A little digging around the internet told me that the first pod hotel opened in Osaka, all the way back in 1979, but the concept has become a fad only in the last few years. Now a dime-a-dozen concept in most tourist-laden cities across the world, it was only a matter of time before some enterprising person would think of bringing it to India.
In Urbanpod’s case, it’s a duo — Shalabh Mittal of Mercator Ltd and Hiren Gandhi of Express Group of Hotels — that hold 45 per cent stake each, with Singapore-based Berlin Lee holding the remaining 10 per cent. I assume the location was chosen for its proximity to both Mumbai airports — domestic and international — and for easy access to the Metro, local trains and nearby business hubs. So tiny is the entire project that it occupies only one floor of a not-so-large corporate building. Ajay Pandit, GM — Operations, tells me that right now, they’re testing the waters, but there’s definitely a desire to expand across the country. Urbanpod opened for business on March 1, but there’s already a whole bunch of people checked in or talking about it a couple of weeks later.
The space is minimal and cheery — there’s a small reception desk on my right as I enter, a little cafeteria on my left, lockers to mandatorily deposit shoes (tip: carry socks if you’re not comfortable being barefoot, especially when going to the communal washrooms; the hotel gives you only a towel, a bottle of water, a TV remote and headphones when you check in). A door next to the reception opens out to a long corridor, with multiple rooms on either side. On my right are 10 suite pods — they aren’t really pods, just tiny rooms with a queen-sized bed taking up 90 per cent of the space, a TV mounted on the wall and standing area so tiny that three would definitely be considered a crowd.
On the left is the real deal — rooms that house the pods. 18 of them are in a separate ladies section – the only additional features being exclusive changing rooms and toilets inside the room. The 106 other pods include six ‘private’ ones that aren’t much different, but they do offer a small window that might make a world of a difference to those who aren’t thrilled by the idea of staying put in something akin to a spaceship.
All this while, an MRI machine jazzed up with a TV set was the closest likeness I could conjure up. One minute inside the pod and I knew I had been very wrong. Yes, you can sit up in it perfectly fine, and no, you won’t hit your head against anything. The pod is also long enough to stretch your legs and wide enough to fit two people, if you’re in reasonable shape. Once you’ve gotten those fears out of your head, it’s an easy ride in your princely 50 sq ft of space for the night.
For between Rs 2,000- 2,500 per night, I’d say the prices are reasonable. The bed is ridiculously comfortable, lighting can be adjusted from stark to soothing and the pod’s lock is foolproof. There are charging points, a Tata Sky-enabled TV, a fire extinguisher and a small safe. They’re obviously certain no guests are coming here for the long haul, so high school-style lockers are supposedly enough for luggage. Meals, too, are not imaginative, almost as if they are designed along the lines of airline food.
Urbanpod’s staff is cheerful, and for transit passengers and/or backpackers, this is a clean, inviting space that might be worth your time. If the idea of the pod still makes you feel stuffy, know that you can choose to enter it only once you’re tired — and that mattress will help you sleep like a baby.