The Order of Comfort and Quality of Hotel Does Matter!

Creek n Crag Hotel, India tourism destinations

When you are going on a long touring trip where you will be changing hotels on a regular basis, believe it or not, the order of quality and comfort does matter!  It could make or break your trip!

Now, you are saying to yourself…”Order of quality and comfort? What does she mean by that?” Well, I’m going to tell you…

Before leaving for India, I spent a week booking all the hotels, resorts, and accommodations for our trip. I had access to my in-law’s time share for the “extra vacation” feature, so I booked those first in three different parts of the country. In fact, those were the only places we were going to stay in the beginning. One week in Rajasthan, one week in Mumbai and one week in Delhi. Resorts included in time shares tend to be of pretty good quality and comfort, so we weren’t too worried about them.

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After thinking about the trip more, we couldn’t pass up this once in a lifetime experience to see every thing we could, so we started looking in other locations around the country. I went to work searching online on various travel reservation sites and found what looked like awesome Indian resorts and booked them. One in Gowri and one in Varanasi. I was very excited about these. Their websites looked awesome and the reviews were pretty good as well. We knew these were not a “resort” per se, the Gowri Resort looked like little cabanas and had all the amenities listed to please a guest and the hotel in Varanasi had a photo of a very nice bathroom and bedroom and was right on the ghats.

We had our stays booked and it was almost time to go. We psyched ourselves up and prepared ourselves for holes in the floor bathrooms, not being able to use the local water and knowing that we may be roughing it. Hey, I’m a girl scout leader and a hiker and am used to roughing it. I could handle it!

Our first stay was at Fort Chanwa. An 1800’s fort converted into a resort  You can read more about it here: Fort Chanwa- Luni, Jodhpur, Rajhasthan . It was beautiful, and exactly what we were expecting as far as comfort goes.

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After spending most of the week there, we decided we wanted to see more of Jodhpur and be in the city, so we looked online and booked a new hotel for the last 2 nights on that leg of the trip. This hotel was a bit of a downgrade and made us very happy we had prepared ourselves before hand, but we were still doing great!

Soon we’d be moving to Mirasol near Mumbai for the next time share resort. This one had always worried us a little as getting there required a plane and then a train or car and then after the stay we would need to do it all again to get back to the airport to take us south. Now, our spouses did not want us on the trains, so we decided to forego the time share and had my husband book us a hotel in Mumbai close to the airport using his travel points. He booked us at a Renaissance Marriott.  He upgraded us to concierge level. It was HEAVEN! So much more luxurious than the last two places we had stayed. We were happy for the little vacation from our vacation.

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Next we’d be moving to Gowri, the resort I was really excited for. The little cabanas were surrounded by rice paddies and looked just like the cool experience I wanted. We had them send us a driver and rode a very long  8 hours. It was the drive from hell, but more about that in a later post. We arrived at Gowri and enter what looked like a rustic campground. The electricity they boasted on the site… out, the hot water they advertised- only available 2 hours in the morning, (The fact that they advertised should have warned me) the comfy beds…More like cardboard on plywood.

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That night we got absolutely no sleep and when we got out of bed the next morning, we were bruised on every location a bone hit the cardboard mattress.  After two weeks into this long trip and especially after staying in luxury for a couple days, this was not the best way to continue the trip for two forty something year old women. There was no way we could stay here longer. We were exhausted, frazzled from the “drive from hell” and not willing to go back to being uncomfortable after laying in soft cushy beds, bathing in a jacuzzi tub and having fresh water bottles and room service brought to us every day.  We were lucky. We were able to use my husbands travel points and get a hotel in Hyderabad for the rest of the stay which would be closer to the airport for our next leg and also be back up to par to the hotel in Mumbai.

We know we could have handled Gowri if it would have been before the Renaissance Marriott. We had prepared ourselves for roughing it, but once you get that taste of comfort, it is hard to go back.

My suggestion: Either stay with the same level of quality the entire duration of your trip, or even better start with lower comfort and build up so by the end of your trip you are in a magnificent hotel and you leave your vacation refreshed, with a great feeling about where you’ve been and what you’ve done on your travels. Its always a good idea to finish with a bang!  Don’t do what we did and have to “start over” half way through our trip convincing ourselves going home was not the answer and if we just endured, we could do better.

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Plan Smart and Travel Wise!

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Sunrise Over The Ganges

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After a few days of craziness and unforeseen difficulties on our trip, we were finally in Varanasi and after a rough nights sleep, were scheduled to take a boat ride on the Ganges during sunrise.

For the entire planning and traveling on the trip thus far, Jennie told me she was going to swim in the Ganges. I totally understand! It is said to be healing and purifying. It is the most holy water in Hindu culture. Pilgrims travel from far off distances to bathe themselves, swim and especially to die in Varanasi to have their body cremated at the waters edge and ashes left in the Ganges.  I would be right with her- EXCEPT like her, I watched numerous documentaries, read many books and saw the pollution and muck that was also in that water. Every time she said, “I’m going to swim in the Ganges.” I would say, “No, you’re not.” She would argue with me a little and I’d finally say, “Ok, if you say so…”

The morning of our trip to this holy river was finally here. We woke up at 4 am and waited in the lobby of our hotel for our guide to meet us. We followed him through the small streets and alleyways in the dark of morning to the famous ghats of Varanasi. When we arrived at the water, we both look down into it and saw what looked like sewage floating on top. Jennie looks at me and says, “I’m not swimming in the Ganges.”

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It was just as we had seen in the photos in all those books we read. Pilgrims who had traveled near and far covered the ghats waiting for their turn to enter the water, mourners were lighting candles in little floating holders, locals were washing laundry and bathing themselves and others were setting up their ceremonial wares to sell.

This was the first place we encountered other tourists on our trip. Many other tour groups were waiting to get on large boats for their sunrise ride as our guide searched out a boater who was asleep in his small boat on the water. He was a young man, perhaps late teens- early twenties. He got himself up and situated his boat and the blankets inside it and helped us into our seats in order to balance the boat.14925520_10154734692926979_582815307609241083_n

The boat driver guided the boat down the waterway as our guide pointed out temples, different ghats, old architecture and the crematoriums. He told us there were between 150-200 bodies cremated each day here and pointed out a service taking place at that moment.

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He also explained there are more than 80 ghats in about 4 miles in Varanasi. Each of them has its own importance and pilgrims that flock to them.

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The cities laundry was also washed here by slapping them on the rocks and dunking them in the water. (That explained the crustiness and grayness of our hotel towels…)

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As the sun rose over the water, prayers and chants could be heard from the morning rituals and the day began calmly and with a new found excitement to see more of this wonderfully complicated country and its culture.

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Our driver took the boat back to the ghats and our guide took us on a tour of the old city that we had walked through in the dark. The colors were marvelous, the architecture astounding, but the condition of the streets, animals and living spaces was tough to see.

This is India to me: A contradiction in every way. Beautiful gardens that are well maintained right in front of a pile of trash the size of a building, huge corporate and government gated communities sitting across from a slum of hundreds of shanties covered in tarps and cardboard, or the honor and worship of male and female gods and goddesses, yet a second class citizen view of its own women. It is this contradicted culture that presses deep in your mind as you visit and learn.

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“There are some parts of the world that, once visited, get into your heart and won’t go. For me, India is such a place. When I first visited, I was stunned by the richness of the land, by its lush beauty and exotic architecture, by its ability to overload the senses with the pure, concentrated intensity of its colors, smells, tastes, and sounds. It was as if all my life I had been seeing the world in black and white and, when brought face-to-face with India, experienced everything re-rendered in brilliant technicolor.”

– Keith Bellows (Editor-in-chief, National Geographic Society)

Getting to the Ganges

It was dark as we entered into the city. The people, cars, bicyclists, cows, and dogs were everywhere. To make matters worse there had been a water main break so the streets were flooded up to our ankles in most places.

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The Ganges or Ganga River is the most sacred river to Hindus. It is believed that if your ashes are put into the Ganges, your soul will no longer be reincarnated and moksha will be achieved. To Hindus, the waters in the Ganges are both pure and purifying therefore pilgrims flock to Varanasi to the banks of the river and the ghats (stairs) that lead down to its edge.

Of course, this was a must see on our tour of India.

We were scheduled to arrive in Varanasi during our second leg of the trip and after many long drives, hotels and experiences(good and bad).  We were looking forward to a cultural experience that would refresh us for the rest of the trip.

We flew into Varanasi from Hyderabad via Spice Jet and arrived at 6:10pm. The hotel sent a car to pick us up. They drove us into the historic part of the city. We knew once we got to a good dropping off point, we would be led on foot by “porters” from the hotel through streets where vehicles were not allowed. We were ready. We had our backpacks ready to go and our walking shoes on.

It was dark as we entered into the city. The people, cars, bicyclists, cows, and dogs were everywhere. To make matters worse there had been a water main break so the streets were flooded up to our ankles in most places. There were random high spots on the roads that were just mucky and everyone was trying to stand or step on these places to keep as dry as possible, including the dogs and cows.

Horns are blowing, people are yelling and every car stops facing each other from every direction. Traffic Jam. Now, this isn’t your normal American traffic jam where everyone is orderly but not moving. No, in India there is no order on the streets. If you want to get somewhere, you go. You don’t care if there is another car facing the opposite direction or there is a crowd of people. You push your car in and force your way out. Unfortunately, there was no easy way out of this flooded traffic jam.We sat there listening to more horns and more shouting for a good ten minutes while inching our way furthet into the mess. I’ll be honest, it was so overwhelming, I don’t remember how we even got out of all that, but eventually we did.

The car pulls over, two young men meet us and we quickly get out into the frenzy and grab our carry-ons while the men grab our backpacks. They say something to us about staying close to them and they take off. Jen and I look at each other, I grab the back of her shoulder and she weaves through the crowd trying to keep up with the porters as I try to keep a hold of her and all the while trying not to step our Croc covered feet into the sewage filled water flowing in the streets. It was a madhouse. The only other time I have been in such a self important, shoulder to shoulder crowd was in my early twenties at the Limelight Club in NYC. And I was enjoying this experience about as much as I enjoyed the previous one.

Now I know as you are reading this, you think you can picture it, but I want to ask you to triple the crowd in your head, double the cars and bikes and quadruple the cows and dogs. There. That’s what it was like.

We force our way across the road to keep up with the men leading, bumping into people with each step. Do you think the crowds stopped the vehicles? Absolutely not! In the middle of the road a car shoving its own way through the mob is stopped less than a foot away from me. I’m still holding onto Jennie’s shoulder and shuffling my feet through the massive amount of feet around me and I feel a nudge on the side of my calf. THE CAR HIT ME! It was not an accident! He was actually pushing me out of his way!  We take a few more steps and a motorcycle rams through and DRIVES OVER JENNIE’S FOOT! We were flabbergasted!  Three more steps and we are back on the sidewalk still hand to shoulder and trying to keep up with the men in front of us.

We weave through like a snake as we are trying to see this city for the first time, the little shops we are walking through and yet still maintain some sort of direction of where we are going.  Finally we are through the crowd and into back alleyways of old stone buildings. It was dark and we had no idea where these men were leading us, but we persevered.   Finally we turned a corner and the men entered a glass door. We arrived at our Hotel.

the-streets-of-varanasiNow, after our recent experience at a Hotel in Gowri, we were ready for anything. (This will definitely be a future post) We got to the front desk as we were bombarded by flying gnats, mosquitoes and who knows what else. Yes, we were by the river.

I pull out our confirmation paperwork. The man behind the desk shuffles around and finally says, “I am really upgrading you tonight. You will have to change tomorrow to a lower grade room.” At this point, it is after 9 pm and we just want to get to a comfortable bed. Fine. He hands us the key and we head upstairs to our “Premium” room.

Now, before we left on our trip, we read to bring our own mosquito net because hotels would have them, but they may have holes and we’d want to be protected. Up until this point, we had not needed the one we packed, but I am so thankful we had it. We enter this room that is a total dump with no mosquito net, dead bugs all over the floors and try to start figuring out how to get the mosquito net attached to the ceiling fan that is very high above us.  Jennie managed to figure it out as I took the sides of the net and stuffed them under the mattress to block out any openings. We change, lay down exhausted and lay on what felt like a thin futon mattress for another rough night of sleep.

We had scheduled a sunrise ride on the Ganges for the next morning, so needed to be up and ready to go at 4 am.

As Jennie falls asleep, I start trying to figure out how NOT to stay at this hotel for the next 4 days and to get to somewhere a little more comfortable. This hotel would do for one night as it was right on the Ganges and we would get that experience, but we did not need that much culture after 13 days of it!  Yes, I am a princess, but I also felt the need to fix what I had reserved and make Jennie comfortable on this trip as well.

Hubby to the rescue!!! My husband had been our personal concierge from America on this trip. He came through anytime we needed a new comfortable hotel.  All I would have to do was text him and he would work his magic and book us using his hotel points into the closest nicest hotel he could find.  Within an hour he had us scheduled at the Ramada near the airport until we flew out to Delhi.

Finally things were fixed, the madness of the day was over and I was off to sleep to begin our next adventure with our Sunrise on the Ganges tour.

If you want to read about our tour and the interesting place that is Varanasi, please come back for my next post!

Fort Chanwa- Luni, Jodhpur, Rajhasthan

Fort Chanwa is located in Luni which is a rural village in Jodhpur.

Our first “hotel” we stayed at on our trip to India,was the perfect place to introduce us to the history,  culture, present and people of India. 1

Fort Chanwa is located in Luni which is a rural village in Jodhpur. When we arrived in Dehli we were asked by the airport employees, customs checks and Indian travelers, where we were going. When we mentioned Luni, we’d get a chuckle and a repeat of the town name in jest. We couldn’t figure out why this was the reaction they were giving us and finally asked, “Why?” and the only answer they gave us was “Oh, no, nothing” with more chuckles. We still have no idea why Luni was so funny, but we assume it is because it is so far away from everything.

We were completely fine with that! We wanted to experience India like we lived there, not just visit all the tourist areas. Granted, the locals did not get to live at places like Fort Chanwa unless they were employed there, but it did give us a better idea of what it is like in the more rural areas.

11224878_10154703916711979_1999828233195461139_nIt was a rustic drive from the airport in Jodhpur along dirt roads covered with cows and dogs, the occasional herd of camels or goats and many women and children doing their daily errands.14720477_10154703917346979_8641805068743983946_n

We finally arrived at what looked like a castle sitting smack in the middle of a poor village. Fort Chanwa was built in 1884 to serve as the home of Maharaja Jaswant Singh II, Ruler of Jodhpur, Marwar. You take one step out of the small village under a stone entrance way and you travel back through history to the India of long ago. The entire fortress is carved out of the famous red sandstone of Jodhpur and is ornately carved with lattice work friezes and intricate “Jharokas”.   It is absolutely beautiful.  The gardens are amazing with green parrots flying into the trees every morning to welcome you to breakfast and the (mostly) men that work there as stewards, housekeepers, servants, chefs, and so on, greet you with that welcoming spirit as well.14650087_10154692714821979_802494202278264310_n

Before our trip, we were worried about sleeping and bathroom amenities once we got to India, but were greatly surprised as to the accommodations here. The architecture of the rooms is amazing and the bathrooms are nothing out of the ordinary for an American. 14-495x400

There is not much to do during the day here, unless you book tours and experiences, which we did. In fact, these were our favorite tours while in India. Jen wrote about those here- https://commonasstravelerblog.com/2017/01/27/the-tour-to-die-for/ . But at dinner time, the fort comes to life. Meals are all in the courtyard and at dinner time the bus tours arrive for dinner and a show. (We were the only two people staying the entire week. It was great, we got to know the people working at the fort and made lasting friends that we still see on facebook.)

Dinner is buffet style and is filled with assortments of rices, curries, breads and desserts; like Jalebi, the best dessert I have ever tasted. (I’m sure I’ll write a whole post about it at a later date) Before dinner each night, the blessing and cleansing of the fort with a bell and incense ceremony took place followed by musicians and a dancer in the middle of the courtyard. It was so pleasant to sit under the lights after a meal and enjoy the entertainment. We would then retire to our room and sleep in just the right temperature under the ceiling fan, but not before we would get to hear the nightly chant from the Ganesh temple right outside the fort entrance.

Fort Chanwa was a marvelous place to stay to introduce us to this Indian culture that we had only read about or saw in pictures. It is still our favorite part of our almost month long trip and I can not wait to go back!

http://fortchanwa.com