Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Grand Orient experience

We had our non-immigrant visa interview on Jan 2nd at the Chennai consulate. I searched online for a decent hotel nearby, and found the 'Grand Orient'. Apparently it is a 4 star hotel, priced at a little over 120 USD per night. Little did I know we were in for a big surprise. The staff at reception were dressed very casually. They were not even courteous. They didnt ask for any room preferences (non-smoking v/s smoking, double bed v/s twin beds, etc.). In a haste a porter came and took out bags to a nearby elevator...rushing to get in before us - the guests. Well, we ignored that part, we just wanted to get to the room and relax. As soon as the room door opens, a foul stench filled our noses. It was a combination of a very damp conditioning and something rotten. The porter was in a hurry and took a leave quickly. Only when we entered the room area we realised that it had two twin beds, small size. And the bed sheets were stained. I couldnt stay there for more than a minute and called the reception. They promised to switch the rooms. When we reached the other room, it had a double bed for sure, and it lacked the foul smell. I was about to get happy, until I saw the stained bed spread, no hot water in the basin tap, no bath tub, stained lamp shades, no batteries in the TV remote, and a makeshift ventilator stuffed with cardboards. We realised we had been ripped off..and just wanted it to get over with. Radhika ordered some plain drinking water, and the mug had soda mixed with some alcohol. She almost puked at the first sip! Oh dear god, that was one horrible stay I must say!

The second day had more surprises in store. The visa pictures we had taken at a Costco store in the US were rejected at the US consulate. Come on! Who will better know the requirements for visa pictures than a mainstream US store??? You gotta be kidding me! Well, we got off the consulate in a hurry.. the pre-screening lady had given us 30 minutes to get back with new pictures. No surprises: there were auto-rikshaw wallahs waiting outside for just the people like us. We hired one of them, who took us into a nearby urban street, where a shabby little store-owner was waiting for us with a digital camera. Our pictures were taken, and transferred to a desktop PC where another skilled person started manually removing all shadows and halos from around our projections.. using MS Paint. Boy was he skilled at his job! He did that within minutes, and we had better quality pictures than the Costco ones, for half the price!

The two good parts about this trip were (1) the complementary breakfast at the hotel, and (2) the world class cabin service in the Kingfisher Airlines flight from Chennai to Bangalore. Hail Kingfisher! You are raising the bar for the quality of aviation service in India!

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