Desert luxury

How does a hotel announce to a visitor that it is special? I’m not talking about the service or the rooms, which is the core luxury that a hotel must provide, because this only becomes apparent over time. The announcement has to be instant. It is often something about the look: large lobbies in crowded cities, quietness in a noisy district, expensive art if you enter through a visually cluttered neighbourhood. I found that in a desert it is the suggestion of abundant water.

My trip to the Rann of Kutch was done on a pretty tight budget, but I hadn’t paid attention to the fact that prices in the Rann are bound to be much lower than in Mumbai. As a result, the hotel turned out to be luxurious by local standards. In terms of first appearances, it didn’t impress. There was a decorated door with rustic designs which opened into a garden. It was not one of the exquisitely carved, finely polished, and very well fitted doors which I have seen in this region. So this it left me a little apprehensive about the quality of the room.

Exotic animals roamed the grounds. I was in the desert with a bunch of bird watchers, so the sight of domesticated African guinea fowl did not exactly spell luxury to any of us. When I saw the room I was quite surprised by the size and the cleanliness. The food and service also turned out to be excellent. So I was sure that I’d missed some cues.

Then it struck me: greenery, flowers and lawns. In the parched surroundings of a desert, this was the declaration of wealth and luxury. It was not the garden door that I was supposed to notice, but the garden. Silly me. Not a single wilted leaf could be seen in the tall bushes here. The grass on the lawn was springy, and invited bare feet.

And, in case you still needed another hint, there was an enormous lily pond. I had been looking at everything with eyes jaded with the greenery and dampness of Meghalaya. This was the other side of the country in many ways: literally, in terms of geography, and metaphorically, a desert instead of the rainiest place on earth. I had to look at it through local eyes to see the signs of luxury and conspicuous consumption. I quailed at the thought of the ecological cost as I caught on.

Little hotels

Work brought me to Long Island, where towns spread out along parkways and roads. Hotels are set back from the roads, so that the view out of the front-facing rooms are of a parking lot and a road. The view out of a back-facing room is marginally better: a parking lot and a little patch of woods separate you from another road. The only views in Long Island are of the sea and beaches. Trying to get a room with that kind of view would put me quite far from work. Jet-lag changes your priorities. I prefer to wake a little late, and take the shortest time to get in.

There are other things that one gets to see here. Ducks flying overhead, their honking a joy to hear. I spotted a trio of cormorants in the evening, returning from a day out fishing. I spotted a female Northern Cardinal yesterday, mistaking it for a sparrow, until I saw the red around its head and shoulder. It is summer now, and walking at night you can hear cicadas bowing and scraping. The view out of the window is only a small part of living on the Island.