Four years ago, Hotel Samrat gave Claire and I our earliest impressions of India. The cows just outside its doors and the oversized ledger used to record our names along with our fathers’; the crows outside our room’s window and even the trains passing by: all were firsts, which shaped our view of an incredibly idiosyncratic country.
After our stay there, I wrote a description of Khar Road, the area around the hotel:
Herds of cattle roamed Khar’s streets. The animals were large, horns long and haphazardly twisted, or small, with the stubby, pointed horns of imps. Owners milked and presumably fed the cows each morning. Then, allowed to wander, the animals snuffled amongst Mumbai’s festering waste and watched shopkeepers; shopkeepers – particularly the men who spent long days standing in the street, behind carts laden with fruit – watched the cows, because, able to spot an unmanned stall, they might lumber over and, tongues flapping spittle, gleefully help themselves.
Auto-rickshaws buzzed past the hotel and vendors sold street food – oily vada pav and refreshing pane puri – just metres away. At night, people slept side by side on Khar Road’s pavements. Hotel Samrat was a long way from Colaba, the affluent neighbourhood where most of Mumbai’s tourists sleep, and we were happy to have found it, especially after being told that Mumbai wasn’t India, because there were no cows in its streets.
Four years later, Claire and I were in India again, starting another journey at Hotel Samrat. The cows were still just outside, but the pavement dwellers were gone. Mumbai, we were told, was a city moving north; its centre was shifting to Bandra, not far away. The hotel had entered a new era: now the Unicontinental, a complex of restaurants, renovated rooms and bars patronised by Mumbai’s liberal youth, it was nevertheless still a long way from genteel Colaba. Wedding parties at the hotel’s nightclub echoed through our now much plusher room until 2am and the staff gave shockingly variable service, all sickly sweet smiles one minute and scowls the next. The elevator was the same rattling trap, although it had new buttons, and hot water was, on average, on only slightly more often than it was off. But our room was clean and comfortable, and worth the five hundred or so rupees separating it from the other hotels in the area. Our routine – travelling into the centre on a metropolitan train in the morning, busying ourselves with the business of exploring Mumbai during the day, and returning to an air-conditioned room and cold beer at night – resembled the routines of many Mumbaikers. We quickly felt at home – home, after all, is just somewhere to return to.
There is a wide variety of rooms, and a big difference between Standard rooms – which are, technically, part of Hotel Singhs: the hotel that shares a roof and a reception with Hotel Samrat, and is now under the same management – and the Executive and Superior rooms across the way in Hotel Samrat. The Standard rooms are decades old with worn mattresses and dust caked everywhere, but are still quite reasonably priced for Mumbai.
Executive rooms are on the third floor, and – compared to the Standard rooms – have better bathrooms, attractive décor, slightly more comfortable mattresses, newer TVs and a small fridge. They are also cleaner, if only because they were built more recently.
The Superior rooms are on the second floor, and have comfortable sprung mattresses, flat screen TVs, larger bathrooms and better quality décor. It seems that as the price of the rooms increases, so does their cleanliness.
Triple rooms and quadruple rooms in various categories, a suite that sleeps up to ten, mostly on various kinds of sofa beds, and single sex dormitories are also available.
- Currency exchange
- Big Daddy restaurant (Mexican, Italian and Continental food)
- Page Three restaurant (Indian and Continental food)
- Twister nightclub
- Samrat Bar
- Beauty Parlour
- Banquet hall with terrace
- Mini meeting facilities
Pros | Cons
- Proximity to the train station | Noise from the trains and station hubbub
- Vibrant location with few tourists | Temperamental hot water
- Bar, nightclub and karaoke on site | Vibrating bass and cheesy pop blaring from 3pm-3am on weekends
- Wifi (when it’s working)
- Restaurants and room service | Grubby rooms
- Breakfast included | Having to demand what you’ve paid for
- Breakfast offerings tend to vary, so make sure any additional items you request are included.
- To avoid unpleasant, time-wasting encounters, print out your booking confirmation and show it to the staff when claiming a breakfast voucher or availing of the complimentary airport pick up.
- Expect someone to show you a worse room than you’ve booked, and charge you for the better room. This has happened to more than a few travellers. To avoid this, note that all Standard rooms are in what is often still referred to as Hotel Singhs, the section of the building on the right side of reception, and everything else is on the recently renovated left hand side, which is far better. If you’re unsure, as you go upstairs on the new side, you’ll see the words ‘Hotel Samrat Ultra’ digitally displayed on the elevator. If a staff member insists that a room in Hotel Singhs is Executive or Superior, use the rate card that is kept on the reception desk (which lists room types according to floor) to prove them wrong.
- For delicious Punjabi food and Rs200 pitchers of beer in a cheap and cheerful atmosphere, head one door down to the Samrat Bar. Although it’s cooked in the same kitchen, the food will cost you almost half the price of Page 3’s.
Hotel Samrat’s staff provide variable, if amusing, service. You may be called Madam by the receptionists one minute, through a sugary smile, and later have them shout that your booking does NOT include breakfast. An argument will ensue until you return with a printed copy of your booking, as proof. Most of the cleaning staff are as incapable as they are underpaid, and the senior cleaning staff who boss the others around are worse. The friendly porters and doormen seem to run the place.
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