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Starting in India: Lodging

When traveling to areas of the globe at the bottom echelons of tourism civilization, the hotel prices increase exponentially while quality decreases in tandem. The Lonely Planet normally breaks down hotels by Budget, Midrange, and Top End. There ought to be a "Shithole" category for India. In no other travel guide have I read about any city's lodging so many terrible things. Originally (and still primarily) a tool for "backpackers", the editors of the Lonely Planet usually have decent things to say about the budget accommodations. Not true for New Delhi.

How We Did It...

After hours upon hours of research to find the best hotel price to quality ratio, I convinced Andrea to try CouchSurfing. I'd had great success in Brazil and South Africa, why not India. Save more than a few bucks and get a local introduction to Indian society from the start. After a number of email conversations with a local woman, who had a few kids and a husband priest, I thought I'd found the perfect match for Andrea's first surfing experience. Though invited to stay our very first night, we opted for a hotel offering free taxi transportation from the far away airport after arriving just before midnight. It was at best average for US$65/night. In Cairo, Egypt, another expensive, dusty, dirty capital city, a cleaner place ran about half.

The following day, around noon as agreed, I gave our couch a ring. She was running out, but could wait for us if we came now. We packed up quickly, dodged our way through the dodgy part of town to the impossible to find metro station, and arrived within an hour to another unknowingly dodgy part of town. As we would come to find out, all areas of New Delhi are dodgy with a minor exception for embassy row. Another call and we're told she isn't available now to pick us up, but her cousin will. Over an hour later, he shows up. Friendly enough and with no other real options and in keeping an open mind, we followed him down the dirt path and alley ways to his apartment where we'll stay until his aunt arrives home in a couple hours.

Cousins apartment is below basic. There are four dirty single three inch mattresses in two dirty rooms. The toilet is outside on the balcony, no running water, cat-hole style. We'd watched an episode of An Idiot Abroad about India before the trip, this was worse. On the plus side, about 6 other backpackers had stuff strewn about so I figured (Andrea no) it safe enough. Just to be sure, we left last and kept a key ourselves.
The idea was to get lunch, but we nearly got lost instead. And then it happened. Andrea fell hard, tripping over one of the countless objects littered in the dirt street. Her knee bled and the first tears were shed.

Back at the apartment, our couch friend never came. Never called. Never apologized. Never emailed. Never nothing. We stayed up all night, surfing the internet on a super slow (supposed to be fast) broadband modem, looking for another place to stay. It was still all expensive, poorly reviewed places. Then by chance or miracle, we found a bed and breakfast far from the center of town, but easily accessed by the only modern amenity in New Delhi, the metro rail. As soon as the sun came up we "got the fuck out of there" and found our way to Shalu's.

We eventually survived 10 days of traveling through four different towns. The hotel prices improved, the cleanliness not so much.

If We Did It Again...

Save up those miles, points and book the best. India is trashed enough to worry about coming back to your hotel after long day in the hot sun to a dirty shower, filthy sheets, and mediocre service. Poor hotel experiences will not contribute to your understanding of India.

Lonely Planet, India, New Delhi, lodging, couchsurfing

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Posted By: Brendon 10/26/2011