It is Not Just History of a Given Period. The experience is very Modern and International. It captures the Best Traditions in Indian Hospitality.
•Imagine recreating history as in the books to bring alive a global and yet quintessential Indian experience. Of an era long remembered for its extravagance and artistic successes. But it harks back equally to an architecture that one sees across so much of Rajasthan’s forts and palaces. Of courtyards, landscapes and water bodies.
This was 45 years ago, as a greenfield development, when ITC Hotels opened their doors to what was then going to be their second property, the Mughal Sheraton, as it was then called. Over the years, it has upped the luxury quotient within the international hospitality chain Marriott hierarchy, to become one of the numerous Luxury Collections that the company runs as a marketing franchise with them.
A recent visit to Mughal was an inspiration to understand how 45 years running, much of the hotel interiors have retained their feel and experience, a meticulous act in maintenance with due diligence and concern. Much of the artwork including its many Jharokas and marble jaali works retains its original character. Even despite the recent disruptions to hospitality when either hotels were closed or open with meagre occupancies. Which is even that much more commendable! Though some exterior red brick walls need urgent repairs and a few of the many water bodies need re-surfacing, ongoing efforts to keep the marble flooring shining were visible.
But such a sprawling two levels plus lobby hotel, with its 233 rooms and suites, including its themed suites continue well to carry that hallmark of exquisite planning and delving into history. So, while the name and primary themes may have been taken from specific history period as the original inspiration, much of the architecture and experience is more a tribute to Bharat’s ability to provide the best in Indian craftsmanship and international hospitality, a tribute to the region’s capacity to inspire, much of it is universal in its appeal and essence – a get away from the Indian capital city, an experiential journey to some of the best India has to offer. In terms of architecture planning and execution, a pure and simple resort comparable with the best anywhere globally.
Similarly, a visit to the experiential spa, the signature Kaya Kalpa, built more recently like 15 years ago, retains its sparkle in its fully preserved architecture. This would be comparable with the best spas in the country, in its lavish concepts and execution, like few else would have dared to dream. The spa closed during disruption opened only this May, but is dazzling in its lure for customers. The signature therapies are as inviting as the individual therapy rooms set against thick foliage of plants and trees providing a rare green environment. The adjoining gym has huge glass walls overlooking a dense forest like cover, missing in most hotels.
The facilities are a rarity for a leisure Indian destination. The traditional coffee shop is a sprawling facility that extends over another three large banquet rooms with a host of additional services, fully capable of serving a few hundred guests at any given time. It’s hallmark restaurant, Peshawri, is the chain’s Bukhara clone, regaling audiences with its Indian classical music and dance.
As part of the extension, the hotel added its convention centre, with pre-function areas. The hotel’s lawns have always been a star feature including a stationary train, archery, observatory, medicinal plants, and more. The lawns have entertained more than a thousand guests on several occasions. On any regular day, they provide extensive walks amidst thick greenery and plants, making for a wilderness among the wilds.
But I shuddered to recall and imagine how a hotel of this magnitude must have endured the closure, and at what cost, while the pandemic raged its tentacles. One can then multiply this factor across the hospitality sector in the country to feel the plight this industry suffered! Among the destinations to recover first, Agra did not figure as Goa or the hills did. Kudos to such passion and commitment across India’s geniuses who kept the flame alive.
No trip to the city can be complete without a customary visit of the Taj Mahal. The splendour endures, it actually grows with every visit. The touts outside can be a nuisance. Ideally, they should be pulled up for their ethics. I was told there are 400 people in the queue to buy an entry ticket, and this guy asked for 400/- to facilitate my visit, which would have included his guide services. I found there were actually only 4 people in the queue. The experience was reasonable except for the ticket counter area which could be better spaced out – it is crowded, small, unattractive and inconvenient. But then you remember only the Taj, and take away some new fond memories. The guide that we chose later, Zubair, was extraordinary in that he was knowledgeable and doubled as an excellent photographer as well. Most courteous and entertaining with stories from the Mughal era.
A word on the destination: the city has outgrown itself. Once this hotel stood alone by itself over that long and winding road from Delhi and towards the Taj and beyond to other newer hotels in the vicinity. Today, you cannot see an inch of land around it, so many small hotels and shops and restaurants have come up all around. The local petha and dalmoth shops dot the central road which now also is witness to the upcoming Metro, with its pillars all about ready in middle of this newly widened road. The Agra Delhi Expressway is now connected through this central road, giving all of the city a total miss, you arrive direct here to the hospitality district which has an Oberoi, Taj, Clarks, Sarovar, Radisson and Jaypee, among others. It was a dream drive from South Delhi with a door-to-door journey of three hours twelve minutes without once breaking any speeding laws.
Post covid disruption, life has returned with its challenges. Tourists are flocking back, summer is not the best time for destinations like Jaipur and Agra. So, Agra may have to wait a little longer, for the weather to improve. Meanwhile, would the city hotels get together to think of a joint promotion for the destination as a whole? If sold properly, domestic traffic from Delhi should improve. Surely there is an opportunity to package the sight and sounds with the hotels in their joint avatar.