This week, the foreign ministers of the 18 nations that comprise the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation – from South Africa east to Australia, that is – are bunkered in Gurgaon. Lucky them.
The ministers and their entourages are staying at the sensational Oberoi Gurgaon, where you drive up to the fifth-level entrance through a forest (copied, apparently, from the forest approach to Oberoi’s Wildflower Hall in Shimla in the Himalayas).
Top media, meanwhile, are being given bed and breakfast next door in the Trident Gurgaon. As ever, the gal got there first.
Lucky media, that is all one can say. Trident Gurgaon has just won the World Travel Awards’ Best Hotel in Asia (yes, Asia, not just India) award for the second year running. It is unique. You approach via a tennis court-sized ornamental pool that holds burning fire-bowls at night.
The three-floor stone structure is simple, and perfect. Because you go down a floor rather than up, the whole building is an oasis of quiet, oblivious to the noise and city around. Soaring lobby areas take your eye up to high-set domes.
Designer Lech Bunnag has no time for wall art. There is none. I walk to my favourite room 312, first taking 33 stone steps down to the heated swimming pool. I walk around it, breathing in the jasmine from the trees around. I take another 33 stone steps up, to the building where my room is.
This is comfy style. It is perfect for women alone, or for men alone, or for couples or families. In room 312, push aside day and night screens to look out, at your own ornamental pool, at the height of your window sill. If you have been here before they know your type of champagne, your type of pillow.
The butlers wear saris so you know you are in India, and you feel comfy with that (Indian women should all wear saris, for elegance – put them in morning suit and their hips are exaggerated out of all proportion, and anyway you do not get the sense of locale).
Luxury travellers appreciate the lifestyle that gives a gym (Technogym of course) with a view, out to the pool, and opening hours that go round the clock. I was there at 0430, before my ongoing flight, and both a gym attendant and a receptionist were not only there, but wide awake.
Luxury travellers revel in a spa that understands their needs. At Trident Spa, the manager Fitriya, from Bali, exactly understood what my body wants. Think of all those media rushing to this silk-clad wonder for advice: give’em more creative juices, to write faster/better/more accurately.
I walk the sky-high inner areas, appreciating the relaxing calm. We pass a duo, from the Moscow Conservatoire. They sit in the main lobby walkway on set days of the week, sharing the work, if that is what it is, with local guitarists.
We could eat modern Indian, at Saffron, but we opt for international, at Cilantro, where the ceiling soars to a 15-foot blood red dome that matches the runners on our table. Last time I was here with the Oberoi super-boss, PRS (Biki) Oberoi.
This time I am with David Mathews, a former economist who decided that running hotels was much more fun, and his lecturer wife, Sonia, whom he met studying French. As one does.
The chef, in an impressive tall white hat, comes over to welcome us. He has prepared a seven- course tasting menu but, my goodness, I am at home. He understands. I choose from the menu, with a main course of gluten-free fusili with a pesto sauce that tastes good but is not exactly photogenic.
We are all brought amuse, dishes with tiny-shiny green pasta strings and foam. My starter is my comfort food – remember, this is comfy-luxury, here – a caprese, here with tomato slices covered with mozzarella covered with foam. Sonia is having a chef’s special and it comes with a pink foam, which goes well with pink Moët & Chandon.
Surely pasta cannot be foamed? No, at least not here. I have gluten-free wholewheat fusili with a hint of mushroom sauce, and a side of spinach. I have moved on to an Australian red, a Chinkara Cabernet Merlot 2009 which is made by Natasha Oberoi with the help of Down Under’s travelling wine guru, Roy Moorhead.
Natasha, Biki Oberoi’s elder daughter, has called her winery after the gazelles on the Oberoi family farm near Delhi. Biki, by the way, will be guest of honour at this year’s International Luxury Travel Market in Cannes, first week of December.
In the morning, just as it is getting light, I have a tasting of both plain and baked – cooked –yoghurt (no foam, here), and lots of papaya chunks, and then head out.
Across the pool, the one you see on arrival and that leaves first-timers, I am told, amazed, a man at near 45-degrees walks slowly, pushing a broom. Half a dozen of his colleagues, including a woman in a sari, are there to say goodbye.