Here’s a tutorial, from two very experienced India hands, on how to book and catch the 16 hour bus from Delhi to Manali. First, walk aimlessly around Delhi. Make sure to look slightly lost and unsure of yourself. Allow yourself to be befriended by a nice young Nepali lad who speaks great English and seems to have no agenda, unlike all the other damn touts around who keep bugging you. Your significant other will then elbow you in the ribs and hiss that see, not everyone we meet is a tout and you shouldn’t be so rude to everyone. Mention, after several blocks of walking and friendly talk, that you’re planning to head to Manali, and your new friend will helpfully lead you to the government tourist office that you’d heard about and where you can book the tickets. The office will look legit; it will say it’s the government office and even have the Incredible India logo and website painted on the sign. Go in; let the helpful tourist agent sell you two tickets for 650 Rupees ($16) each. Realize only a few minutes later that no, in fact that was a private tourist agency and you’ve been ripped off. Don’t get too upset though because it was probably at most $10 over what you should have paid. Do look at your ticket though, which says Mr. Andy x 2 and looks rather unofficial now that you think about it, and doubt whether there will be a bus at all.
Got that? Now for catching the bus the next day. First go out for breakfast and be waited on by a very familiar young Nepali lad who suddenly can’t speak English at all, and definitely can’t remember you. OK, now grab a rickshaw and ask the driver to take you to the address on your ticket. He won’t know where it is, but don’t worry; he’ll ask at least half a dozen people on the street as you drive around and will figure it out, maybe. Eventually he’ll drop you at what he says is the correct spot, which is a wide spot in the road with no indication at all of being a bus stop. At this point you can be pretty sure you were scammed. Sit on the sidewalk feeling frustrated and unsure. But wait, here come more rickshaws bearing more tourists. Eventually a bus will come and, even though this one is going to Dharamsala and not Manali, the driver will say you should stand on the other side of the road and wait for your bus. Let the street children entertain you with circus tricks for small change while you wait. As you were told, your bus will come. Inexplicably, it will be the same bus to Dharamsala. Everyone inside will be just as confused as you are. You will drive 45 minutes or so through Delhi, and then be dropped off at a gas station and be told to wait for your correct bus. Suddenly you’ll be alone with two other Manali bound travelers (one of whom paid 950 and is pissed about it) and regret that you gave your tickets to the bus driver. Realize you’re sitting at a gas station in some unfamiliar part of Delhi with no proof of ever having bought a ticket. Think, is this a scam? One hour later, a bus will come. Be excited, jump up and run to it. It will be the same #@!! bus to Dharamsala! Think, this is definitely some weird and inefficient scam! Buy chai. Calm down. Two hours later your bus will come.