Friday, August 1, 2008

Hotel Headache

In Delhi, I learned something about myself, or about Delhi.

I used to have a high tolerance for budget travel, as far as I recall. I was always satisfied with hostels, as long as the price was good. I shared bathrooms, slept on rickety bunk beds and didn't ask for much. In India, I've been a little more selective. Because I'm traveling alone as a woman, and also because I'm older now and don't feel like sleeping in dorm-style rooms or sharing a bathroom, I've been opting to pay a little more for a private room with bathroom, but still at inexpensive places. When it was worth it (eg. to stay in a haveli), sometime I bumped it up to the mid-range option.

In Delhi, I planned to go with a budget hotel. I was only staying one night, none of the mid-range options seemed worth the upgrade, and there were plenty of budget options in Lonely Planet. If I had been smart, I would have made a reservation. But Jaisalmer was so hot I couldn't think straight.

After a long trip (in this case, 19 hours on the train), all I ever want to do is shower and rest. In this case, I was desperate for a shower, having sweated profusely for hours in Jaisalmer, followed by sleeping in a not-so-clean train and using the Indian-style toilet multiple times. When I arrived at the hotel I had in mind, it was pouring rain, and I dashed from the rickshaw into the hotel. The reception staff was helpful and seemed trustworthy. After looking into their bookings, they had no room available that night, and offered to put me in a room there until 10pm, and then move me to another hotel. Instead of moving later, I asked to see the other hotel now.

A man from the first hotel walked me there. It was down an alleyway, a 2 minute unpleasant walk, with cow shit and flies everywhere. I was apprehensive to begin with, and this didn't help. At the other hotel, there were several men gathered in the lobby. The reception staff seemed disorganized, and I had trouble distinguishing whether the main guy didn't speak English, or was merely monosyllabic. I asked to see the room - they offered AC or non-AC. Because I don't really need air-conditioning at home, and even in India when it was available, I shut it off at night because it is too cold (the only place I really wanted it was Jaisalmer, where it didn't seem to exist). So I asked for non-AC to save money.

The first room was on the third floor, and was small and underwhelming. It had a tiny window (which is better than most, it seems), but was not particularly clean or attractive. I asked to see a room on a lower floor, and they showed me a room on the first floor. It was the tiniest bit bigger but with no window and the bathroom was dirtier.

I don't know what I was thinking. I should have turned down the room, but I was tired and headachey and so hot and dirty and I just wanted a shower. I thought maybe I was overreacting because I was tired and nervous and disappointed that the first hotel was not available. I could look for another hotel, but the other ones in the book were a walk away, and I wasn't sure how far. I would have to lug my heavy bags, and it was either raining or hot with sunshine. I could take a rickshaw, but that was another hassle, arguing over the fare. Very very reluctantly, and not listening to my gut, I took the room on the first floor.

As soon as I handed over the 500 rupee note, I regretted it more and more each minute. As we left to go get my bags, I almost turned around and canceled everything. By the time we got to the first hotel, I was very unhappy, and I told them so. They felt terrible, offered to make other arrangements, but because I had already paid (stupidly), I had to go to that hotel. I walked back and went upstairs.

Arriving in the room, I realized what a mistake I had made. The walls were yellowed, and there were weird gross stains on the walls and especially over the garbage can that looked as if people had flung bits of garbage and used the wall as a backboard. The furniture was torn in some places. The sheets had multple stains. I called them to change the sheets, and they told me that there were none available until 5pm. The bathroom was dirty and the pipes covered in rust, and I couldn't fathom taking a shower in there. I hesitated, thought about leaving, but I was desperate to shower. Holding my breath, I did.

After the shower, I looked around the room again. I could not get comfortable here. I didn't want to relax in that room, and I wouldn't be able to sleep all night. The door had only a doorknob lock, and those men in the lobby made me uncomfortable. I thought about what Dad would say. Well, actually I first thought about what Mom would say, but she wouldn't say anything if she saw that place. She would spontaneously combust. Then I thought about what Dad would say: "Forget it. If you don't feel safe, screw the 12 bucks. It's not worth it. Go find somewhere else."

Which is what I did. Unencumbered by my bags, which I reluctantly left in the room, I walked down the street and looked at several hotels. They were all a little better, but not so much better that it justified moving. The cleanliness left something to be desired, which was my biggest concern. Finally I found a place that felt better. It was large, with a reception staff that seemed competent, and an internet place and travel agency inside. Of the non-AC rooms, only a very cheap one was available, 350 rupees, and so I looked at that and an AC room for 800 rupees. The AC room was much better - it was clean, especially the bathroom and the floors, and I knew I would be much more comfortable here. So even though I didn't care about the AC, I took that room. (I'm wondering now if maybe I should have looked at AC rooms to begin with; maybe they are nicer, who knows?). The reception staff was very nice about holding the room for me while I went to get my bags, they were quite professional, and they even have a security camera at the front desk.

I don't know if it's that the standards for hotels in Delhi is different (I didn't have this problem anywhere else, even at the budget hotels), or if I'm just getting older, but this was a new experience for me. Being so upset at the quality of a room that I outright said so, and then leaiving the room and losing the money - I never thought I would do that. Maybe now I'll learn to turn down an unacceptable room in the first place.

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