Trident Nariman Point (Mumbai)

We’re not sure what was more unsettling, the initial cultural rift we witnessed during our long drive from Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport to Colaba, or the deliverance from it once segueing through scrutinous security and into the posh lobby of the Trident Nariman Point. Just across the driveway, advertisements for Gucci and Ray Ban felt entirely supercilious.

It was late – sometime after 2:00 AM – and a hotel gardener positioned just inside the entrance crouched awkwardly to maintain one of the many pookkalam floral displays on hand to welcome guests. And though it was much too late for a nightcap at the chic Opium Den lounge looming up ahead, its presence further underlined the fact we had left behind dirty sidewalks overcrowded with dozing vagrants – at least for the night.

Check-in at the elongated front desk to the left was pleasantly subdued and it was not long before we were upstairs on the 17th floor checking out our room and its staggering view out onto the mean streets of Mumbai. We first switched on the AC, then popped open a couple bottles of Kingfisher to shake off the dust from our long cab ride through town. (Set of Drifters tip: The Trident Nariman Point is not easy to find – even for locals who know the area. Apparently, “next to the Air India building” is simply not enough to go on as far as directions are concerned.  But as we would soon learn, actual address numbers are unused – or nonexistent – throughout much of India. Prepare to be whisked back and forth a few times to find this place.)

With a super modern, clean bathroom (love those mechanized privacy/ blackout shades) and crisp, cool bedding, the Nariman Point lacked little we would miss from home.  And honestly, we had planned it that way, purposely front-loading our trip with one of the nicest set of accommodations we would employ in order to offset our marathon voyage from the States.

Happily, the philosophy paid off, for even with a nagging 12½ hour time difference, we were able to sleep soundly that first night and feel refreshed enough the following day to walk aimlessly through Colaba for more than five hours – in intense heat!

Of course, part of the credit must be given to the Nariman Point’s four excellent F&B outlets.  We enjoyed our hearty breakfast and the service at Frangipani so much, we ended up returning a number of hours later for a sumptuous mid-afternoon lunch!  (See “eats” for more information on Frangipani.)

But ultimately it’s not the food, drink or even the beautiful pool out back that makes the Trident so worth your money.  Nor is it the live piano music wafting throughout the scented lobby.  The Nariman Point’s best asset is its friendly, helpful staff.  When we had some last-minute domestic flight arrangements to nail down before checkout, associates at the top floor business center made sure we had the necessary tools to complete the task, albeit at an inflated cost.  Still, no interaction with staff at the Trident left us wanting more; everyone we came into contact with seemed to exhibit that perfect balance between confidence and care.

The price point at the Trident may be a bit more than you would expect to pay in India, but this is Mumbai – and chances are you’ll not pay more for another hotel night anywhere else in India. (A note about security: The Trident Nariman Point is one of twelve Mumbai locations that saw terrorist activity back in November 2008; a plaque out by the pool tells the full story, including casualties. Be prepared for strict security night and day at the front entrance, but don’t let that deter you from enjoying this lovely property.)

Come to the Nariman Point to tame your let-lag - or the stresses of Mumbai’s clogged, smog-infested traffic… You’ll thank yourself later, even after digesting your bill upon checkout.  I mean, where else in all of India will you enjoy such a warm, well-pressurized shower?  And those Kama cypress orange bath products?  To die for.

Trident Nariman Point -   near Air India Building, Marine Drive, Nariman Point, Mumbai, Maharashtra  400021, +91 222 282 1854

Lemon Tree (Aurangabad)

Before leaving on our 2013 trip to India, we spent much time perusing hotels for each of the cities we’d be visiting. Considering the length of our three-plus week tour, we made it a point early on to diversify the quality of accommodations - not only to cut costs, but also to add extra comfort when we knew we’d be needing it. True, traveling in India can be done inexpensively for the most part, but it’s important to remember that old adage, “you get what you pay for.”

Researching the Maharashtra destination of Aurangabad - jumping off point for the majestic Ajanta and Ellora caves, we were pleasantly surprised by the zesty, fresh approach of the Lemon Tree hotel chain’s website. Photos and literature suggested an experience similar to what we once found at the Park Inn (now the Radisson Blu Ulysse Resort & Thalasso) on the island of Djerba in Tunisia. We surmised that despite its price - smack dab in the middle between bargain and luxury - the sunny property would likely treat us well during our two-night stay in town.

From Chikkalthana Airport, the Lemon Tree Hotel is probably only a 5-10 minute cab ride. Upon drop-off, we arrived to find a staff of youngins dressed in cheery, bright yellow outfits. So far so good. Check-in took a little longer than expected. (Who knew there would be three other couple checking in at the same time around 8:30 AM?) Luckily, Front Desk staff was knowledgeable of our reasons for being in Aurangabad and assured us that we’d have enough time to arrange a trip to Ajanta later that day.

We got our keys and started off on the rather looooong trek to our room. Along the way, we enjoyed spotting several pieces of artwork and framed signs displaying cheeky jokes, modern fables and other such quirky hipness. There was even a series of framed baby T-shirts posing wacky questions such as “Are you the opposite sex… or am I?”

Eventually we made it to our room, perfectly positioned to offer views of the over-sized pool that anchors the property. Unfortunately, the weather was a bit too chilly and we only managed to jump in one evening for a quick refresh. 

Our room was cute with haphazard touches that tried to invoke the feel of a boutique hotel. (Hint: Someone should tell their design team it’s not effective to have two of the exact same framed print in one guest room.) Additional love could have been given to the bathroom in particular, though it was clean and properly stocked so what more can you really ask for?

Elsewhere, a recreation/ fitness room adjoins the pool, but with such a short time in town, we did not get to explore this option.

Back up at the helpful front desk, we were able to easily arrange trips to the nearby sites over the course of two days. We realized that we had a better deal the second day by going in a smaller car rather than the four-seater van most people push for. Trust us, when an auto-rickshaw passes by crammed with seven people (or more), you’re gonna feel awfully stupid rolling down the highway in a large beast of a van. Set of Drifters tip:  Ask for Sanjay.

In the morning before heading off to the caves, we had breakfast at the hotel’s only restaurant. During the day, the Citrus Café serves an early buffet, then lunch. (Expect more zany T-shirts and comic riddles as place-mats. Though even if the spot may have lacked a bit in atmosphere, buffet selections were bountiful - and pretty darn tasty.)

At night seating outside the Citrus Café transforms the outlet into the “The Republic of Noodles,” a pan-Asian concept blending tastes from Cambodia, Indonesia and Myanmar. (Sadly, we did not get to try this as our day-trips absorbed too much of our time.)

If you’re in the mood for a cocktail, Lemon Tree’s onsite “Slounge” bar is a respectable attempt at delivering a big city vibe in the middle of nowhere. Cricket plays on multiple flat screens while guests from all over the globe gather around the pool table. And yes, aside from beer and wine, this is one of the few places you’ll find real hard alcohol.

As far as service was concerned, we were pretty impressed. Planning ahead, we decided to get some clothes laundered before leaving town. The Lemon Tree’s laundry service was punctual and efficient, if a bit pricey compared to other places we stayed.

Perhaps the best representation of great service, however, came on our final morning when we had to leave before the breakfast buffet was official open. A cafe staff member was so considerate that he actually hand-carried breakfast and coffee to us in the lobby.

We left with a great impression. Though we might change a few things about the decor in the room, the Lemon Tree Aurangabad was a decent place to stay, and for the price, we would surely return again to one of the other 11 properties in the chain. Like the lyrics of the “Lemon Tree” song, “Lemon Tree, very pretty and the lemon flower is sweet,” so is this hotel!

Lemon Tree Aurangabad - Jalgaon Road, Savarkar Nagar, N 5, Cidco, Aurangabad, Maharashtra  431003, +91 240 660 3030