28 Dec 2013

28 Dec 13 - A Tale Of Two Hotels

During the Indian trip, I stayed in a variety of Indian hotels & occasionally homestays & found the standards were highly variable, with no relationship between price, quality, facilities or interest in the staff in doing their job. No more was this highlighted than after the afternoon flight from the Andamans. Unfortunately, due to flight schedules we had to overnight in Chennai. I had thought that in a big city, that we would have been put in to a decent hotel, given the vast choice of hotels on offer.

We ended up getting the Checkers Hotel. While it looks OK from the outside, its a dire hotel, that I wouldn't touch again with a bargepole. Also it was the about the most expensive hotel I stayed in India. Having checked in, we were given a room with no internet or hot water. Both of which we were assured by the check in desk were working. We were then told to run the hot water for 10 minutes & it would work. This was followed by 30 minutes of various people trying it (everybody involved had to run it for themselves rather than examine the evidence, that it hadn't started getting hot over all the previous attempts). At that point, with 4 hopeless jobsworths in suits as well as other non suited staff, they finally listened to our initial demand of a different room. Eventually they cleaned another room & we repeated the same farce with the water (& still broken internet). I started to think we were in an Ealing Comedy at this point. Then we finally tricked one of the suits into admitting they don't turn the boiler on till the evening & it was still late afternoon at this time (its cheaper not to heat the water): this is clearly ridiculous for a hotel with several hundred rooms. So I fail to see why they didn't tell us that rather than go through all the rigmorale of moving us. While I saw on a number of occasions, good clear action to problems if you got to speak to a hotel owner, then the reverse in India also occurs when you get hotels staffed by staff who clearly can't take ownership for even simple things. Eventually, the water was hot, but only by mid evening & the internet was finally started later that day. The respect the staff had for the place was summed up by Brian catching the floor attendant spitting onto the carpet on our way to a very mediocre buffet meal. Still it gave me the opportunity to provide my first honest, but blunt, feedback on Trip Advisor & as I started booking my own hotels later in the trip, I started paying more attention to feedback on Trip Advisor. I big sign of the changing world as travelling a few years ago, all my accommodation info used to come from birding reports or the Lonely Planet guide (which rarely emerged from the rucksack).
Wall decorations: These lovely??? 3D paintings summed up the Checkers Hotel - note, they really were at these odd angles & weren't moved to give a bad impression (just another example of lack of care by the hotel room staff)
It was almost a pleasure when the alarm went off at 04:00 so we could get to the airport for the 05:50 flight to Coimbatore. The flight went well & by 07:30 we were being met by our bird guide, Vinod, & driver, Georgie, for the next leg of the trip. But first we had a 4 or 5 hour journey to get to Jungle Hut, our first accommodation.

The drive from Coimbatore was initially dull, as we travelled through over populated & run down towns and little nice habitat. But after an hour or two of driving, we stopped at a small lake with bushes around it. As we left the vehicle we were greeted by warnings from both Vinod & Georgie, about keeping an eye on where we stepped. Always an important thing in rural India, especially near water, but we were experienced travellers in the Subcontinent & already looking down. A selection of commoner water birds & passerines were added to the trip list.
Shikra: The common Western Ghats Accipter
Blyth's Reed Warbler: Get this & Greenish Warbler clearly establish to your eyes & ears as they are the 2 common reference Warblers in the Western Ghats
Brahminy Myna: Another stunning Starling
After more dull plains, we reached the start of the Nilgiri hills and started to climb rapidly into the hills towards Ooty. There was a lot of tree cover on both sides of the road & plenty of Bonnet Macaques watching what was happening on the roads. About half way up, we stopped for some tea at a tea plantation shop.
Tea Plantation Stop 
Some of the local Nilgiri teas: I particularly liked the Nonsuch Tea, would have been ideal to go with the Nonsuch Service in the Chennai hotel
Bonnet Macaque: This species replaces Rhesus Macaque in Southern India
Continuing up the road, we reached the high hill top town of Ooty, before dropping down on the drier East slope and after another hour or so, we reached our accommodation, Jungle Hut, for the next 2 nights. What a contrast to the previous night. We were greeted on our arrival by Vivek, who runs the place along with the rest of his friendly & attentive team. The immediate feeling is that if something isn't right or you need something, you just had to ask & it would happen. But the chances are things weren't going to go wrong, as they were quietly, but efficiently keeping everything very well run. This is a great place to get away to for a few days with excellent food & organisation. Apart from us it was mainly well heeled Indian families staying for the New Year & talking to them most had been coming back from years: again another good sign of a well run place. Plenty of local birds & mammals made it even better.
Jungle Hut: The main building with the restaurant & bar
Jungle Hut: There are 4 rooms in each well spaced out accommodation hut
Jungle Hut: The view of the Nilgiri ridge
After lunch, it was time to explore the camp for some of the commoner camp species.
Greenish Warbler: The other staple Western Ghats Warbler to thoroughly learn
Asian Brown Flycatcher: A few were seen around Jungle Hut
Oriental Magpie Robin: Male
Oriental Magpie Robin: Female
Jungle Crow: The taxonomy of Jungle Crows in more complicated in the Subcontinent according to Rasmussen (this is Indian Jungle Crow, separated from the Eastern Jungle Crow of the Andamans), but Clements currently lumps them all as Jungle Crow
House Sparrow: No prizes for identify this species