It was a last minute decision, after arriving in Delhi, to hire a car and driver to see northern India and Nepal. We saw the good reviews on India by Car on Trip Advisor so we called Sohan to see if we could put something together in 2 days. He wasn't available, but he sent Piar over to our hotel so we could work out a personalized itinerary. After much discussion about what we wanted to see and what type of budget we were working with, Piar left and returned the same evening with a 33 day itinerary, the car that we would be driving in, and the driver, Ramesh, so we could meet and be aware of everything we were getting before we agreed to anything. It was all very professional.
We have used drivers before in other countries and I can say with confidence that Ramesh was the "best." He is young and enthusiastic and he listened to our requests. He is still working on his English, but we could always understand each other. He cared enough to listen and keep checking to see if he was correct. After 33 days together his English improved and we learned some basic Hindi...what a great experience!
We are on a 2 year, around the world trip, and we did not want to waste our time shopping and being burdened with lugging "things" along with us or mailing them home. What we did want to do was get a close up and intimate look of India. We consider ourselves "foodies and culture vultures" so we wanted to taste local food as it was prepared for Indians, to see significant and historical places, to learn about local culture, and to see everyday life in India. Ramesh "got it" and helped us do it all. For 33 days we lived liked Indians, rarely seeing other tourist except at the significant tourist attractions. We ate at local Dhabas along the road and there were never any tourists in them. The food was excellent and Ramesh had a knack of knowing which ones were clean enough. We did not get sick even once. He would stop at street vendors that had food he thought we might like and he was always right...we did like it! When we went to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, we stood on the lunch line and sat on the floor in the dining hall with 300 others and ate the lunch that was provided by the volunteers of the Guarwada. On the Hindu holiday of Diwali, we were in the area of Ramesh's mother's home where his wife and children were staying for the holiday and we were invited to lunch (prepared by Ramesh and his lovely wife) with his family and then went on to the extended family's home for tea and biscuits. It was a fabulous experience! One day we stopped on the road in a small village because he wanted to show us something. We walked down a hill and there was an old water driven flour mill. The miller was there, but he wasn't working, so Ramesh asked him if he would start up the mill for us to see. He quickly agreed and when he sent the water to the turbines the wheel was set to spinning very quickly. The miller slowly fed the corn into the hole in the center of the millstone, and presto...flour came out around the perimeter of the wheel and was pushed into a trough for collection. As we began walking back up the hill, Ramesh asked us to wait and he went back and got about 2 cups of the fresh ground corn flour. He then asked a local family in the village if they would make us some fresh corn roti...and they said "yes!" We were amazed, Ramesh did not know these people. This family lived in a one room hut with a fire on the ground to cook. The husband ground up some herbs and spices with a mortar and pestle and they put that on top of the roti...it was yum! We asked if we could compensate them and Ramesh said no, that they were happy to do it and pleased that we liked the roti. We were blown away by their generosity. We saw weddings, funeral processions, pilgrimages, and all without tourists. We took the narrow gauge train from Shimla to Kalka and Ramesh picked us up in Kalka. He bought us tickets on the early train that was used by locals and though we did not have the comfy seats of the first class train, we had plenty of room and we were the only foreigners on the train...so we could hang our heads out the window with everyone else and take pictures while the world went by. It cost us 16 rupees each for the beautiful 6 hour ride through the mountains. .
I can't say enough good things about the great time and the wonderful opportunity we had to see India and Nepal at such an intimate level. It was not cheap by Indian standards, but it was a reasonable price for what we got. We paid 2,600 USD for the car and driver for 33 days and well over 6000 kms of driving. There was a minimum 10% tip required for the driver, but he was well worth the 25% we gave him. There was only the 3 of us in our car, including the driver, but the car was a large Toyota Innova which had the capacity for 6 so if there were more people, I suppose it would have been a ganga deal. We paid separate for our hotels because we wanted to maintain our flexibility and be able to make route changes if necessary. Ramesh helped us with finding hotels and getting the best price when he could, otherwise we used Trip Advisor to find hotels in the bigger cities. We averaged about 1500 rps per night, including breakfast for decent, budget hotel rooms. Though we could have done it slightly cheaper on our own, we would never have seen what we saw or understood as much of what we saw without Ramesh, not to mention the convenience of it all. We also saved a lot because Ramesh helped when possible to get us Indian prices. All in all it was an amazing trip with a gentle, calm, friendly, funny, helpful, thoughtful, knowledgeable and caring driver.
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