Thursday, December 18, 2008

Review: Sita Guest House, Varanasi, India

The Sita Guest House seems a bit overpriced for its river-side rooms, but otherwise a clean and not uncomfortable lodge conveniently located near the central Dasaswamedh Ghat. I stayed in two rooms over a period of 10 nights in early to mid-December 2008, one with a riverside balcony, the other with a view but no balcony. Both rooms were priced at 600rps.

CONSTRUCTION The manager of the Sita, Mr Gokul, asked that I write a review to to be posted at IndiaMike's. I was planning to do that anyway, so am happy to indulge his wish, though maybe not his complete intention. He seems most concerned to let potential customers know that major construction work has finished and that there is no longer any mess or noise. I can verify that there are no unsightly piles of construction material laying about, unless you look on the roof, which is quite an unsightly mess. During my stay some minor work continued and loud banging could be heard throughout the building on a couple of days.

ROOMS I checked-in to a third floor room (second floor for the English) with perhaps one of the smallest balconies in Varanasi, large enough for one chair or two people standing. There was in fact a view of the Ganges, though a rather narrow one. More worrisome than the view was a faint ammonia-like odor that I could never localize and which led me to move to a fourth floor room with no balcony but a much better view. Both rooms came with attached baths. Hot water was available on demand, so long as you didn't demand too much (or no one had turned off the heater to reduce electricity consumption, which happened to me once). Both my rooms had clean floors and sheets, though the furniture was a little dusty. Neither room had a writing desk, just a low table on which to place a bag.

INFESTATIONS The Sita seems to do a reasonable job controlling mice, of which I saw only one. Insects could be better controlled by erecting screens on windows. If you are allergic to mosquitoes, you might like to consider another guest house as it is near impossible to keep them out of your room. There are a large number of monkeys in the neighborhood who are quite quarrelsome and noisy in the mornings, bounding across the restaurant, the balconies, and roof. No one was injured or had anything stolen while I was there, but the guys working in the restaurant can tell you stories.

RESTAURANT I ordered chowmein on the night of arrival and received a plate of greasy noodles. The only thing I ordered after that were hot drinks and toast, which were prepared reasonably well. On one morning I was served by a man with an unappetizing mouth full of betel-nut spittle.

CUSTOMER SERVICE Overall, not bad. Most of the staff greeted me each day with a hearty "Good morning, sir!" No surly grumps or grouches, but you're likely to get a put-out look if you ask for anything out of the ordinary. It took a little bit of persistence on my part, but in the end the manager was kind enough to assist me with a letter of reference for obtaining a SIM card for my mobile phone (which Vodaphone later said they were unable to use to verfiy my residence, resulting in my phone being blocked from making out-going calls). After the letter had been delivered, the manager asked if I might be able to help him by writing a review at IndiaMike's to let potential customers know that construction work had finished.

[A few weeks later when I returned to Varanasi I learned that a fellow traveler I had met on my previous visit had moved into the Sita. She was receiving her room at no charge in return for helping the manager organize and promote his New Year party, and for writing a positive review to IndiaMike's. She had no trouble admitting to this to me.]

The level of local knowledge was exceedingly low. The man at the front desk couldn't tell me where the Pilgrim Book Store is located and had no interest in helping me locate it. The same was true when I inquired about the location of the Kabir Temple. The restaurant and front desk seemed unwilling to run tabs and so you were always having to open your wallet to hand over money for water, or laundry, or internet, or a phone call, quite bothersome for someone staying more than a couple of days.

SERVICES The lobby has a television but instead of being tuned to something guests might find useful, such as the BCC or CNN, it is instead tuned at all hours to movies and television dramas stuporously attended to by a clutch of staff. The lobby also has two computers offering internet access at the horribly inflated rate of 80rps per hour. The rate in the streets just behind the guesthouse is 20rps per hour. Phone service is also available, presumably at similarly inflated rates. The hotel takes two English language newspapers available for customers to read at no charge. A hand-lettered sign just outside the restaurant offers "authentic" Ayurvedic Massage in your room, but one look at the old guy with the betel-nut stained teeth claiming to be the masseur and its hard to imagine him having studied anything Ayurvedic.

Overall, my stay wasn't unpleasant, but neither was it remarkable. If I were to return to Varanasi, I would try another guest house. You may find that it suits your needs, especially the fully-equipped suites with full-balconies offering panoramic views of the river.

ADDENDUM 08 January 2009: My review was for some reason removed from IndiaMike's, so in the forums I added a message to a thread about the Sita Guest House with a link to the review here. Today I received the following email message from IndiaMike's:


Reason: Travel Agent
You have been repeatedly promoting the Sita Guest house on the site. Your account is closed.


I don't think anyone at IndiaMike's even bothered to read my review.



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