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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Would You Stay In A Hotel Named Eros?

The Delhi subway system is fast and cheap-- but best avoided unless there are riots up top

Not counting teenage hitchhiking adventures to Canada and Mexico, the first time I traveled abroad was right after my 20th birthday. My girlfriend and I got special $99 tickets on Iceland Air for Luxembourg. (If you stopped over in Iceland, you got the $99 price-- and we were delighted to stop over in Iceland and spend a week driving around the dramatic lunar-scape of an island.) Anyway, when we got to Luxembourg we had no idea where to go or what to do. The next day we had to take a train to Weisbaden in Germany to pick up our VW van. So we checked into a cheap hotel near the central station that seemed, in the dark night, medieval and charming. It turned out to be one of those hotels where working girls brought their tricks for an hour. You live and you learn.

So I'm in Delhi for a week, waiting for Roland, enjoying India's fantastic capital-- great sites, nice weather, old friends, amazing restaurants and a wonderful place to get used to India before moving on to more exotic parts of the country. I was last here 2 or 3 years ago and I stayed at the Intercontinental and loved it. It was the least expensive 5-star hotel in town and it was a hassle-free enjoyable week for me and, most important, it was really close-- 10-15 minute walk-- to the center of town (Connaught Place). So, of course, I wanted to book us rooms there for this trip. But it was gone. Online, the hotel had ceased to exist. I finally tracked it down and it was now called Eros. That put me off. Was it some kind of weird sex hotel for Arabs and sleazy Indians? No, as further investigation showed me, it is heavily advertised as being managed by Hilton. OK, I figured Eros must mean something different in India.

It's part of the Eros Group and, as their website says, it's "a company, which needs no introduction!" Apparently they're giants in the real estate industry and in the hotel world as well. "Hospitality Industry (Eros Hotel Managed by Hilton at Nehru Place, Shangri-La's-- Eros Hotel at Connaught Place, Hotel Double Tree and Hotel Hilton at Mayur Vihar- city's most prestigious 5 star deluxe hotels)-- are an absolute spectacle of immaculate architecture. Group is also coming up with a new Residential Township-- Eros Sampoornam (25 acres) in Greater Noida (Noida Extension) and five star hotels-- Eros Radisson Blue Hotel (72000 sq ft) in Faridabad and RJS Hotel (4.5 acres). With more than six decades as a leading maestro in real estate promotion and town planning, the Eros Group ranks as the natural choice for smart decision makers like you. With Eros Group one can take excellent complex environment for granted." OK, what could go wrong?

The hotel's website says it's "centrally located at Nehru Place, with easy access to business and tourist destinations." Sounded like the place I stayed in, although I wasn't 100% positive. I called and they said, yes, they took over the old Intercontinental. The price was decent and the on-line reviews sounded fine. When I got here, it was 4AM and it looked the same. Emirates Air-- the most over-hyped airline ever-- had a car drive me from the airport to the hotel and it didn't seem like he was going the right way, but what the heck. Most of these cookie cutter business hotels seem the same and they were kind enough to check me in at 4AM. The room looked exactly the same as the Intercontinental, although the place seemed very remodeled. It wasn't until the next day-- when I tried walking to Connaught Place for lunch-- that I figured out I was 10 miles from Connaught Place and that there had been two Intercontinentals and that the one I had stayed in is now the Lalit Hotel.

This one doesn't suck-- except for their internet use scam. It's just not a hotel I would normally stay in if there were better choices (which, in Delhi, there are-- dozens of better choices). Roland arrived a few days after I did on the same Emirates flight that got him here at 4AM. Instead of welcoming him and showing him to his room after an 18 hour flight, they figured he would be ripe for a rip-off and told him it was be $200 to allow him into his room before 8AM. Luck of the draw. I had a kind desk clerk; Roland got a crook. (When we complained to the manager she told me that Roland's experience was the normal one and that what had happened to me was "impossible.")

Roland pays attention to toiletries and he says the hotel's stuff-- by Peter Thomas Roth-- is top notch. I never heard of them. What I do know is that the hotel charges $10/day for their internet connection and their internet connection is beyond horrible. It's barely useable and, on average, it takes me 20-30 minutes to open and e-mail and reply. Something like 75% of the replies then vanish. Google mail works better than AOL, which has been almost impossible to use here. Twitter and reddit don't function at all and basically, if it isn't google-related, it doesn't work. Most of the name there's no connectivity. A couple goofs from the IT Department came up to my room and installed a booster, which didn't do any good at all.

Instead of a 10-15 minute walk to Connaught Place, it's a 20 minute subway ride (with a transfer). I don't remember Delhi-- or anyplace in India-- even having a subway system. Turns out this one got started in 2002, although the line out to where I am opened in 2010. They're still building. It's the most crowded subway I've ever been on anywhere... ever. Words can't describe. They haven't quite figured out how to sell tickets-- which involves gigantic lines and amazing amounts of wasted time. This being India, the world's most defiantly dysfunctional place, they don't allow you to buy return trips. Fortunately, the first car on every train is strictly reserved for women. If you don't think that's important, the biggest story in Delhi for the week we've been here so far-- dominating the front page and next 4 pages of every newspaper-- is about a young woman who was gang-raped on a bus and how common it is for women to be sexually harassed. The whole city had practically been shut down by the protests over the episode and the woman was so brutally assaulted that she may die and has already had her intestines removed.

People blame the police because they spend such an inordinate amount of their assets protecting a couple hundred VIP families and leaving the rest of society to fend for itself. What's odd about that is that Delhi is the most paranoid city I've ever been in when it comes to security. Every opportunity there is for a pat-down and an x-ray machine, you find someone patting you down and x-raying you. Every subway station, every hotel, every bank... these people are insane. The real lack of security is that the subways are so packed with sick people that disease must spread like wildfire all the time. Every time I get off one I take a few Mushroom Science Immune Builders, my own kind of paranoia prevention. It didn't do any good in the end and I came down with a bad cold or something.
The Metro got us to Chandi Chawk, the main drag of Old Delhi, a short and fascinating walk from Jama Masjid, the biggest mosque in India, completed in 1656 and pictured (with me in the foreground) above

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