“ Hotel and resort located just outside Aurangabad „
~Taking it Easy~
When planning our trip to India last year, I knew that it was likely that I'd have worn everyone out by the second week of our holiday. With the first week involving a lot of travel, several different destinations and some pretty intense transportation challenges, I wanted to make the second week more relaxed and easier for all concerned. I kept the plan fairly simple - flights from Delhi to Aurangabad, four nights there and then a flight back to Delhi to spend the last couple of days shopping and eating. With just a couple of big attractions in the Aurangabad area - the ancient cave temples at Ajanta and Ellora - we should be able to take things a bit easier. My sister's girlfriend suffers with chronic back pain and I suspected that things might get too much for her as the trip went on. Rather than book a cheap hovel in the city, I opted for a fancier 'resort' in the countryside about 15 minutes out of the city. The idea was that if she wasn't feeling up to another day stomping round ancient sites, she could stay at the hotel and be lazy - in fact we could ALL stay and be lazy but if she needed to be alone, she'd be comfortable. The usual places I book aren't ones where you really want to linger too long.
Options for relaxation without spending a fortune were surprisingly limited. I expected to have plenty of choice but it wasn't to be. The hotel 'space' that lay between 'dirt cheap' (less than £20 a night) and 'blow the budget' (anything over £100 a night) had few places to choose from and after a lot of deliberation, checking with my sister that she could afford it, checking sites to compare prices and eliminate a few on the basis of really bad reviews, I went for the Meadows Resort. I booked it through Venere (the first time I'd use them) and got a deal that included airport transfers. I did contact the hotel directly before booking to ask if they would like to match or better the Venere price and I was really surprised that nobody bothered to reply. If there had been more choice, I might well have gone elsewhere - so take note hoteliers, even if the answer is no, get back to people who ask you questions.
I paid 30,000 rupees (approx. £500) for four people for four nights and was relieved that the price quoted by Venere which came with a vague footnote that it 'may or may not include taxes' turned out to be exactly what we were charged. That's not something you can take for granted in India where taxes on hotels can be shocking.
Our flight from Delhi went via Mumbai where we were happy to not have to get off the plane. We stayed in our seats and they replaced the departing passengers with a set of new boarders. Things weren't going quite to plan and by the time we got to Aurangabad we were about an hour late. I didn't know how big the airport was or how patient the driver would be but as we bounced out of baggage reclaim and into the tiny arrivals area he was there, smart white suit, hat at a jaunty angle and holding a board with my name on. I apologised and he seemed genuinely unbothered by our lateness. He bundled us into a large white air-conditioned car, stuffed all the bags in the surprisingly big boot and drove us through the city and out to the hotel. First impressions of the city were not great and I felt pleased that we'd opted to stay in the countryside. We passed through the areas of the military 'cantonment' and eventually arrived at the hotel. Getting out of the hotel our eyes were caught by the frog pond full of fat basking frogs and then we headed into the reception building.
~A Warm Welcome~
The staff at the Meadows are ALWAYS smiley and rarely flappable. We were greeted by broad grins and head wobbles whilst we admired the very artistically designed reception desk. I handed over all the passports and filled in lots of forms and we were asked if we'd like to book a car for two days to take us sightseeing and - now that we'd realised we really were slap bang in the middle of nowhere, we decided it was a very good idea. For a price of 6000 rupees (about £100) the four of us would get a driver, a nice big car and two full days of being chauffered around. The receptionist advised us which of the two major attractions (the caves at Ellora and at Ajanta) were closed on which day and we went away to consider when we'd do our touring. With three full days available and two days to sight-see we eventually opted for just being plain lazy on day one, going to Ellora on day two and on the longer trip to Ajanta on day three.
We were led through the gardens to our cabins, stopping to admire the wildlife. If you like birds, butterflies and especially squirrels, then you'll love spending time at the Meadows. For softies like me, there's also the charming prospect of the hotel's own flock of snowy white bunnies to be seen but on our arrival day all of that lay ahead of us.
The porter took us to two adjoining bungalows which shared a large terrace with a screen of small trees that acted as a magnet to the tiny nectar sucking birds. We also had a smaller bush which became our 'laundry bush' - I did a big batch of hand washing on our rest day at the hotel and draped most of it over the bush - taking care to hang my undies on the bungalow side so I wouldn't upset the locals.
~Home Sweet Home~
The cabins were cute although we joked that they were like an up-market Butlins holiday camp and were a bit too 'Milton Keynes Modern' in style. Our cabin had a lovely dark wood floor and two dark bamboo single beds which were easy to push together and make a bigger one. All the other furniture was also dark bamboo - two arm chairs, a third dark rattan chair, a bedside table, a higher table with a couple of drawers, a TV stand, a cupboard with shelves and hanging space and a good double sized bag stand.
We had three windows and four Roman blinds (two on the biggest window) and only two of the four actually worked. It's a mystery to me why any hotel would use such window coverings; we have them at home and no visitor who ever comes to stay can ever make them work properly.
The bathroom was almost entirely marble but with what I always call 'tombstone' marble - the heavy white and grey stuff. We had a bath and no attachment for the shower head so this made showering a bit of a hit and miss and rather wet business leading to lots of flooding, but the drainage was good and we didn't suffer for the lack of a normal shower. My sister got a proper shower but her room had a dodgy geyser that tripped out each time they used it. The reception kept sending out men to climb on the roof or wield screw-drivers and fix it for a few hours only for it to go wrong again soon after. I can't fault their determination to keep trying to fix it and I'm glad they didn't just allocate them to a different cabin as we'd have missed them but they seemed to take it all in good spirit. Mind you the temperatures were so high that lukewarm showers weren't necessarily a bad thing.
The towels were large ones and they were changed every day even though we hung them up for reuse. Shampoo, bubble bath and body lotion were supplied. The bathroom could have been a mosquito trap as the louvered window over the bath didn't shut fully but we kept the lights off in the bathroom when it wasn't being used and I didn't experience any of those nightmares of sitting on the loo listening to the doodle-bug drone of a mosquito fearing that when it stopped it would be biting an exposed part of you.
Talking of mosquitoes, I did quite well at the Meadows. After being eaten alive up in the mountains I don't think I got any new bites at the Meadows. Each room was provided with a plug in mozzy-vapour doo-dad although we did have to go and ask for the tablets that it heats up on the first night. After that we came back each day to find a new tablet had been placed on the vaporiser for us. Electricity supply didn't fail once in the 4 days we were there which has to count as some kind of record for the many Indian hotels we've stayed in.
~You say 'faults', I say 'character'~
Not everything was perfect - but to be honest, if perfection is important to you, there's a £300-per-night Taj hotel in Aurangabad that might be more your style. I rather enjoy and indeed celebrate the absurdities of Indian hotel mistakes and inconsistencies and the enthusiasm and helpfulness of the staff more than made up for any technical difficulties.
The first of these difficulties became apparent shortly after check-in. I read in our hotel guide folder that wi-fi was available if you just call reception for access. No access! I took my computer to reception thinking that maybe the chap on the phone just hadn't understood me. The guy on reception gave me one of those reassuringly oblique head wobbles and said "No madam, No wi-fi. Not working". I asked if it was just that day that it wasn't working of if it was never working. He smiled and nodded and admitted that it hadn't been working for a while and might not be working whilst we were there and then he offered me the use of the hotel's computer. He led me into the manager's office, chucked an underling off the computer to make way for me, turned on the aircon and offered me a drink and just left me to use the hotel's computer. There's an element of trust in all of that which goes beyond what I'd expect in any European hotel.
On our last day I needed to go back and check the instructions for meeting the driver for our final hotel but that time even the main hotel computer had lost its service. "Problem with the signal tower madam". That's India. However, when we went to finally check out, he threw another chap off the computer so I could have a final look - "We are here only for you Madam" he said which I thought was a lovely philosophy although hubby joked that was possibly true since we suspected we'd been the only people in the entire resort that morning).
On the first morning Joyce, my sister's girlfriend needed tea. She's of Irish ancestry and can't function in the morning without a brew before she gets up. I told her that the folder said she could order room service and a pot of tea would cost 70 rupees. So she rang the reception and asked for tea and was told "No madam, no room service, must go to restaurant". So she trotted off to the restaurant in her pyjamas to ask for two cups of tea. The restaurant manager was confused.
Joyce: Hello, I wanted room service, two cups of tea
Manager (wobbling head from side to side): Madam, no room service.
Joyce: Yes, I know. Can I have two cups of tea. I'll wait.
Manager: Of course but no need to wait mam, I'll bring them to your room
Joyce (silently): arrrrgggggghhhhhhh
Luckily when the waiter delivered the tea he asked her why she didn't have a kettle in the room. This then led her to realise that perhaps such things existed and might be obtainable. Joyce then marched off to the reception to enquire about the possibility of getting a kettle if that wasn't too much trouble. I suspect that kettles might have been something only provided in the more expensive rooms but the receptionist clearly didn't want to disappoint the little lady. That afternoon a very earnest chap turned up with two brand spanking new kettles, clearly ones that the hotel had sent someone out to buy for us. These were delivered along with cups, saucers, tea bags, coffee sachets and so on and proudly assembled on the tables in our rooms. Suddenly all was very much back to being alright with the world.
~Eating and Drinking~
We ate a lot at the restaurant - sometimes indoors and sometimes outside on the terrace which offered fantastic views of the morning rabbit feeding ceremony. I think on our last morning the restaurant supervisor actually asked the security men who look after the bunnies to get them out especially for us. My sister suggested that the job ad for a Meadows security guard might well read 'Wanted - Security Guards. Must be good with bunnies'. The hotel has a flock of snow-white long eared pink eyed bunnies and clearly everyone at the hotel adores these little critters. The ladies who do the gardening would stop to watch them jumping around, the restaurant staff came out to join us and I felt a bit sorry for the three kittens who live in the bush outside the restaurant and play hide and seek with the waiters, sneaking in whenever the windows are open to play chase amongst the table legs.
The food and prices were OK. On our first night we excitedly scanned the menu with its wide range of international options only to be brought back to earth when the manager said 'Today, Indian only'. So hubby and I picked a fish dish only to be told 'Fish not fresh today Madam'. On the second evening again it was 'Today, Indian only' but the fish was on again so we had that. Joyce is a little boozer and would go loopy over how long it took to get a cold beer. This resulted in us entering the restaurant and her ordering beer before her bottom hit the dining chair. He favourite waiter was a tall skinny chap that she nick-named Freddy, due to a slight likeness to a young Freddy Mercury. My sister liked the waiter they named 'Wiggy' (because his hair was cut like an ill-fitting wig) who spoke very good English. On our third and fourth nights a buffet was available that was mostly Chinese food. Why? Because a Japanese tour party was staying. It's a bit like saying "Here come some Canadians, let's give them a Mexican banquet" but we were just quite glad of a change and they served hot gulab jamun with ice-cream For hot gulab jamun, I can forgive almost anything.
~Pools and Wildlife~
The hotel has a pool - in fact it has two; a shallow one for children and a deeper one for adults and older children. We only saw it used once during our visit - and that was when we were in it. Three very pale pinky women bobbing around in a swimming pool was clearly a source of some amusement, especially to the four skinny little lads who came to join us in the pool and were immediately told by the pool guard (who was busy moving plastic chairs and stripy towels around the pool trying to guess where we might get out) not to bother us. The signs by the pool say that you can only swim between 6 am and 10 am and between 4 pm and 8 pm - at this time of year it gets dark at about 6 pm so that's why we only made it in the one day but it was a very nice pool.
There's also a gym which my sister reported to be 'very impressive' when she learned that the man who keeps the key to the hotel's 'library' is also the man who runs the gym. She went in search of books about Indian birds and was shown around the gym too. There's a spa that offers massages and other treatments but we weren't tempted and I'm not entirely sure if it was open. We had the impression that this was very much the slow season and on the first couple of nights I doubt there were 10 guests in the entire place. This picked up on the last two nights but it was still very quiet.
The peace and quiet was much appreciated and we spent a lot of time doing very little. Watching the tiny nectar eating sun-birds in the bushes outside our terrace took up many hours, as did laying out food for the squirrels and trying to make videos of their activity. Playing spot the kittens by the restaurant, waiting to see the rabbits at feeding time, scaring the frogs and chatting to Gordon and Mrs Gordon the cabin's gecko family, were all very pleasant ways to pass the time when we weren't off visiting Ellora and Ajanta.
The staff were all friendly and helpful. Not everyone understood us but I guess that at that time of year they don't see many European tourists. We were very well treated and I think the staff found us just as entertaining as we found them. I'm guessing not all their visitors do their washing and dry it in the sun on a bush outside their cabin. Most probably don't ask to watch the bunnies every day or demand non-existing room service. Not everything worked all the time but that didn't matter. We're pretty laid back visitors and we had a lovely time just watching the birds and taking it very easy. Whether you love The Meadows or not will depend on you more than on the hotel.
Airport or train station transfers are included in the prices. If you plan a shorter visit, I would suggest to pre-book your car and driver for the Ajanta and Ellora visits as we had the impression this was the main hotel car and if someone booked it first, you could miss out. And believe me, there's not much in Aurangabad worth a 4 day visit if you miss those two attractions.