Monday, August 14, 2017

The dream destination Ladakh turned into Nightmare for 17 travelers - Beware of the fraudulent FM Group!

The dream destination Ladakh turned into Nightmare for 17 travelers - Beware of the fraudulent FM Group
Ladakh, the barren beauty of Kashmir valley has become the dream destination for motorcycle tourers since the last decade. Apart from the promotion aided by the movie "3 Idiots", the challenging altitude of the plateau coupled with its rugged terrain beguiles travelers from all around the globe in the most enticing manner! My Ladakhi dream was conceived two months back when I had stumbled upon a Facebook advertisement- Delhi to Leh biking package for 12 Days/11 Nights at sub-thirty thousand bucks. From the very title of this article you can clearly make out its purpose. Yes, my dream motorcycle trip got cursed into a nightmare. It was not just me but 16 other fellow travel freaks from different corners of India, who had fallen for the easy trap laid out by the Noida based fraudulent FM Group (synonymous to FM Rooms). Our wounds of betrayal are still fresh and deep. It is impossible for me to present the case before you in a single paragraph. 

Although I've returned back to my hometown I'm still engulfed by mixed feelings of low self esteem, frustration and vengeance. Our common loss, be it financial or psychological, is irreversible. At this point, our common goal is to expose the ugly face of the FM Group and its associates, so that no other travel enthusiast gets cheated by those apparently lucrative offers advertised online by this travel fraud. I'll try to portray this tale of deception in its schematic form, truncating all dramas and side stories linked to it. Probably it'll cost you nine minutes.

The dream destination Ladakh turned into Nightmare for 17 travelers - Beware of the fraudulent FM Group
Memorize this Logo of FM Group. Whenever you spot this you know what to do next, right?
* With whom did I correspond to get into this Ladakh motorcycling trap?

-> Mostly with Mr. Arun Chaudhary AKA Mr. Prince, who had introduced himself as the well off proprietor of FM Group, and also an ex-Captain of Indian Army. As per his skillfully fabricated narrative, he had to retire from the army after getting an injury in the Kargil War. Ouch, that's where he grabbed my trust most conveniently! Our interaction was mostly through WhatsApp and sometimes through telephone. Mobile numbers as used by Mr. Arun Chaudhary to communicate with me till date are: +91-9821138317, +91-9821260271 and +91-8278290626. When he wasn't reachable I had communicated with Ms. Chandani Mishra (introduced herself as Mr. Arun's daughter) through Facebook Messenger. She had forwarded me to Mr Deepak Sharma (introduced himself as Mr. Arun's business partner) who had kept the conversation alive through WhatsApp and telephone. Mobile numbers as used by Mr. Deepak Sharma to communicate with me till date are: +91-9560690092 and +91-9411946829.

* What was the proposed Itinerary?

-> Day 01: Delhi-Manali, overnight in a Volvo bus.
     Day 02: Arrive Manali, Manali city tour on motorbike, overnight at hotel.
     Day 03: Manali-Rohtang Pass-Keylong/Jispa ride, overnight in camp/hotel.
     Day 04: Keylong/Jispa-Baralacha Pass-Sarchu ride, overnight in camp.
     Day 05: Sarchu-Leh ride, overnight at hotel/guest house.
     Day 06: Leh-Nubra ride, overnight stay in Nubra.
     Day 07: Nubra-Pangong Lake ride, stay overnight in Pangong.
     Day 08: Pangong Lake-Moriri Lake ride, overnight in camp.
     Day 09: Moriri Lake-Sarchu ride, overnight in camp.
     Day 10: Sarchu-Manali ride, end of motorbiking, overnight at hotel.
     Day 11: Depart Manali, overnight in a Volvo bus.
     Day 12: Morning arrival in Delhi to wind up the tour.

The dream destination Ladakh turned into Nightmare for 17 travelers - Beware of the fraudulent FM Group
Mr. Arun Chaudhary AKA Mr. Prince, who had introduced himself as the proprietor of FM Group.
* How much the Ladakh motorcycling package was supposed to cost?

-> 23,000 INR + 5% tax per person (triple sharing)
     28,000 INR + 5% tax per person (double sharing)
     Fixed departure date: 1st August, 2017.
     Inclusions: Breakfast, Dinner, Volvo bus tickets, all accommodations, Inner line permits and wildlife fees for restricted areas, Basic first-aid kit and medicines, Services of certified and experienced guides, Services of Wilderness Medicine Institute certified guides, Services of a Royal Enfield trained specialist mechanic, Royal Enfield 350 cc motorcycle with fuel and One backup jeep.

* When did I make the payment?

-> On first week of July through IMPS (Immediate Payment Service), in two installments. In the offer mail it was stated that the 50% of the package cost had to be paid in advance (at least 20 days before the trip) and the remaining 50% had to be settled one week prior to the commencement of the trip. But, in the middle of the first week of July Mr. Arun Chaudhary had rang me up and insisted on transferring the full package fee that day itself, on the pretext of growing client demand and possibility of hike in the price due to implementation of GST. Blame it on my poor judgment or the spell casted by enchanting Ladakh, I ended up obeying his command! Although my payment was instant, it took them almost 2 weeks to send me the e-invoice.

* Now, most of you would enjoy questioning my mental acuity for transferring a large sum of money to some stranger whom I had never met in person. Well, as I've been successfully conned now you have every right to prove you're way smarter than me. Still I would like to highlight few factors which abducted my thinking hat and pushed me to the victim zone:

-> Ladakh motorcycling package offered by FM Group was much cheaper than other tour operators. When Mr. Arun had told me that it was a corporate sponsored trip I was convinced with the feasibility.
-> Mr. Arun was frank, well-spoken and always ready to respond in all conversations I had with him before my Ladakh motorcycling trip. If I have to summarize, he had the perfect recipe of a con artist!
-> Like majority of Indians I too have a soft corner and immense respect for our army personnel. So, Arun's repetitive reference of army background and Kargil War made me believe that I was talking to a genuine guy.
-> Ah, it is pointless to deny that my wisdom was hibernating deep inside my arse throughout this dealing!

The dream destination Ladakh turned into Nightmare for 17 travelers - Beware of the fraudulent FM Group
 Ms. Chandani Mishra, the supposedly daughter of Mr. Arun Chaudhary.
* The point where the drama started- 5 days before the commencement of our Ladakh motorcycling trip, Mr. Arun informed us of an altered itinerary through WhatsApp! The reason provided by him was monsoon struck patches of Manali-Leh highway. We were too naive to see though his motives. We thought it was for our safety reasons only. Our revised itinerary was:

-> Day 01: Start from Delhi to Leh by flight, check in to Leh Hotel.
   Day 02: Start to Nubra on bike ride via Khardung La Top and reach to Paramount Camp Nubra, take rest, enjoy Turkish camel ride on Hunder dunes in the evening, night stay in camp.
    Day 03: Start for Turtuk, the last point of China border, return to Nubra camp for night stay.
    Day 04: Start from Nubra via Diskit Monastery and return back to Leh.
    Day 05: Ride to Pangong Lake, night stay in camp at Pangong.
    Day 06: Ride to Moriri Lake, night stay in camp at Moriri.
    Day 07: Ride to Tso Kar, night stay in camp.
    Day 08: Ride back to Leh, night stay in Leh.
    Day 09: Ride to Kargil via Magnetic Hill, night stay at Kargil.
    Day 10: Come back to Leh for night stay.
    Day 11: Local sight-seeing at Leh, evening flight to Delhi.

The dream destination Ladakh turned into Nightmare for 17 travelers - Beware of the fraudulent FM Group
My e-invoice from FM Group.
* How exactly did our Ladakh motorcycling trip turn out to be in reality?
Day 01: I reached New Delhi station by 11 AM and checked in Hotel Raj Villa at Paharganj area. By then it was informed that our flight was booked for next morning [TWIST ALERT]. Mr. Arun was supposed to join us by night. Well he didn't. There was no update from him either. Cool, we had to pay for our dinner [DISAPPOINTMENT ALERT]. Past midnight (at around 2 AM) we got a call from Arun. He requested for Rs 2,000 loan from each 17 of us which he promised to pay back once we landed Leh the following morning [TWIST ALERT]. Again, we were too polite (or, dumb) to turn down his request.

Day 02: Mr. Arun introduced us with his supposedly daughter Ms. Chandani and told us that she would escort us to Ladakh in his place [TWIST ALERT]. Early morning flight to Leh was uneventful, rather scenic. In Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport at Leh, we kept waiting for around 45 minutes for our pickup [DISAPPOINTMENT ALERT]. Ms. Chandani borrowed the mobile phone (BSNL postpaid) of my friend Yasin (which she kept repeating shamelessly throughout our trip) and kept calling to her contacts desperately for a pickup. We were finally taken to Hotel Mount Castle. It was a sudden change in altitude for us. Leh is situated well over 3,250 meters from sea level. Instead of acclimatising us that day Ms. Chandani informed us that we must get ready for our ride to Nubra via Khardung La Top immediately after breakfast [DISAPPOINTMENT ALERT]. After I insisted she had talked with the hotel management to open two rooms for us so that we could at least use washrooms! It took them about 4 hours to prepare "plain paratha with pickle" breakfast [DISAPPOINTMENT ALERT], and it was clearly evident that the hotel management was neither expecting our arrival nor happy with our visit. We left the hotel at around 1:30 PM. Oh wait, there was chaos in motorcycle allotment too. Chandani was vanished with excuse of some urgent work. I had to almost beg to the bike vendor for a proper motorbike. In the petrol pump we kept waiting for about one hour for Chandani to arrive. It had started raining by then. Increased altitude with explicit mismanagement had induced enough negativity in my mind to decide against riding to Nubra that day in rain. My idea seemed practical to few more mature heads in our group. Realizing the impending non-cooperation from our front, Chandani connected me to Arun over phone who was very apologetic in his tone and requested me to bear with them for the day. He assured that I won't be regretting for anything from the following day! I swallowed my anger and agreed half-heartedly. I wish I did otherwise. Since then, she made us ride in rain, failed to provide route briefing, zero medical support, not even adequate space in back up vehicle in situations where the rider fell sick and extreme unsympathetic approach whenever I pointed out her follies! I reached the camp side at Nubra by 4:30 AM in the following morning. There was no food and assistance waiting for us in that ghostly hour of the day [DISAPPOINTMENT ALERT].

Since then the revised itinerary got torn apart. Moments of twists and disappointments became infinite. We started getting used to the inefficiency and callousness of our tour operator. Despite non-existent leadership and meager services, we managed to wind up our ride to Nubra, Pangong, Moriri and Tso Kar to return back to Leh. It was the 9th day of our trip. We all had reached the zenith of frustration with our tour operator. We clearly informed her that we needed our money (Rs 2000/person borrowed by Arun) back. There had been multiple instances of failed commitments before. Moreover, a co-traveler had lent Rs 20,000 to Ms. Chandani for refueling our backup vehicle which wasn't returned either. We told her and also Arun over phone that we would start our ride for Kargil only after our borrowed amount is refunded. We kept waiting in the hotel (Mount Castle) till late afternoon when we got to know that she had escaped, abandoning us to our respective fates! 

The dream destination Ladakh turned into Nightmare for 17 travelers - Beware of the fraudulent FM Group
We 17 losers double-paid to free our ass from Leh.
The hotel owner at Leh drove us to the local police station for lodging complaint. After listening to our story, the police officer cleverly refused to accept any written complaint and politely shifted the blame on us for getting conned! The hotel and motorcycle vendors were not ready to let us go without getting their dues cleared and Leh police was on their side. We were already cheated by FM Group. What followed next was the extortion by bike-rental vendor Glacier Trek-n-Tour. Yes, we 17 losers double-paid to free our ass. That night itself we booked our Leh-Delhi flight for the following morning because few of us got psychologically traumatized by the entire chain of events. 

What we did after returning to Delhi is beyond the scope of this article. Do not be optimistic my friend, we couldn't avenge those culprits in FM Group. We couldn't trace them either. In India, every year thousands of crores of rupees are stolen through various scams. Sometimes big-shots involved in those get caught. But the lost money is almost never recovered! I'm quite conditioned to this Indian way of justice. So, I do not expect to get any compensation. My only aim is to warn travelers against the dark face of FM Group/FM Rooms and any name associated with it. I had to literally fight hard to keep this article compact. In that attempt, most details had to be trimmed off. So, you're free to contact me for any clarification or details.






#CheatAlert #FraudAlert #FMgroup #FMrooms #Beware #TravelFraud