One of the most important things about travel, something that every person should understand before they set off on their adventures, is that no two people will ever have the same experiences. What one person will love, another won’t enjoy at all. What one person feels is a ‘must-see’ place, another person will label ‘not worth visiting’.
There are simply too many personal factors involved with travel in order for a concrete conclusion to be reached about any particular destination. I doubt there is anywhere on this planet that every single traveler agrees upon in terms of liking or disliking it. It just doesn’t happen, not when we all have our own individual likes and dislikes, our own interests, our own needs and comfort levels, our own beliefs and interpretations, and on and on.
Such differences in opinion obviously extends to activities, cuisine and of course, accommodation as well. A hotel that I feel comfortable at, you might hate. And this is exactly why I can’t tell you if the hotel I am staying at right now is the worst or the best hotel in Mumbai, India. The only thing I know is that this hotel could be either, and that it all depends on the traveler.
The Prison Version
The entire building of the Sheel Hotel appears to be over one hundred years old and it is in the exact condition that you would expect of such an old building that has been neglected for most of its existence. The entrance is narrow and takes you through a long, dark hallway, the staircase leading from the crowded, gloomy lobby to the rooms above is cracked and feels quite unsturdy, the air vents are covered in dust, piles of dishes are being cleaned in the hall and there are people who might or might not be staff hanging around, on occasion sleeping on the floor. The common areas on each level are half-inside and half-outside as they have only three walls, with the fourth side open to the elements, giving you a perfect view of another crumbling building next door.
Most of the rooms are very small, with two narrow single beds, very thin ‘mattresses’, somewhat clean but stained sheets (as you find all over India), smudged walls, a loud, unsteady ceiling fan and no window at all. The air inside the room is a bit musty and there are a few small pieces of trash under the bed, left over from the previous occupants.
You’ll find the common bathrooms at the end of the hall where you have one Indian-style squat toilet to share with every other guest on your floor and two cell-like shower rooms, with only cold water coming from the pipe sticking out of the wall.
Oh, there are also some resident mice, two or three it seems. And while they’re tiny, they occasionally scurry into your room through an opening under the door, scoot around for a while, and sometimes climb up onto the other bed, before darting back out again. The staff will give you a mouse trap to place in your room (see the photo at the top of the post!), with a piece of chapati dangling from the hook, but it’s quite pointless considering that once the mice are captured, they simply escape a few seconds later through a hole in the worn-out metal trap.
To top it off, the hotel is located at the edge of a busy market area, with a constant rush of people coming and going in the lanes outside, motorbikes and cars speeding through the crowds, street vendors constantly calling out to you to buy their goods and a few extremely daring, car/truck/bus-avoiding crossings to be made if you want to reach the other side of the main road.
But what do you expect when you book a room at such a prison-like establishment?
The Palace Version
As hard as it may be to imagine right now, this exact same place, the Sheel Hotel, could also very well be the best hotel to stay at while in Mumbai.
The location is absolutely ideal, just across the street from the main CST Train Station and right in the heart of the Fort district. It’s only a twenty minute walk to the popular Colaba district and there is no shortage of shops, good local restaurants, cafes and great food stalls in the immediate area. And as soon as you enter the hotel itself, the noise from all the activity outside suddenly disappears.
The manager of the hotel, Jitin, is one of the friendliest and most helpful managers of any budget hotel that I’ve come across in this country. He greets you with a smile, offers his assistance and is the main reason why the shabby lobby feels so comfortable.
As you climb the stairs to your room, you’ll pass several staff members, most of whom will greet you with a ‘Namaste’ and a smile as well. The common area on your floor, while basic, offers a big table and several plastic chairs where you can sit in the natural light coming in from the lack of a fourth wall.
Your room is small, but with enough space to move around. The beds are adequate and there’s a sheet and blanket on each. The room is clean (apart from under the bed), there’s a little table, plenty of hooks and a full length mirror. The ceiling is quite high and there’s a fan to keep you cool. Amazingly for a budget hotel, there’s also an air-conditioner that you can use at no extra charge at all. And you even have a television, complete with cable channels, as well.
Sure, there are indeed some mice appearing every now and then, but watching them buzz around turns into entertainment after a while.
Those common bathrooms, including the sinks, the toilet room and the two shower rooms, are very tidy, as they are fully cleaned by the staff at what appears to be every hour on the hour. Speaking of staff, while many don’t speak English, they are all ready to assist at any time and a couple of them go beyond what you would ever expect for such a budget place.
The hotel has a reasonably-priced laundry service, you can use their printer at cheap rates and they also have free Wi-Fi in the lobby.
And even though the staff requests that you leave your key at reception whenever you go out, which you would want to do anyway considering that the attached key-chain is about the size of a blue whale, you feel perfectly safe in doing so. Despite being a budget hotel, it feels remarkably secure, especially knowing that Jitin, who is on a mission to attract more foreign customers, is looking after things.
Of course, the best part about this hotel is that a room costs a mere 750 Rupees / $15 USD per night, making it one of the cheapest hotels in Mumbai, a city with a reputation for the highest accommodation rates in all of India. It’s nearly impossible to find a decent room for that price over here as most of the budget hotels offer far poorer quality for two or three times the price.
The Sheel Hotel beats them all. It’s like a palace in comparison.
And that’s how travel works! It’s always quite intriguing to me to hear different travelers express their views about the very same places, and as a result, I can easily understand how some of you might view the Sheel Hotel as a complete dump and some might think it’s a great value after reading the above.
I personally find it to be an excellent deal as I’d rather pay $15 USD per night at a friendly, convenient, clean, yet very basic, hotel than to pay $40 or more per night (which is what I found during my research and previous visits to Mumbai) for a room that is only slightly better.
But again, that’s just my opinion!
What do you think? Is this hotel a prison or a palace (maybe not a palace but perhaps just a ‘great deal’)?