A Really Cheap Hotel in Bombay

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A Really Cheap Hotel in Bombay

The Delight Guesthouse is really more of a boarding house that a true hotel. While it may not be the cheapest in all of Bombay, it’s certainly the cheapest I’ve been able to find in the popular Colaba district, where most rooms go for $20 a night or more. I’m paying $9, and as in most things in life, you usually get what you pay for.

The clientele here is mostly Indians or foreign business men who are working in Bombay long-term and need a cheap, safe place to sleep. Accessed by a small elevator, the entire fifth floor of a large building has been subdivided into tiny rooms and most are filled with single men or entire families crammed into tiny ‘doubles’ that are the size of a walk-in closet. The halls are less than three feet wide and are lined with narrow room doors spaced about six feet apart. As I walk to my room every night, I can’t help thinking of filing cabinets.

My room is small, smaller than any I’ve seen before.

My room is small, smaller than any I’ve seen before. The door only opens about fifty percent of the way, blocked by the narrow bed, and entering is a tricky thing: I squeeze through the door, and then slide sideways into a small space at the foot of the bed so I can close the door behind me and reach the spacious foot-wide walk space between the bed and the wall. If I’m in a hurry, it’s faster just to fall onto the bed and kick the door shut with my foot.

The bed is a little wider than my shoulders and thinly-padded, but at least it’s long enough that my feet don’t hang off the edge. The walls are made of thin, painted pressboard but for the most part its a quiet crowd at the Delight — everyone makes an effort to get along. The fan is powerful and does a good job of cooling the room and blocking out ambient noise. I sleep like a baby every night.

A Really Cheap Hotel in BombayI have a large, barred window that affords a view of Mumbai Harbor, if I press my forehead to the bars and peer between the myriad power lines draped across the side of the building.

I don’t realize at first what a luxury this is here — on my second night, a nice man from the room across the hall knocks on my door and asks when I’ll be checking out. He stays here for months at a time and I’m camped out in his favorite room — most don’t even have windows.

He’s very devout and each night I hear him through the thin walls, chanting his prayers in rapid-fire Hindi for hours at a time. Far from being annoyed by this, I find it relaxing and smile to myself each evening when he starts up.

The bathroom down the hall has two shower stalls, two western toilets, a single squat toilet and three working sinks. Timing is everything when using the restroom — try to go too early and there’s a line for the showers. Go too late and the toilets have been rendered uninhabitable by people who have tried squatting on the Western-style toilets and found that their aim isn’t quite up to the task.

The Delight sits at the far southern end of the touristed Colaba district and the neighborhood is a bit rough. I make it my morning ritual to have tea and samosas at a stall around the corner, but soon find that I’m attracting too much attention from the beggars and grifters. Of these, Abdul is the most annoying, always updating me on the state of his illness and asking for money. The first time we met, he was shaking and running a fever and asked for 50 rupees to pay for a doctor visit.

As I try to ignore him and enjoy my samosas, he launches into a detailed description of his horrible diarrhea.

I had 30 on me and donated to the cause, but the next day he was back needing 80 for medicine. Today, it’s 160 rupees for cab fare to a free clinic across town. As I do my best to ignore him and enjoy my samosas, he launches into a detailed description of the horrible diarrhea that afflicts him.

I stop him and point to my food, but it takes him a moment to take the hint. “Oh, sorry,” he replies. “You finish eating, then I tell you more.” Great. Dinner and a show…

Several other beggars approach, asking for money, but Abdul jumps up and gets into a loud argument with them, essentially calling ‘dibs’ on this particular foreigner. While they’re shouting at each other, I sneak away to find a new breakfast hangout.

The neighborhood is crawling with phony holy men who insist on praying for me for good luck and tying a charm to my wrist. I fend several of them off, but finally relent with one particularly-insistent character, thinking I’ll be able to show to others that I’ve already paid my dues. He feeds me several small crystals of sugar, paints a yellow dot between my eyes, hands me a small orange flower and wraps a red string around my wrist several times while chanting.

After he’s finished, he asks for a donation and suggests that fifty rupees will bring me good luck. Fishing in my pocket, I find about eight rupees in change and hand it over. As he frowns, I explain that “this is all the luck I can afford”.

My plan doesn’t work in the end, unfortunately, as other holy men continue to hound me despite the wristband. I think it just shows that I’m an easy mark.

A Really Cheap Hotel in BombayIt isn’t all bad at the Delight, however — I’ve met some good people here, the nicest being Rakesh, a young man who’s worked here as a ‘boy’ for four years. His job involves doing pretty much anything that is needed for the guests and he stays busy, running out to buy beer and cigarettes for the clientele. The pay isn’t much, but tips make up for it.

He gets off work at 8pm and has made a habit of stopping by my room with a small bottle of Officer’s Choice whiskey, which we sip with water as we smoke cigarettes and stare out the window. He tells me about his life in his home village (where they still have no electricity) and laments the fact that his wife refuses to move from Bombay.

Tonight he warns me to close my windows at night. “Rats will come inside and steal things. They like shiny things.” “Are these big rats?” I ask, somewhat alarmed.

“Oh yes, very big. Maybe one foot long or more.” He smiles and adds, “But you should not worry about them.” Thanks. I wasn’t worried at all until you mentioned it.

He heads for home after an hour or so and I turn to my favorite feature in the room: the dimmer switch that controls the fan. When turned to max power, the fan roars into life, blades spinning at a speed that I’m half-convinced will tear the whole thing apart. It sounds and feels like a helicopter is taking off in the tiny room but it cools things down, keeps out the mosquitoes, and fills the space with white noise.

When I wake in the middle of the night, I like to look up at the thumping black blades in the thin city light and pretend –even if only for a moment– that my rescue has finally arrived.

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Natalka October 28, 2010 at 11:13 am

I’m taking you to India with me next time.

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wes October 28, 2010 at 6:27 pm

Deal!

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Cam October 28, 2010 at 11:15 am

Ah, the tales of India! Your story telling has taken me back to Colaba… we watched a movie at the theatre there (District 9). It was kind of cool, you get an assigned seat like at a sports event, complete with an upper deck section. Theatre was empty, movie was good, carmel popcorn rocked, good times!
.-= Cam´s last blog ..Photo of the Week: Threetoed Sloth in the Amazon Jungle Peru =-.

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Brooks October 28, 2010 at 11:22 am

What great descriptions and it certainly sounds like a memorable place. I absolutely love the interesting characters you meet while on the road.

After reading about the what the guest house is like and seeing the first photo, I’m curious what Your Fitness Club looks like since “it’s all about YOUR fitness” :)

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wes October 29, 2010 at 9:02 am

Heh, that gym actually seemed pretty swank. I only got a brief peek in, but it looked sharp and did a steady business…

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Phil October 28, 2010 at 4:33 pm

Wes,
I’ve been reading your blog for a while, and just want to let you know that I think you have some of the best travel narrative writing around right now. LOVE the helicopter fan!!!! Looking forward to further stories. B well, Phil
.-= Phil´s last blog ..Journey to Timbuktu Part 1: a Breakdown an Overloaded Pinasse Flying Urine and a Late Night Foot Job =-.

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wes October 29, 2010 at 9:03 am

Thanks, Phil! Ya made my day :)

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Garrett October 28, 2010 at 6:07 pm

Awe man, I have to say that you’re not exactly selling me on Mumbai. I’ve always had an image of India as intense, but you’ve just put the nail in that coffin. Is the rough-at-the-edges experience still intriguing, or are you looking to get out of Mumbai?

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wes October 29, 2010 at 9:05 am

I’ll be honest – after 5 days, I was ready to leave Mumbai. I didn’t really get to do much sightseeing — had some work to finish, then picked up a fever/infection, so I didn’t explore as much as I’d like.

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Some kid called Zac October 28, 2010 at 10:52 pm

Oh yessir, that sounds like a proper old cheapie, but at least you had a western toilet. Abdul seems to lack symptoms of illness, and we mum and I were charged 150 baht for feeding the ‘good luck pigeons’ in Bangkok..
.-= Some kid called Zac´s last blog ..Yet Another Wonderful Island Retreat =-.

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wes October 29, 2010 at 9:07 am

Wow, 5 bucks to feed the pigeons? That’s rough. They must be *very* lucky pigeons ;)

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Theodora October 28, 2010 at 10:58 pm

Great writing. Atmospheric. Marvelous… Erm, have you considered scraping together cash for something a bit better so that you can enjoy Mumbai? My spawn (above) actually makes me do this when we get to the pricepoint which entails vermin or “squat-on-a-throne” squalor.

The jumbo rats, by the way, are code for “human beings” (cf: “snakes” for “ghosts”). If there were such critters on the premises you would have met them by now… Or perhaps you have since this was written???
.-= Theodora´s last blog ..The LastSoldier =-.

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wes October 29, 2010 at 9:09 am

Heh, your son is a wise man ;) I’m in Pushkar now and splurged a bit on a really nice room at Everest Guesthouse. I’m paying the same as I did in Mumbai, but I have a huge room with a big soft bed and my own bathroom. It’s pretty swank.

As for rat people, it could well have been code but the room was on the 5th floor and it’d take Jackie Chan to maneuver in and around the windows… Didn’t have anything disappear while I was there (that I know of)!

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ayngelina October 29, 2010 at 2:10 am

As much as I love to read your stories I have my own selfish needs – you need to find a good cheap room and then share the address!
.-= ayngelina´s last blog ..Learning Colombian Slang =-.

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wes October 29, 2010 at 9:11 am

Delight is good and cheap. It’s about 1 block from Seashore Hotel (which is in the LP). Seashore sounds nicer, but it’s in the 600 rupee range supposedly.

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Christy - Ordinary Traveler October 29, 2010 at 8:01 am

For some reason I still want to visit India after reading this. :) If you haven’t read Shantaram, I suggest you pick it up while you are still in Bombay!
.-= Christy – Ordinary Traveler´s last blog ..Photo of the Week- Jellies in Motion =-.

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wes October 29, 2010 at 9:12 am

Agreed, Shantaram is a great book. I was a little bummed after reading it to find that it’s only “loosely” based on real events :(

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Christy - Ordinary Traveler October 29, 2010 at 9:38 am

Ahh!! So was I! I wanted to believe it was real! Still a good read though!
.-= Christy – Ordinary Traveler´s last blog ..Photo of the Week- Jellies in Motion =-.

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Jaime D. October 29, 2010 at 9:59 am

At 1st I thought you were describing my childhood bedroom…jk! That sounds horrible but I guess you get what you pay for.

So I really really wanna see a pic of what the actual bedroom looked like. Do you have a pic of the room/bed?
.-= Jaime D.´s last blog ..175HRS IN JAIL =-.

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wes October 29, 2010 at 10:16 am

There’s a shot of the room in this post: http://johnnyvagabond.com/destinations/first-day-bombay/

I couldn’t get a good photo — the room was too small to take in without a fisheye lens :)

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Sarah October 29, 2010 at 1:19 pm

Wow, I just find your blog through your Twitter. I have to say your writing are so amazing makes me want to keep reading the next post. Anyways, when you say $9 is that USA money you’re refering to? The window is a nice add-on considering other room has no window. Great post again!

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wes October 29, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Thanks, Sarah! Yeah, the $9 is in US — the room went for 375 rupees after tax… Thanks for the comment :)

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Sarah October 30, 2010 at 10:07 am

You’re welcome. that not bad pretty cheap.
.-= Sarah´s last blog ..Photos- 5-Course Thai Cuisine in Hell’s Kitchen =-.

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Mike at Irie Bean October 29, 2010 at 4:58 pm

I stayed in a pup tent about that size many times!

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wes October 30, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Ha! I was wondering if you were still checking in. Hope all is well for you n the gang from the Bean :)

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Pirate63 October 31, 2010 at 4:07 am

Another great report Wes,this is the best travel blog on the net,love the way you describe things

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wes November 6, 2010 at 6:46 pm

Bless your heart. Thanks!

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Fred November 29, 2010 at 9:31 pm

I stayed at Delight GH in March. Thought it was ugly, until we discovered the bar packed with rich locals right on top of the building. This was one of the best examples of India’s diversity, I’ve ever seen.

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wes November 30, 2010 at 6:58 pm

What?! There was a *bar* at the top?!!! I’m heart-broken :/

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10yearitch December 7, 2010 at 9:04 pm

Nice one :) I grew up in Bombay and I can totally relate to most of the stuff … You have a wicked sense of humor – Hope there are plans to write a book at the end of your trip !

Safe Travels!

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Anthony February 12, 2011 at 10:22 pm

Love the way you describe the atmosphere in this post. I was there with you, and I am not sure if that is a good thing…Its time like those that you just have to roll with the punches and enjoy the experience and take the good with the bad.

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wes February 13, 2011 at 10:20 am

I totally agree — you have to take the good with the bad. I think of the Delight fondly — I met some great people while I was there and the low price allowed to me to stay longer than I’d planned. Well worth the few discomforts.

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