@alesh , the node_modules dir is created when you run
npm install which is for all the good front-end stuff. If you don't install any npm dependencies, then you don't have the folder.
On the other hand, I'll try a slightly different approach to what you suggest, namely, download the repository and then manually copy the vendor folder. That way, one can still benefit from version control while having to track only one folder manually.... or did you try that approach with little success?