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.
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.
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.
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