A Touch of the Raj
Staying at the Fairlawn makes Calcutta tolerable. Set in the backpacker area of Sudder Street, It is a wonderful retreat, but don't expect anything modern. It is cluttered with memorabilia including autographed photographs of the celebrities who have stayed here such as the author of City of Joy, Dominique Lapierre, Gunther Grass, Tom Stoppard, Sting, Patrick Swayze, Julie Christie and Felicity Kendal. The rooms are large and very old-fashioned.
There is a lush garden in front of the hotel, where you can sit and drink afternoon tea or beer in the evenings.
Weird, Eccentric & Wonderful Fairlawn
We have tried three times to get accomodation at this wonderfully eccentric and unusual hotel. It is ALWAYS heavily booked. I have, however, had a tour of the establishment, and loved everything about it.
The Fairlawn has been run by the same family for very many years, and now is owned by the matriarch- Mrs Violet Smith and her daughter. Read the history of the building @ http://www.fairlawnhotel.com/html/abus.html. Very interesting.
Built in late 1700's, it has a wide balastraded balcony running the length of the building upstairs, and much of it is painted bright green.
The lush gardens have a beer-garden that is always filled with happy travellers.
It has a full board (3 meals a day) or a bed & breakfast tariff. The dining room is genteel and well run. Food is English with an Indian Influence, and served by smartly white-uniformed waiters.
I have seen inside the rooms, and they are quite eccentric- each room is different All have attached bathrooms , air-conditioning, phones & TV (also tea-making facilities.))
Quaint aspects are the many many artifacts that cover every square inch of surface- walls and furniture , in the lounges, stairways and sitting rooms. Posters & pictures line the walls. A feast for the eyes!!!!
This hotel has been the choice of many famous people in the past (and still is) :
Ishmail Merchant and James Ivory
Patrick Swayze and the cast of The City of Joy, the Fairlawn is featured in the film.
Tirtio Terzani (writer) and family. (His son has his wedding here in 1997)
Dominique Lapierre and his wife Dominique.
please take a moment to look at the photo's- they took me ages to upload!
Unique Quality: Lush Garden with a great beer-garden- it has a casual, friendly atmosphere, and is the choice of many tourists for a"chill out"
I also love the eccentric decor and beautiful wooden staircase.
It is in the Sudder Street Area- which is conveniently close to Park Street & Chowringee.
Directions: 18 Sudder Street Kolkata
The Fairlawn arranged to have a car pick us up from the Airport - it didn't turn up (3am on Sunday morning). When we did arrive in our own taxi, they put us in a room directly off the dining room with no windows and ceiling fan noisy enough to be heard in Darjeeling. After much complaining and bribing the night manager moved us to another room - still off the open, ground floor dining area but at least with a small window (albeit covered in zinc security mesh). The bathrooms are best described as functional, not dirty but well past their original intended period of use. Hot water is promised at all times but the definition of hot and 'all-times' is debateable.
The full english breakfast (which I only eat on the third day after the manager asked why we didn't like the food and attend breakfast) consisted of 3 cold french fries, a mass of soggy scrambled egg which tasted slightly bad and (no exageration here) 1 square inch of 'bacon' (seriously I should have taken a picture of it!). The accompanying melon slice was dried out. The toast was ok and swiftly consumed, he he.
The hotel is on Sudder Street which means you can't go ten yards without being offered a taxi or a 'good' hash deal. One morning we were woken at around 7am by a Hare Krishna procession banging drums and clapping their hands - normally I'd enjoy this but the barking dogs had kept me awake until 2:30am.
Two german girls who had been there a few nights were told that despite the confirmation that, because of a mix-up, they didn't really have a room for them and they would have to leave!
Despite all this, though I just can't bring myself to dislike the Fairlawn.
It has an undeniable charm, the decor and ambience is like walking through your maiden great-aunt's house. Every wall-space is covered with photos and newspapaer clippings - normally of the owners family and reviews hotel. There are cupboards containing trinkets and ornaments from the history of Calcutta and the building. It mustn't have changed much since the Canadians military requisitioned it in the second war.
We were pleased to chat to the lady owner - an anglophile Armenian whose family have been there for decades. A very charismatic old lady who commanded the staff with a flick of her hand from her special chair on the terrace, whilst attended in the background by her small,obedient Indian maid.
To be fare, after a couple of nights, they moved us to the 'best room in the place, darling' (according to the Matriarch.) The terrace was a pleasant respite from Crazy Kolkatta, serving great tea and nice cold beer - a seamingly rare oasis in this city. People come to the terrace for a quiet break and in the afternoon, there's always someone interesting to talk to.
Sudder Street is Sudder Street and enough is written it that to complain when you get there seems a bit, well, stupid really. Personally, I liked it - it had a slower pace than the rest of the city and more than enough places to sit, eat and watch a eclectic mix of Indians and Foreigners go about their business.
Unique Quality: The terrace. The sense of history and the uniqueness of the place. It's like being in a rusty old ocean liner, kept afloat by a lot of bailing-out by the staff and by the shear will power and charisma of the captain.
The famous getaway
Calcutta has all the big chains of faceless hotels somewhere about the plave and of course the Oberoi - palatial opulance on a street of beggars.
In my opinion however there is only one hotel in Calcutta that is worth considering. At only sixty dollars a night (full-board) it is officially a two-star hotel, but it is leagues above the budget hotels in Sudder street that it faces.
The place has been run for fourty odd years by the same husband and wife team and in that time just about every travel writer or travel documentary has used the place due to its unique mixture of colonial and Indian styles. Rooms (nowadays) are modern a/c affairs with the usual comforts, but the real star of the place is the leafy green garden and restaurant with waiters looking like Maharjahs (except they are the ones doing the serving).
I personally stayed in another hotel as the place was fully booked, but I had the pleasure of eating there twice. Do book ahead - it really is something else.
Unique Quality: The hotel features in the film 'City of Joy' (see othe tip). It's given another name in the film, but is is very recognisable.
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We've found that other people looking for this hotel also know it by these names:
- Hotel Fairlawn
Address: 13/A Sudder St, Kolkata (Calcutta), West Bengal, 700 016, India
Amenities at Fairlawn Hotel
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