Monthly Archives: March 2009

Taking the Stand: IHR Supports Earth Hour

On the appointed day of March 28, 2009, at 8.30 pm local time, citizens across 1637 cities of the world would take a decisive step forward towards improving the climate of the mother earth. Earth Hour 2009 touted to be the biggest voluntary power shutdown in the history is an exemplary action towards making earth a better place.

IHR supports Earth Hour initiative

IHR supports Earth Hour initiative

We at IndiaHotelReview.com wholeheartedly support this unique effort and appeal to our clients, customers and all other friends in the travel fraternity to take a pledge towards making lesser Carbon Foot prints. We are for Green Travel what about you?

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Writing the Journey: Kolkata’s Neighbouring Gateways

Imagine this, having returned from a long and tiring trip you report to the office and immediately you are asked to put your thoughts into the word processor so that the whole world reads about the places you have seen.

Sounds easy isn’t it? But life is not on a high for a travel writer with IHR. Most of the time on a short trip, you are challenged with how to squeeze more information in the minimum time. You need the best of photographs capturing the slice of a culture in a single snapshot along with the regular attractions, loads of information about the hotels- rates, accommodation et al, distances along with fares and most importantly reproducing the same excitement and movements of a trip that more often than not makes you feel how farcical about the line “be a Travel Writer and get paid to see the world”.

This time the places assigned were as diverse as Mayapur Dham, Darjeeling, Pelling and Gangtok all within 10 days which meant absolutely no time for any relaxation and traveling leisurely.

My first stop was Kolkata’s Sealdah station. A bustling place, which comes to buzz early in the morning, a scene quite contrary to Delhi’s way.

Road Near Sealdah Station early morning

Road Near Sealdah Station early morning

My first destination was Mayapur Dham the birthplace of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. I took the first local train available for Navadweep the nearest railway station for Mayapur Dham. Navadweep is around 2 and a half hours journey from Sealdah.Navadweepa as I found hold on its own as a tourist attraction for a variety of temples and Vaishnava Mathas.

Sri Devananda Goudiya Math at Sri Dham Navadweep

Sri Devananda Goudiya Math at Sri Dham Navadweep

From Navadweep to get to Mayapurdham the best option is to cross the expansive Ganges on a boat from the jetty. Braving a boat ride along with people, cycles and livestock which was no mean task in itself but listening to the unfamiliar conversation amid bit of trepidation was an altogether new experience.

Boat Ride from Navadweep to Mayapur Dham on the Ganga River

Boat Ride from Navadweep to Mayapur Dham on the Ganga River

From Mayapur a short Rickshaw Ride took me to the famed ISKCON Temple complex. Spread over hundreds of acres, the place is far removed from the stark reality outside the temple precincts.It was a solemn place with large number of foreigners all with big tilak on their foreheads and wearing Dhotis and white Saris chanting prayers throughout the day.

The ISKCON Temple at Mayapur Dham

The ISKCON Temple at Mayapur Dham

Finished with the ISKCON Temple I headed for Krishna Nagar by a local bus to get a convenient train ride back to Kolkata. An ingenuity of a vendor selling Lassi using the railings as racks for keeping his wares caught my attention and I could not resist taking a snap.

Ingenuity of a Lassi vendor at the Krishn Nagar Railway Station

Ingenuity of a Lassi vendor at the Krishn Nagar Railway Station

Back to Kolkata and I was on Kanchenjungha Express ready to venture to my next set of destinations. Darjeeling, Pelling and Gangtok. For Darjeeling I had to get down at the NJP station. NJP or NEW Jalpaiguri station is the gateway to the North East. As It was not a tourist season ( It was during February) the station gave a secluded look and the railway over bridge was one of the most clean I found on the railway station in india.

The clean Foot over bridge at NJP Station

The clean Foot over bridge at NJP Station

Plenty of taxies are available at the NJP railway station for Darjeeling. The 4 hours drive in a share Taxi through the picturesque sceneries and not so comfortable roads cost me Rs 220. The route bypasses the Siliguri Town and links to national highway 55 for Darjeeling. Darjeeling is really beautiful and with the arrival of the malls and multiplexes does not look that much of an isolated hill station.

A busy Darjeeling morning

A busy Darjeeling morning

IF you are South Indian and love Tea then these two things should excite you. Hotel Lunar in the heart of the city provides sumptuous South Indian specialties and Tawang Tea Stall sells finest quality Darjeeling Tea at Rs 5 per cup.

My next destination was Pelling in Sikkim 120 kilometers from Darjeeeling. Tourists to Pelling should note here one or two vital things that I found out. (i) There are no direct vehicle available for Pelling from Darjeeling during off seasons .(ii) You have to reach a place called Jorethang almost midway (iii) From Jorethang you do not get any vehicle for Pelling after 4 in the evening.

Pelling at around 6800 feet is a beautiful place and relatively peaceful perhaps also as I was not in the height of the tourist season. Again a piece of information for travelers, I was told that after 2 pm you can’t get any vehicle for outside from Pelling. This puts a lot of discomfiture to harried travelers like me.

Finally my last destination was Gangtok the capital of Sikkim at a distance of around 120 km from Pelling. Gangtok is a beautiful place and moves at a leisurely pace with no body in any hurry.

MG Marg of Gangtok invigorates with a relaxed pace

MG Marg of Gangtok invigorates with a relaxed pace

From Gangtok plenty of transportation is available for different places. After spending a night I Traveled back to NJP in a share Taxi for Rs 350 and took North east express for Delhi to end my sojourn in the east and north east India.

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Right Answers to Right Questions: Things to ask Travel Operators

In a continuing effort to bring our clients more close to us and stay put to our policy of transparency, openness and accountability we have compiled a list of 10 posers that you must know from us at IndiaHotelReview.com or for that matter from any online travel agency/travel agent online or otherwise. Asking these right questions before undertaking a travel can save you money and remorse. Here are they.

The total cost of the package: The package part can be fragmented to include the following. (a) Does the quoted price include taxes and surcharges? (b) Whether booking fee for components like tickets (air/train) is applicable separately instead of just single fee for the complete package(c) for payments made through credit cards is there any transaction charge applicable. (d) For any modification / cancellation of the plan is there a fee applicable.

Our take: Let’s come to the answers one by one. (A) Make sure that your travel agent specifies this explicitly. At IHR, currently the packages we sell are inclusive of all the applicable taxes and surcharges including Luxury Tax, Service Tax et al. You need not pay a single penny to any hotel for the inclusions in the package. There are no hidden “T & C” applicable in our packages. (B) Since we specialize in hotel bookings and packages anything extra like airline ticketing or train ticket reservation will be extra over and above the package price currently. (C) Though we have to make a payment of around 2.25% to the payment gateways for processing each transaction through credit card payments but we do not charge any additional transaction fees from our clients. (D) Yes we do charge clients for any modification or cancellation of the original package plan this is currently Rs 250 per modification.

Reading the fine prints: Often overlooked but the following innocuous teasers can seriously impact your travel itinerary, (a) How near is near? (b) Whether entrance fees needs to be paid for the tourist spots in sightseeing.

Our take: This is an area where there is a lot of misinterpretation of facts indulged in by the online travel agents. As an informed traveler you must be aware of these trappings and learn to pose straight questions.
(A) For example take the case of Coastal places. There is a tendency among the agents to pass every property as “on the beach”. “On the beach” essentially means that as you step out of your hotel you are on the beach. This is available only for a few hotels at choicest locations in India like Goa and that too for a few luxury properties. So for a place like say Pondicherry “on the beach” actually means that the property might be beach facing. This is typically a problem associated with every garden/hill/valley facing hotel accommodation.
Another example can be given is for a place like Haridwar. Suppose your package says “Hotel located near Ganga” On actually reaching the place you find the property is actually 5 km away from one of the Ghat. Instead it would have made lot of sense if it had said near “Har Ki Pauri”as it is in close proximity to Ganga. Nearness can be misleading, especially if you are traveling with senior citizens and children. Starting from 500 meters, 1 km to 5 km “nearness is taken for a toss. You must ask specifically for the exact distance or a landmark.
(B) In the IHR packages the fees for entrance to attractions wherever applicable depends on the location and your request. For example say for Corbett wildlife packages the cost of arranging Safari or angling is included in few of the packages or for example the cost of arranging for the permits to access Nathula pass in Sikkim tour. However we do not include the cost of entrance fees for a visit to say a Museum or art gallery until and unless requested by the client.

Price plan of the Package: Do the packages follow a transparent pricing plan. (a) Can the customer get a break up price of the packages (b) Is choice of hotels allowed
Our take: IHR follows a transparent pricing plan. There is transparency in the sense that we strictly follow a “what you see that you pay” kind of structure in our packages. These are all inclusive packages with no additional charges. We do not follow opaque pricing. Now to the questions (A) we do give the exact breakups of different heads that makeup our packages if asked for by the client while booking. It generally consists of the following heads. i. Pickup and drop from station or airport (wherever applicable), ii. Cab for local sightseeing available on disposable our hourly basis and accommodation (B) While booking the properties we give the customer a choice of property among 3 or 4 hotels, once booked it then cannot be altered.
Dealing with the meals: Food plays an important role in the travel plans it can make or mar your travel. Do not forget to ask your travel operator the following questions. (a) Is there a choice between a buffet and a ala carte( b) Is the religious/regional preferences taken care of. (c) In modified American plan, can one switch meals at one’s will?
Our take: (A) Unless it’s a star property specifically 2 star and above Buffet meals are not viable. These too depends on factors like seasons, capacity etc. So in most cases if meals are included it’s a la carte with a restriction on number of dishes and quantity in accordance with average diet.
(B) You must ask clearly to your operator about the religious/regional preferences. Competitive pricing of the hotel mostly does not allow non-veg food. For budget hotels it is mostly vegetarian meals that are provided.In religious places depending upon the preference Jain/Gujarati Thalis can generally be arranged. However you have to put forth your preferences within a reasonable time. (C) Let’s understand the meal plan of hotels first. Essentially there are 4 types of plans. In the American plan or AP 3 meals are offered –breakfast, lunch and dinner. In the Modified American Plan or MAP along with a breakfast there is a choice between lunch and dinner. The 3rd plan is the continental pan or CP where only breakfast is provided. Last is the European plan this is most common with no meals provided.
Now coming to modified American plan as there is a choice between lunch and dinner but switching meals at one’s discretion is generally not advised. This is because most of the hotels especially smaller ones operate with a lot of constraints like, seasonal demands, veg/non-veg preferences of the guests, time needed for preparation. So unless it’s a very big/busy hotel advance information is must. Chances are there that popular Hotels with more footfalls may handle your last minute requests of meals.

On Sightseeing: This is an area where there is much confusion and a source of potential trouble brewing between the customer and the travel agent. Some questions that arise include (a)What is type of cab offered (b) Is there a choice of places that one can see (c) Are AC cabs available for sightseeing (d) Is there any guide to assist in local sight seeing.
Our Take: (A) Cabs play decisive role in traveling, FYI cabs are available on disposal basis and cabs on km and hourly basis. (B) IHR generally follows the trend of including the most popular options in local sightseeing. These range from the most attractive places. Again, if a customer has given us his preferences beforehand we can consider that also depending on the cost and time factor. Things like location, weather, season and local conditions may play crucial role in the choices. (C) Choice is available for ac/ non ac cars which you need to specify, however for a hill station non ac cars are provided as a thumb rule and air conditioned cabs can be arranged only on special requests (D) Due to constraint of seating capacity of the vehicle and cost, the chauffeur generally doubles up as a guide.
Emergencies and Refunds: (a) Is there anyone to call incase of emergencies (b) No. of days to get refunds
Our Take: (A) We do provide local contact number of the Hotels/ Cab persons whom you can call on emergencies besides we are available 6 days week from 10- 7 pm.(B) The terms and condition of refund is mentioned in the voucher again depending on season the refund process can take additional time.

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Bollywood calling Backpackers

The past 2, 3 days were simply amazing for IHR. After we launched the Bollywood packages and a new website bollywood.indiahotelreview.com we were little tentative about the acceptability to the masses as well as to the media of such a daring and niche venture. Putting all apprehensions to rest the media actually lapped up our idea. We are all over the print as well as on the worldwide web. So all our efforts in research and then putting together all the information in bits and pieces to make people familiar with the innovative concept of set jetting has paid off.
During this whole course we understood that to put an idea or a sudden spark to work requires formidable effort. This is especially true for finding out the details about the shooting locations of Hindi films in India. To our utter dismay and disbelief we found that we may be going  gaga about the Hindi films and the Bollywood stars but very little  information is available about the exact shooting location and spots where the scenes or songs were shot.
So a Ram Nagar near Bangalore which provided the ideal location for Gabbar’s Den in the greatest ever blockbuster Sholay or Gondal near Rajkot where Sanjay Leela Bhanshali’s magnum opus Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam starring Aisharya, Salman and Ajay were shot remains largely in oblivion ensconced under the burden of the film’s star cast and charisma.
Our endeavour was to bring those places out of the closet and showcase them to the discerning travelers who also happen to be bollywood fans.
So for example you may be a Shahrukh fan and is greatly enamoured like most of Indians by the Chaiyya Chaiyya song, however you had no inkling where the famous train sequence was shot or whether the whole thing was real or done in a set. Or for that matter where on earth was the place where Aamir sung and danced his heart out in “ Masti ki Pathshala”
These coupled with the “hurt” that what Hrithik Roshan did to put New Zealand tourism back on track after the stupendous success of “Kaho Na Pyar Hai” or for that matter Britain cashing in on Bollywood’s frequent escapades into Brtish territories with films like Namastay London or Cheeni Kam the Amitab Bachchan starrer, in comparison to that our Indian locations are hardly talked about or finds much favour with a film crazy Indians.
We are trying to bring Bollywood locations on the tourist map of India, at par with the hugely popular concept of set jetting in the west. With Oscars conquered the Bollywood beckons the world.

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