Hotels are often advertised as luxurious, grand, good service and comfortable and their most common description is a “Home away from home”.
However, I beg to differ. No doubt, home is the place where one is most comfortable. But at some point in one’s life, one requires a place that is different from home. Most people opt to go to some place else when they take leave. They would not like to spend time home. Of course, the reason people go on tours, trips, vacations is to see the various exciting places, have a change of climate, spend time away from the same humdrum life. But mostly it is to escape the routine of everyday home life, no matter how comfortable and beautiful the home may be. You are always on call when you are at home, even if you are not a doctor! You are expected to answer the doorbell, the phone bell, deal with neighbours, bills, courier service people, postmen, the maid, and so many other intrusions. At some point you want out. You want some thing other than home.
This summer, we decided to go on a short vacation to Panhala from 15 to 18th May. However, we could get the booking of the MTDC resort only from 16th. So we decided to spend the 15th at Kolhapur. We reached there around noon and checked into the Opal Hotel. This is our usual hotel whenever we come to Kolhapur. We have been coming to this hotel since 1984 since Rahul was only 2 months away from his 2nd birthday.
As we had an advance booking, we were ushered to our room without much delay. We realised that this was a brand new double room in a newly constructed wing of the hotel. Later we came to know that it had been inaugurated only 2 weeks ago. After lunch in the hotel dining room, we rested and then went to Temlai which is nearby and is one of our favourite spots in Kolhapur. We retired to our room at night after the delicious ice cream at Solanki’s. The next morning, we had our breakfast and checked out. Before that we made a trip to the first floor of the hotel, which we had missed during our visit last year with Ayi and Baba. The familiar layout altered, new rooms had been constructed, a hall which could be used for a small function had been fashioned out of the enormous hall or sitting room which had been there earlier between the two rooms facing the driveway, on the first floor. However, the two rooms which we used to occupy earlier had been kept with their beautiful balconies in tact. We roamed around with a feeling of nostalgia, trying to figure out which was the corridor in which Rahul, Suppi and Ajit played cricket, the beautiful amazing bathroom at the far end of the corridor which was almost as big as half our house! The window of the corridor which looked on to the terrace adjoining the balcony of the room from where we had seen the colorful sari floating away in the pre monsoon whirlwind at the fag end of May. We had awoken Rahul from his afternoon siesta to show him the magic carpet!
We trooped down to the lobby to collect our luggage. Then we all sat in the car and as we drove away, I was filled with a sense of comfort, as if a soothing balm had been applied to my raw feelings. I don’t know why, a stay in a hotel should bring about this feeling in me. I decided then that I will put into words what this hotel has meant to me and my family all these years.
Our first association with Hotel Opal was in September 1984. We were on our way to Goa for Navratri festival. My parents –in-law and my brother in law and Rahul , Ajit and I along with our driver Pandey took the halt at Kolhapur. We intended to stay overnight and then resume our journey to Goa. The partners of this hotel are our family friends and know my father in law personally . All from our family stay here when on holiday or work. From the minute we stepped into the hotel, it felt very warm and comfortable. The driveway from the gate to the welcoming lobby , and the colonial bungalow look that the hotel has was very charming. In fact it was a old bungalow set in well kept lawns converted into a hotel. We were allotted two rooms on the first floor, facing each other across the huge sitting room. Each room had an individual balcony and a terrace leading from it to the side of the bungalow. The rooms being on the front side of the hotel gave a lovely view of the lawns, driveway and the road beyond. We spent many a happy hour on the balcony, chatting, playing, snacking and singing too! Rahul loved being in both the rooms. He would bound across the sitting room with its bamboo and cane furniture from our room to his grandparents room. Most of our time was spent together in one balcony. The room service person, one Mr Shivaji was really very nice and helpful. He would cook Rahul’s “maam maam” on the gas under the great wooden staircase, in an area which serves as a pantry for impromptu breakfast, tea, coffee, milk, etc. This is a system which continues to this day, even though the hotel boasts of a first class restaurant, which people come especially to dine and lunch. The pandhara Rassa , mutton and bhakri served here is to die for!
After our first visit, we came here very often. Each time, our heart would take memories more pleasant than the earlier. We would plan a vacation to Kolhapur , just because we would look forward to staying at The Hotel Opal,soak in the relaxing atmosphere, the unobtrusive warmth and friendliness. Sometime in the early nineties, we came here with Ayi and Baba,. This time little Suppie was with us too! This time we missed Shivaji. The boy, who had brought up our bags, said that Shivaji had gone back to his village. When we asked him his name, the boy promptly replied, Sambhaji! Suppi, Rahul as well as Ayi and Baba loved the hotel and Temlai as well, not to mention the premonsoon weather which presents itself with gusty winds, sudden showers and a drop in the temperature, A very bracing climate indeed!
In the following years, the hotel must have undergone many changes. We could not come as often as before owing to the children’s school and college exams, classes etc. But we used to here from Ajit’s cousin Ajay about the changes made to the hotel. We used to hope that the hotel would not lose its charm and grace and service. Rooms had been added, some Air conditioned, the dining hall had been extended, the first floor arrangement had been changed to accommodate more rooms. Change is an essential part of progress. If the hotel had to survive and meet the needs of growing clientèle's, it had to take the necessary steps.
We visited the hotel after many years last year with Ayi and Baba. WE were allotted AC two rooms on the ground floor at the back. They did not boast of any view. However, except the fact that one of the rooms was a bit musty smelling, the service, the comfort, and the cleanliness was faultless. The waiters, room service, etc was good. During that visit, we did not venture upstairs to explore the changes. Changes are necessary with time but the management has kept the soul intact.