“ Address: Near Goel Motors Taradevi / Shimla „
~Beggars Can't be Choosers it seems~
I didn't want to go to the Hotel Sukh Sagar Regency. I tried to get out of it but the company who 'organised' (I use the term fairly loosely) our trip seemed seriously disinclined to pay any attention to my requests to be somewhere else. However, on balance I didn't want to go there less than I didn't want to go to the first place they suggested which had one of the lowest ratings I've ever seen on Tripadvisor. I had booked with the website 'makemytrip' before and found them difficult to deal with but they were the only company I could find that was offering the length of trip and destinations that I wanted for a trip to Himachal Pradesh. Dealing with them was a necessary evil - but quite a cost effective evil none the less.
Our tour started with two nights in Shimla, the historic summer capital of the Raj. We've been there before and we knew we'd love to go back again but I couldn't understand why the tour company were so determined to keep us away. The hotel they offered was in an area called Tara Devi, a sort of suburb (but not really) and most definitely not in Shimla itself. I argued that I wanted to be IN Shimla, not 20 minutes drive down the road and that if I had to pay more, then I'd pay more.
The multi-email argument went something like this:
Me: "Why are you trying to send me to a hotel so bad that the reviews on Tripadvisor are suggesting I'd be better to sleep in the car?
MakeMyTrip: thank you blah blah blah, have you noticed that we're ignoring you?
Me: Why can't I stay in Shimla instead of down the road?
MMT: La la la, we're not listening, when can we call you so you can give us all the money?
Me: You're not listening, are you? If I HAVE to stay in Tara Devi, you can stuff your suggestion and put me in the Sukh Sagar Regency instead.
MMT: OK, Sukh Sagar Regency it is.
See what I mean? A 'partial' success. I lost on location but won on the hotel. Seriously if you want to have a laugh sometime, go take a look at the Tripadvisor reviews for the Quality Inn Himdev in Shimla.
~We are all of us in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars~
My husband has a theory that he trots out every time we walk round our village. There's a beautiful old house that overlooks a block of ugly flats. Hubby's theory is that it would be better to live in the ugly flats looking at the gorgeous house rather than the other way round. I told myself that this would be the philosophy for our visit to the Sukh Sagar Regency - we would be in in the ugly part outside of Shimla but looking at the gorgeous view of the city. After all, if you stay in Shimla, you can't get a nice view of the place because you're already a part of that view.
We arrived late in the afternoon on the first day of our trip. We'd met our driver earlier in the day and were still in the phase of wondering if he didn't speak English or he was just the 'strong but silent' type. Mr Singh was a man of mystery. He'd never heard of the hotel and his face told us he was quite concerned about where MakeMyTrip were putting us. Luckily I knew Tara Devi would be on the road before we got to Shimla itself so I had my eyes open, watching out for it. My cry of "Mr Singh, Mr Singh, over there" was well timed to be just too late. We had to go up the road and come back down again. The sun was setting in the distance, a beautiful bright moon was rising above the mountains and I could see that the hotel would indeed have a great view over towards Shimla. I was ready to give it a go and hope for the best.
Once we parked up I wasn't quite so sure we'd done well when it became apparent that we'd turned up in the middle of a wedding party. Indian weddings are noisy affairs and music was pumping at speaker-distorting volume throughout the hotel. The reception was stuffed to bursting with wedding guests in glorious outfits. As two scruffy tourists who's been in the car for nine hours, we were seriously out-dressed.
Check in was fast and efficient with the hotel taking photocopies of our passports so we wouldn't have to stand around too long filling in the guest details. The staff on the reception were polite and friendly and later became life-savers in our attempts to communicate with Mr Singh, the driver but helping us to arrange the times to meet him. We were given room 404 on the second or third floor above the reception and headed up in the glass lift.
The reception area is an atrium reaching from ground level up to the top of the building. The upper floors are laid out around the atrium with the rooms off corridors which overlook the public areas below. This meant that there wasn't much protection from the noise greeting the party-goers and when we first arrived there were lots of children running around the corridors. However, once we were in our room we barely noticed any more noise.
The room was large with enormous windows which overlooked a tree-filled valley. We couldn't tell too much about the view until the next morning when the sun rose and we found that cricking our necks in one direction meant we could see the city of Shimla clinging to the mountainside in one direction, and looking the other direction would give us a view of Tara Devi train station, one of the tiny places where the equally tiny Kalka-Shimla toy train, one of the UNESCO World Heritage railways, stopped throughout the day. The train gives a glorious cheery hoot as it arrives and leaves which I loved to hear. If views are your 'thing' it's worth knowing that taking the lift to the fourth floor brings you to a roof terrace from which you can look across the valley towards Shimla and from which I might have got great night shots if I'd had a better tripod.
Back to the room which was furnished in a rather modern style and was surprisingly 'un-Indian'. The furnishings were a bit worn in places but the standard was good. In the entrance to the room the floor was tiled whilst the rest of the room had laminate flooring which is not something you see all that often in India. There were two soft chairs and a coffee table next to the windows from which we could enjoy the views. The bed was at least king-sized and had the lumpiest and most unpleasant mattress I've experienced in a long time. I like Indian mattresses as they tend to be quite firm but this was full of nasty lumps. These were not 'Princess and the Pea' type lumps - they were 'Am I lying on bags of cement?' lumps. The bed had a warm fleecy blanket in a bright design and a top sheet that was oddly too short for the bed so that our feet stuck out the bottom. Either side of the bed there was a large bedside table with a light. Had we needed it, there was an additional duvet in the wardrobe. Indians go to Shimla for the novelty of getting cold but to us it was warm enough to not need more than the fleecy blanket. There was a flat screen TV on the wall with a few English channels as well as a wall-mounted fan which would have been ideal in the mornings when the room warmed up very quickly as the sun came through the valley. Sadly the fan didn't work so it's a good thing we weren't in the room much during the day.
The bathroom was very odd. Almost all bathrooms in the type of hotels we use in India are pretty similar but this one was trying to be very different. The most noticeable thing was the glass wall between the main room and the bathroom. That's not all that unusual in Europe or USA where I've seen it done several times but for India it's very avant garde. This is the land where married couples barely know each other and people wear almost as many clothes in bed as in the street. It's not a place for titillating glimpses of flesh through a glass window. It's not a swanky risqué New Yorker like the Hudson Hotel (the first place I saw a glass bathroom wall nearly 10 years ago) Perhaps the hotel had realised that this wasn't going to fit their demographic and had added Venetian blinds to divide the bathroom and the main area. My suspicion that they were looking for the honeymoon trade was further piqued by the whirlpool bath. Baths are rarer than hens teeth in budget and mid-range hotels. Normally you get a shower head sticking out of the wall, no curtain, no cubicle and if you're lucky there's no electrical socket directly in the flow of the water. Not only was there a bath but a whirlpool. Very interesting!
But then the reality of being in India kicked in and we noticed that there was no plug in the bath or the sink and therefore there would be no bubbling going on. The shower head was one so low that you could really only have used it to rinse the shampoo out of your hair and any ideas of a normal 'over-bath' shower were clearly not going to be fulfilled by this arrangement. The bath was pretty much free standing although I don't think the manufacturers had intended that it be used that way. Therefore if you did try to shower in it, the water would have gone all over the place and been very difficult to mop up afterwards. My husband was in improvisational mode and managed to create a 'plug' by wedging part of a hot water bottle into the hole. (Don't ask - the reasons for the water bottles will become apparent in later reviews of this particular holiday. Just accept for now that for rather odd reasons we did have not one but two hot water bottles with us).
The rest of the bathroom was fine and more conventional. The tiling was in monochrome black and white with a strange pattern of pebbles on the tiles. The vanity unit was highly polished black basalt with a mirror above. The toilet was entirely normal and was clean and provided with lots of toilet roll. Best of all there was plenty of hot water. This might all sound like stuff you should take for granted
Our visit was at the end of October and we got our free wake-up every morning provided by the sun streaming through the windows. The curtains were useless at stopping this and I can imagine in the summer months when the hotel would be much more busy, nobody would get much sleep.
~Feeding our faces~
Our package included breakfast and dinner and on our first evening they rang to check if we wanted to order. We like to go to hotel restaurants to eat whilst it seems that most Indian guests prefer to eat in their rooms so we told the person on the phone that we'd be down shortly. The receptionist had told us that there'd be a buffet each evening and we could find it in the basement dining room but on our first day we assumed that there was no buffet due to the wedding guests all eating at the wedding party. In fact it seemed more likely that the buffet was only laid on when the hotel was particularly busy and since we were there in the low season, we only ever saw buffet breakfasts.
The dining room is enormous and we were the only people in it. The waiter showed us the details on the back of the menu which explained what we could have on our package. The best way to describe this would be that we were entitled to more food than we could have eaten if we each had three stomachs. On the first night we had a soup, three different curries - a dal, a veg curry and a paneer dish - plus rice, naan bread, salad and a pudding. The food quality was excellent although we were at the start of our holiday and more enthusiastic about tucking in than we would be a week or so later. The dal fry came in a brass bucket and there was about twice as much as we could manage. The aloo gobi (potato and cauliflower) was spectacular whilst the paneer pasanda was too creamy and bland for me but my husband liked it. For pudding we had hot gulab jamun which was a recurring theme of our holiday. There were other puddings available but it takes little more than the words 'hot gulab jamun' to make me deaf to everything that follows. On the second evening we skipped the soup and pudding and repeated the dal fry and aloo gobi which were both as good as the first time although the alternative paneer dish (paneer makhani) was almost as bland and disappointing as the previous day's dish. Neither alcohol nor meat were on the menu but I can't rule out that beer might have been available if we'd asked. It's often the case that a hotel restaurant will 'send a boy out' (often a little old fella of retirement age) and sneak a bottle or two under your table. We didn't try so I can't be sure.
Breakfast in the mornings was always a bit confusing and a lot more busy than dinner time. We took my cafetiere mug and ground coffee with us because my husband is sick of me moaning about crap coffee every time we go to India. The daily request for hot water was dealt with after some initial confusion and I was also able to get some hot milk from the breakfast buffet where it's the standard issue for your cornflakes. We ordered toast with jam and butter each morning and I skipped the buffet. I knew we wouldn't starve.
~Value for Money~
I don't know what our bill would have been if we'd paid it directly instead of as part of a package but the indications on the website give a standard rate for the dinner, bed and breakfast deal of approximately £71 for the two nights during the off season. It's reasonable to expect that the agency got a slightly better price than that. There's an additional 7.42% tax on top which we had to pay when we left as it wasn't included in our package.
If you want to visit Shimla - and I highly recommend that you do - I would urge you to stay in the city and not out at Tara Devi. It's about a 20 minute drive from Shimla and has the advantage of being a quieter area, but you'll miss out on the atmosphere by being so far away. You should also not consider staying in Tara Devi unless you've got your own transport as anything you might save on the hotel bill will be swallowed up by taxi fares. My assumption was that the company put us out in Tara Devi because we had a car and driver and they needed a place with a car park and driver accommodation and the city hotels tend to have neither. However, you can get a place out of the town with both that would be a lot closer.
The Sukh Sagar Regency has fantastic views, a restaurant serving really good food, and the rooms are more than acceptable especially if you get a room that doesn't have such an awful bed as room 404. I suspect we got more for our money than we would have if we'd been more centrally located but I still wish our tour organiser had been more willing to listen to what we wanted. The Sukh Sagar Regency is a nice enough hotel with very pleasant staff but there's no way round the problem that it's in the wrong place.
Note - there is a second hotel called the Sukh Sagar which is much closer to Shimla. Take care that you know which of the two hotels you're booking.
Sukh Sagar Regency
Near Goel Motors Taradevi, Shimla
Phone +91-98160-03322, 98162-03322,