If you are looking to stay in a warm, friendly family run place, the Kunga Guest House located in the Himalayan town of Mcleodganj (where the Dalai Lama runs the Tibetan Government in exile) may be tough to beat. Especially after Hollywood stars too have endorsed it.
It is owned by the head of security to the Dalai Lama, and run by his son Nick Tenzing (ably supported by his wife) – all Tibetans. The guest house is unpretentious, very clean and fresh, suprisingly very modestly priced and makes you feel wanted with genuinely warm smiles all around. And it has hosted the likes of Richard Gere and Pierce Brosnan in the past.
* Tariffs: Start smiling. These range from Rs. 175 – 600 ($ 4.50 – 15) per night for a double room. The variation is based on room location, amenities and on whether the bath is shared or en-suite.
* The Rooms: The air feels fresh, it looks well scrubbed and the sheets and quilts look very clean and inviting. If you think these should sound as standard features, check out typical hotels in the mountains that tend to be musty due to the climate and rarely give a clean feeling – and they charge 2-5 times of what Kunga does. Some rooms have fans, some don’t. Ditto for television sets. My Rs. 600 room had the former, as well as storage cupboards, sofas, table and a double bed. Nick claims every room is scrubbed clean and sheets changed after every guest leaves – even if stayed just a few hours.
* The Bath: Very basic, but functional and hygienic with a hot water geyser. You are not provided with towels, toilet rolls and soaps though. But you can buy some supplies from the reception, or shops around the guest house.
* Number of rooms: 9 in the main building, 6 in an annexe below the restaurant terrace on the ground level (buildings in the mountains tend to have a few floors above and below the ground level) and a few extra rooms in nearby buildings.
* Meals: They run an excellent vegetarian restaurant within the premises named Nick’s Italian Kitchen (that serves Chinese dishes too without classifying them as so, to be politically correct I guess) open from around 7:00 am – 9:00 pm. The food is tasty, fresh, wholesome and nothing seems to be over Rs. 90 ($ 2.25). A rich American breakfast of a big plate of hash browns, two eggs, two toast, butter, jam and a tea or coffee costs just Rs. 75. Beat that. They also make an excellent banana cake (I did not try other flavours but they looked as good) and freshly brewed coffee.
* Who runs it: Nick’s extended family including a few cousins and nephews. They all stay in this building only. It was set up around 1995. And they are all hands on: Nick’s wife was seen tying mops, his cousins would be cleaning rooms and Nick himself claims to get his hands dirty when need be.
* Connectivity: No telephones or internet; but in Mcleodganj you are never more than a few metres away from a high speed internet café or a public telephone call booth.
* Reservations: They don’t take advance reservations, as they do not believe in asking guests to vacate a room (if they decide to extend their trip). In fact, they didn’t even ask me how many days I wanted the room for: I can check out any day before noon. And then the room is made available to walk-ins. Nick says it is also tough to keep track as people make reservations and then don’t turn up. They believe in keeping business simple. They are also selective about giving out rooms; when I was checking in, a travel agent was told they were full up but we got the rooms. The owners do not seem to be the snooty type; they probably seem to prefer the quiet sort of guests.
* Contact: Kunga Guest House, Bhagsunag Road, Mcleodganj, District Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, India. Tel: +91.1892.221180 / 221569, +91.98160 21180, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.