Calm is a feeling that every traveller should experience, at least from time to time. Airports and traffic – especially here in India – might be chaotic, but if you can find peace sometimes, what a pleasure. One luxury hotel that achieves calm is The Oberoi, New Delhi. The gal is greeted by Dimpy Menon’s full-size bronze in the lobby-salon of 750, the Kohinoor Suite (Dimpy Menon comes from Bangalore, and she is married to Suresh Menon, the cricketing-fanatic who is also editor and general journalist – at one time he edited Gulf News out of Dubai). This suite has many notable features. The freestanding oval bathtub is by a big picture window looking down over Delhi Golf Club, immediately next door. Kohinoor also comes with a gym and spa room. It has two ceramic pots for nightlight-fuelled burning oils, and a selection of clearly-marked joss sticks – I choose eucalyptus, said to be invigorating, clarifying, energizing. The suite has a chess board, and a clear-run of bound copies of Punch, 1938-1973.
Downstairs, the hotel lobby invites a question. One side of its long length, shown, is furnished. Parallel is a marbled walkway, with short lengths of oriental carpet, exactly set of course (well, this is OBEROI). But you never, ever, hear any noise. Possibly, in fact probably, all those who work here wear rubber-soled shoes, but you cannot force such a code on customers. But you never hear any tip-taps of Blahniks or Louboutins. Where does all that sound go?
Out of a side door of the lobby, I go down 21 concrete steps to the lowest level, to one of the pools, where right now some birds gather, for a little drink. When the hotel was built in 1964, this pool was rectangular: now it is curvilinear, and its diving board removed. Elsewhere, past an anthropomorphic stone shape, Shyness by Amar Nath Seghal, I get to the new rectangular pool, with, to one side rather than pool-surround, saffron-covered loungers alternating with jasmine trees.
There is one more pool, an interior lap pool next to the spa. Obviously there are those who head for the Ayurvedic, and other locals like eyebrow threading but I decide on something simpler, and fall asleep on the table. I know, I know, I could have had my treatment back up in Kohinoor but perhaps herd instinct kicked in. I wanted to be where the action is.
A very charming woman in a tight silk jacket over black pants showed me around, including the adjacent gym, which looks out over the original pool. And then, on the table, I realise how relaxed I feel. It has always been thus, here. My first time at the hotel, there was still an outside restaurant. My male companion was just about to eat a chicken leg when a bird, a kite (unrelated to the little pool-drinking birds), swooped down from the hotel’s roof and grabbed the whole thing before he could take a bite. I fall asleep, only waking up at the gentle rattling of the spa-standard cymbals.
Dinner is in Three60°, the luxury hotel’s highly popular glass-sided all-day restaurant that serves the kind of exquisite food that you expect from Oberoi. Servers wear Nehru-necked loose white shirts and waist-hung white aprons so they all look like Jean Georges Vongerichten. The sushi station guys, led by a Filipino genius, Augusto Cabrera, are in khaki. I was just expecting my chosen plate when the genius fired a blow torch – no, not for my sushi but for my friend’s scallops. He then calmly served both dishes, in person. There are constant surprises. Before leaving I had ordered a vegetarian burger to-go. It came exquisitely wrapped in string-tied muslin, in a proper picnic box with plastic cutlery, paper napkins, pots of English mustard and ketchup, and a bottle of juice. Bet they did not picnic like this in the days of the Raj.