Glorious Hotels of India
From a magnificent palace in Delhi to a design hotel in Mumbai, a new book celebrates India’s splendid heritage while showcasing exciting contemporary design
India’s hospitality scene, alongside the country's growing design and architecture scene, has evolved at an astonishing pace over the past decade. From restored palaces in Rajasthan to new urban boutique hotels in Mumbai, the subcontinent is now leading on an international scale. It is a fitting tribute, therefore, that a new coffee table Glorious Hotels of India has just been published, capturing this zeitgeist with a hand-picked collection of the subcontinent’s most spectacular places to stay. Written by British travel journalists, Cosmo Samuel Brockway and Harriet Compston, the book gives a grand yet intimate tour of 40 properties, with half of the hotels being recent openings. The authors spent over five years researching, travelling and writing the book. Accompanied by captivating images by Karam Puri, Glorious Hotels of India explores each room, suite and garden with a curious eye and shares the most enchanting touches. Portraits of owners and staff add a fascinating human element. With insightful and meticulously researched material, this is indeed a ‘glorious’ book – and a homage to the splendor of India.
TAJ MAHAL PALACE | Mumbai
The beating heart of the city of Mumbai, Taj Mahal Palace is an iconic hotel treasured by locals and visitors alike. Built and funded by Parsi industrialist Jamsetji Tata at the dawn of the 20th century, the first stone was laid in 1898. Four years later, as the work neared completion, Tata scoured New York and Paris, where he ordered spun pillars for the ballroom and the front porch, still seen today.
An elaborate, seven-tiered structure of Gothic, Islamic and Rajasthani architecture, topped by a glittering Florentine dome, The Taj was the first building in Mumbai to be lit by electricity. The hotel soon became the playground of Indian royalty who paraded in a horse-drawn carriage in the courtyard, now a swimming pool shaded by mature palms. Further down the line, the hotel housed freedom fighters (for no charge) during the struggle for independence. It was therefore apt that the viceroy, Earl Mountbatten, announced India’s independence from here.
Regarded as the finest hotel in the city,
the 560-room Taj is a favorite destination
for visiting dignitaries and celebrities.
Four thousand works of art, mostly
antique, line the walls. Every detail, from
the Belgian chandeliers to the pietra
dura inlay on the lobby floors, gleams
with pride, creating a backdrop to the
cavalcade of life and joyous celebrations
that take place almost every day.
The Taj’s opulent approach continues
in the kitchen. There are four finedining restaurants, including Wasabi
by Morimoto, recognized as one of
Asia’s 50 best restaurants, which offers
Japanese delicacies with ingredients
specifically flown in from Japan.
Cocktails can be found at Harbour Bar,
the first licensed lounge bar in the city.
Just like Mumbai, the Taj Mahal Palace
continues to be an unstoppable force,
hypnotizing every soul who has a
taste of it.
ABODE | Mumbai
Abode, one of Mumbai’s first boutique hotels, is a haven of calm in the heart of the city. Tucked away above an elegant cafe in the 100-year-old Lansdowne House in Colaba, the property pays homage to the city’s heritage, from old Bombay to modern Mumbai. It is therefore apt that the current owners, the Shams, have a neighboring antiques store.
Opened in 2013, the Shams wanted to create a property with the city at its center. The result is a hip boho-chic hideaway reflecting the multilayered nature of Mumbai. The lobby, with a 19thcentury chandelier, leads into the library corner, inspired by the old booksellers of Fort, with their tiny spaces stacked with books. A neon lighting installation at the entrance celebrates the urban facade with a quote from Bombay native Rudyard Kipling. The café serves snacks inspired by the city’s street food such as bhelpuri. The 20 rooms are decorated in a color palette taken from terracotta chai pots and pistachio sweets. Bedside tables have been made from chaat stands. Reclaimed Burma teak, rescued from demolished houses, is used as flooring. Bathroom doors, made of salvaged wood, feature mismatched patterned frosted glass, with four of the rooms sporting free-standing bathtubs. Fabrics have been largely sourced from vintage saris. Colonial and art-deco furniture, some rescued from Mumbai’s scrap yards, dot the hotel.
The Shams’ heart for the city doesn’t
stop at the design. The property works
with a school for the blind that provides
massage therapists. There is a womenonly driving service. Any leftover soaps
are donated to a nearby NGO that
works with underprivileged women.
As Mumbai continues to blossom,
Abode is an important reminder of how
the ‘city that never sleeps’ can retain the
magic of a bygone era while grasping
hold of a bright future.
A pale pink Lutyens-inspired bungalow nestled in a valley just an hour’s drive from central Delhi, Tikli Bottom is a unique two-acre idyll, created in the 1990s by Martin and Annie Howard, who made this corner of India a sanctuary for man, beast and bird.
Martin, formerly Rolls-Royce director in Delhi, decided, upon retiring, not to return to England. Instead, along with his wife Annie, he built a home just outside the village of Teekli, a few miles from the suburb of Gurugram. The amusing name stems from ‘bottom’ being the archaic word for a lowlying piece of land.
The first glimpse of Tikli is seductive – the arching trees, the crescent-shaped swimming pool flanked by a pair of pale pink classical pavilions, the flashing peacocks, and the serenity of sinking into a soft armchair with an ice-cold nimbu pani. The four bedrooms are placed around a pillared courtyard where most of Tikli life takes place with the central ornamental fountain providing a cool focus in the heat of Indian summers. The interiors are an eclectic echo of colonial style, with a light touch of humor and warmth among the antique furniture, mirrors and silver. Four-poster beds are draped in gauze nets and elegant block prints. Jaipur blue pottery sits alongside Country Life magazines and books on Indian history.
Meals are taken au plein air with the
Howards joining their guests for wideranging conversations. The organic
food is locally sourced with treats
such as cheese and claret imported
via Delhi. The kitchen garden supplies
the table in abundance and the
homemade buffalo-milk yoghurt served
at breakfast is courtesy of Martin’s
treasured buffaloes. But, above all,
Tikli is a place to do nothing, slowly
and blissfully – the perfect soft landing
to the subcontinent or delicious last
course to any adventure.
PALACE | New Delhi
The opening of the 254-room Leela Palace hotel in 2011 saw Delhi gain its grandest hotel in recent memory, and its location at the heart of the cosmopolitan Embassy district is a fitting one.
The story of the Leela brand is both inspiring and a fable of modern India. Founder late Captain C. P. Krishnan Nair was born into a modest family in Kerala. After joining the Indian Army, Nair rose to the rank of captain and married Leela, an industrialist’s daughter, after whom he would name his future hotel group. While pioneering the handloom industry in India, Nair ventured into hospitality at the age of 65. The first Leela hotel opened to great excitement in Mumbai in 1987, and was followed by the Leela Goa, the Leela Palace Bangalore and the Leela Kovalam. Captain Nair’s swansong, the Leela Palace New Delhi, is inspired by the clean-lined elegance of Lutyens’ Delhi, with a dash of continental opulence and Indian chutzpah. Unique features include the 1,400 pieces of art, mainly Indian, that adorn the property as well as mother-of-pearl inlaid furniture and astonishing custom-made chandeliers.
Over 12,000 fresh flowers are brought
in daily (and donated to an NGO
who convert them into eco-friendly
vegetable dyes). There are three
restaurants: signature Indian dining
space, Jamavar, with royal dishes such
as nihari mingling with the memorable
Alleppey meen curry, with coconutmilk gravy and a hint of sour mango.
Megu, with its striking glass Buddha,
serves Japanese delicacies, while the
panelled Le Cirque is French-Italian
with a touch of Manhattan.
A monument to a great man, a great
marriage and a great city, the Leela
Palace New Delhi perfectly represents
the new India, with her vibrancy,
commitment to social change, and
grand celebration of spirit and
hospitality – just as Captain Nair
destined it to be.
BHARAT | Gurugram
Spread across 1.2 sq. km of lush land and surrounded by working farms, India’s first all-suite resort is seated in the lap of one of the world’s oldest mountain ranges, the Aravalli Range. Only a 45-minute drive from Delhi, ITC Grand Bharat in Gurugram opened in November 2014, adding to ITC Hotels’ already indomitable portfolio, spanning the subcontinent.
Constructed in the shape of a mandala, ITC Grand Bharat pays tribute to a variety of Indian architectural styles. This begins with the gently-curved arch at the entrance, inspired by the 10th-century Mukteshwar Temple in Odisha. The elaborate pink-and-cream sandstone facade of the property is influenced by Baroda’s Laxmi Vilas Palace, while the adjoining pillars are adapted from the renowned Adalaj stepwell in Gujarat.
The 104 suites are a further display of India’s heritage and culture – separated from the main building by a water channel named ‘Yamuna’, the surrounding steps replicas of the ghats of Varanasi. Decorated in light colors, the suites feature detailed woodwork, rich fabrics and hand-tufted carpets lining the marble flooring.
Food takes guests on another journey.
Inspired by the national bird of India,
the Peacock Bar – with its molecular
cocktails whipped up on a colonialstyle bar – sets the scene. European
dishes are enjoyed in the India Room,
a picture of royal blue and gold, with
chandeliers set against sumptuous silk.
Local Mewati cuisine is the order of
the day at the poolside restaurant Apas
Promenade. The property’s very own
farm provides the ingredients.
The spa is a 35,000 sq. ft. haven with
a lofty domed hammam. Adorned
with fine filigree work and panelling,
traditional therapies are offered
alongside ancient Ayurvedic practices
and Western treatments.
Bold in its every astonishing detail,
ITC Grand Bharat is dynastic India
re-conjured and a trumpet cry to the
subcontinent’s richest of legacies.