When I originally wrote this note, halfway through our thirty-day Indian adventure, every experience we had at hotels in India were good to quite pleasant to extremely fantastic. They ranged in price from about $10 per night to over a $100 as most of the hotels we stayed in were considered midrange. Communication in many of the hotels were difficult at best, but that in no way detracted from the experience, not only in what the hotel offered in terms of location and view, but also the friendliness of the staff and their attempt to understand what we were saying. DaveRisner put it best, and something I think we could all learn from, “when visiting their country, how many languages are we speaking?” They tried; and that alone meant a lot to us.
One mistake I made, never having to really pay attention to it in the States, was to specify exactly how many people were to occupy a room. In most instances until I realized what was happening as we checked into each place, I just opted for the double occupancy. We would find out that occupancy was an important thing and we would be charged for each person staying in the room.
(Links to TripAdvisor Reviews are provided where possible.)
Celesta in Kolkata — Our first stop and a good segue into India. At this point, after a long couple days of traveling halfway around the globe, any room would have sufficed. It just so happened that we would have been happy here no matter what. The lunch there was fantastic — our first fish curry!
Scindhia Guest House in Varanasi — We cannot say enough good things about the Scindhia House and specifically its owner Kush. Extremely friendly, prompt, knowledgeable, we were immediately made to feel at home. In an ancient city that was unlike any that we’d ever been to, the Scindhia House was situated within walking distance of any adventure we’d want to partake during our stay. Our experience here reminded me what it may have been like in the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
Hotel Marine Plaza in Bombay — by far the most modern of the hotels we stayed, the Marine Plaza sat central to where we wanted to be, walking distance to restaurants, to Leopolds (the bar Derek and I went to two years prior, and made famous in the book Shantaram), to The Gateway to India, Marine Drive, etc. It was central to many of the places we wanted to goto. This remind us of any western hotel we may have been used to. While not charming like the others we stayed, we did enjoy its familiar feel.
Hotel Thamla Haveli in Udaipur — a big room with a big bed with bay windows enough to sleep another, we just loved this place. It was inexpensive, close to the heart of the town. The rooftop view is simply breathtaking, butting against Lake Pichola. Both sunrises and moonrises were simply gorgeous.
Hotel Gajju Palace Jaisalmer — to this very day Jalaam, the affable young man who was our contact when booking the hotel, reaches out to me regularly for a TripAdvisor review. (Sitting on a flight from San Francisco to Atlanta months later, I realize I need to do this.) This hotel was our first into Jaisalmer, which served to give us a good picture for life in the desert, before we would move to the fort. Sparse and clean, with a very friendly staff, Gajju was everything I would expect from a hotel near the desert outside a fort. A rooftop restaurant provided stunning views of the fort above us. When we arrived, we settled and locked our bags into a room while we rode off into the Thar Desert to spend a night under the stars. Jalaam would take us to Trotters who we had originally booked the desert experience, took care of our belongings and the rooms while we were gone. DaveRisner who had fallen ill upon coming back decided to stay, while Derek and I decided we had wanted to stay inside the fort during our time in Jaisalmer.
Hotel Desert Haveli in Jaisalmer — one of my favourite hotels we stayed because it was so very unique, very typical Rajasthani rooms nestled into the heart of the fort reminding Derek and I what life must have been like hundreds of years before (if not thousands) as life did not seem all that different other than rickshaws and some cars entering the fort. We could just as easily been living in the set of an Indiana Jones movie. The low-ceiling rooms were filled with colourful cloth, from tapestries to quilts to carpet. If I had to pick a hotel that most encapsulated our trip throughout India, it was this one, as it was the most Indian of all the places we stayed. One evening, we had dinner in an alcove onto the roof the fort, overlooking the entire town of Jaisalmer in darkness while we had food served us on the floors of the rooftop, sitting on cushions and quilts, drinking a tallboy of King Fisher beer.
Pal Haveli in Jodhpur was among the nicest of the places we stayed. The journey reaching there coincided with our first day of the Rickshaw Run, for the most part uneventful until arriving in the maze that was the city of Jodhpur, driving in the dark, exasperated until we dead-ended onto an alleyway surrounded by kids who eventually saved us — putting us onto the correct path back to the hotel. Looming over the hotel, as we had dinner on the rooftop (and breakfast the next morning) was the immense Fort Mehrangarh, regal and splendid in its place atop the blue city. Much like many of the hotels we stayed, the staff was courteous full of smiles and attentiveness, with both dinner and breakfast deliciously awesome.
One of our most unique experiences was in a tent in a little town named Barr on our way from Jodhpur spending the night for Pushkar the next day. One of the largest, cleanest and somewhat modern rooms we stayed during our adventures, air-conditioned with a large king-size bed and enough couch cushions to make a bed on the laminate wooden floors, each tent was housed next to each other on what may once have been a cricket pitch. The actual hotel was a quarter football field where we checked in and had dinner, our tuk-tuks safely parked in the front behind a secured gate. We were greeted by several Rickshaw Run compatriots, which of course meant we drank a bit that night.
La Premier Resort in Jaipur — we had a nice, big, clean room. The staff was quite nice, though some of them gawked a bit more than was comfortable for me (and by this point, we had become used to the gawking). The food was excellent. The only real drawback we had was that wifi was only available in the lobby area, something that became quite a frustration as connecting with the outside world became a secret goal for each of us as we rolled into each town.
Hotel Taj Resorts in Agra — we had quite the pleasant stay here, much needed after being threatened in the afternoon on the side of the road where we stopped for chai and another harrowing drive at night. The rooms themselves were small and nothing special, though the rooftop pool area provided a nice respite from our travels. The staff was quite attentive and very friendly. We stayed here two nights, with several other Rickshaw Runners also staying here the first of them. The big bonus was that we were but a five minute walk from the Taj Mahal for an early sunrise visit.
None of the hotels we stayed in Bihar were worth anything. Our buddy Anthony, who convoyed with us along with Paul & Lisa from Agra on, sardonically said it best, “In India, things can go either really well or really funny. It’s amazing how often things are funny here!” When I look back onto this note many months later, filling in the gaps and adding to it, the second half of our thirty-day Indian adventures, there were quite a few hotels that would fall into the opposite end of the spectrum. The hotels throughout Bihar specifically had a horror-movie type feel to them. I’d have to look through receipts and notes to even remember their names.
Our entire experience in Darjeeling was a different story. I couldn’t say enough great things about our hotel room in Darjeeling at Hotel Declan (aka Hotel Dekeling). Perhaps it had something to do with celebrating my birthday. Perhaps it had something to do with the beautiful mountain town of Darjeeling, my favourite spot on the planet. Whatever it was, we had a corner room with a balcony with a view of the entire town. That moment when we arrived and I stood on that balcony, I thought about Derek and DaveRisner. I thought about my new friends that we had met on the Rickshaw Run — Paul & Lisa, Anthony, Ben, Christian, Bill & Joanne, Caroline, Cassie, Mary, Austin, Kurtis, Jake, et al.
(Stay tuned for our reviews of hotel stays after Darjeeling, most notably in Shillong.)
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