Some hotels are art galleries that just happen to have beds – one could put the super-luxury Ritz-Carlton Millenia hotel in Singapore into that category, since it has 4,200 stunning modern pieces, including works by Alexander Calder and Zhu Wei and masses of Dale Chihuly blown art, as well. In Delhi, pride of place in the art category goes to The Imperial, which has over 7,000 historic pieces in the collection amassed by the 234-room Preferred hotel’s owners, the Akoi siblings, led by brothers Ranjit and Hardev. The gal toured some of the corridor showpieces.
Just as any farmyard of animals needs a capable and passionate farmer, so do paintings. Fortunately here there are specially-trained art-lovers who lead regular tours. It is easily possible, however, to do a course in Anglo-Indian art and history all by oneself.
Walk out of breakfast in 1911 – the same ornate room that, by night, turns into the unique Nostalgia retro restaurant, with flambées on the menu and Clark Gable on the wall – and you pass a photograph of the family that, following Lutyens’ designs, built much of New Delhi nearly a hundred years ago, Rai Bahadur Sardar Baisakha Singh. If only there were time you could learn Delhi history, from 1911 up to the present, merely by studying and memorising what is on these walls.
Next comes a whole wall of school-type photos, the type where you were arranged in tiers and a camera slowly panned from one end of the assembled company to the other (and yes, it is true that at least one fast-footed miscreant, at the first end of the photo-taking, then sprinted along at the back to appear again at the other end of the picture). But these photos are not of school kids, they are of Indian royalty. Shown here is the 1946 Chamber of Princes meeting, into which two British officers, in full uniform, somehow seem to have been included.
One of my own favourite collections is in room 268. Here you see prints of Driving the tiger out of the jungle, and another called Death of the tiger. Here there are photos of Lord and Lady Curzon entering Delhi (on elephant back) for the Coronation durbar in 1903, and another photo shows the 1903 review of native chief retinues (on camelback). Also from 1903, you have the divinely bejewelled and turbanned HH the Thakur Saheb of Limbdi KCIE at the Delhi Durbar. Showing how eclectic this collection is, room 268 also displays, by contrast, a typical Art Deco Paris poster, Casino de Paris Mistinguett.
There are lots of royalty picture, in some rooms and along corridors. Presidential Suite 202, for instance, includes a photo of King George V and Queen Mary in a typical Indian procession. There are oil likenesses of King George VI and the late Queen Mother down by the main rear door leading to the spa and the fitness centre. You actually have a feeling that every royal person of any note has been here at some time or other.
Right now, in the cool of Delhi’s current climate, everyone is dressed up warmly and what with muffled scarves and layered clothes and sneakers, guests all look royally happy, at least.
As you can gather, there is so much going on in this luxury hotel there is no need, really, to leave its eight-acre estate – although cultural tourism and other sightseeing continually beckon.
For fashionistas, you have a glorious Chanel store right here. And if you have any extra time, an astrologer is on hand. No wonder some guests, having had their fill of Rajasthan and what-else, simply stay put, at The Imperial.