The Gateway Hotel Ganges in Varanasi is a Taj property. However, the overlords at Taj corporate don’t let Gateway use the Taj name. That should really tell you all that you need to know about this hotel.
The Nadesar Palace Hotel was booked, and this was the only option left to me. It wasn’t a “bad” hotel by any means. It was clean, well situated and didn’t have any glaring problems. It was just entirely forgettable. The rooms were decorated as if an aspirational Ikea showroom had bred with a sparsely furnished college dorm room. The furniture was meant to look “nice” and “modern” but in reality the rooms came off as “cheap” and “barren.” My favorite part was the bathroom. I’m not sure who designed this masterpiece, but it was setup in such a way that it was almost impossible to open the bathroom door (and thus enter) because it was placed at an odd angle vis-a-vis the sink. Masterful engineering work India…come on, I thought that was one of your things.
The hotel had a decent enough pool area, and several restaurants I didn’t try. On arrival from KTM, I was still a bit ill and trying to order plain rice and plain chicken was nearly impossible. The concept of plain food is apparently totally foreign and my request for “plain chicken breast with absolutely nothing on it, just a chicken breast” resulted in a sandwich of grilled chicken, cheese, mayo and some vegetables on grilled bread. No point in getting irritated, those are the breaks.
Varanasi was a very interesting place, far better than Agra and much more vibrant than Delhi. Again, there was color here, and water. Those things make for a much more uplifting scene. Especially if you can avoid the ghats where people are burning their dead relatives. That gets a bit depressing.
Varanasi provided interesting experiences, I blessed myself in the waters of the Ganges (don’t think about what’s in it) and took my quintessential “India” photo which is located at the top of this posting. If you pass through Varanasi and the Nadesar Palace is full, at least you won’t get bedbugs at the Taj’s bastard child. Just don’t expect them to get your room service orders right.
Pros: Isn’t a total dump, nice pool, several bars, good location.
Cons: Taj group is clearly ashamed of their Gateway offspring, the staff while well meaning are not super competent, rooms are boring and slightly uncomfortable.
Verdict: The Gateway Ganges benefits from a lack of competition. The only better hotel in town (The Nadesar) has like 10 rooms and is perpetually booked. So unless you plan way in advance, or unless the Taj group opens up a hotel they are proud to call their own in Varanasi, this is your best bet.