“ Address: Nazarabad Mohalla / Near Nazarabad Police Station / Vasant Mahal Road / Opposite Vasant Mahal / Mysore / 570 010 / Karnataka / India / Tel: +91 821 663 3333 „
The task of finding hotels in India is one that eats up a lot of my time each year when I'm planning my holidays. Experience taught me that I can't always trust the pictures and claims of local hotel websites and I don't put much faith in some of the recommendations on hotel review sites either. Far too many glowing reviews are written by the hotel staff and the damning ones by the staff of the hotel down the road who'd like to put them out of business. I've often thought "Wouldn't it be great to book hotels in a chain with a reputation that you can trust at a price that won't break the bank?" Sadly until recently such places didn't really exist in India.
There are plenty of fabulous international standard hotels to choose from across India including some of the best hotels I've ever stayed in but the price that comes with that sort of quality is way over what I want to pay most of the time. What I wanted and had never been able to find in the past was India's answer to Holiday Inn Express or one of the Premier/Travelodge type places. By that description I mean somewhere clean and tidy that won't smell funny, won't be somewhere silly in completely the wrong part of town and won't charge a fortune not only for the hotel itself but for all the other bits and bobs you want whilst you're there like taxi hire, meals, internet access or beauty treatments. Bow down and thank the heavens (and the TATA group) for Ginger.
~TATA - Taking Over the World~
TATA is a giant Indian multinational multi-sector business with fingers in many very different pies. Most people who recognise the name will probably associate it with TATA Trucks or know them as the owners of Corus (the old British Steel) or Jaguar Landrover. UK tea drinkers might know them as the owners of the Tetley tea company and it does seem sometimes like TATA is on a mission to buy the UK. Their reach goes much further than this with involvement in information technology, engineering, raw and processed materials, energy and chemicals. Ginger is part of their hospitality group which is famous for the Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces, owners of some of the most sublime and outstanding hotels in the world. Whilst Taj hotels are mostly for the wealthy or lucky business travellers, Ginger is firmly targeting the local Indian business travellers and international tourists looking for something dependable that offers value for money.
Ginger is characterised by what TATA call their 'Smart Basics' approach, a philosophy of paring down the frills, reducing costs by getting guests to 'help themselves' and yet still offering clean, well designed and even slightly funky styling. Since their launch a few years ago, Ginger hotels have been racking up an impressive array of local business and travel awards.
I'd come across Ginger hotels through my involvement with trivago.co.uk. I'd checked the websites and liked what I'd read of their approach. I'd emailed and spoken to friends in India who'd told me that I could trust the reputation of Ginger and I wouldn't be disappointed. As one friend put it "At the end of the day, it's the Taj group - TATA can't afford to let you down". Suitably reassured by an old colleague who told me he always stayed at the Ginger in Bangalore, I booked the Ginger for three nights for our visit to Mysore in November last year.
I explored the Ginger website at www.gingerhotels.com and used their online booking system which was easy to follow. I paid online with my credit card at a total of approximately £60 for the three night stay. Standard rates are currently one rupee short of 3000 (about £40 a night) with discount rates starting at half that amount. Single occupancy prices are 500 rupees less - something that makes relatively little sense since all rates are room only, but does show they're trying to offer their clients an openly fair deal. By booking early I got the lowest price and even up to a couple of weeks before your stay there are discounts of at least 15% on the standard rates.
Shortly before leaving for India, I realised that I didn't have a confirmation email from the hotel. To be honest I went into a bit of a panic based probably on too much exposure to European budget airlines who happily use any excuse to refuse to take you if you can't absolutely prove your booking. I was worried that I might even have to redo the booking all over again and pay a higher rate so I emailed the hotel, explained that I hadn't received a confirmation and told them the amount and payee on my credit card bill and the payment reference. I really shouldn't have worried as within an hour I had a polite and friendly email back from the hotel from the reservations desk confirming our reservation number and all the check in and cancellation details.
We arrived in Mysore in the evening just after nine o'clock and hopped in an auto-rickshaw at the railway station after accepting the offered price of 100 rupees (about £1.40). I could have argued him down but I really couldn't be bothered and I'm glad I didn't as it was quite a long ride and certainly further than I'd expected. Mind you in an auto-rickshaw anything over a mile or so feels like it's half way to the moon. I suspect the decent price was due to the driver hoping to persuade us to go to a completely different hotel where he'd then be able to get a commission. It was a bit daft really when you consider I'd asked him to take us to a specific hotel. "Madam, I take you somewhere better, very nice, good price" he said. After I repeated several times that I only wanted the Ginger and that I had already paid for it, he shut up and took us, flying through the dark city on almost empty roads, occasionally turning round to ask if he could be our driver the next day.
The driver passed through the security barrier and dropped us at the entrance to the hotel. Grabbing our large bags which had been crammed in on top of us, we erupted out of the back of the auto-rickshaw and into the warm night air. If we'd needed them, there were ample luggage trolleys lined up by the door, just beside the conveniently placed ATM booth - both fine examples of the 'help yourself' philosophy. No porter to tip, no wait at reception for someone to change money - just grab a trolley and use the hole in the wall. We dragged our bags into reception with a little trepidation about what budget hotel Indian style might actually mean.
First impressions were good and offered rather more than we'd expected. Just inside the door we found two desks. One was offering travel services and the other was manned by a beautician offering a range of treatments. Just past the desks we saw a 'Coffee Day' counter (Coffee Day is a sort of Indian Starbucks) and then a large restaurant area. The reception desk was directly ahead, standing at the edge of a large atrium that stretched up to the roof. To one side were safe deposit boxes and (if memory serves me correctly) a door to the laundry facilities. The lifts were at the other side of the lobby and a corridor led away past a small souvenir shop to some meeting rooms that could be hired by the hour, and a desk with a computer that should have offered internet access via prepaid vouchers but was out of order throughout our stay.
Check-in was a little delayed by the receptionist doing his best to answer all the questions of the person at the desk before us. When our turn came, he took the passports and made photocopies, asked for our address and my mobile phone number (heaven only knows what that was needed for), confirmed that the internet computer was out of order and likely to remain so, and issued us with our room key. He pointed us to the lifts and we headed up to the second floor, picking up a free copy of the newspaper on the way.
When I saw that our room was close to the lift and overlooked the atrium, I'll admit I was concerned that it might be really noisy. Fortunately I was wrong. Opening the door we stepped into a large clean room that was brightly decorated and spacious. The bathroom opened off from the hallway and then the room was laid out beyond. The floors were cream tiles, the walls were painted cream and orange and the blind at the window was also orange. One thing to be aware of if you plan a long stay at a Ginger hotel, make sure you can live with orange - it's everywhere. The bed had crisp sheets and blankets. There was a small desk with a comfy office chair, the bed was a double (the first we'd seen after over a week in India), there was a light wood wardrobe, a mini-fridge with complimentary chilled water, a tea and coffee tray with a kettle and a bag stand for our cases. A small wall mounted flat screen TV hung opposite the bed and there was an air con unit.
The bathroom was small with toilet, sink and shower, the latter with an orange curtain - quelle surprise! The toilet had paper and didn't leak (don't laugh - you can't take it for granted) and the sink unit had a large surround with plenty of space for toiletries. The shower had plenty of hot water and good water pressure.
The hotel was about a ten minute walk from Mysore Zoo and another 15 to 20 from Mysore Palace. I'm trying to be more open minded about zoos these days especially after visiting the fabulous one in Darjeeling the year before but sadly our plans to visit were scuppered when we discovered all the animals were having the day off (or it was a national holiday or something similar). We got back on the main road and headed towards the palace, finding both a ludicrously cheap internet café (12 pence per hour) and a really cheap barbers where my husband got a hair cut whilst I caught up on some mail. It was certainly cheaper and more reliable than trying to use the Ginger's internet. An auto-rickshaw from the centre of the city would probably set you back about 50 rupees (60p ish) and there were usually one or two loitering outside the hotel. We'd rather overdone the auto-rickshaw travel in Bangalore and enjoyed the quiet and pleasant walk into and out of town as a way to work off some of the excessive chocolate cake consumption we indulged in during our stay. The Ginger has a large secure car park so if you are there with a car (I guess this is mostly going to apply to Indian guests as few tourists would be so crazy as to drive), there's no need to worry.
We ate at the hotel a lot, mostly because we didn't have our own transport. Whilst the hotel was an easy walk from the town centre in the day time, it wasn't in a built up area and it was dark at night and not ideal for wandering around. We did get back one night stumbling along in the dark with our head torches trying not to get freaked out by heavy breathing cows along our route but it wasn't something you'd want to try every day. We ate several times at the Coffee Day in the lobby which offers coffee bar food and drink at prices that are expensive by local standards but still cheap for tourists. The service was atrocious and on our first evening I was ready to leap up and make my own drinks after I'd asked three times and they still hadn't come. On subsequent visits we learned what not to order if we didn't want to die of thirst. They had a good selection of vegetarian food, most of which we tried during our stay. There was also a passable chocolate cake which for some crazy reason was always served hot - I suspect the crazy reason might have been to hide that it wasn't as fresh as it should have been. My husband the ardent tea-drinker was converted to the joys of the Coffee Day cappuccino and most days we had 'cap and cake' for breakfast.
On our second evening we ate in the buffet restaurant which offered a good range of veg and non-veg dishes in various ethnic styles, none of them too shockingly hot and great value at roughly £2 a head. Being self service it was a lot quicker than waiting for Chirpy Charlie on the Coffee Day counter to wake up and mix a drink.
One of the things that I had worried about when booking a 'basic' hotel was that we might not be able to get tourist services such as maps, car hire and travel advice. We need not have worried as the travel desk manned by 'Mr Jerry' or his assistant was available day and evening. On our second day we hired a car and driver to take us on a half day visit to Srirangapatana, about 40 minutes from Mysore. We'd been before very briefly when we'd visited Mysore a few years earlier and wanted to go back for a proper look. The travel desk didn't give us any trouble for being late for our booked appointment with the driver (after I got kidnapped by a mad pedicurist - more later) and the car provided was spotless and big enough to be a lot more comfortable than others we'd used on our trip. The driver was smartly dressed in uniform and spoke great English. Much to our surprise, rather than just taking us to the town and dropping us, he happily led us round all the sites and where necessary explained what he was showing us. My notes from the trip don't record exactly what we paid for the car but from memory the fee was around £15-£20 and we tipped him about 10% on top.
The beautician was a bit of a bully and desperately wanted to sell me a massage. I'm a typical repressed Brit with no desire to be mauled by a stranger and so I held firm and insisted on a facial one evening followed by a manicure and pedicure the next day. The facial cost 800 rupees (about £11) and the mani/pedi was 1000 (about £13). The beautician worked out of a couple of converted bedrooms on the ground floor. For the facial I was put on a pine massage table and scrubbed and rubbed rather harder than I thought was good for my skin. I've always wondered why beauticians like to play CDs of whale music and such-like but I started to understand when I was constantly distracted from enjoying what should have been a relaxing treatment but the sound of water running in the bathroom. It was nice that she cared enough to make sure I got warm water but it's hard to let go and drift off when you're thinking 'How could she waste so much water in a country with so little?'
The following day's manicure and pedicure were awful. The feet weren't too bad and she gave good foot massage and exfoliation and fortunately my feet were far enough from my eyes for me not to see quite what crimes she perpetuated on my nails. My hands didn't fare so well and as she hacked away at my nails which I'd already cut short for hygiene reasons (people forget how many germs lurk under nails and that matters in a germy place like India) and left them so butchered that it took several weeks before I stopped looking like a serious nail-biter. I was almost in tears when I saw what she'd done and to make things worse, she'd painted my toe nails really badly and the whole mess had taken almost an hour longer than she said it would. If the horrors of what she'd been doing weren't already enough to make me stressed beyond words, the sound of the maintenance crew outside jet washing the concrete left me with a headache. My advice - avoid the beautician at all costs.
I was really impressed by the Ginger. It was clean, bright, and well equipped and everything we needed was available. The travel service was a bit expensive by local standards and the car and driver were both superior to what we'd had elsewhere and much cheaper than a higher standard hotel would have charged. Food was available at all hours and there was plenty of choice. Free water in the minibar was much appreciated and if it ever ran out, a water cooler with mineral water was available on the landing. For a brief stay I couldn't really fault it except for the beautician who should be struck off (if beauticians can be) for the horrors she perpetuated on my paws. I'm already hunting down more Gingers for this year's trip in October.