I regularly frequent charming remote corners of the Himalayas in shared and non-shared taxis. The local taxi segment shows its ugly side bit by bit every time. Sharing the problems faced during these trips would alert and prepare my readers better for their journeys.
1. Offending Lifts to Cronies, Relatives, Officials
Giving lift to their friends, relatives, neighbors, police personnel, and many other officials in “booking vehicles” is quite common in unfrequented areas. These unwanted strangers never share the taxi fare. The strangers also increase the security risk manifolds.
2. Using Private Vehicle as Commercial Taxi
I have observed in remote Himalayan villages, residents use their private vehicles to earn extra cash. Renting a private vehicle as a taxi could cause troubles if traffic police stops the vehicle and questions the driver and the passengers.
3. Personal Shopping while on Duty without Requesting the Client
Many drivers neither value time nor money of their clients. How? They stop at the shops offering cheap liquor, meat, groceries, ice-creams and potato chips for their kids…. Recently, my driver stopped at a local market along Katrah-Bhatari route to buy ice-cream for his son and gave lift to his father.
4. Inflexible Exorbitant Prices for Visitors
Inflexible taxi rates are very high along many routes. Many times I have observed taxi drivers charge less to locals than what they charge to the visitors.
The drivers frequently harp on three things while quoting fares:
- Tourism is limited to a few months (3-4 months / year). Is anticipating or “extracting” 12-month income from the visitors during “3-4-month tourist season ethical?” Why do not they work for 12 months?
- They will not get a return passenger. They expect round-trip fare for one-way trip even during day time.
- The roads, especially in extremely remote areas, are completely in disrepair leading to abnormal wear and tear and consequent high maintenance cost of the vehicle.
5. Driving License and Vehicle Papers
Traffic police hardly frequent the remote Himalayan roads. However, there are roads that have lots of active security check posts manned by army, police, or the like. Ensure that the vehicle papers are up-to-date and the driver has a valid driving license.
6. Condition of Vehicles
Some drivers give discount compromising on the quality of the vehicle and driving skills. Badly maintained vehicles and poor driving skills increase risk of fatal accidents along the shabby remote mountainous roads. Finding a mechanic for repair work is equally difficult. Many times it may require extra drive. Recently, one of my drivers wasted lots of time in getting the bumper repaired along precarious Chamba-Killad road.
7. A Confident Driver
Driving in unfrequented remote mountainous corners excites and scares simultaneously for unrivalled beauty and lack of familiar amenities and facilities respectively. Some drivers may not be mentally prepared to drive alone and drive alone in the typical unpredictable weather of the Himalayas. Choose your driver carefully. A confident, skillful, and resourceful driver is the foremost prerequisite for these road trips.