One of the wonders of this planet is its astonishing variety of flora, fauna and hotels. I’m not a great lover of hotels, having been scarred for life by extended stays in them while my family looked for housing in various cities—after a couple of weeks, there’s very little to recommend being in a hotel, no matter how fancy.
But I’ve been thinking about them a bit ever since I woke up to the fact that the literary festival in Jaipur is no longer upcoming, but on-going, and every reasonable place to stay is stuffed to the gills with book lovers who are, if not more enthusiastic than me, certainly more organised. The hotel hosting the literary festival, Diggi Palace, is very nice; it’s no reflection on the place that I once threw up copiously all down the stairwell.
I’ve actually had the good fortune to experience some truly wonderful hotels, located in beautiful places and designed to let the place in, not keep it out. Topping the list is El Nido, an island resort in the Philippines where they greet your waterfront arrival by flinging food into the water to gather a multitude of brightly coloured fish, and say goodbye with a surprise [spoiler alert] candlelight dinner with exquisite silverware and glassware in a natural hidden cave to which they take you in a tiny rowboat. El Nido is in close competition with the Taj Denis Island, in Seychelles, where you have your own private stretch of beach in one of the world’s most beautiful archipelagos.
Over the course of my life I’ve also passed the night in some very weird places, such as crouching in the linen closet of an overnight train (my ticket was waitlisted, but when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go). The piles of sheets were soft enough, but there was a hole in the ceiling, through which howling February winds congealed me into a block of ice despite all the blankets.
But the worst night I’ve ever had, bar none, was in a guesthouse in the little town of Dewas, in Madhya Pradesh. Dewas is like thousands of town all over the world, in that—with apologies to its denizens—there’s no reason on earth to go there. I was on a hot air ballooning expedition, and there was a bit of a cock-up with the winds, so we had to make do with whatever accommodation was available.
This Dewas guesthouse is the one tiny spot in the earth’s biosphere that is incapable of sustaining life. The windows and the glassed upper half of my room door were well ventilated by enormous holes in the panes. There was neither electricity nor soap, so that when you tried to use the Indian-style bathroom in the middle of the night and fell in, you couldn’t really do a sterling job of cleaning up.
There was no bed linen, which must be all right in the summer, but wasn’t that great on a freezing March night. My shoes left Neil Armstrong-like prints in the dust on the floor. The other guests, and I think I saw a few walking around, were dead. The management consisted of one person who seemed to be clinging to life purely out of inertia. When spoken to he managed only a sort of yearning look, as if to say, I would love to help, but look around, my hands are tied.
The thing is, you never know where life will require you to hang up your hat for the night. Those who can’t or won’t adapt might find themselves checked into the Great Hotel in the Sky ahead of schedule—and they don’t have checkout.