You can indulge in luxury knowing that your ecological conscience is clear and wallet reasonably untouched: the motto for ITC hotels is ‘Responsible Luxury’. Ordinarily, luxury of the level provided by ITC is such that there is bound to be an elaborate cost, for both the guest and the environment. But at the Maurya in Delhi, the Mughal in Agra and the Rajputana in Jaipur, where each of the hotels is based on clear theme, and embellished by a soaring sense of history.
The Maurya in Delhi is the flagship hotel. It is named after the dynasty of that period, the Mauryan dynasty. The Mauryan Empire was one of the world’slargest empires in its time and the largest ever in the Indian subcontinent. The hotel pays homage to this with its impressive seven storeys culminating in the cross of a pyramid.
The lobby is breathtaking, it is reminiscent of the inside of a huge pipe organ, yet strikingly more impressive. Bright colours and wooden beams highlight the delicate intricacy of its artist, Krishen Khanna. Standing at almost 3000 square feet it is understandable to see travellers with creaked necks and open jaws wander aghast through the lobby in collective amazement.
Mixed with old is inevitably the new. There is a shopping mall, a gym, the award winning Kaya Kalp Spa, various different style restaurants, and a golf bar housing some of the finest scotch in the city.
By far the most impressive element is the Bukhara restaurant. It features heavily in the 50 top best restaurants of the world and can arguably be called Delhi’s most well known.
For the past 34 years it has served every type of celebrity its signature dishes inspired by the North West Frontier. The food is cooked in clay tandoors, chefs train for years to master the correct mix of spices, all the while painfully desensitising their hands by sticking bread and kebabs into the searing white hot heat of the ovens.
The menu is hand painted onto a block of wood; the crockery is ochre in colour and you drink from a copper goblet. Your napkin is an apron, red or green depending on whether you are vegetarian or not, eating is by hand and can get quite messy. You can ogle at the chefs at work through the open plan kitchen.
Signature dishes include the murgh malai kabab, boneless chicken with cream cheese and coriander and the tandoori jhinga, jumbo prawns marinated in chillies and garam masala. If you are exceptionally hungry or enjoy a challenge, try the Naan Bukhara, beware though, it is ‘probably the size of a baby’s blanket’ to quote the head chef. The menu hasn’t changed from the day and hour the restaurant was opened; to the delight of seasoned clientele and new visitors who invariably become seasoned clientele.
The rooms are created to cater for every preference, the presidential floor, does what it says on the tin, the Eva floor is for lone female travellers and the Pure rooms are designed hypo allergenic ally to cater for sensitivities. All rooms have WIFI and many have black leather reclining massage chairs reminiscent of the 1970’s. Little touches such as lavender sleep spray and eye masks are always appreciated after a long flight, although not necessarily required after 10 minutes in the ‘mastermind’ chair.
Moving further south, The Agra Mughal is set in over 35 acres of luscious gardens. The name descends from the great Mughal builders of time, having specifically built the Taj Mahal. The seventh wonder of the world is only 4 kilometres away, in fact if you venture onto the top terrace before dusk you can just about see it.
The lobby marble in the lobby is iridescent cool and sparkling as the light of the day reflects on it. There are 233 rooms. A new wing has been built and christened the ‘Khwab Mahal’ or Palace of Dreams. It draws inspiration from the great Mughal leader Shan Jahan who wanted to build a palace of dreams for his wife Mumtaz Mahal. Unfortunately she died during childbirth and Shan went on to build the Taj Mahal as a symbol of his love. This new wing portrays the opulence intended by Shan for his beloved, a shrine of love some might say.
After wrestling with tour guides and swarms of tourists, beat a hasty retreat to the 99,000 square feet Kaya Kalp, namesake of the spa in the Delhi hotel; however this one is the largest spa in India. It boasts India’s first modern day Mughal Hamam, a royal bath used as a spa. There are channels of bubbling running water metaphorically leading you by the hand, rain showers, courtyards and pearl embellished interiors. All of which make for a rejuvenating experience, just as the Sanskrit meaning of Kaya Kalp predicts.
One of the four restaurants, the Peshwari is the sister restaurant of the Bukhara and serves the same impeccable food and service.
In the true spirit of the hotel, as you prepare to leave, they make you a pack lunch for your travels.
Their mantra is ‘arrive a mortal, leave a Mughal’. Very apt. Hand me a gold threaded anarkali dress and I’m almost there.
Venturing towards the ITC Rajputana, you know that you have stepped into yet another era. It is built in a dusky dark pink brick, complementing the surrounding buildings and the pink city name of Jaipur. It reflects the Rajputana era, the name of Rajasthan before its reformation in 1949. It has long corridors, bright pink and bronze interiors, courtyards and integrated lattice work, much the same as a Rajasthan ‘haveli’ or private mansion.
The hotel has 218 rooms incorporating16 suites, all named after the princely states of Rajpootana. The old favourites Peshwari and Kaya Kalp are also in residence. Try the Jal Mahal restaurant, it offers flavours from Rajasthan a sampling menu not to be missed.
Finish off the hot day by quenching your thirst in the cool Sheesh Mahal bar. Revered by locals it is designed to reflect, literally, the Rajuputana palaces. Thousands of fragments of mirrors are embedded in the walls. They sparkle and shine like stars, transporting you to an era where elephants trumpeted through the streets carrying precious wares from every corner of the world, sparkling and timeless just like India.
Getting There, The Virgin Atlantic Way!
The captain cheerily booms over the tannoy ‘sit back, relax and enjoy the flight’. How often have you heard that and thought ‘if only you knew the gauntlet I’ve just ran to get to this seat’. Sweat and tears, blistered feet, sore hands from hauling the overweight case, which in all likeliness cost the price of an extra ticket in excess baggage. Now that I’m in the seat, I’m guaranteed, squashed knees, an argument with the person next to me over cabin baggage and the thought of 10 hours in what feels like a body brace position.
Not with Virgin Upper Class.
From the second your chauffeur picks you up you know that your days of airport harassment are over. Waltzing smugly through the private security channel, after a seamless check in, you arrive at the Clubhouse. A resort in itself. Heathrow Clubhouse has a spa, cinema room and food worthy of a top restaurant.
Finish that cocktail at your leisure, you are in no hurry to rush for the flight, everything is taken care off. Although once on board you wish maybe you should’ve hurried a little faster. Champagne on arrival, pyjamas and in-flight dining to suit your body clock are standard.
The flat beds are roomy and comfortable, seems a shame to sleep right away though as there is so much to do. Not usually the word you hark on a long haul flight. The bar, decked in the distinctive Virgin colours of red and purple beckons. There is over 300 hours of entertainment; films, games and TV, including power points for laptops and a roomy table to conduct work if you so wish.
As the captain announces’ ten minutes to landing’ you feel almost a like sad that your flight has come to an end, until that is the return flight, when you get to indulge in this luxury all over again.