Stairway To Heaven … NOT!


Pink House Hotel
Jogiwara Road – Below and Across From Yongling School
McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, H.P., India
Prices: $$$$$

Balcony View – Room 204

Javid, the owner of Pink House, was very helpful and friendly, answering questions about my reservation and upcoming visit to Dharamsala. He arranged for a ride from the airport in Gogol for 700 rupees ($11.35) upon arrival, which I thought was a decent price by US standards for a 10-mile taxi ride. Considering that the taxi from my hotel in Delhi (where everything is more expensive than in Dharamsala) to the airport was just 400 rupees ($6.50 for a 13-mile journey), it turned out not to be such a great deal after all. The driver dropped me on the street and pointed to some extremely long, very steep, dangerous looking stairs in varying degrees of disrepair (note to self #1 … is this the only access point?”) and said “look for the sign”.

Second Floor Room (Corner – Room 204)
The hotel is nice enough, not swank and not a dive, with many rooms having balconies and views of the foothills and Himalayas. Javid was updating many of the rooms during my stay, making them more comfortable, but also causing noise problems and clutter while the repairs were being made. The rooms have differing views depending on which direction you are facing and which floor you are on (1st floor rooms have poor views), but all have cable TVs (old CRTs), balconies, large beds, cabinet (no closet or wardrobe), bath with western-style toilet, sink, and a shower with no enclosure (your bathroom is your shower in India), but no heating system in sight (note to self #2 … “it seems awful chilly in here”). There is also Wi-Fi throughout the hotel (note to self #3 … “I hope the Wi-Fi isn’t as slow as it was in Delhi!”), with a router on each floor, so the signal is strong everywhere … WOO-HOO!
Balcony
The first few days I had breakfast at the “rooftop café”, which is just barely that, a roof with a couple plastic tables and chairs, no roof, no cover, and no heat on cold November mornings. Still recovering from jet lag, I was up early each morning watching the gorgeous sunrises and noticed that the servers first arrived to take orders at varying hours, sometimes 7:30 am, other times well after 8:00 am (note to self #4 … “I wonder what time they start serving breakfast?”). The Tibetan bread, which became my morning staple, with locally made peanut butter (70 rupees/$1.15) was tasty and a pot of milk coffee (warm milk with varying degrees of instant coffee added) set me back another 80 rupees/$1.30, so $2.50 seemed fair enough (note to self #5) for a decent, not great breakfast.

Steps – View From Street (Top)
I quickly became exhausted by and very concerned (see note to self #1) about the hundreds of stairs from Pink House up to Jogiwara Road. Being a disabled Veteran with very bad knees and back, the stairs, which are extremely dangerous by day and treacherous by night (very little light), vary widely in height, have loose or missing rocks and bricks (many steps are crumbling), and many are constantly soaked with the water escaping from the numerous pipes crisscrossing the steps (another tripping hazard). I stumbled on several occasions due to varying heights and uneven surfaces, twisting my knee on one occasion and nearly tumbling head over heel down the steep incline on a few others. Having made a commitment to stay long-term (I was visiting for 7 weeks and received a small discount on my room), I decided to stick it out until I felt my health or life was in danger.
Pink House staff are very friendly and helpful most of the time. Rooms can be cleaned if you make the journey to floor number 4 to drop off your key in the morning and inexpensive laundry services are also available ($1.00 to $2.50 for a few shirts, pants, socks, and undies), dropping items off (again on the 4th floor) in the morning and picking them up the same evening.
Steps – View From Bottom
Being November and at an altitude of over 5,750 feet (1,750 meters), days were very comfortable when in the sun (plentiful this time of year) and a bit chilly in the shade, but nights dipped into the 30s and 40s and the rooms quickly became very cold (see note to self #2). In-fact, I had not seen a heater anywhere in India since my arrival, including restaurants, other businesses, and hotels, which may not have been an issue in Delhi, but made for some mildly uncomfortable experiences in the mountains. After a nearly two weeks of freezing my bum off in the middle of the night when I had to use the toilet (loo) and in the morning, I asked about the possibility of getting a heater in my room, but was told “you have two blankets don’t you?”. I decided to suffer a little rather than make an issue out of it because the steps were making it likely I would not be there much longer anyway.

The Wi-Fi signals were great due to the routers on each floor, but unfortunately the internet was extremely slow (note to self #3). Being an avid blogger, TripAdvisor “Top Contributor”, and wanting to upload reviews and photos, as well as keep in contact with my family and friends via Skype and Facetime, the Wi-Fi was woefully inadequate. Beside the numerous and frequent power outages in McLeod Ganj which resulted in no Wi-Fi (or TV), the Wi-Fi quickly became an issue due to the inordinate amount of time it took to do anything and the frustration caused by Skype and Facetime calls home where I could only hear every fifth word being said.

Again, after the first few days, I decided to move indoors to the “relative” warmth of my room for breakfast, not knowing when the servers would arrive on the roof each morning (note to self #4). I asked when breakfast was available each morning and was told 7:30 am, but I found that the staff in general do not seem to awake early because when I called at 7:30 sharp each morning I either spoke to someone who had obviously been awakened by my call (staff sleep in the reception office, which is not on the ground floor, but on the 4th floor next to the rooftop café) or someone else who barely spoke English. Most of the time, my breakfast arrived within 15 minutes and the young men delivering it were friendly and helpful. However, on a few occasions my order did not arrive after 45 minutes to an hour, causing frustration and late arrival to my 9:00 am (not including the nearly 30 minute walk UP THE HUNDREDS OF STEPS and down Jogiwara Road from McLeod Ganj) Buddhist Philosophy class at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archive. I also inquired about an early breakfast during the Dalai Lama’s teachings (November 11-13 2014 – 8am – 12pm daily with arrival NLT 7:30am), but was told “the kitchen opens at 7:30am” … maybe), so I ordered my breakfast the night before and drank cold coffee and ate stale Tibetan bread for three days. After 20 years in the Air Force, I have experienced worse conditions.
I never ate anything at Pink House other than breakfast because I avoided navigating the dreaded steps except for a trip up each morning and one down each night. The menu was extensive and from what I saw the food looked pretty good, but the value is questionable based on my breakfast costs and comparable meals in town. Having paid $2.50 for a small pot of weak coffee, a piece of local bread that can be purchased for 10 rupees (16 cents) in town, and a tablespoon of peanut butter, in comparison to the wonderful $3.00 dinners I regularly ate, the food did not seem like such a great value after all.
After 3 weeks, I had enough of the treacherous stairs, painful knees, and risk to my existence on Earth, the widely varying and undependable breakfast hours (they probably got tired of me waking them up every morning at 7:30), and the very slow Wi-Fi, so I decided to find a place closer to the road, the Tibetan Library, town, and my yoga instructor … mostly the deadly stairs … finding a comparable room and view at less than half of the price (333 rupees per night or $5.35), being centrally located between destinations WITH NO STEPS!
At first glance and in terms of western standards and prices, Pink House appears to be an exceptional value at $10-$20 per night, but comparatively speaking in McLeod Ganj and Dharamsala, that did not necessarily turn out to be the case. The longer I stayed in the area and the more people I spoke to, the more I realized that Pink House was one of the more expensive and isolated places in town. A Buddhist monk friend paid 2,00o rupees per month ($32.00) for his centrally located room, a basic but clean room with shared bath, and another was paying 300 rupees ($4.85) per night for a double room at a monastery just off the main market with a private bath, so $15 per night was quite expensive in this neck of the woods.
Like Jessica1100 (TripAdvisor), my 880 rupee ($14) deposit was not applied to my bill at check-out even though it was meticulously itemized down to the rupee, taking close to 20 minutes even though I told them I would be checking out that morning. I am not saying that it was done intentionally, but considering that they do not accept reservations without a deposit equaling one night’s stay, it should be a standard inclusion in the billing process.
If Pink House where in the U.S., Europe, Japan, or Korea (among other more expensive destinations), they would get 8 or 9 Bombs Out Of 10. But in terms of other local (India in general, Dharamsala in particular) establishments, on which I base my “VALUE” determinations, Pink House is very middle of the road. Therefore, if you have great knees, do not mind the cold or paying a bit extra for the convenience of eating in your room, and enjoy beautiful views, fair service, and in-house laundry services, then Pink House is a fair choice. But be warned, there are better values out there, particularly for those visiting for extended periods where significant discounts of 50% to 70% can be had over nightly lodging prices … and make sure your deposit is applied to your bill!

CombatCritic Gives Pink House Hotel 4 Bombs Out Of 10Deductions for Dangerous Stairs, Slow Internet, Varying Restaurant Hours, No Heat, and Missing Deposit … More Bombs Are Better









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Key Words: Pink House Hotel, pink, house, hotel, rooftop, café, menu, wi-fi, internet, laundry, McLeod Ganj, mcleod, ganj, Dharamsala, Dharamshala, India, travel, value, Yongling
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Carpe Diem: Sieze the "Lait" … "Cafe au" That Is!


Carpe Diem Restaurant and Pizzeria
Jogiwara Road – Above Cinema
McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, H.P. India
+91-988-219-2294

Cuisine: Breakfast, Coffee/Tea/Beer, Indian, Italian, Thai

Prices: $$$$$

Rooftop Terrace

I heard good things about the pizza, understanding that they have a wood-fire oven. The place is not easy to find unless to look up to the third floor of the building above the cinema on Jogiwara Road. The indoor restaurant is up one flight of stairs, but the rooftop terrace is quite nice if the weather permits.


The indoor restaurant was empty at 8PM on a Sunday night, but the terrace was packed, leaving one table for me. The crowd seemed to be young, American/European/Australian bohemians dressed in baggy clothes with dreadlocks, which is extremely common in McLeod Ganj at least. There are six or seven tables with chairs and a sitting area with low tables and mats to sit on (do not forget to take off your shoes).

Mutton (Lamb) Pepperoni Pizza – 210 Rupees ($3.40)

The menu is eclectic, but I had to try the “excellent pizza” I had heard so much about. I ordered the non-vegetarian pepperoni pizza (210 rupees – $3.45), thinking that it would be the standard spicy, greasy, pork variety we American expect (“pepperoni” in Italy is green bell peppers). The pizza came rather quickly and looked quite good actually. Not huge, it was thin and crispy, much like the pizzas you get in Rome and the flavor was also decent … until I got my first bite of pepperoni. I actually like lamb from time to time, but not on my pizza. The pepperoni was obviously made of lamb (mutton here) and although not disgusting by any stretch, it was a little off-putting because it was not expected. Beside the taste of lamb sausage, the pizza was good, but next time I think I will order a vegetarian option or go with a Thai green curry or Indian dish.


One of the few restaurants that serves beer (you better like Kingfisher), the menu is huge and the prices are fair, a little higher than many places around town. The service was fast and friendly.


CombatCritic Gives Carpe Diem An Initial 6 Bombs Out of 10 … MORE BOMBS ARE GOOD!

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Himalayan Café and Restaurant: Fast (Free) Internet, Nice View, Tasty Food, Excellent Prices


Himalayan Café and Restaurant
Bhagsu Road (100 meters east of Main Square)
McLeod Ganj, India

Cuisine: Breakfast, Coffee/Tea, Tibetan, Chinese (Italian and Thai Available High Season)

Prices: $$$$$

Terrace and View of McLeod Ganj

I literally stumbled upon the Himalayan Cafe and Restaurant (the streets here are rough, rough, rough) while walking on Bhagsu Road, heading from the main square in McLeod Ganj toward Bhagsu Village (heading east). I might have missed it had I not seen the sign advertising “High Speed Internet”, so I walked up the steel staircase to the terrace (right).


Terrace
The covered terrace at the top of the stairs has several tables with a few overlooking the valley below and all have a nice view of the Himalayan foothills. The indoor café below has just a few tables, but is warm and inviting with a few western-style tables and one large table with Asian-style seating (pads).

Chicken Thenthuk and Tibetan Butter Tea
The menu (see photos below) is varied and the prices reasonable. They have breakfast, Tibetan and Chinese dishes year round with Italian and Thai selections during the high season. I had Tibetan butter tea (40 rupee – 65 cents) and the chicken thenthuk (100 rupee – $1.60), a Tibetan dish of handmade noodles (long, wide, and thin, then cut into small pieces) in broth with a variety of fresh vegetables. The butter tea actually has butter in it and is slightly salty, creamy, and rich, an unusual taste that works quite well actually. The chicken thenthuk was warm, delicious, and filling, chock full of veggies and noodles, and just what I needed on a cool Fall day.

Lamb Thukpa
My friend had the mutton (lamb) thukpa, a large bowl of broth with assorted vegetables, and long noodles (that look like spaghetti), topped with fine slices of crispy lamb. Chili sauce is a condiment here and can be added to any dish, making it hot and spicy, but all the dishes I have tried are well seasoned and excellent with or without any additions.

Indoor Café

Easy to miss if you are not looking closely, Himalayan Café and Restaurant is a quiet respite from the hectic pace on the street below, offering free, fast wi-fi and a chance to unwind over a cup of coffee or tea, a light snack, or a full meal. The service is efficient, but even though their English is good, I did not feel quite as welcome as in other local restaurants.

CombatCritic Gives Himalayan Café and Restaurant 8 Bombs Out of 10 … BOMBS ARE GOOD!




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Key Words: Bhagsu Road, breakfast, café, Chinese, Dharamsala, food, Ganj, Himalayan, Himalayan Café and Restaurant, India, internet, Italian, McLeod, McLeod Ganj, menu, restaurant, Thai, tibetan, view, travel, value


Redbox Instant by Verizon Delivers Instant Nothing!


Redbox Instant by Verizon Delivers Instant Nothing!

I ordered Redbox Instant with live streaming video and 4 credits per month for $8 on November 10, 2013.  Since then, the streaming option rarely works on our PS3 even though Netflix works just fine EVERY TIME!  Then there are the 4 “FREE” CREDITS per month, of which I have only been able to use one.  The last two kiosk reservations I made charged my credit card instead of automatically using credits (as their “HELP” FAQs imply is the case) and it is impossible to apply credits to a kiosk reservation either on the website or the iPhone mobile app. 

The Redbox applications and customer support options are useless as far as credits are concerned and I wasted a great deal of time online and on the phone trying to connect with Redbox Customer Service.  The website and app are obviously not ready for implementation and they must have one customer service rep for the US because every time I call or try to chat online, there is a long wait.

I should have known better than to sign-up for a service that has anything to do with Verizon (see my article Your Verizon Data Is Vulnerable for more information on how Verizon allowed my identity to be stolen and refused to do anything about it), so I canceled my subscription.  I do not have either the time or the patience to deal with a vendor that obviously could care less about customers and Redbox’s affiliation with Verizon tells be a lot about their values or lack thereof.

CombatCritic Gives Redbox 2 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

Key Words: Redbox, Verizon, video, streaming, Blu, Ray, disc, kiosk, rental, movie, TV, internet, film, help, problem, customer, CombatCritic, InstitutionalTerrorism

Luxury? Inn and Suites – Silverthorne, Colorado



The cheapest, I didn’t say “cheap”, lodging in Keystone Resort (Colorado) area is the Luxury Inn and Suites. Located in Silverthorne, Colorado just north of I-70 and one block east of the main drag, the hotel/motel is conveniently located near shops, restaurants, markets, and more.

I paid $69 weekday and $90 weekend on Hotwire, but when I got to the hotel they were advertising $54.95 weekday rates. My payment to Hotwire came to $320 plus tax for four nights, which seems a bit high for a 1 STAR property, but the rooms are clean with a small fridge and microwave, AC, TV with HBO, small indoor pool with Jacuzzi, and continental breakfast included. Even though I paid an average of $80 per night, a value in this overpriced tourist area, I do not appreciate paying $15 more than the advertised rate people simply walking in off the street pay. Hotwire.com should be ashamed of themselves!

Breakfast is “OK”, with hot coffee, bagels, English muffins, and donuts still in the plastic box from the supermarket … classy!  The staff are not very friendly, but helpful when pressed into action.  They seem to care less that you exist, much less being a breathing human being and “valued” customer? Checkout is at 10:00 AM, so do not plan on sleeping in.  I was lucky enough to talk the manager (owner?) into an 11:30 AM checkout on my last day, but it took some persistence and smooth talking to get him to grudgingly agree.

The rooms are moderate in size and fairly clean, although the tile in the bathroom was cracked and some of the furniture looked as though it was purchased at the local Goodwill. Wireless internet is free, but slower than molasses in January…aargh, aargh. The “king” bed I was supposed to sleep in was a few testicles short of kingliness, looking more like a “queen” to me (no disrespect intended to my LGBT audience). It was fairly comfortable nonetheless.
The indoor pool was small, yet clean, with a decent size Jacuzzi that had whirlpool jets with a prostate problem…not a very forceful stream if you know what I mean. 

Exterior doors are open all night with no supervision, so if you are looking for security, keep on looking!

CombatCritic gives the unluxurious Luxury Inn and Suites 4 OUT OF 10 BOMBS for travel value…and they only did that well because everything else is a rip-off in the holiday destination of Keystone (Silverthorne/Dillon/Frisco), Colorado. 

Read more travel, hotel, restaurant reviews … AND MORE on my blog:


CombatCritic … OUT!

Key Words: accomodations, basic, breakfast, clean, Colorado, convenient, disrepair, hotel, inn, internet, luxury, luxury inn and suites, motel, overpriced, security, Silverthorne, suites,