Sleep with Confidence

Jodhpur - Water Habitat Retreat View

When I was in Jodhpur last month, I ended up staying in a resort hotel that just so happened to have a last-minute room available.  I tried to book at the Taj and the Oberoi, and I even tried a local Haveli.  But they were booked up and my flights were already paid for, so I had to scrounge up something and fast! So with little more than the promise of a clean bed and a good ranking on, I reserved a 3 night stay in the Water Habitat Retreat. And whoa, what a treat! This got me thinking about some of my most pleasant, surprise room stays around the world. When you travel, your room is your castle. Here are just four unsung heroes I recommend with confidence:

As the NGO expansion of a Maharaja’s summer home, the Water Habitat Retreat is a 28 room boutique hotel that offers vistas from Jodhpur’s Marwar desert.  Just about 20 minutes from the city center, this hotel is truly an oasis of stunning man-made lakes, hill-top temples, and quiet serenity. The rooms do not have TVs, but I was given a USB MBlaze to get internet reception free of charge.  What’s the catch? Well, the hotel is built aside a water catchment plant and reservoir.  The Aravalli hills are known for desert and drought, but in this NGO run hotel 70% of the hotel booking costs go directly to water harvesting. So, this nice hideaway also doubles as an opportunity for philanthropy. Hard to top that.

When a friend came to India shortly after I first arrived, we scrambled to find a hotel in Goa. We combed for a reasonably priced guesthouse near Candolim or Sinquerim beach. We tried to book to the #1 ranked Bougainvillea Goa, but they were full. They offered a room in their sister guest house just a 3 minute walk away. For $30 USD a night, we booked at Victoria Village Guest House. The room was clean and the owners were very sweet. The wife came to the door carrying her pudgy cheeked doll of a daughter and the husband told us about his sister’s restaurant down the road – which was not a tourist trap! Just a five-minute walk away from the Fort Aguada Taj hotel, I can’t imagine why anyone would choose NOT to stay at Victoria Village.

Not all surprises are cheap. And in San Francisco, you can bet that any good surprise costs a premium. But, a few years back I booked 3 nights at the Orchard Hotel and never once regretted it. I especially appreciated it when I got so sick that I couldn’t leave the hotel on the night before I was set to depart. I still remember the fish stew I ordered from room service, and I have yet to try fish stew that competes. The cleaning crew came multiple times a day and only when they knew we were out of the hotel – so no annoying knocks in the morning. Well worth the spend, if I’m ever back in San Fran I’ll be trying to relive my fish stew dream.

Germany Valley

One of my very favorite places in all of the U.S. is Germany Valley, West Virginia. Trying to unplug from Washington, D.C. life, I searched for a fall foliage locale that wouldn’t break the bank. While once on a stay in the Appalachian-Cabins in Seneca Rocks, I drove a ways and discovered the Germany Valley cabins. I decided that the next year, I would have to come back and stay in one. I had to book almost a year in advance to ensure I had an October weekend, but it was well worth it. Some of my fondest memories with my best friends and their kids were had right there in those hills. These cabins are a hidden gem, well worth the 5 hour drive from DC.

Here are a few other lodging options worth checking out:

Jaipur, India

New Delhi, India

Udaipur, India

Bangkok, Thailand

Chiang Mai, Thailand


If yesterday were tomorrow what would you do today?

I’ve been traveling throughout India recently, and more so than any physical journey I’ve been on – I can say that the last few weeks were a mental hike over an emotional roller coaster. In my quest to read 100 books by the end of the year (a decision I only made in August, by the way), a theme has emerged lately. Isolating and enjoying the present, my friend, is what my last two books have in common. And let me tell you, reading over and over again ‘stay in the present moment’ has the exact opposite effect.

And what does now look like for me, you might ask? A list of to-dos – about as long as my middle finger – lay on the right side of me. My computer in my lap, while I sit up in bed – back against the head-board, legs under the down comforter. The dog is on the floor, somewhere, so quiet that if it weren’t for the fact that my door is closed I’d assume he was shitting on my carpet at this very moment. My Blackberry’s red light is blinking and I really wish it’d stop. I have two guests visiting, knocked out in the guest room. There’s tulsi tea on my bedside table. My Skype is on. And I really want to finish reading ‘Cry, the Beloved Country,’ which patiently awaits the completion of this post – but I guess that would be a matter for the future. Eckhart Tolle would say that my now has no complaint worthy characteristics. So, if content is what I intend to become, then it is insane to consider anything other than the present.

But, it’s only human nature to ask what has the journey to now been worth? (Eckhart Tolle would completely disagree with the positing of this question, but Paulo Coelho would humor me – so I’ve switched sides.) It’s no secret that when I left the U.S., I was running away. And while the plan was hatched before it’s necessity was imminent, it’s also no secret that I thought that India had something in store for me – something so compelling and so necessary that it was worth fighting for. Even if it meant that l’d return defeated, earlier than anticipated, chewed up and spat out – I had made a commitment that I would fulfill. (I, for one, think that Paulo Coelho a la ‘Alchemist’ would actually have endorsed my die-hard commitment.) I can say now that maybe it was both curiosity and pride that led me here, but it has been purpose that’s made me stay. It’s not in spite of everything and everyone I left behind deliberately that I have stayed on in this country so long. Perhaps, it’s because I have always known every time I chose to run away in the past that my gut was trading up – good for better.

Maybe it’s self-preservation that puts us on the move forward. Maybe, even a pre-historic nomadic understanding that the food here will deplete if we stay too long, the bears and hyenas will eat our children in the night if we set up camp and become too trusting. Or maybe it’s just that I’m impatient, bore easily, have trust issues, like trying new foods, enjoy new places, appreciate working, and am used to being by myself that I can’t think of any other way to live. But, there always is that temptation to think about the next step. What happens after this?

Both my two most recent reads would halt me there and ask me why I need to know that. What is so lacking at this very moment that I need to fill my present with an imaginary friend named ‘The Future,’ and what is so lacking in my person that I need to fill up my identity with nightmares from the devil on my shoulder nicknamed ‘The Past’? What is lacking at this very moment, if my basic needs are being met, if I have a roof, if I’ve eaten today, if I have all my teeth and my limbs, if there’s toilet tissue in my bathroom, if there are no mosquitos buzzing in my ears, if there isn’t a war going outside my window that no man is safe from? Better yet – what exactly, in this exercise of fishing from the past and the future, fixes whatever might ail my present? If I’m sick, the future doesn’t cure me. If I’m hungry, the past won’t feed me. In both cases, I would have to change my now.

I can’t argue with the argument, but how is it that Tolle & Coelho can be so right and make me feel so wrong? I’m not sure how exactly to enjoy the present without some hippie dippie commitment to tantric divination yoga ayurvedic astrological meditation. Now do you better understand the mental and emotional broo ha ha brewing in me lately? Reading these psychedelic texts has me asking myself questions that don’t have answers yet and plotting ways to enjoy the present more – which, in a half ass backwards kinda way, actually sounds quite a lot like thinking about the future.

So, if anybody finds a way to be fully in the present (and also not seem like an aloof and emotionally irresponsible monk conflating peace with self-imposed isolation), please be sure to share your wisdom with me – no matter how new agey it might seem. It is always possible that this is what I came here for, what I came to learn from this land. Or maybe, I’ve grown as a person here so much so that I can now ask a question whose possible answers once scared me. Shit, does that count as thinking about the past? 

Sigh…I’m off to read my book, because Alan Paton has me pondering the state of the world. And that seems an awful lot easier to understand right now than the best method to ‘stay in the present.’