We were guests of the Gateway while visiting Varanasi in February 2012 It is allegedly one of the best, if not the best, Varanasi has to offer, but if that is so, it is damned by faint praise.
The hotel is a member of the Taj group but is not a Taj hotel. I understand (perhaps incorrectly) that it formerly enjoyed this status but was demoted. If that is true, it was a wise decision. The hotel is very shabby in many areas and seems to be suffering from a lack of maintenance. The service that is expected with a Taj property is also lacking. It is neither a 5 nor 4 star establishment.
Security is exceptional, a fact not surprising given the problems in Mumbai. It was the only hotel in which we stayed while in India that had retractable pillars at the entrance. There were also the more typical x-ray machines and metal detectors.
We had booked and paid for in advance through our travel company SITA a non-smoking room. Nevertheless, we were initially placed in a room that reeked of smoke. We presented ourselves at the front desk and complained. We were told that the hotel was full and the smoking room could be converted into a non-smoking one without moving us. Huh? We are opposed to any measures that involve spraying chemicals to absorb or mask odours. Moreover, we would still be on a stinky, toxic smoking floor. We asked to speak to the room manager who agreed to look into the matter. We were tired and said we would wait in the bar. He escorted us there.
The bar is quite small but bright and pleasant. Service was friendly and gracious. After approximately 45 minutes the manager returned, confirmed the room did smell badly of smoke and advised he had found us a non-smoking room. Our drinks were not comped by the hotel, certainly a sign of poor service. The room was comfortable although very worn, dingy, and shabby. The carpets in the room and floor corridors are in a disgraceful state-thread bare, stained, and filthy looking.
Breakfast is good with a large variety of foods, both western and Asian. Service is friendly but harried. The hotel is extremely busy. Again the room is shabby and in poor repair. Staff has not been properly trained. We observed a waitperson setting cutlery on outdoor tables. Trays containing cutlery covered with bird droppings were placed on a ledge opposite our indoor table in our plain view. Most distasteful.
We dined in the hotel’s fine dining restaurant Varuna on two nights. We had had reservations at another place for the second night, but the food was so delicious, we cancelled and ate in the hotel again. This was the very best food we had in India. Despite the room’s more formal ambiance, guests present in assortment of clothes and one can certainly dress casually, although we did not.
Grounds are extensive and appeared to be well manicured. The property is definitely an oasis in a busy, dirty city.
The hotel is also popular with locals. On our last night, a wedding took place. Our room faced the driveway in which the procession marched so we observed the spectacle of drummers, the well dressed and costumed entourage, and the groom riding an elephant. Truly a special experience for us despite the noise.
We are ambivalent about the hotel but in the final analysis cannot recommend except for a good rate.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Group-oriented mid-rise hotel centrally located on Raja Bazar Road at Nadesar Palace Grounds, on the banks of the Varuna River. ... more less
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