To reach the ITC Grand Bharat from Delhi, you have to cross the Manesar border. A daunting prospect made easy by the hotel’s hospitality. They send an Audi SUV to ferry each of their Delhi-NCR guests. Driving past the golf course, the hotel—veritable monument in sandstone—rises gradually. The architecture borrows elements from Gujarat’s Adalaj stepwell; Odisha’s Mukteswar Temple; Vadodara’s Laxmi Vilas Palace and Varanasi’s ghats. The building is testimony to the grandeur of all its precursors.
The temperature in Grand Bharat’s high-ceilinged foyer is as soothing as its light. It would be hard to find a better climate-controlled hotel in the vicinity. An all-suite property, suites on the ground floor face the pool and those on the floor above come with a terrace. All guests are attended to by their own ‘Retreat Host’. When Arunima Sharma, our indefatigable host, walked us through our almost decadent suite—king-sized beds, plump sofas, walk-in closet and a powder room—I felt impatient. All I wanted was to dive into my private pool. And then I noticed. My silk pillow had come embossed with my name.
The fare at the all-day dining Aravali Pavilion has been designed in consultation with a nutritionist, and the menu given to us in the velvet-boothed, chandelier-decked chamber of The India Room again had our names printed on them. The continental fare on offer had been specially curated for us, and there was comfort in this personalisation. We ate onion veloute, lamb chops and raspberry sorbet that night. Champagne appeared without warning, and the hedonism of those hours has since been hard to forget.
The suite’s plush beds will of course tempt you to sleep in, but the hotel’s ‘Signature Breakfast’—eggs Benedict and buckwheat waffles—are well worth shaking off that duvet for. If you head to the golf course, the instructor is sure to convince you that you are a natural. Speaking of ‘natural’, the hotel’s Kaya Kalp Spa offers Ayurveda therapy rooms, an indoor pool and a hammam that will make you swoon. The detox, though, doesn’t need long to come undone. Dinner includes jungli maas and lamb biryani!
In the end, our two-night stay seemed short. We cooked risotto in The India Room kitchen. We visited the on-site farm, and were dangled the prospect of a picnic. And driving away from this luxury, I will remember all the opulence, but more than that, I’ll miss that aqua-hued suite-side pool. It still calls me.
Deluxe suites cost Rs50,000 per night (excluding taxes). A meal for two costs approximately `5,000 at the Aravali Pavilion and Rs8,000 at The India Room. Address Hasanpur, Tauru, District Mewat, Haryana. Phone 0126-7285500. www.itchotels.in/hotels/gurgaon/itcgrandbharat
Aniruddh Thakur, Mixologist
“At the Peacock Bar, I perform ‘The Bar Theatre’ to interact with my guests. I start with the Pharoah’s Cup from ancient Egypt and I end with the original recipe for a Cosmopolitan created for Madonna in ‘The Rainbow Room’ in 1980s New York. I also throw in techniques of molecular mixology.”
If silence is golden, The Roseate, New Delhi is a treasure chest. The Delhi-Gurugram express-way—with its cars, trucks and fumes—assaults the senses. Paved with fruit trees, the hotel’s driveway pulls a curtain over all that chaos. In the foyer, I see a copper wall, made of individually-cast 6.5 lakh metal leaves, and I am told it is this structure that keeps the inner perimeters of this property sound proof. The lack of noise is remarkable. I’m struck by the architecture. Walking to the lobby, I pass standing pools and airy, high-vaulted, sunlit chambers. Designed by Thai architect Lek Bunnag, the hotel is balm for my frayed senses.
The brick and glass facade of The Roseate is almost clear of sharp edges, and the building invokes the sphere-heavy Jet Age buildings of the 1960s. Inside, monochrome halls and stairwells make you think you’ve walked onto Kubrick’s sets of 2001: A Space Odyssey. They are all multi-domed. The rooms here themselves delight in dissonance. For some time, I felt I was travelling galaxies in my own luxury portal. Then I looked outside at the shock of greenery beyond my giant window and felt I was inside a tropical jungle at the same time. An iPad controlled every feature in my room—lights, blinds, temperature, entertainment and the door. I could order in food, book spa appointments and communicate with the front desk by not clicking, but just tapping my fingers. Indulgence had a button.
True to the ethos of a curated, boutique hospitality property, every experience at The Roseate feels bespoke. At the all-day dining restaurant Kiyan, find a table that looks out onto the massive Ishfahan stone pillars and standing pool, and embark on a tea-tasting journey. The award-winning Aheli spa, situated next to the gorgeous swimming pool, brings the exterior in: therapy rooms are ensconced in high-walled greenery that guarantees privacy. Even if you’re not staying at the hotel, make a trip to Chi Ni, the fine dining Chinese restaurant on the property. The delights are many—juicy dim sums, crepes of Peking duck, perfectly cooked Australian lamb chops, and chef Ban’s signature dish, smoky fried rice.
The Supreme Court ruling that bans alcohol from establishments located next to the national highways has certainly affected The Roseate, and this is a pity because the Iah Bar at the hotel is other-worldly, warm and gorgeous. I never felt the absence of alcohol, though. My senses were too satiated to complain.
Rooms range from Rs13,000. A meal for two is Rs4,000 at Kiyan and Rs5,000 at Chi Ni. Address Samalkha, NH-8, New Delhi. Phone 011-33552211. www.roseatehotels.com/newdelhi/theroseate
Chef Nishant Chaubey, Corporate Chef, Bird Group
“My passion for growing our own vegetables on the hotel’s farm has now become a common passion that percolates through the hotel’s kitchens too. Indian cuisine is very hot right now but we have a lot to prove. This gap gives me a lot of motivation to keep experimenting.”
The Oberoi, Gurgaon, pulls out all the stops for the business traveller. After a brief stay there, I have evidence to back this theory up. First off, a BMW 7 Series sedan arrived in my driveway to take me to the hotel. There was a swiftness with which I was checked into my Deluxe Suite. The efficiency was clearly practiced. The spa and fitness centre were both open 24 hours. The Gucci and Lexus showrooms on the property fit into glass cubes that glimmered at night. The lobby was all chrome and glass. The butler, standing with a champagne flute, broke the ice. He helped with unpacking, making reservations, booking cabs, and packing. The assumption was simple. Your finger would feel too tired to lift.
My suite was larger than most one-bedroom houses I had seen, and because I still feel like a child, I thought it wise to play a little game and see if I could use all of the room’s facilities and all the pieces of its furniture. I was the only one keeping score, but it would be safe to say I lost. Large enough for business meetings, the living area outside came with its powder room. The walk-in closet came with silk robes. The bathroom, filled with natural light, looked onto a standing pool. I could really get used to this.
Rakesh Awaghade, the hotel’s sommelier, is a good man to meet if you happen to be staying at the Oberoi. During a wine-tasting session, he insisted I finish my favourite bottle of wine, and then there were those bounteous platters of wine and cheese. When later going to Amaranta, Oberoi’s flagship modern Indian restaurant, I confess I found it hard to walk straight. Conceived by executive chef Manish Sharma, the ‘Shatranj’ menu, which debuted in July this year, is a series of carefully executed culinary moves. I wanted to turn my phone off. The meal needed my time and attention. My table was set with chess pieces and a little deck of cards that explained the courses. The meal built up to the palate-cleansing ‘Queen’: raw mango and cottage cheese with pea sorbet and caramalised ‘mori’. This was a prelude to the ‘King’: ghee-roasted mutton served with nihari, a steamed and grilled lamb-stuffed bao.
This somewhat royal decadence at the Oberoi is hardly ever interrupted. Though located in the busy district of Udyog Vihar, you will not hear a single car horn inside the hotel. They really do mean business.
While a deluxe room costs Rs30,000 for a night, the Presidential Suite costs Rs7,50,000. A meal for two at Amaranta costs Rs4,500. Address 443, Udyog Vihar, Phase V, Gurugram, Haryana–122016. Phone 0124-2451234. www.oberoihotels.com/hotels-in-gurgaon
Manish Sharma, Executive Chef
“At The Oberoi, I am changing over to denser breads and lighter sauces, and am experimenting with new techniques. With the amount of work that goes in creating each dish and its presentation, our ‘Shatranj’ tasting menu at Amaranta is trying hard to showcase these new ideas.”
I must start with a disclaimer. I was checked into the Presidential Suite at the Trident. I had my own business centre, a dining table that could seat six people, a living area, a powder room, a kitchenette with a separate entry for a butler, five minibars and a Jacuzzi-equipped bathroom that was attached to the large bedroom. My experience can’t admittedly be considered typical. I am certain, however, that the warm and personalised service is extended to all guests across the board. No matter what room you are put up in, Trident perpetuates a seductive illusion. You feel you are holidaying in your own tropical villa.
Trident shares its architect with the Roseate—Lek Bunnag. The two properties have a common geometric sensibility, and like The Roseate, Trident’s design has a template, that of an extravagant Moorish fort. Opened in 2004, the Trident has seen a fledgling Gurgaon become the Gurugram of today. I have heard others compare it to Tatooine, Star Wars’ desert planet. While dun-coloured domes make the comparison apt, Trident also conjured for me a desert oasis. Palm and frangipani trees swayed in the breeze, standing pools were strategically placed, and the soft lines of the hotel brought sand dunes to mind. Remarkably, the property dulls the wrath of North India’s heat. Looking out from the cool interiors, the harsh summer light only enhances the visual aesthetics—softening it, deepening the blues and greens.
In Cilantro, Trident’s all-day dining restaurant, I’d advise you to look up. The red of the painted dome matched the lushness of the spread on my table below: tomato gazpacho poured over edible micro greens, lemon sorbet, candied almonds and lobster, burrata and beetroot salad, grilled snapper with scales standing up like flames, and New York cheesecake. Fulfilled, I staggered down to the aquamarine pool. I was attended to by pool boys in traditional whites, in true French Riviera style. The Bar is one of the secrets at the Trident. When you ask for the ‘off menu’ drinks, the mixologists—some of the best in the business—create herbal and vegetal distillations from the Indian pantry. The masala tea or bitter gourd infusions are only rivalled by the kebabs and the pickle cart at Saffron, Trident’s Indian restaurant.
Early next morning, I had the swimming pool all to myself and the satisfaction of lazing in the sun felt feline. It was hard to remember I was in the heart of Gurugram. Checking out, though, was even harder.
A room with a superior view of the pool costs Rs23,000 a night, while the Presidential Suite can be enjoyed for Rs2,00,000. A table for two at Cilantro costs Rs3,000 and RS3,500 at Saffron. Address 443, Udyog Vihar, Phase V, Gurugram, Haryana – 122016. Phone 0124-2451234. www.oberoihotels.com/hotels-in-gurgaon
Akanksha Mishra, Front Office Supervisor
“I started out in housekeeping, but later moved to the front office. We become instrumental in making our guests feel welcome at this, their home away from home. When I started out, it was difficult to smile through the day, but now I’m the first one to greet our guests at home.”
From Delhi, it takes approximately 90 minutes and a drive through the forested Aravalli range to reach the Gateway Resort at Damdama Lake. Informally called the ‘Taj Damdama’, the resort, especially on rain-washed July mornings, demands that you switch off. Everything here calls for a return to nature. Outside, its low-lying buildings barely interrupt a lush landscape of trees. Inside, the resort’s high-ceilinged lobby is spotted with furniture that still looks like natural wood. Sunshine seeps through the glass walls, as does the comfort of greenery. Even its metal sculptures of insect and cattle seem pastoral.
The rooms, the suites, the bathrooms, all look out to the verdant grounds, but then again, we hardly spent any time inside our room. Taj Damdama had far too many activities on offer. Evidently a popular weekend destination for families and young corporate executives, the resort is styled to their needs. The ‘Adventure Zone’ makes for the busiest of playgrounds. It includes a cricket ground, an all-terrain vehicle track, a paintball arena, a rock-climbing wall, a children’s playground, basketball, tennis and badminton courts, an indoor gaming room, and a swimming pool. When you see the moon rise from the pool, peacocks call each other in the forested grove nearby. Cats and birds that colonise the resort show little fear of humans. Oblivious to my presence, a barbet flitted right above the chair I was lounging on.
The Gateway Damdama houses two restaurants—the all-day dining Buzz and the Chinese Sian. The highlight of our meal at Buzz was the Haryanvi fare. Executive chef Sumalaya Sarkar explained that the culinary team had invited local women to help develop these recipes: “We’ve only tweaked the presentation. The ingredients and spices are exactly what they cook at home.” As far as possible, the resort tries to source vegetables and grains from the nearby farms, and I could taste that freshness as I devoured the kadhi-chawal, Palwal chicken curry, and kheer with flambéed nuts and seeds on the side.
The spa at Taj Damdama does merit special mention. Hidden amongst glittering pools and green grounds, the stone and wood therapy rooms keep out the harsh sunlight and jarring sounds of the outside. An Ayurvedic scrub and full body wrap gave me more than I had signed up for. I left with my skin smelling of sandalwood, yes, but I’d also found pluck to sanguinely face another Monday morning.
Rooms cost Rs10,500 (excluding taxes) on weekdays, and Rs14,000 on weekends. A meal for two is Rs2,000 at Buzz and Rs3,000 at Sian. Address Damdama, Off Sohna-Gurugram Road. Phone 0124-3983000. gateway.tajhotels.com/en-in/damdama-lake-gurgaon
Pulkesin Mohan, General Manager
“We are very mindful that we are intruding upon an environment and a community, and we want to build relations with both. I’m aware that respect is a two-way street and we have to earn it. This is why we’ve made an effort to recruit staff from the villages around us.”
Meera and Muzaffar Ali—fashion designers, filmmakers, royals—have placed on Airbnb their farmhouse on the Faridabad-Gurgaon Road. I was trying to better fathom this discovery when I was told I was going to be their very first guest. The Kotwara Farm is of course a family home for the Alis. The grounds of the farmhouse also house the corporate offices of Kotwara, Meera and Muzaffar Ali’s couture label. Arriving at the property, awestruck by its art and memorabilia, I had to ask Meera—Why Airbnb? “It’s an experiment. While we want to protect our privacy, we think it’s a great way of meeting people from around the world,” she said, while giving me a tour of the haveli. Since she and her husband are usually away travelling, it was their daughter Sama, the building’s more permanent resident who was my hands-on host. Over the course of my stay, she introduced me to my fellow dwellers: 11 dogs, a Kathiawad horse named ‘Barack’ (Urdu for ‘blessing’), Gomti, the cow, and her calf.
The house looks out onto a sunken courtyard. A piano dominates the informal living space (which guests have access to), and you can spend a day browsing through its books on Urdu poetry and art. All meals are served in the family dining room, a space brimming with curios picked up from flea markets across the world, old cameras, projection equipment, and a Filmfare Award. I occupied what Muzaffar Ali calls ‘The Archival Room’. Posters of his movies are on the walls, and his scripts, books, reels, and other film records sit on the shelves. Every object in the room—the large four-poster bed, lamps, furniture, carpets, curtains—inadvertently becomes proof of how delicately refined my hosts’ tastes obviously are.
Food, it turns out, is the family’s great indulgence. Meera Ali is an archivist of royal khaansaama recipes and on offer for lunch was dum pukht, keema and a rather heavenly strawberry ice cream. By dinner, some of the formality had waned and I had become part of a full-fledged family affair—the younger son, poet Murad Ali was visiting with his wife, and friends would soon drop in. The next morning, Muzaffar Ali accompanied me on a walk through the estate, and a little later, when I came to say my goodbyes after a sumptuous breakfast, I felt glad to have shared with artists this home, their most intimate space.
A room at Kotwara Farm can be booked on the Airbnb website for Rs13,930. While breakfast is included in this fee, other meals are arranged on request and can also be home delivered from nearby restaurants. Address Kotwara Farm, Village Gwalpahari, Faridabad-Gurgaon Road, District Gurgaon. www.airbnb.co.in/rooms/18747595
Sama Ali, Fashion Designer
“My father has an eye for curios and our house is full of things he’s picked up on his travels. We hope the people who come here appreciate the space, are mindful of our privacy, and are looking for a creative retreat. I think it’s a great way to meet new people.”
Garima Gupta is a travel, food, and lifestyle writer. She has written for Women’s Health, Hindu Business Line’s BLInk, Reader’s Digest, and Luxpresso.com. She now portions her time between writing, getting lost in the Himalayas, and evangelizing solo travel.