) Suffering is caused by desire or craving.
3) To cease suffering, you must cease desiring.
4) See the Eightfold Path for more details.

Now, in our case, I think it bears looking at the Second Noble Truth. Basically, we were suffering because of our desire to have the travel agency provide us with a good vacation. Now, obviously, they seemed to be incapable of delivering what we desired. So, in order to stop suffering, it only makes sense that we cease desiring their assistance.

So, to those ends, we've told them we wish to cancel our agreement with them.

At first they were resistant. But, through our persistance we've finally gotten them to agree. Unfortunately, even having cancelled our agreement, Sarah and I were still suffering a bit. Why?

Because now we desired our money back.

This was something that they've also been resistant to. Unfortnately, while they have been cooperative, I'm still doubtful we'll see any of our money returned. So, maybe, we'll just have to cease desiring that too. We shall see. It would suck to not be able to get our money back. We'd be out a large chunk of change, and would have to travel even more frugally for the last three months of our trip.

But, regardless of whether we get our money back, I'm convinced that we've made the right decision. Our time in Dharamsala, since we've kicked the Travel Agency to the proverbial curb, has been some of our best time yet. It's like a weight has been lifted from our shoulders and suddenly Sarah and I are travelling again.

Sure, we'll make mistakes going forward. And, sure, India will provide challenges. But, at least they'll be our mistakes and our challenges. And, honestly, that's the way it should be for us.

And here's the best part: We won't be spending any more time on the phone arguing with travel agents.

So, why have I made this blog entry? Why am I airing all this dirty laundry? Not for pity. And not to get some sort of revenge on our travel agents. But, instead because over the last couple days, Sarah and I have realized that just talking to others about our experience helps. We've heard stories from pretty much every other traveller we've talked to that matches the type of thing that has happened to us. But, I think that often travellers are too concerned with looking like "travel veternans" to reveal their mistakes to each other. And to the rest of the world.

But, mistakes are part of the deal. Like travellers diarrhea and long bus rides, mistakes are the back bone of every travel experience.

And, finally, if one person reads this and it helps keep them from making the same mistake, it makes the last 30 minutes of typing worthwhile.


Vocal Minority said...

Hooray for Dhramsala!

I stayed in the Green Hotel in Mcleod Gang, but you've probably wound up somewhere nicer. Ah, Mcleods drinking, Mo-Mo dumplings, oooh, and there's that coffee shop on the way out of town that adopted a dog whilst I was there! moonpeak I think it's called.

It's a lovely area. Enjoy and chill, and do some walking. And if you run into any locals that work the the "students for a free tibet" group, say Hi from me.

Travel agents are bastards, but at least you're free! I did something similar with the purchasing of bus tickets in Aus / NZ. The important thing is to learn and move on...

The General said...

Yeah, Sarah and I are definrelty trying to put the travel agent garbage behind us.

We are no longer in Dharamsala, but we definitely grew to enjoy the place. We met some great people while we were there, and every night we'd meet up on a rooftop bar over the main square (McLoo's or something like that), eating, drinking and just hanging out.

As you said, a great place to hang out... even if I think they should ban cars in-town.