Travel Dates 15-18 March 2008
Before moving on I should mention the two extremes of hotel service I struck in India. On this trip I stayed in scores of hotels and guest houses in nine different countries. Some were five-star, some had no stars, but in the space of one day I went from my worst hotel service experience for the whole trip to my best, both in India.
The first, and worst, was the Hotel Amar in Agra. The hotel itself was acceptable, a bit threadbare and worn, but for a 3-star booked via the web for AU$47 (1750INR) via http://www.asiarooms.com/ it seemed OK. Later I realised that the price was much too high for the quality by Indian standards.
I arrived in Agra jet-lagged and sleepless after flying through the night from Hong Kong, arriving at Delhi at 2 am and being driven through the morning from there to Agra, arriving around 8am . The district was fairly rough and I didn't feel confident in walking around the area later. I was initially extremely pleased when I was offered an early check in after breakfast. I had a pleasant breakfast and I asked not to be disturbed; the reception staff reassured me that would be no problem and that I had a quiet room. The room was very large and the bed seemed comfortable so I went straight to bed. Eventually I managed to ignore the dripping tap in the bathroom and went to sleep about 9 am.
At about 9:30 the phone rang, waking me. But no-one was on the line. I eventually went back to sleep. An hour later it rang again; I tried not to answer but it just kept ringing. The telephone operator was on the line. She appeared to speak good English but totally ignored everything I said. She gave no reason for ringing and said she would send a man to the room. I asked her not to. She said she would send a man. I said please do not. Sure enough, a man arrived just as I got back to sleep. I got rather angry and again asked not to be disturbed; he disappeared in confusion.
I drifted off to sleep again after an hour or two. When the world's loudest vacuum cleaner took flight out side the room at 1pm I gave up. I rang my driver and spent the afternoon touring the Red Fort, something I had meant to do the following day after the Taj Mahal. That night, no-one had fixed the loudly dripping taps and toilet in the ancient bathroom. I finally fell asleep despite that, from exhaustion.
The sign outside the breakfast room advised that breakfast would be available from 6am. A sensible time when so many people are there to see the Taj Mahal at dawn. At 5:50 a half-dozen guests were waiting with me for the doors to open for breakfast; we saw occasional activity in the room, we waited, and we waited. Eventually one couple barged in and demanded breakfast at 6:20 and a large bowl of boiled eggs appeared.
I, and the other guests waiting with me, missed those dawn photos. Later, at checkout, there seemed to be staff I had never seen with cheshire cat smiles and outstretched palms every two paces eagerly trying to qualify for a departure tip. They failed.
The next hotel I stayed at was the Arya Niwas in Jaipur. It is only a two-star, but the attitude to the customer was so dramatically different it was like stepping into a different world.
I had booked via the web. No deposit was needed, simply a phone call before 4pm on the arrival day to confirm I would be there. The district was not salubrious by Western standards, but I walked alone around the district quite happily during the next couple of days and never felt threatened. Like the Hotel Amar it isn’t brand new, but it is well-maintained. For 950INR (AU$25) the air-conditioned single room was adequate, the bed was comfortable and the air-con worked quietly. The hotel had a no-tips policy, with large signs reminding customers and staff of that policy.
On my first night there was some minor noise from the stairwell beside the room when someone appeared to clump down the stairs in hob-nailed boots. I mentioned that in the morning, in passing but not as a complaint. I probably noticed the noise more than usual after my bad experience in Agra and also because the ambient noise in the hotel was extremely quiet. That evening I found that I had been moved to a better room on a different floor, for no extra charge and no tip expected.
The restaurant was excellent and cheap, as also was the laundry service. It had elements of a back-packer atmosphere, with a book-swap service and a common-room area, but the other guests seemed a little above the back-packer level. No noisy parties or drunken yobboes. For a traveller like myself it was perfect, and after the Agra Hotel Amar it seemed like paradise. I had initially booked for two nights. The first thing I did after the first night was extend for an extra night.
Forget the frills; when it comes to the crunch the critical things that will determine whether a traveller has a good or bad hotel experience are a quiet room, a comfortable bed and staff who understand the customer's needs.