Modern China Travel Agency Ladakh 14 days tour is killing the goose that laid the golden egg
The industry's well-known "with Modern, no enjoyable tour" Modern China Travel Agency, perhaps undergoing reorganization changes, has launched a new program – Ladakh (Little Tibet) 14 Days. The tour schedule and service is simply ridiculous. Loyal fans like ourselves who had through this agency toured far and near areas of China were sucked into it. Our fees are by no means inexpensive, HK$28,000 per person. The tour quality and service, abysmal.
The Ladakh tourist season ends in October. Many local hotels, resorts, temples and even toilets have been closed. The remaining operating hotel offering continuous heating, hot water and electricity is the only star hotel in town charging minimum US$ 150 per day. Yet Modern China Travel Agency kept on advertising on the internet that the November “tour groups have been formed” and destined to depart. In the Hong Kong travel industry terminology, this means enough persons have signed up for a particular tour and is destined to go. If there is no tour group, the agency will state that the tour is “yi ren xing or er ren xing” (meaning one or two persons departing). In Mid-October we went to Modern China’s Mongkok branch trying to book the Nepal tour and Ladakh tour. The branch staff told us that Nepal tour could depart anytime as it was designed for two persons, and confirmed that the Ladakh tour group had been formed. We were of such age that we no longer venture into new places by ourselves without any tour guides. Based on this, we declined Modern China’s offer for the Nepal tour. (Instead, we participated in Miramar Travel’s October 30 Nepal Eight Days Tour). We then signed up for the November 10 Ladakh 14 Days Tour. Both the schedule given to us by Modern China’s Mongkok branch at the time of booking, and the schedule which we downloaded online whilst we were in Ladakh, only indicated that if their number of signed up persons is less than 16, there will be no tour leader from the agency accompanying the group to India. It was only when we returned from Nepal, two days before departing for Ladakh, that Modern China told us that our tour has only two persons, just me and my wife, but there will be local guides throughout our stay in India, arrivals, departures and sightseeing. This clear discrepancy between the schedules demonstrates the company’s efforts in covering up the grave mistake that they had committed.
For our flight to Ladakh, we arrived at the airport at 6:00 pm and check in ourselves. We arrived Delhi at 1:00 am, checked into hotel at 2:00 am, and then left again at 4:00 am for the morning flight to Leh (capital city of Ladakh). We thought we might get some after checking into the Omasila hotel. Alas this hotel offered limited heating, and electricity, no hot water. The room was very cold. Although this is our sixth 3500 plus meters tour, we caught cold the next day idling in the frigid room. Fully aware that such ailment at high altitudes is no trivial matter; we woke up our Leh agent at four am demanding immediate switching hotel or buy air tickets returning to New Delhi. By six am, we checked into the hotel mentioned above, only after paying an additional US$350 for five nights.
Ladakh is Buddhist holy land. Yet even pilgrimage tour groups just stay for three days. Modern China scheduled seven days. How many Chinese Buddhists could comprehend a whole string of long names of Buddhist bodhisattva, Living Buddha, Rinpoche, Tibetan temples, in heavy Indian accent English? On most days the program started at ten o'clock, finished about noon. The rest of the day was idling inside the cold room. At 3,500 meters above sea level and sub-zero temperature, two days was bearable, seven days was beyond endurance.
After Ladakh, came another arduous journey. The real “visit by yourself” tourists just looked for transport leaving the Delhi airport. But Modern China told us a local guide would receive us. Therefore we had to look for this guy first. What we did not know was Delhi airport is different from Hong Kong airport; people entering the airport building to receive visitors must wear security passes. When we arrived, nobody was waiting for us. Some hinted that perhaps our guy was waiting outside the building. So my wife went outside only to discover that she could not re-enter. She panicked and tried hard. Then one person, wearing security pass, came to help. Placing a number of mobile calls, my wife finally was permitted to enter. But our guy had not yet appeared. The good-hearted person went out again to search, and came back holding a card with two unrecognizable English names. (Later, the internet it confirmed that some wise guy had used Google to translate our Chinese names on passports into English!). Once in the car to the hotel, we learned another Indian practice The car detoured into narrow roads in the congested areas of Delhi to send staff home first, and then us the guests to the hotel after spending some ninety minutes. Ten minutes later was lunch. Again, another detour for an hour to pick up the local guide, then thirty minutes onto the lunch place at around two pm. Sightseeing started at 2:45 pm. Rushing through three spots (two scheduled spots were eliminated by the guide because they were far away); we were dumped at an unscheduled crafts store. After ten minutes, we insisted on leaving. As usual, we had to see the guide home first. By 4:30 pm, we were back to the hotel.
There were many traps at the New Delhi Railway Station (we learned afterwards). Visitors unaccompanied by guides were targeted. Someone was supposed to see us onto the train. And again, this person did not show up. We only had an Indian driver with whom we could hardly communicate. Arriving the train station before dawn, the driver took our E-ticket, scrutinized them for ten minutes. Without a word, he led us out of the car, then stopped in the middle of the road making some calls. We then crossed the road, entered the gate, only to be stopped. Without any words, he led us to the ticket office (we assumed that E-tickets had to be exchanged for boarding passes). The ticket office was still closed. It was then the driver told us that because he could not get a platform ticket, we had to board the train ourselves. We went through the gate and X-ray. Someone appeared to be working in the train station snatched our E-tickets. Glancing them for a while, he said he was not for money but just a friend summoned to help (for a while, we thought this “friend” was the Indian driver making a number of calls previously). He led us out of the train station, went to the Office for Foreign Tourists on the second floor. The office was not open until 8:00 am, and we had a 7:40 am train. At this time we felt uneasy and demanded to call our local agent through the guy’s mobile. With some reluctance, the call went through. We explained briefly the situation, and then the guy talked to our agent in Hindi. We quickly retreated back to the train platform and met three Caucasians. With their permission, we talked to their guide, and confirmed that our E-tickets were perfectly alright and we could board the train without any problem. Fortunately we stayed unharmed, but hat an unexpected and unwelcome panic.
Known as the paradise in the Himalayans Shimla and the touted Indian Switzerland Kufri were disappointments. Travelers having visited Europe and America would not be interested. It is five hours from New Delhi to Kalka, and then another five hours on the World Heritage small train climbing uphill. The Taiwan Alishan small train is more comfortable and the scenery has more to offer. This second leg of the journey is unbearable. Groups of four or more has room to maneuver. Groups of two had no choice. We had to sit uptight, knee cap to knee cap, facing our counterpart. When he decided to consume inside the bumpy train a genuine Indian meal mixing rice and vegetable with three different color sauce and feeding with the right hand, we could only close our eyes and pray that the sauce would not fly onto our clothes. After dinning, we still had to witness dishes of leftovers flying out of the window.
From Shimla back to New Delhi is five hours racing on narrow highway first to Chandigarh, India's first planned town, another dull place. Sightseeing finished in an hour after ten. To make up the numbers, the tour guide was brought us to the Sukhna Lake. The lake is very large, but no scenery, playability only as good as Wong Nai Chung Reservoir. We also voluntarily walked along the lake for 40 minutes. After this, we had to squad inside the small car for five hours back to New Delhi, being dumped in the Delhi airport at 8:00 pm after dinner, waiting for the 2:00 am flight to Hong Kong and arrived home after an ordeal of eighteen hours in total.
We already had twelve days India curry and yet on returning to Hong Kong we had no problem with another curry meal at the Shau Kei Wan Hang He Restaurant. This reflects the quality of meals in our journey.
We have to mention that the only merit of the trip is the Radisson Jass Hotel Shimla. Service is impeccable, everybody has a smile. We rated this hotel the best among all the hotels we visited worldwide. Despite this, the twenty hours journeying and the scenery lackluster Shimla still not enough to convince us for a re-visit..
We doubted if anybody from Modern China had a test run on this itinerary.
Complaints had been made. After more than ten days, no response yet from the Indian agent or from Modern China Travel Agency.