Thursday, May 18, 2006

Drivers : good & bad 2

The continuation of the previous post - another long grandma story but you might want to read it for your own travel smart strategies.

Reaching Trichur at the wee hours of the morning, we were fortunate to get ourselves a taxi driver who turned out to be a very nice man. I had tried to book hotels prior to getting there but none had replied to me. Only a week later I found an email from one of the hotels in reply to my request. So thus began our morning journey searching from hotel to hotel, and there to began the meeting of the sulkiest hotel staffs we've ever met. None ever smiled. Finally at the 3rd place we got a room with the help of our taxi driver. I seriously can't remember his name as we had 3 drivers whose names started with su.

By afternoon I had started looking for transportation out. Sully hotelier wasn't being helpful and insisted no one was available, I couldn't get hold of our morning driver so I decided the best place to look for one to get us to Guruvayur would be at the railway station.

5 minutes later we had ourselves a driver, yet as he was a private operator he was asking for more than the normal rate for overnight travel, so we headed off to guruvayur to find one there but there as their connections were so good, he set us up with his friend who was charging the same though the hotel, so I decided we'll just have to try our luck in Ernakulam.

But its the auto drivers in Kerala that continued to impress us. We got out of Guruvayur and met this auto driver who agreed to take us to all the temples for the standard rate without even arguing with us. Bashir turned out to be a nice guy, we asked him to come back the next morning to take us to the temple in the wee hours but he must have slept off as he didn't turn up. Surprisingly we walk out after darshan in the temple only to find Bashir waiting for passengers in front of the temple smiling sheepishly at us. He had indeed slept off.

Our next driver was Sasi, he was neither great nor bad and was quite quiet. They all understood my malayalam its just they were quiet people in case you were wondering ;p

Anyway we reached sully hotel in Ernakulam and what joy to see a travel desk. Travel desk guy turned out to be the exact opposite of sully staff - he was all smiley, charged the right amount and a welcome change from the unsmiling hospitality industry of Kerala.

We had asked for an ambassador (indica was too small for our bags (2 weeks worth of cloths you see) but the one they had was out on rounds so for that evening they substituted it with a ranger and Su named driver number 2. He was a darling, he would probably get into our books as our 3rd fav but unfortunately we used him the least. We had taken prayers at one of the temples so he had a good rest waiting for us outside the next day while they figured out the change of vehicles. What I liked about him was he waited for the other driver to turn up and introduce himself to us before he left so as to ensure we would be safe. That's how we ended up with our 5th driver, Su no 3. Another nice guy, we had gone for a one hour ride at the Kottayam Backwaters and were about 10 mins late, came back to find him restlessly looking for us.

I would recommend this hotel and its travel agent to anyone, though the hotels main staff don't smile, the waiters do and when I got back to the hotel to pay back the amount - there was no hidden chargers, but lots of smiles welcoming us. Hotel Woodlan*d and the travel desk is at the lobby.

Until this trip we had been using one travel in Chennai to cover TN, unfortunately they were having some problem and we couldn't use them. Every single driver he had given us had been a gem and we have taken them for tours for weeks. Unfortunately this time we took someone associated with a travel agent my parents had used to go to Kasi. When I spoke to C*haru travels he told me the rate per KM and told me it would take around 600 kms to and from Kanchipuram and Thiruannamalai and told me an amount for the 600km. As far as I knew it shouldn't take that long as we have been taking this route everytime we travelled to India.

I know people horn in India at every corner, but its a polite short horn. I never met anyone who used the horn like this driver. He would press the blasted sound for at least a minute and usually at people (even if they were not in his way) not vehicles or at corners. There was something I didn't like about him plus he had a habit of ignoring what we said and muttering under his breath. In the morning he tells me we are leaving tonight, eventhough I tell him actually I wanted the car till tomorrow morning. Anyway as the day grew I decided I wasn't gonna spend another day with that guy.

The horning got worse in Kanchipuram when the streets filled with people for the festival at the Varadaraja Perumal temple. Roads were being closed as there was a chariot procession. There was one point we got stuck behind the chariot, some 20 cars and busses. Now everyone remained calm and quiet expect for this guy, every 2 minutes he'd sound his horn at the procession. He was that rude and lets not even start about his muttering about the procession. He had the habit of driving elsewhere and doing his own business without even asking us. He also had this habit of watching us through the mirror so you could imagine we weren't feeling safe.

He took a longer unfamiliar route to Annamalai from Kanchipuram that took us more than 4 hours more than the usual 2 or more hours from Kanchi. When I inquired he'd just say this was the road. Now before someone tells me he was taking a better road, on the way back it took him 1 hour 50 mins to reach chengelpet tol gate (which was 40 mins from tnagar) after stopping 5 to 10 mins for 5 times.

When we reached Annamalai, we told him we were leaving that night, though by then he was willing to stay, we were just not willing to follow him. When I spoke to him he told me he had no problem travelling at night. By the time we reached Annamalai the weather had changed for the better and it was actually cooling much to everyones surprise, later on it rained for 3 hours (see it rains wherever I go ;p)

We only came out of the temple 4 hours later to find him sleeping in the car and we decided to go around the hill in the car before leaving - our plans had changed you see. That's where I was ready to hit the guy with something, there was no traffic from the opposite direction so there's one lane totally empty and the other half filled with people making the girivalam and this idiot hits his stupid horn every 2 mins for a minute duration even if the people were just sitting on the road. He was such a nuisance.

My mom had earlier thrown out all the water bottles we had left in the car as we feared he might have mixed anything into the water, he was such and untrusting person.

The ride back home was freaky as hell, he would stop suddenly in the middle of no where and keep turning back. There was one point he had stopped and a bike stopped at our car. My heart missed a beat but thankfully it was some guy who stopped to scold him for stopping in the middle of the road. The 5th time he stopped at this tea shop and was talking something about us as the tea guy kept looking at the car and later actually walked near the car and peered in. I've never had such an experience.

We reached chenglepet tolgate around 11.40 and he stops the car between lorries, says nothing and dozes off on the street. There we were stuck between lorries in a deserted place where cars were stopping and peeking inside our car. Finally 30 mins later I woke him up and was so irritated that we reached our hotel just 40 mins later!
If he hadn't woken up I was tempted to jump into the drivers seat and drive us back!

Then they decide to overcharge us for 600 kms though we had run only 490kms + 20 for his travel to the office. I finally figured why he had slept there, to collect an extra day charge. Even his written starting millage was more than what I had noted. I told him I'll talk to the travel agent. Next morning saw me settling with the travel agent who turned out to be as bad, he was accusing us of cheating him until we told him what his driver had done. Only then his voice tone went down though he was still half supporting the driver.

Conclusion from all this is

1 - I need to go hunt for my old tour agent,
2 - no more taking older men drivers
3 - don't be too sweet with travel agents who think women can be cheated

None of this has deterred me from travel as to me life always has to be filled with challenges otherwise would I have seen such wonders.

I'm unable to post the photos yet as zooomr is undergoing maintenance, hence stories of problems first.

Ps : as requested the Hotel in Mysore was Hotel Paradi*se famous among tourist - its a nice place but then you know what happened later, I had actually wanted to use the gov tour cars but we didn't have time given the train delay.


Jeevan said...

hope you are satisified with Bashir's drive. we should learn about our Tour Drivers, if a person come form another country.

My days(Gops) said...

ur driver did "too much"..

dun u hav any friends in chennai.? u cud hav arranged a cab thru them.....

btw,nice conclusion......

Aravind said...

Late-aa vandhuttu, "driver troubled us" nu sonneenga - aana ivlo trouble irukkum nu nenaikkalai ;)

enna experience :P

visithra said...

Jeevan : he was nice ;) i guesss so ;)

Mydays : glad everyone agrees - our hoteliers were quite takenback by his behaviour

we normally arrange through another travels - like i said he was missing


Aravind : hehehe see i had valid reasons illehya ;))

well its all a part of life - somethings we have to go through - at least we know what to expect