Where We've Stayed Part III: India

This is the third of my series on where we've stayed - if you haven't already you might want to check out my first post on where we stayed in France and Italy, and my second post on where we stayed in Morocco, Jordan, and Nepal.

India (December 1-January 4)

Jaipur - Prity Guest House (December 1-14)

First on our agenda for India was to volunteer for 2 weeks with Elephants in Jaipur, which we did through an organization called Volunteering With India. The cost of the program included our program fees, transportation (a kick-ass tuk-tuk with a driver named Totoram), and a home stay, which was at a small guesthouse in Jaipur named after the youngest daughter of the family, Prity.

This was probably the most basic place we stayed on our trip: the second-floor room included a bathroom with a shower that sometimes had hot water, seemingly hadn't really been cleaned, and was not cleaned during our two week stay. Food was included as well, which was also very basic - most meals were a vegetarian curry, often-times cold rice, and the highlight of the meal, Chapati. During our stay the middle sister (there were 3) got married, which happened at the guest house, so we were invited to attend the wedding, which was a fascinating experience. On the flip side this meant that the house was frequently filled with loud music till all hours of the night, which was tough when we needed to get up at 4:30AM for work with the elephants at 5:30AM (we were picked up at 5). This, combined with the spartan living conditions, made for some pretty hard living for two weeks.

 Our First Indian Wedding at Prity Guesthouse

Our First Indian Wedding at Prity Guesthouse

Ranthambhore - Ranthambhor Regency (December 14-15)

Our first stop post-Prity Guest house was at a resort in Ranthambhore, an animal reserve where we went on safari. The hotel was very nice, which ordinarily would have felt posh, but following our Prity stay felt like we were staying at the St. Regis! We had a very nice room, with a large clean, comfortable bed, and all toiletries included (at Prity we needed to buy our own soap).

All meals were included at the Ranthambhor Regency, and the meals were very tasty, with plenty of fresh meats, vegetables, and fruits. The manager even made a spicier version of one of the dishes for me as I mentioned I liked spicy foods! We felt like kings!

On a related note, our safaris to the Ranthambhor park were amazing - we did 2 trips, which last about 3 hours each - one in the morning, and one at night. The weather can be quite cold (so we brought our jackets) as you are in an open air jeep, but you drive through virtually untouched scenery and have a great shot at seeing animals - we didn't see a tiger, but spotted the black sloth bear, crocodiles (baby ones as well as large), eagles, and tons of peacocks and deer.

Agra - Howard Plaza (December 15-16)

We stayed in this solid hotel for 2 nights when we visited the Taj Mahal. This hotel was well positioned with a number of restaurants in walking distance (though not a lot else here). We did have problems on check-in as the key for the room didn't work several times, and I had to go up and down to talk to the staff at the front and get a working key.

One incident at the hotel: on arrival at the hotel our driver, Anand, pulled our car in the unloading area, and as my mother was about to exit the car a driver backed his car up right into her door area! How he managed to miss the parked car was beyond me, but even after hitting the car it didn't seem like he was too worried about it - after some yelling with Anand he departed. I asked Anand who was going to pay for it and he said he would, and grumbled about "local people" with a laugh. I was amazed, as I could imagine that the damage would cost over $1000 in the US, though our driver said that it would probably be around $100 in India.

Mathura - Radha Ashok (December 16-17)

After visiting the Taj we headed to a town called Mathura, where we saw some old temples and such (I had mistakenly told our tour operator that we wanted to see holy sites without specifying that my Mom wanted to see Buddhist ones, not the majority-faith Hindu ones that constitute the majority of spiritual sites in India).

This hotel was empty and drab, and had a sad breakfast. I wouldn't recommend either Mathura or this hotel (though when I mentioned the hotel to our tour operator he mentioned that Mathura just doesn't have any nice hotels).

Haridwar - Hotel Ganga Lahari (December 17-20)

This hotel on the banks of the Ganga (in English the Ganges) River was quite nice: the rooms were spacious and clean, and the (not included) dinners were quite good, with some musicians playing nice music outside the dining room. Haridwar was another city that we visited because of the mix-up in Holy Sites, and was really not very interesting other than the temples (which we didn't really enjoy), and the city itself didn't really have much geared towards foreigners (there were lots of local restaurants with street food, but outside of the hotels not a lot geared towards tourists).

On the other hand, we really liked Rishikesh, a town about 30 minutes north (also on the bank of the Ganga). This yoga-crazed town was very comfortable for tourists, with great little restaurants and cute shops. I'd highly recommend you visit Rishikesh with it's comfortable town and rafting on the Ganga and skip Haridwar unless you are really into Hindu temples.

Delhi - Avalon Courtyard (December 20-21)

This hotel in South Delhi was off a main street, but fine for a brief stopover in Delhi as we really only arrived late and took off for Kerala the next morning. The hotel is geared towards Japanese travelers (likely business travelers), and thus had a Japanese restaurant in the hotel which we really enjoyed (My Mom was ecstatic as she was over Indian food). The hotel also had a pool which I used (though a few Indians stared at me as it was next to the elevator, I guess not many people use it), and supposedly sauna as well (didn't get the chance to use it). 

Our room was large, clean, and seemed like a condo as it had a kitchen, which would have been really useful if we had stayed longer.

Kochi - Dream Kochi (December 21-23, December 27-28)

We arrived in Kerala at the Kochi airport, and drove an hour south to Ernakulam where we met Nisha's parents at the Dream Hotel. This hotel seemed really fancy at first blush, almost W-like, with lights down low and modern decor. However, this seemed to be more of window-dressing than reality, as we found the carpets to be a bit dirty and some of the interior to be shabby. Additionally they charged a hefty fee for wifi, which we passed on as we had found every other place had included internet. 

Ernakulam is the newer area across the water from Fort Kochi, where most of the interesting tourist attractions area. We ended up spending most of our time in this area, which was about a 45 minute drive (more in traffic) from this area in Ernakulam (we actually took a local ferry one day to avoid driving across the bridges). Fort Kochi is where most of the tourists are, and has the restaurants and hotels that we were looking for, and I would highly suggest anyone visiting the area stay there.

Munnar - Fort Munnar (December 23-25)

After a day of sightseeing in Fort Kochi we headed to the hill town of Munnar in Kerala. This area is famous for tea (the British built it out to grow, and locals have taken over the business) and lush hills, and we enjoyed spending our time here visiting a tea plantation (very interesting), and a national park (where we saw the Nilgiri Tahr, a rare mountain goat). 

We were here during Christmas, and the hotel required us to pay an additional $50 each for a gala dinner. This dinner was bizarre, as instead of a simple family dinner they had a (ghetto) vegas-style production (The MC kept saying "Come on everybody, you aren't at home, you're in Muuuuunnaaaaar"), with a stage and loud dance music culminating in the arrival of a strange Santa Claus and dinner served. For someone used to a family-focused Christmas I was quite surprised to see this bizarre spectacle.

The grounds of this hotel were very nice (it had a great little park in the backyard), but the rooms had very thin walls and the furniture was literally coming apart - see the picture of the box in the room in pieces.

 The furniture was literally coming apart at the Fort Munnar!

The furniture was literally coming apart at the Fort Munnar!

Allepey - Vasundhara Sarovar (December 25-27)

After the relative unpleasantness of the Fort Munnar hotel, the Vasundhara Sarovar was a spectacle to behold. This hotel was located in the backwaters of Kerala, a peaceful place of little inlets of water which are navigated by boat. The Vasundhara's rear faced the backwater, and the resort was gorgeous across the board, with incredible grounds, beautiful large rooms, and a number of included activities. The large pool was great to swim in, and we also enjoyed the included boat tour of the backwater, paddle boats, and afternoon chai.

The restaurants at the resort were very tasty (and pricey), which was good as it was very far from anything outside the resort. This is really a place to come and relax, and I would highly recommend it.

 Cathy and Dilip enjoying the Paddle Boat at the Vasundhara

Cathy and Dilip enjoying the Paddle Boat at the Vasundhara

Anand - Casa Patel (Devam) (December 28-January 4)

Our final stay in India was with Nisha's cousin's family in the province of Gujurat. Nisha's cousin Sanjay had invited us to visit and stay with them to see an Indian wedding when we saw them at our wedding, and we took advantage of this and stayed with them at their 3-bedroom house in Anand. The space was a bit tight as we had Nisha's parents, Sanjay and his family (his wife Grishma, and their children Devam and Suhanhi), Grishma's Sister Honey and her Husband and baby, and Grishma's brother (the groom) all in the house. Nisha and I slept on the floor of the living room, which was relatively comfortable, and very normal for India.

It was fun to spend time with the family and see a non-touristy side of India, but their house was a bit isolated as the town of Anand doesn't have a ton of infrastructure, and the movie theater and shopping were located on the other side of the city. The wedding itself was over the course of 5 or so days, with events scattered between Anand and another city an hour away.

 Dressed for the Wedding at Casa Patel

Dressed for the Wedding at Casa Patel

Where We've Stayed Part II: Morocco, Jordan, and Nepal

This is part 2 of my series on where we've stayed - if you haven't already you might want to check out my first post on where we stayed in France and Italy.

Morocco (October 30-November 12)

Marrakech - Riad Miski (October 30-November 1)

 Nisha Enjoying (the Included) Breakfast on the Riad Miski Balcony

Nisha Enjoying (the Included) Breakfast on the Riad Miski Balcony

A Riad is a traditional Moroccan house that has been converted to a guest house, similar to a Bed and Breakfast in the US, and I opted for us to stay here to get the Moroccan experience, and because of the glowing reviews on TripAdvisor. Finding the house proved a challenge, as after arriving at the train station we jumped in a cab, who called the Riad to find out where it was in the walls of the Medina. The cabbie couldn't figure out exactly where it was, however, so when he let us out of the car he found us two kids to take us to the Riad. Bad mistake, as when we got to the Riad they demanded a huge tip - the smallest bill I had, 50 dirham (about $6)! I refused, and once the Riad opened asked the French proprietor what to do - he eventually helped by giving them 20 dirham, and I heard him arguing with them in French while we entered the Riad and situated ourselves.

The Riad was run by a Parisian couple who searched out Morocco for a change in life. The room was on the bottom floor and comfortable, and the included breakfast was served on the nice roof area which overlooked the city. The location of the Riad was a quick 10 minute walk from the hustle and bustle of the main square and the Souks (open air markets), so we spent the next full day in Marrakech exploring he city.

Essouaria - AirBnB (November 1-4)

 The View from our AirBnB

The View from our AirBnB

We jumped on a bus a few days later and headed to the seaside town of Essouaria, where we stayed at a very nice AirBnB house in the Medina. The little flat was on the roof of a 3 floor building, and had a great view of the sea. The owners are Moroccan, but didn't speak much English so their friend, an Algerian, was visiting from from Paris and helped us check in and get situated. 

The flat has great wifi, and very friendly owners who did laundry for us and even greeted us with little pastries on arrival! The location was perfect, a few minutes walk from the sea, markets, and restaurants, and a great jump off point for a morning run to the sea.

Marrakech - Le Méridien N'fis (November 4-5)

We stayed at this Starwood property for a night between our stay in Essaouria and our desert tour, which was a pretty fancy Western property a few miles and a 20 dirham cab ride from the Medina. The property had nice grounds, and while not quite as nice as an American Méridien, had a very nice bathroom and solid wifi. Nisha especially liked the western shower after a few days of Moroccan style showers (which were a bit unreliable with hot water).

The included breakfast was extensive and tasty.

Desert Tour (November 5-8)

After our trip to Essarouia we returned to Marrakech for a night, then were picked up from Le Méridien for a 3 day tour to the desert. We really enjoyed this tour - if you are interested check out my review on Tripadvisor.

Gorges du Dades - Dar Essyaha (November 5-6)

 The view from our balcony at Dar Essyana

The view from our balcony at Dar Essyana

This Dar (Moroccan guesthouse - apparently Riad means garden in arabic, Dar means house) was set into a magnificent gorge, about 20 minutes outside the medieval-looking kasbah of Aït Benhaddou. Our driver, Ibrahim, stopped on the hill and we weren't sure what to expect, but we were pleasantly surprised to find a really beautiful Moroccan guesthouse with a balcony with a view overlooking the gorge. We had dinner and breakfast at the Dar, and both were quite good with a Tagine for dinner and a Moroccan breakfast. The room was on the bottom floor but still had an excellent view, but the building was a bit cold so we huddled up at night to keep each other warm. 

The Sahara Desert (November 6-7)

 Our dining table in the desert

Our dining table in the desert

On our second day, after reaching a building on the edge of the Sahara we climbed aboard camels and rode over an hour in the desert to find a camp near the border of Algeria. The camp was pretty nice, with a number of large tents (we're not talking setup your own costco tent here) holding a comfortable mattress with a number of blankets to keep you warm (apparently you don't need them at all during summer - it's ostensibly so hot it's difficult to sleep). The night we slept here was a full moon and the moon was incredible, alighting my walk from our tent to the bathroom the camp had.

Orzazate - Riad Bouchedor (November 7-8)

 Riad Bouchedor from the Awesome Hill across the street (Bouchedor is the one with the two cars in front of it)

Riad Bouchedor from the Awesome Hill across the street (Bouchedor is the one with the two cars in front of it)

On our way back from the desert we stayed in this Riad in Orzazate on the edge of town. This riad was really pretty, with beautiful decorations inside and a large classy room. The included food was good, and served on the patio at the back of the riad with both indoor and outdoor seating. My favorite part of this stay, however, was the location - it was across from a bit of a hill which you could walk up and see the entire city - I climbed up the hill and enjoyed the sunset while Nisha napped. 

The only downside of this place was the wifi, which was spotty at best.

Imlil - Douar Samra (November 8-11)

 Here is Nisha on our Balcony at Douar Samra

Here is Nisha on our Balcony at Douar Samra

We stayed in the Mountain town of Imlil for a few days after our desert tour, and picked a little Douar, which is a traditional Moroccan guesthouse. Half-board was standard, which means included breakfast and dinner, so we enjoyed those with the other people staying in the guesthouse. These other couples were the highlight of our trip, as we met several English couples who provided great stories and card playing. 

The rooms in the guest house were very rustic - so much so that they didn't have electricity, which meant using candles for light. This was nice in some ways, but because the guest house was so rustic the insulation was poor so we were quite cold at times, huddling up in the provided robes in bed. They did light fires nightly in the dining area and in our room, and one night provided us a hot water bottle which Nisha loved. There was supposed to be included wifi, but it was broken, so fortunately our purchased Moroccan sim cards worked here. Cash was the only accepted form of payment here, but there was no ATM in town, so we had to take a cab 20 minutes to the next town to get money to settle up!

I look back on this place quite fondly despite being cold - it's nice sometimes to get away from it all - and we did!

Casablanca - Sheraton (November 11-12)

This was a decent Sheraton in Casablanca, a busy city we stayed at before flying out the next day, and was about what you'd expect for a western hotel in Morocco (ie not quite the levels of the US).

The most notable thing here is that the breakfast was not included (though it was in every other hotel in Morocco we stayed at), and when we went down for breakfast we thought it was and were not informed before sitting down at the buffet. When we got the bill we were in shock, as they charged 250 dirhams each (about $30) for it. It was incredible, and certainly not worth it. 

Jordan (November 12-19)

Amman - Amman Pascha (November 12-14)

For some strange reason flights to Amman seem to land and leave in the middle of the night (perhaps because of the heat?), as we landed in Amman at 2AM or so, and a driver from the Amman Pascha hotel picked us up. We stayed 2 nights in the hotel, using it as a base to visit the Dead Sea and old biblical cities before heading down to Petra.

This was a very simple hotel, more a hostel than hotel as the rooms had a number of beds and the hotel had a communal bar area. The location was in the old part of the city, across from a Roman Colosseum that neglected to visit as we had just seen tons of ruins in Italy a few weeks before. While cheap I'm not sure I would visit this hotel again, though perhaps that's more how I feel about the city of Amman than just this hotel - Amman was very busy with mostly men on the street, and I mostly enjoyed being outside the city in our visit.

Petra - Rocky Mountain Hotel (November 14-17)

 Sunset from the Rocky Mountain Hotel

Sunset from the Rocky Mountain Hotel

We spent 3 nights in Petra, heading down on a 6AM bus to Petra and arriving around 9:30 in the city of Wadi Musa. The woman who runs the hotel with her Jordanian husband was from New Zealand, and was very friendly. After checking us in she gave us good tips on a great walk in Petra, and we took her advice and really enjoyed our 3 days in the ancient city.

The hotel itself was at the top of Wadi Musa and featured fantastic views overlooking Petra in addition to being clean and comfortable. The hotel served and affordable and tasty dinner nightly, and also sold a nice packed lunch of a pita sandwich, boxed juice, and a few snacks. As the hotel was fairly far from Petra (a 15-20 minute walk up the hill) we took advantage of the morning and evening shuttles (the proprietress dropping us off in her 70's era Mercedes) to the park, and Nisha especially enjoyed the ice cream at the Mövenpick hotel.

The complimentary wifi worked well in the lobby and out in the hall, and even from the room itself from time to time.

Wadi Rum - Desert (November 17-18)

 Nisha in Wadi Rum

Nisha in Wadi Rum

After 3 nights in Wadi Musa we took the early morning bus (the only daily bus) to the desert of Wadi Rum and did a day trip with one of the brothers from Rum Guides, and spent the evening in a tent in the desert. Wadi Rum is a vast desert in the South of Jordan, and has beautiful large rocks poking out of the sand which you can climb and explore. 

As this was only a few weeks after our evening in the Sahara desert in Morocco we were able to compare our experience directly, and this one wasn't quite as nice - the tent was a bit colder, and the food night quite as good. Part of this might have been that it was a bit colder in Wadi Rum than in the Sahara on the evening we were there, though we were given blankets and huddled up by the fire before bed.

Aqaba - Al Qidra (November 18-19)

 Enjoying a Moroccan Craft Beer (Delicious!) From our Balcony at the Al Qidra

Enjoying a Moroccan Craft Beer (Delicious!) From our Balcony at the Al Qidra

Our initial plan was to to return to Amman and spend the night there before heading to the airport the next evening for our in-the-middle-of-the-night flight, but after a night in the desert we decided we'd rather have a day on the beach on the Red Sea than spending it in the busy city. A quick TripAdvisor search turned up the solid Al Qidra hotel in a great location in Amman, just a few minutes walk from the beach in Aqaba and next to a few good restaurants and plenty of shops and stores.

The hotel was clean and had good free wifi access, and offered discounted tickets to a private beach area about 20 minutes south on the Red Sea. The breakfast was the standard basics of pita and hummus and cereal, and the staff was very friendly. I would definitely visit this affordable hotel again if we return to Aqaba.

Nepal (November 20-December 1)

Kathmandu - Travellers Inn (4 days over 3 blocks)

After a huge day of traveling (we took a 4-hour bus ride from Aqaba to Amman, took a cab to the airport, and waited from 7 or so to 3:40AM for our flight, which was several hours to Abu Dhabi for a layover prior to a few more hour hour flight to Kathmandu) we arrived in the late evening in Kathmandu, where our trekking guide Bhimsen greeted us and got us safely to the Travellers Inn in the touristy neighborhood of Thamul.

This hotel was very basic and a bit dirty, but since it was part of our package we spent 4 nights here in varying chunks. Additionally the hot water was spotty (but I think this is normal for Kathmandu), and Nisha was horrified to find the standard Nepalese/Indian shower of combined shower and toilet/sink area.

Wifi was spotty but sometimes worked well, which apparently is part of the Nepal experience (it doesn't really get better anywhere). The location of the hotel was great, with restaurants and stores right outside, and had really good food downstairs at the restaurant (which they were happy to send up as room service).

Everest Trek - Tea Houses (November 21-25)

 Here's a room in a Tea House. Pretty Basic!

Here's a room in a Tea House. Pretty Basic!

During our 5 day trek in the Lukla area of Nepal (near Everest) we stayed in Tea Houses, which are the standard places to stay when trekking. These are very simple buildings without much insulation, but have simple beds with blankets, and had dining areas where you eat and drink. Most of the Tea houses we stayed at operated with the same sort of outlines: simple rooms with two single beds and shared bathrooms (without showers, these are offered for a separate fee but we didn't bother using them), a shared dining area with very similar menus: a Nepali Set menu of Dal Bhaat (lentils with rice, and a curry), some Chinese food (noodles, rice, and dumplings that are called Momos), and usually pizzas or some not-so-hot Western food. The Tea Houses generally offered wifi for 500 rupees (~$5) and power charging for 200 rupees (~$2).

During mealtimes the guides act as waiters, taking orders and serving their clients - they function kind of like extended Tea House staff. 

The Tea Houses are fine for the tent substitutes that they are.

Nepal - Chitwan Unique Wild Resort (November 26-28)

 I forgot to take a picture of the hotel, so here is me with a Rhino in Chitwan

I forgot to take a picture of the hotel, so here is me with a Rhino in Chitwan

After our Trek we took a bus down to Chitwan National Park to see animals and go for a jungle trek, and we stayed at a resort called Unique Wild Resort for 3 nights. The resort had nice verdant grounds and was a 5-10 minute walk from the main little town of Chitwan.

The package we had included transfers to the bus, our meals, and a couple tour activities which were the highlight of our trip: we took a canoe right where we saw crocodiles and birds, a jungle walk where we saw elephants and rhinos and a sloth bear, and an elephant ride for an hour and a half in the jundle where we spotted deer and more rhinos. One night we saw a cultural show with Thalu (these are the people of this area of Nepal) dance which we really enjoyed, especially a Peacock dance with outstanding costumes.

The food was mostly meh here as they served different types of food here (the western really bad, the Nepalese cuisine pretty good), the wifi again fairly spotty, but the biggest bummer with this place was the lack of hot water. We told the staff about the lack of the ability to shower, but they didn't do anything to solve the problem. The room itself was solid and comfortable, and being able to use the electricity to charge our devices without paying felt like a luxury after the Tea Houses.

If this place had hot water I'd recommend it wholeheartedly.