Saturday, 23 February 2008

disappear 4


The first thing I do when I enter any hotel room for the first time is draw back the curtains and open the windows. The room is my first window in a new place, and I want to make sure I can see as much as possible.

The Yogi Lodge, in India’s old Varanasi city, had stained sheets, dusty walls and broken electric fans – but it also had a little window overlooking the city’s labyrinth of narrow lanes and the bathing ghats along the Ganges river.

Outside my five-dollar, no-towels-no-toilet-paper double room at the Ghandruk Guesthouse in Annapurna, Tibetan monks led by religious trumpeters and holy cows drifted past my open wooden shutters.

In the small mountain village of Darjeeling, where the exiled Dalai Lama made his yearly visit to the Tibetan refugee camp there, there’s a tiny hotel called Hotel 717 run by a friendly Tibetan family. I made a note of my room – No.103 – a corner, with huge glass windows and a breathtaking view of the Kanchanjunga.

On the island of La Corse, off the French Riviera, the room I stayed at the Calvi Youth Hostel- No. 6 – has a tiny terrace that opens out to a spectacular view of the Mediterranean sea, the hills on the shore and the constantly changing sky.

Sometimes, as in the case of the “deluxe room” at Hotel Simla in Jaisalmer, my hotel windows look out on nothing more interesting than a side alley, where kids play and adults work. Once on a trip to Goreme, Turkey, I got to stay in a cave embedded in a fairy chimney hill. The cave room, of course, had no marble tubs or gilded faucets or fresh orchids on the nightstand. But it had plenty of stunning views which were Unesco-listed.

At hotels like the Kuta Beach Resort in Bali or the Rasa Sayang in Penang, where massage and spa treatments are part of the guest’s daily programme, good sleep is almost guaranteed.

Likewise at monasteries that open their doors to travellers. In Bodhgaya, one of two Thai monasteries near the Mahabodhi temple, which provide lodging to guests and pilgrims, I fell serenely into dreams as a sonorous, buddhist chant by a choir of monks echoed in the distance – perhaps not Nirwana, but close enough for me.

Spot the cat in the Orthello town, Essaouira in Morocco.

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