Yumthang Valley: Sikkim, We Booked the Tour at Gangtok
The problem is we travel almost like backpackers in India (my blog posts are a testimony to it) and this trend is broken only when I absolutely put my foot down (which rarely happens). Sesha just loves rundown hotels.
We do not pre-book almost anything on our trips (apart from the train or air tickets). I must say initially, I would almost go crazy at the idea of not having a hotel booking in advance. I can also assure you our entire family feels quite uneasy when we travel without any bookings but for the past 6 years we have managed to do fine at a variety of places ranging from Almora, Jageshwar, Chail, Ladakh, Sikkim, Joshimath, Bhunter, Manali, Jaipur, Udaipur, Bharatpur, Agra, Renuka Lake, Bharmour, Hadsar, Rajaji National Park, Dalhousie, Kaudiala, Auli, Mussoorie (this is all I have traveled in last six years? What am I doing with my life? Ok, I have left the treks out of this list cause you anyway live in a tent then, if I count the treks Goa, Har-Ki-Doon, Sar Pass and Kuari Pass get added to the list).
Soul-searching questions apart, how do we manage to do it in a crowded country like India? Here is why traveling in India without pre-booking is possible.
- Travel in the Off-season: Not all places can be visited with equal ease in the off-season (Ladakh readily comes to mind) but if you go to places like Sikkim, Auli or Manali in off-season, it is almost the buyers market. I remember going to Auli in August once. It was pouring and there were few people around. So, we could get a place at the GMVN guesthouse without any booking. What if we would have found it full? We would have come back to Joshimath and stayed there, Joshimath is not full even in June. Traveling a few times in the off-season is a must if you wish to escape the crowd. However, not having a booking at Goa in December (peak season) or Agra in season will make life difficult.
- It is Full of Tour Operators: Anyplace that is well known on the tourist map of India is full of hundreds (if not thousands) of tour operators. So, if it is absolutely essential for your peace of mind, pre-book your hotel. Any trips that you desire to take (like Pangong in Ladakh or Yumthang in Sikkim) can be booked after reaching the hub cities like Leh (Ladakh) or Gangtok (Sikkim). The prices charged closer to the destination also tend to be cheaper and you can shop around with tour operators.
- Sometimes you Stumble Upon Places: While coming back from Auli (in August, I have been there in June too) our bus stopped about 30 kilometers before Rishikesh, at Kaudiala for evening tea. GMVN has a guesthouse right at the bank of the Ganges here. We asked if there was a vacant room and we got it. Now if we had pre-booked a hotel at Rishikesh or Haridwar, this change of plans would not have been possible.