Lifestyle

GLORIOUS HOTELS OF INDIA

By Cosmo Brockway & Harriet Compston; photos Karam Puri

Oberoi Hotels & Resorts have won the hearts of many with its exquisite charm and glorious stays

Glorious Hotels of India features a hand-picked collection of the subcontinent’s most spectacular places to stay. It gives a grand yet intimate tour of 40 properties, with half of the hotels being recent openings. With insightful and meticulously researched material, Glorious Hotels of India is a dynamic and informed book that captures the zeitgeist of where Indian design has evolved over the past decade. The sumptuous coffee table book is a love song to the subcontinent’s finest architecture, designers, artisans, the soul of the book all of those nameless figures who contribute so tirelessly and with such passion behind the scenes to make the hospitality industry in India stand head and shoulders above the rest on the global stage.

Over five years ago, we had a clear vision to create a book on Indian hotels that would stand-out as unique on the market. We were excited and inspired by the idea of producing a book that would celebrate the increasingly fabulous boutiques and contemporary designs across the subcontinent. We brought in Karam Puri as the book photographer because he immediately understood and ran with the vision, scaling India for evermore breath-taking imagery from ornate palaces to tented camps in the foothills of the Himalayas.

The rich legacy of The Oberoi Group of Hotels & Resorts and the exquisite settings of the properties added a key element of ‘glory’ to the book. As a leader in the field of luxurious Indian hospitality, Oberoi’s imaginative mingling of authenticity, devotion to capturing the spirit of place in their properties and astonishing attention to detail as well as the fascinating story behind the Oberoi vision itself came together to provide the most perfect book content we could wish for.

The Oberoi Amarvilās, Agra

Considered the world’s greatest testament to love, the Taj Mahal was built in the 17th century by Emperor Shah Jahan as a tomb for his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. An exercise in perfect symmetry, the building is a fairytale of white marble, semi-precious stones and ornamental gardens. It was therefore a bold decision for The Oberoi Hotels & Resorts to construct a property only 600 metres away from this architectural masterpiece. They rose to the challenge, commissioning celebrated Mumbai-based architect Prabhat Patki (whose previous work for the hotel group includes The Oberoi Oberoi Rajvilās, Jaipur) along with the Malaysian firm, Lim Teo + Wilkes Design Works.

Spread across nine acres of terraced gardens, pools and pavilions, The Oberoi Amarvilās, Agra opened in 2000, a Mughal-style sandstone palace, inspired by the heritage of Shah Jahan’s dynasty, with intricate marble inlays, colonnades, gold accents and etched-glass chandeliers. The fountains - in the Oberoi’s signature indigo blue - resemble the Taj Mahal’s. In line with its magnificent design, the property has a guest list to match. Approached by a sweeping driveway, a handsome quadrant awaits, decorated with cascading fountains and framed by an arched passageway with gilded leaf frescoes. The entrance hall is topped with a flashing gold and blue domed ceiling, dripping with a monumental chandelier, glittering above the marble floor. The lounge is a masterpiece, featuring arching mirrors and vibrant turquoise-washed wood, illustrated with handpicked brass figurines. Split across two wings, each of the 102 rooms, including seven suites, boast uninterrupted views of the Taj Mahal’s pearl-like dome. Opulent and richly textured hand-knotted Obeetee rugs line the teak floors alongside marble-inlay tables, sumptuous silk cushions, and hand-embroidered headboards. Named after the 105-carat Indian diamond, the Kohinoor Suite, bedecked with Indian antiques, works of art, and textiles, provides the ultimate show.

The restaurant Bellevue, with its hip Asian-Mediterranean fusion cuisine, sparkles with glass panels. The more formal Esphahan - serving signature Indian dishes - showcases sandstone and marble-stacked pillars with hand-painted frescoes of Mughal flowers. Further artwork can be found in the spa, where miniatures and oil portraits ornament the walls.

The Oberoi Grand, kolkata

Every large city has one iconic hotel that is woven into its very fabric. The Oberoi Grand, Kolkata is held in great esteem by locals for its history and position as ‘the Grande Dame of Chowringhee’. The property began life in the 1880s as a private home of the aptly named Colonel Grand. Converted into a boarding house by Mrs. Annie Monk, the building’s colonial days took a more vibrant turn when it was bought by the enterprising Armenian businessman Arathoon Stephen, who owned the neighbouring cinema. Stephen, originally from Isfahan, was typical of Kolkata’s colourful population. Having arrived a penniless refugee from Iran, bravely travelling through the North-West Frontier to Bengal, Stephen sold jewellery from a wheelbarrow before working his way up to becoming one of the city’s richest magnates. Having acquired the original building from Mrs. Monk, Stephen built the splendid edifice seen today in 1911 and installed electricity in 1914. The cream neoclassical facade, said to be inspired by London’s Regent Street, and opulent interiors made the hotel the leading choice for Kolkata (then Calcutta) society. Many a ball was held here, along with a legendary annual New Year’s Eve party. A collector of oriental china, Stephen was at the forefront of pre-war Indian life and created another hotel in Darjeeling, called the Everest. On his death in the 1930s, the hotel’s fortune dramatically declined due to a cholera outbreak, which claimed the lives of several guests, and the property closed down.

In 1939, on the eve of the Second World War, another self-made man, M. S. Oberoi, whose own life drew many parallels with the wealthy Armenian, took on the lease. He reopened the hotel to great fanfare, renaming it the The Oberoi Grand. Four thousand allied soldiers were billeted in the building during the war in yet another fascinating chapter in the hotel’s history. Today’s luxurious property draws guests from all over the world. The galleried lobby, a welcome respite from the bustling markets outside, is serenaded by a tuxedo-wearing pianist in the late afternoons. The central courtyard is built around a large pool shaded by palms and wrought-iron furniture. The striking Chowringhee Bar with its gallery of vintage art and photographs is given a contemporary note by midnight-blue velvet upholstery and brass accents. The gold theme is continued in the design of the all-day dining Threesixtythree° restaurant, which is highly regarded for its imaginative and seasonal menu, including superb Bengali cuisine. Guests can travel to the Far East at Baan Thai, evocative of the old kingdom of Siam, with carved screens, staff in brocade silks, and authentic dishes. The 209 rooms and suites, including the 1,350 sq. ft. Presidential Suite, are furnished in comfortable colonial style.

The surrounding areas of Esplanade, New Market and Park Street offer a wealth of sights and shopping options, including the nearby Indian Museum (founded in 1814), pearls and pakoras in the market, bookstores, and tea at the legendary tea house, Flurys. Among the hotel’s cultural experiences offered is the European Walk, taking in historical and quirky locations from the city’s past. The Oberoi Grand is a legend and a leading figure in the city’s rich tapestry, celebrating the past but looking forward to a future hand-in-hand with Kolkata itself.

The Oberoi Sukhvilās Spa Resort, New Chandigarh

Just outside Chandigarh, on the edge of the Siswan Forest Range, lies The Oberoi Sukhvilās Spa Resort, New Chandigarh. Once a poultry farm owned by the family of Punjab Chief Minister, Parkash Singh Badal, in the rural village of Pallanpur, the property has been transformed by architect Ravi Kumar Gupta and chairman Prithvi Raj Singh ‘Biki’ Oberoi, who, in his 9th decade, is still involved in new developments. The word ‘sukh’ translates to ‘joy’ or ‘delight’.

Nestled in verdant gardens, the combination of architecture and interiors, incorporating Rajput and Mughal patterns, is apt to its name. Down an immaculate driveway, a sequence of landscaped courtyards leads to the hotel entrance, punctuated by cobalt reflection pools. Stone jalis line the path, giving way to cream-coloured scalloped arches, baradari with carved stone columns and gilded finials gleaming above the domed rooftops. The symmetry continues inside, showcased in ornamental splendour. The 60 rooms - most in haveli-inspired buildings and arranged in clusters around fountain-adorned courtyards - are inspired by palace architecture with traditional design elements: woven rugs by heritage brand Obeetee, thekri mirror-work, and jharokha windows. The Royal Forest Tents, with their private pools, feature chandeliers, teak and shisham furniture, all evoking the royal shikar of the past.

The Oberoi Group was one of the first hotel groups in India to offer multi-cuisine restaurants. Towering brass-framed doors, rising from floors of red sandstone, lead to a fine example - Anant Mahal, a picture of fireplaces, crystal chandeliers, and handpainted gold-leaf elephant frescoes. The menu is extensive, making use of local, seasonal produce, seasoned by herbs and spices that are mainly grown on the hotel’s on-site farm. The Raunaq Bar, with portraits depicting Sikh warriors, reflects the state’s proud and fierce history. The spa, overlooking the forest, is an equal triumph: a tranquil light-filled haven, embellished with glass, fire and water features. Roman-style baths with heated marble beds, infrared sauna, and atmospheric hammam play home to Ayurvedic, Eastern and Western therapies. Forest bathing is one of the spa’s most unique offerings - a Japanese therapy that focuses on healing through soaking up the forest atmosphere. During their meandering, guests can stop at a clearing for a spot of yoga before winding their way back past a symphony of colourful birds, and perhaps even a leopard. Guests can spend a day out and visit Chandigarh with its sweeping boulevards, lakes, gardens and grand civic buildings. Now flourishing as a centre for culture and law, the city is a fascinating departure from the India that surrounds it. The hotel can also organise a trip to Amritsar, a few hours’ drive away. The city is home to the Golden Temple, a site of Sikh pilgrimage that glistens in the sunlight. The world’s first Partition Museum can too be explored and visitors can witness the Beating Retreat Ceremony at the Wagah Border.

The Oberoi Group has indeed created an enchantment here in the foothills of the mighty Punjab with this collection of pavilions in the manner of the pleasure gardens of India’s golden age.

The Oberoi Udavilās , Udaipur

The 200-year-old former hunting grounds of the maharanas of Mewar boast the ultimate trophy: The Oberoi Udaivilās, Udaipur. Spread over 50 acres on the banks of Lake Pichola in Udaipur, the ‘Venice of the East’, the property is another one of the Oberoi’s ‘vilas’ properties, shining along the same lines as its siblings: a maze of domes, scalloped arches and creamy stone with water features and verdant gardens. An intricate layout of interconnecting domes and corridors reflects the city itself, whose seven major lakes are linked by canals. A 20-acre wildlife sanctuary with deer and wild boar is another enjoyable feature.

Each detail of the building was carefully overseen by Chairman Mr. P. R. S. Oberoi. The predominantly single-storey structure rises with the slope of the land, creating different levels and views of the 17th and 18th century island palaces lining the lake. The colour of the walls is achieved with ghutai, a traditional lime-plastering technique that requires up to 18 months of preparation. Further heritage touches can be seen in the mirror inlay, inspired by Udaipur’s Lake Palace and City Palace, alongside art deco-style furniture and other period pieces. Guests are ferried across the lake by canopied boat. The lobby sets the scene with a gilded dome ceiling, complemented by glass chandeliers and a white Thassos marble fountain. The adjoining bar features burlwood-and-leather armchairs and chenille sofas. However, the most romantic is the adjacent Candle Room, a miniature sheesh mahal, where the reflection of candlelight dazzles against a dome encrusted with 1,000 pieces of glass.

The three restaurants face Lake Pichola. The Suryamahal, for all-day dining, has a 1930s-era colonial air, while Chandi has an elegant courtyard setting. Udaimahal is an octagonal space, with a domed ceiling, painted midnight blue with gold stars, evoking the night sky. The 90 rooms include five suites showcasing details such as a jharokha, or bay window seat. The Kohinoor Suite is the jewel in the crown, with miniature wall paintings, gold-domed ceilings and carved marble, plus a 20-metre private pool enshrined in frangipani trees. Overlooking the lake, the hotel spa, which offers a combination of Eastern and Western therapies, is the ideal way to relax after a day out exploring. Each treatment is

Gallery.

How may I help you? View Availability