It was once an acquaintance of two different travellers at a road side theka (Wine Shop) on National Highway 8.
I managed to pack off early that evening and decided to spend some time alone to drench my nerves with a few BP pegs and savour my taste buds with a plate of chicken momos. My week was stuck with words related to Indian destinations and hence I needed a break. My vagabond mind was continuously yearning for a weekend break and was playing with weekend getaways around Delhi like Jaipur, Ranthambore National Park, Corbett National Park, Lansdowne, Manali and Kausani. It was the 3rd Thursday night in the month of October 2013 and I was bankrupt after returning back from Kolkata… LOL! My family and friends at the time of Durga Puja becomes legal looteras (robbers). So my weekend was under financial threat and my mind was a weekend escapist. I was worried whether I could even manage a budget travel.
‘Aah! Let me now enjoy my peg’, I decided throwing aside my weekend plans. After having two pegs, I saw a man, well suited and booted, coming towards me with a bottle of 100 Pipers and holding a disposable glass, packet of nut crackers and bottle of soda.
‘Hello Mr.! Can I sit here?’ I was wondering whether he was asking my permission or he was informing me that he is going to sit beside me. It was such a harsh tone.
‘Ya… sure!’ I felt that I never had the option to say the man “No”. We shared a smile. He was approximately at the age of 45 to 50 and seemed very well positioned in his professional and financial life. He took out his Skoda key from his pocket and kept it on the table.
‘Why people owning luxury cars have the habit to show off?’ I asked myself when I saw the key. The possibilities were he left his car in his office or his car was nabbed by the towing truck. ‘Hey… let’s go for a drive… ‘
I was bit shocked as well as all my mental imageries were broken. But I didn’t mind the offer at all. I was getting a Skoda drive with a rich stranger… so there was no reason to say NO when my time was building a unique frame.
‘So…what do you do?’ He asked me after we got inside.’ ‘Sir… I’m a travel writer, basically I write travel blogs for the company I’m working with.’ I replied. ‘Oh! That’s nice man. So do you travel?’
‘Yes… a lot.’
‘Which places you have been to?’
‘Well… I mostly prefer to travel to the Himalayan region and apart from that I have covered the entire West Bengal, Odisha, Punjab, Delhi, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Goa and parts of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat AND also Munnar in Kerala. I want to go for a trek in Manali and Ladakh as it is one of my dreams, you see.’
‘Oh! That’s great. You have been to Pushkar?’
‘Yes… during the Pushkar Camel Festival
as well as on Holi this year.’ I replied to him making my third peg and his first one.
‘So you travel at your own cost or the company takes the entire burden to sponsor your trips?’
‘Only few trips were sponsored by the company… mostly I travel on weekends on my own.’
‘How do you manage to travel so much at your own cost dude?‘ He asked me after taking his first peg at one shot. We were somewhere in Haryana… maybe it was around Sector 84 or 79 in Gurgaon.
‘I can manage.’ I took a sip of my 3rd peg and further added, ‘since I’m a bachelor, I don’t depend on any one to accompany me, I manage and can afford to travel days after days very cheaply. Most of the time I prefer to travel inside general coaches when the distance is approximately within 10 hours but must be an overnight journey. Although you can’t expect to get a decent place to sleep… or for that matter a place to sit on, you do save a lot of money.’ I took another sip and the guy in his mid-forties slowed down to light a cigarette. I continued, ‘just for example… when I went to Pushkar, my budget was only Rs. 2000 and my plan was to stay there for 5 days. The tickets for the sleeper coaches and 3 tier AC coaches were roughly 260 and 600 respectively but I went for general coach for which I paid just Rs. 124. There again, when it comes to accommodation I prefer to stick to dormitories, dharmashalas, home stays and budget lodges.’ After taking a fag from him I added, ‘I spend only on food. And like this way from Delhi I have been to Haridwar, Rishikesh, Amritsar, Gwalior, Agra, Jaipur, Nainital, Khajuraho and Orcha via Jhansi; from Kolkata I have been to Puri and Darjeeling.’
‘Ok… that’s tough for me. Though, I think that these kinds of journeys are very interesting. You avoid road journeys? Are they expensive?’ He started to shoot me questions like a journalist and side by side I made his 2nd peg, which he drank at once, and I was done with my 3rd one. We kept heading straight to the National Highway.
‘Oh! Absolutely not… even you can travel cheaply when you are on roads.’ I continued while making my 4th peg and lighting up another cigarette, ‘it is simple Sir… don’t go for hiring a personal cab and luxury or semi luxury buses. You will get local buses as well as shared cabs or jeeps everywhere. Like this way I have travelled the entire state of Maharashtra, Goa and parts of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. See… basically as a traveller I want to explore the destination. So I travel to seek that but not comfort and luxury.’
‘Man… you are a real miser… hahaha… no one will prefer to travel with you. Come on make my peg… hahaha,’ he brayed and I made his peg along with having done my 4th one.
‘Hahaha… nothing like that. I have travelled a couple of times in groups. My only condition was that we need to control our cost on transportation and stay. Like this we have travelled parts of Himachal Pradesh like Lahul and Spiti valley and Kinnaur district. From Kashmere Gate ISBT we took the local bus for Reckong Peo, it cost around Rs. 600 per head and thereafter, we have covered the entire district on shared jeeps, which was quite cheap. We preferred home stays, which was per head Rs. 150 per night. It was a week trip and we made the trip spending just Rs. 6,000. Sir… actually if you find a person with similar tastes then you don’t have a problem travelling cheap in India.’
He took a right turn from a red signal and I looked outside to check where we were. The board displayed, Jaipur 202 kilometers, Rewari 25 kilometers and Behror 70 kilometers. So… I guessed we were somewhere around Bhiwadi.
‘What if a woman accompanies you? Are you going to stick to your extra cheap travel plans?’
‘Sir… in such a scenario I will just go for a sleeper class journey on a train if the journey is within 10 hours and pick a budget hotel, ranging from 500 – 1,000. There are quite a few good budget hotels in India that provide comfortable stay, good food and cordial reception. But obviously I won’t do that with the woman I want to get married to. Then I need to come out of my extra cheap travel plans. But yes after a discussion with the woman if she agrees to travel with me according to my cheap plans… then I don’t have any issues. You see… understanding your partner’s needs and preferences is also a part of travelling cheap in India. You know you can afford but when you have the options to travel cheap then why not?’ He kept on driving and we continued with our pegs.
‘Aha… nice. You have been to Rajasthan as well as Karnataka I guess… so how did you manage to travel cheap there? You travelled alone or with someone else?
‘Sir…’ ‘You can call me Vivek…’
‘Oh! Thanks. By the way my name is Swairik.’
‘Leave it… you can call me Rik.’
‘Ya… that’s an easy one.’
‘I have travelled the whole of Karnataka with my family and cost cutting wasn’t that much possible on transportation. Bangalore was our base, where we stayed at one of the hotels close to Bangalore airport . You have the option to reach Bangalore by trains connecting all the major cities in India but as I said my family prefers comfort. Anyways, from Bangalore we booked a tourist bus to Mysore instead of a cab… so you can say that it was a cost cutting measure. From Mysore again we booked a tourist bus to Ooty and Coorg. Although local buses are available from Bangalore and Mysore to Ooty and if your family prefers to travel on them then there you go for another cost cut. Then from Bangalore, we again booked tourist bus for travelling to Badami, Hampi, Belur and other destinations around. Nonetheless… Vivek, you have options to stick to budget hotels in Bangalore and other places in Karnataka as well as travel on local buses.’
‘Hmm… budget hotels in India make it easy for the average Indian travellers, but I don’t think the international travellers go for such picks. Instead as far as my knowledge goes they prefer luxury hotels.’
‘Vivek, you know what… these international travellers travel cheaper than Indian travellers. Many of them travel India for over 3 months to 6 months, depending on their travel visa. I went to Jaisalmer this February during the Jaisalmer Desert Festival you can read my blog on it… anyways, what I was saying is that, I met people from 17 countries. Leaving the Chinese, travellers from Europe and America prefer to travel like me. I met these pretty ladies, Trine, Nanna and Kirstine from Denmark and Mariia April from St. Petersburg, Russia and an English guy, Calvin… they all travelled either on local buses or sleeper class coaches when travelling in train. They prefer to share rooms if they are travelling alone or else they go for cheap lodges and dormitories. They only fly when they travel far. For example… Mariia only spend on flights when she travelled from New Delhi to Goa and then Chennai to Jaipur. When I was in Udaipur for three days, I met an American woman, who was travelling alone and was in India for more than 3 months. I asked her how they have managed to travel at such a length… she replied that they don’t look for luxury but seek to explore India and dig into its cultural diorama.’
I added further to conclude, ‘You see… travelling cheap in India is not a big deal if you can carry yourself. You need to take care of certain things like transportations and accommodations and pack everything that is necessary so that you don’t have to buy anything when you are travelling. Cut down unnecessary expenses… if you want to buy memories frame it from the hospitality of the people you meet on your way. You see nowadays every city in India is having traditional shops reflecting a particular culture. Buy it from your city… why to spend on shopping when you are travelling?’
Vivek kept on driving and for the first time I looked at my watch. It was approximately 10. I was wondering how nicely 3 hours has passed by. I made a guess that we were somewhere close to Haryana and Rajasthan border. ‘Vivek… where are we?’
‘No idea Rik… I’m just driving and listening to you. You shared some interesting stories. Well… let me introduce myself. I’m also a traveller and from my college days to the age of 40 I used to travel just like you… even though I had the capability to spend but when it comes to seek the rugged and vibrant culture of India, one needs to come down to earth. But at this age it’s impossible for me to travel like that and you were right that with family you can’t travel cheap every time.’
‘Vivek… I think we are close to Kalyanpura and Alwar is approximately 60 kilometers from the next red signal. Would you like to drive till there?’
‘At this hour? What can we see?’
‘No idea, but we can spend the night drinking inside the car and explore Alwar in the morning. Thereafter we can drive back to Delhi.’
‘Rik!!! You are crazy… but let’s do it!’
My tipsy mind knocked me, ‘Swairik… you are talking about travelling cheap in India… here you are getting an opportunity to travel free of cost. Then why not? Grab it. And I grabbed it.
‘Rik… do you have cash with you? I need Rs. 1,500 to refill the tank…’
I was wondering… I thought I was travelling free of cost.