Luxury Hotels

Simply Sunday, how a luxury hotel can benefit from an emotional locale

Cover your head

The number of luxury hotels that can truly say their environment and marketing appeal is enhanced by something outside can honestly be counted on one hand – or perhaps two hands, admits the gal.  The list includes, in alphabetical order, Amangiri, looking out through all-window walls at Utah’s colourless desert: Amarvilas’ Robert Burns Suite, #527, where you feel you can touch the Taj Mahal; Park Hyatt Sydney’s Opera House-facing rooms; in Paris, The Peninsula Paris and Shangri-La Paris rooms that are closest to the Eiffel Tower; Shangri-La London at The Shard’s river-facing rooms looking far down at the Tower of London, and so on.

Now there is another luxury hotel to add to this exclusive list. Taj Swarna Amritsar is only there because of the Golden Temple – see the temple’s inner sanctum, above. Without that magnet for some 65,000 visitors, Sikhs and others, every day there simply would be no need for this ultra-friendly 157-room hotel. About 98% of guests, who stay on average two nights, visit the Temple, and the whole experience is that you actually want to come back for more. Amritsar on its outskirts is a typical Indian city, some 1.4 million people, stop-start traffic, ancient bicycles carrying people, or entire household chattels on the move. Streets are English-named, Circular Road, Grand Trunk Road, or Indian, Batala and so on. But in the centre, Sikh-dom, it is stress-free, meticulously-clean, and silent except for the omnipresent live music, xylophone and sitar and the like, that is relayed to the populace around.  Within the central area, shoes and socks are not allowed – you walk through several sanitised footbaths, but the marble flooring is jolly cold.  And you must cover your head, perhaps with one of the orange kerchiefs provided by the hundreds in bins by the entrance.  After going through the inner temple sanctum, and watching a senior Sikh shwishing a horse’s main brush over a red velvet and gold carpet that has the Holy Book underneath, you feel, like all the other 64,999 visitors today, a different person. And you want to definitely want to come back to Amritsar, and tell others to do the same. NOW SEE A VIDEO OUTSIDE THE TEMPLE

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Luxury Hotels

Lunch and weddings at a luxury Chennai hotel

K.M. Chengappa

K.M. Chengappa, GM of The Leela Palace, Chennai, was ready and waiting when the gal called by for lunch – call me Cheng, he said. The K is his family name. The M is his father’s name. Chengappa is HIS name. This, he explained, is the moniker style back in his home area of Coorg, the mountainous and gorgeous rainforest region in central India, associated for me with the larks moving vertically, singing their morning songs (that memory comes from visits to Coorg’s pre-eminent luxury hotel, Taj Madikeri Resorts & Spa, Coorg). Cheng’s family, like all their friends, are farmers, but he wanted more.

Section of the lunch buffet

As a late teenager he got on a bus, six hours down to Bangalore, and somehow landed a job in a hotel and decided he wanted to be a GM. And now he is an extremely thoughtful and considerate boss, managing every little detail. This hotel, a mass of marble highlighted with gorgeous flowers – as is the style of The Leela family – also has superb art. I love the four-by-four foot rendering of a single-cent coin in the lobby (see above). It is by Surendra Pal Joshi, a former College of Arts, Jaipur, lecturer who is known for art beyond canvas, say creating life-size and wearable helmets made entirely out of safety pins. I am also impressed by the hotel’s statuesque arches, in the style of the royal Chettinad dynasty, dating back to the 13th century.

Chef on duty

And of course being The Leela there is food to impress, too. The splendid Spectra restaurant looks out over the Advar River estuary so the views outside are soothing, complementing what the buffets inside have to offer. There are sashimi and sushi stations and, bliss oh bliss, grill areas that actually offer beef (I will not say that word too loudly, here in Hindu-majority India). The pizza oven works nonstop as pizzas are made right here to order. The main weeklong business, says Cheng, is IT, with all-inclusive MICE events drawing young bloods from all over the world: the all-inclusive pricing comes with four megabyte broadband, no query.

Coffee presentation

Coorg, his homeland, produces coffee and, so rare in India, this is ne luxury hotel that does know how to produce a good espresso – see the photo on the right. Cheng continues describing his weekend business, which is weddings, often of Chennai boys and girls who have gone overseas but come back, say from Toronto, to be married here so their aunties and uncles can be part of it. Weddings go on for days and are arranged with the help of wedding planners, but to make sense, says Cheng, any luxury hotel knows that all negotiations must be done with only one agreed representative, planner, or auntie or mother, even though both sides will subsequently share the cost. This typically, by the way, includes bedrooms for their guests – see the video below to see how agreeable it would be to stay for several nights during a Great Big Indian Wedding. NOW SEE SUITE 704

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Luxury Hotels

Away from Chennai luxury hotels – to The Madras Club

Mowbrays Cupola, 1792

Old India is fast disappearing, and to some this is not entirely a bad thing. The tradition of networking clubs started nearly two hundred years ago has evolved. There are modern-day clubs, and such worldwide groups as YPO have strong branches here. Fortunately Chennai does still have its main establishment networking centre, The Madras Club, second only to The Bengal Club in age. Founded in 1832, it is now in its third home, the Mowbrays Cupola, built in 1792 by the then-Mayor of Madras, George Mowbrays. It has 14 letting rooms, thus competing not only with Airbnb but with the city’s luxury hotels, says the gal.

The drinks machine

The cupola, after which the entire building is named, is the focal point of the interior, and today its floor is, as the photo above shows, decorated with sugar cane, symbol of the current Pongal harvest festival – some tuk-tuk cabs on the streets outside are sprouting so much sugar cane they look as if they might rise into the air, like big yellow and black drones, at any moment. The club’s seemingly endless reception rooms are separated one from the other by wood and glass doors. We go through to the bar, and sit up so I can watch the well-rehearsed pantomime as white-clad bar staff pour drinks, mostly the single malts that are the preferred tipple of India’s over-50s intelligensia.

Bombay Sapphire and Schweppes

But what has happened to gin, which I always associated, through quinine and thus tonic, with India? Apparently it is coming back, but this still must be the only country in the world where minibars might have three whiskies and at least one vodka but you are lucky to find a gin (I am told there are two new craft gins, Greater Than London Dry Gin, and Hapusä). I merely ask for a gin and tonic and a brand new bottle of Bombay Sapphire is found, and carefully opened, and, bliss, the tonic is chilled, and Schweppes, and a request for ice results in plenty, not merely one lump. We go through to the 45-seat dining room, which has a dress code (though what?) for men, not for ladies. This is mature dining, with traditional fare brought by venerable all-male servers in all white, from forage caps down to shoes, via pyjama suits.

Green salad, The Madras Club

The menu offers mulligatawny soup, which apparently was invented here, taking the Tamil words for milligai, spicy, and thani, water, and it runs through to bread and butter pudding, but we never get that far. My starter ‘green salad’ is a one-off, as the photo shows. It was brought literally two minutes before my fish and chips, square pieces of anonymous white fish which reminded me of Friday lunches back at Marlborough College in England, the school that honed the skills of Kate Middleton, now Duchess of Cambridge, and Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie. Here, however, the chips were proper fries and I had a second plate, and I thought how lucky I was to experience this fleeting glimpse of days gone by, here in Chennai. And then it was time to head back to my current home, the luxury Taj Coromandel Chennai, which had produced such a magnificent really-green salad two nights ago. NOW SEE A VIDEO OF THE MADRAS CLUB RESTAURANT


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