It is height of summer in north India. With schools shutting for annual vacations, everybody is headed to the hills. Traffic jams for Shimla begin at Delhi; one has to walk from Dehradun for any reasonable chance to make it to Mussoorie
Meanwhile auto air conditioners are being re-checked and replaced to prepare for the likely event of converting vehicles into mobile bedrooms for the family, given the inevitable long power cuts.
Like every year, power ministry officials have said there will be no outrages this time. Unlike weather forecasts, electricity supply projections have been incorrect since many years before I was born and I am not that young any more. Last year the power grid collapsed in whole of India.
Given such contexts, over the years, during summer I prefer to briefly move into top-end five star resorts that have proliferated around Delhi and Gurgaon where I live. These cater to the rich, overseas tourists and corporate clients.
The idea of the break is to beat the heat, dust, pollution, fumes, power cuts, traffic, no water supply, monotony and routine at Trident, Taj, Leela, Marriott and Westin among others to enjoy the facilities by paying minimum, staying maximum duration, while availing all discounts assuming that the reader, like me, seeks to make each spent penny count.
It can be rejuvenating – pool, spa, gym, sauna, food, drinks, movies, tennis, ping pong, badminton, reading or working on the laptop, all located within a full power backed up centrally air conditioned ambience, lounge, in house library, butlers, smiling hostesses and more. It is best to check travel portals, credit card offers and hotel websites before booking. This is non-tourist season, (in the plains that is).
There can be healthy cash backs, if one is alert. Check in early, check out late. Put in the request up front to the reservation desk when your negotiating position is strong. If the room is not ready, deposit the luggage at the locker and hit the pool.
I prefer to opt for packages that exclude food and drinks that can cut costs by half. Buffets are psychologically debilitating. If one has paid for it, one is obliged to gorge. My idea of a holiday is not to over eat, rest between meals, listening to the tummy gurgle instead of music while popping antacids. Most resorts, in any case, have ongoing corporate conferences due to which restaurants resemble packed metro coaches during meal times.
If at all go for breakfast buffet but make sure to load the bigger plates with items you may like to consume when hungry again later in the day. I, for example, assemble two big platters of uncut fruit and bakery items cover them with napkins while heading back to the room after a hearty breakfast.
Unlike booze, most hotels don’t mind resident guests carting out the buffet fare. There could be an odd overzealous manager who may object. The solution is to appear irritated, pretend to be on the verge of screaming, while walking away.
The matter is too minor for the hotel staff to risk a scene or raised voices in the presence of other guests. Too much food is wasted at star hotels for the management to bother about a few extra apples or muffins consumed.
I prefer to carry my own groceries for other meals, while asking for as many free fruit platters, tea and coffee bags. The mini bar and electric kettle can serve as an effective kitchen. Request housekeeping to empty out the mini bar containing Rs 20 chocolate bars priced at Rs 200 or Rs 50 beer pint bottles at Rs 400. The fridge can be used to store milk, bread, butter, ham, juice, cheese, curd, mangoes, booze and more. Use the kettle to boil eggs, Maggie or pasta. I have made rice too. Check out the pastry shop late in the evening. They usually offer half price happy hours.
Some hotels can be squeamish about bottled water for no particular reason. They can charge Rs 100 for a bottle that costs Rs 15 a step outside. Water can easily be boiled in the kettle and stored in the mini bar. Gyms usually have little bottles for patrons. I carry away 3-4 at a time. You could also keep a look out for trolleys parked along corridors, while the staff is inside the room, cleaning.
Pick up a couple of sealed bottles. In case somebody happens to notice, ask very politely whether you can take one. If they spot you on CCTV cameras, they will not bother you for picking a couple of bottles of water.
I was reading recently that Indians are big filchers of hotel items. Steal, but smartly, without going overboard or getting caught or embarrassing yourself.
Those who have moral concerns about such behavior are requested not to read beyond here. Most big hotels in India today are owned directly or indirectly by those connected to power, government, politics and bureaucracy. These folks have made their money by embezzling hard earned tax payers’ money.
So, there are many who don’t mind secretly screwing those who are already unlawful. Breakable items such as crockery, soap dishes, coffee mugs, wine glasses, breakfast buffet plates are easy pickings.
Most hotels allow for handling losses due to breakage and don’t bother about such missing articles. Hangers, bottle openers, bathing gowns, hand towels are never tracked. Be careful about the bigger linen, though.
This is unsafe zone. They are carefully counted. I know a few who walked away with curtains, bed sheets, bed covers and pillows. The hotel called to clarify the missing items. This is unnecessary. A weekend at a resort during summer is not a bad deal, if one can get it right, along with a few wrongs.
(Check out my novel An Offbeat Story)