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Travel Tales from India: When Checking Into a Hotel Is More Difficult Than Opening A Bank Account

Posted by on February 13, 2013

Wherever we go in India, Varun and I make a bit of a scene. Most people have seen foreigners, to be sure. But a foreigner who appears to be intimately familiar with an Indian? A foreigner not surrounded by white friends, but by an Indian family? A foreigner wearing Indian clothes and sindoor (the red powder in one’s hair part to symbolize marriage)? This is all worth staring at and questioning closely.

During our last trip to India, we had a particularly memorable encounter late one night while checking into a hotel. After bouncing across the city we, along with our 5 Canadian friends, disembarked from our taxis onto a street lined with hotels. We stood huddled in the night cold, while Varun went to inquire about hotel prices: 3,000 rupees a night. 2,000 rupees, extra if we wanted blankets for the third bed. Finally, we found a hotel for 1,000 rupees ($18 CAD).


As we walked up the stairs into the lobby, I pursued my lips and whispered Varun’s name: “We don’t have our passports!”

No, we didn’t lose them. They weren’t stolen. You see, we were staying in a hotel in Delhi and had left our passports in a safe place at Varun’s parent’s house. Our Canadian friends had theirs, as they weren’t sure they’d return Chez Rana.

In India, and perhaps other countries, providing a passport is requisite for a hotel stay for international guests. We could either taxi the hour home and stay there, or get our passports, or beg for mercy. We went with option 3: plead for mercy.

After photocopying the passports of our friends, the young Indian guys behind the counter asked for ours. Varun stepped forward and explained, in Hindi, that’s he an Indian citizen and I’m a permanent resident of India, we ‘stay’ in Delhi (this is a vague term in Indian usage–it could be residing, visiting, etc). Of course, Varun proffered, we don’t have our passports–why would we?

What happened next puzzles me. Perhaps the guys were young and bored and how often does a white girl with a PIO enter their hotel lobby? Perhaps they are very serious about the rules. Perhaps they just wanted to play the power card.

Regardless, they were not having such an excuse. They demanded our ID–or no room. Seeing the lobby computer, I had an idea. Meanwhile, Varun offered them his driver’s license and explained that he’s from there–not a foreigner. I got thrown into the negotiations as he clearly articulated that I’m his wife.

For once, my crazy ways turned out to be helpful. I had emailed my parents our flight itinerary and a scanned copy of both of our passports and my PIO card. (Apparently taking precautions in case one is held hostage in foreign countries actually pays off.) Proudly, I printed off the copies and marched over to the counter.

At this point, the guys behind the counter had explained to Varun that he couldn’t stay in the hotel because we ‘stay’ in Delhi. Hotel stays, they claimed, were not allowable for Delhi residents. [!!!!]

Bear in mind–our friends were standing waiting, wearing their backpacks. It was about 4 C inside. It was 11:30 pm. The computer’s speed was reminiscent of our family Dell, circa 1997. It had been a. long. day.

Varun handed them his Canadian I.D., and a very firm I Live In Canada. I plopped down the copies of our documents. We waited.

Hotel Guy: Oh no. This is not enough. (Smirk) We need your marriage certificate.

Me: WHAT? No. NO! Sorry. You do not–cannot need that. You didn’t need theirs! (Waving to our married-couple-white-friends with DIFFERENT LAST NAMES)

Varun: (Probably praying we wouldn’t get thrown out into the cold)

Hotel Guys: (Smirks. Laughter. Words spoken. Papers shuffled)

Finally, the guys relented and gave us our room.

Now. There are a couple of possible explanations as to this debacle. I think it was a mixture of boredom and amusement, obeying the rules, and very specific rules. It has been suggested that Delhi residents may not be able to stay in hotels to cut down on prostitution, which may be true. Certainly, we provided a few desk clerks with a dose of entertainment!


In retrospect, the whole snafu is rather amusing. To be honest, I’m not sure who was more confused and agitated: us or them. What I am sure of is that traveling together in India is never dull!

P.S. Regardless of your Valentine’s Day views/plans/feelings, this video is a hilarious reminder of…well…the differences between men and women. [Caution: requires appreciation for British humour]

5 Responses to Travel Tales from India: When Checking Into a Hotel Is More Difficult Than Opening A Bank Account

  1. MC

    Oh my goodness! I have had very similar experiences with my hubby – long, drawn-out discussions at the hotel desks and photocopying and staring and confusion in You-Can-Guess-Where! Yep, had to provide a marriage certificate too, and luckily we brought it in case of such a circumstance. Now just add kiddos to the mix and you can imagine even more confusion! Love this story and glad you were able to stay at the hotel in the end!! (and thanks for the heads-up! I’ll be sure to bring a few extra documents to India just in case!)

    • Amelia

      Glad to know it’s not only India! And yes, I’m sure with your kiddies it’s be even more interesting! Good idea about bringing extra documents–I think erring on that side is the best method!

  2. American Punjaban PI

    Whenever I stayed in Delhi we always had to show our marriage certificate. Delhi had enacted a standard once that prohibited any foreigner from spending the night in a room with an Indian citizen. This was in the wake of all the brothels they were busting. We started staying at the same hotel every time and they eventually stopped asking for it. I learned to keep a copy on me though because I could then enter all the historical sites for Indian prices.

    • Amelia

      Wow! Good to know! Thanks 🙂 I bet when they made that rule they weren’t imagining brides of Indian nationals! Thanks for the heads-up, I’ll be sure to bring my marriage certificate from now on!!

      And yes, I always have it when we go sight seeing for the national’s prices!

  3. Sara

    This is insane!!

Thoughts? I love hearing from you!