The plan was to escape Delhi's heat and head out to one of the nearest hill stations. Sounds simple enough right? It was anything but.
Not too long ago my sister and I, tired of Delhi's merciless summer, made an unplanned trip to Dharamsala. No prior booking or anything that remotely sounded something like a smart tourist would do. We got our backpacks and headed to Kashmiri Gate hoping we would get lucky enough to catch a ride to Dharamsala. We had our eyes on Mcleodganj, so did 50,000 other travellers. AC coaches were all sold-out and the only ones left were State Transport buses. Still not complaining, we braved the 15 odd hours of physical discomfort and finally reached Dharamsala. Things weren't going so well for us as we found out that there were no more local taxis going to Mcleodganj; somebody at some point did mention some kind of traffic jam up in the hills. Spirits were still high and hopes still up, we somehow managed to hitch a ride with two other tourists going the same direction. Soothing mist welcomed us as soon as we reached Mcleodganj and we both were quite taken by the scenery and the sheer beauty of the place. We hopped, skipped and jumped to a nearby hotel and found it all sold out...okay no problem, the next one then. Not a single hotel had room to spare. Whatever travel account I am giving till this point, let this be an example of What Not To Do.
At this point, tired and hungry, we decided to do the Bhagsu trek instead and give time to others to check-out from some hotels...any hotel. Such level of naivety is hard to come by. Done with the trek, got our share of nettle stings, consumed overpriced maggi (if I may say so) at the very popular Shiva Cafe, it was time for us to come down the hill and face the music. Either there was a bed for us or it was the footpath for the night. Our search for a room continued for unbelievably long hours and after what seemed like forever and a case of bad dehydration, we took our chance and knocked at some random house and asked the lady of the house if she had a spare room. She did! It wasn't a homestay but she happily gave us a room. That evening we set out to explore the locality and found out the reason behind our unnecessary struggle--the place was crawling with tourists just like us running off to the nearest hill station possible to escape heat. We hadn't even reached the centre of our misery that we got rudely awakened from our shock by an all-too-familiar "bhaiyya, tandoori naan aur dal makhni milegi?" Half of Delhi had come to Mcleodganj.
Bhagsu to Mcleodganj main town is a pretty half-an-hour walk if you don't mind the uphill climb. On on our first day we reached Mcleodganj market unknowingly because we were too optimistic about finding an autorickshaw any second. Then for the next two days the routine became all too familiar. Our time in Mcleodganj came to an end and after many bowls of thukpa and a lot of walks to and from Bhagsu and not a single autorickshaw or cab ride. Though it was not for the lack of trying. When we reached Bhagsu taxi stand to go to Dharamsala, we saw the real problem. There were zero cabs or local buses available and all because of a traffic jam that had the little town in a deathly chokehold. Hundreds of vehicles of all sizes (all tourist vehicles) stood motionless on the road, neither moving forward nor backing up. After almost 2 hours of waiting for any stray cab to pass by, we decided to just walk ahead and see if we can hail any cab. Two things I know that happened that horrid morning A) there were probably thousands of stranded tourists by the roadside, unable to do anything and B) the 11 kms that we walked from Bhagsu Nag temple to Dharamsala, it was not by choice. Rain didn't help either. A perfect and pretty place like Mcleodganj saw some bad touristy time that summer.
It's all in the past for us sisters but the scene didn't change much for almost all Indian hill stations. Summer is only getting hotter and hotter each year and the first thing we all end up doing as Mercury reaches the unpleasant 40s is to feverishly hunt the world wide web for best hill stations nearby for a quick summer getaway. This time the situation just went from bad to worse real fast. Overtourism is sadly the trending evil and look what it did to popular places like Manali, Shimla, Nainital, Mussoorie, Rishikesh and many more--horrible traffic jams that forced people to spend hours stranded by the roadside, unable to turn back. Traffic congestion got so bad in places in Himachal Pradesh that now Manali is going to introduce a new traffic plan "one-way vehicular movement". A permanent plan, in case you were wondering.
Many tourists have complained of not getting to their hotels on time, missing out flights/buses/trains, hotels increasing their tariff in an unpleasant response to this maddening rush. It won't be much of a holiday if you have to spend a good chunk of it stuck in a traffic jam, probably cranking up the AC of your vehicle. Telling yourselves "the hills are so near yet so far..."
There's a lot to learn from this: have at least some travel plans (unlike yours truly), go easy on the hills, try to avoid the hills during peak summer (unless you want to find mini versions of all hot Indian states everywhere you go). It's sad but true that very soon these favourite hill stations will get hotter. We definitely don't want that.