Want Responsible Luxurious Tourism but also enjoy the Glamour – then choose ITC!
By Aline Dobbie
Namaste is the icon of this important prestige chain of hotels thoughout India. The icon welcomes one with the ancient Indian welcome and offers the traveller the warmth of Indian hospitality combined with contemporary international standards that provides world class hospitality through unique indigenous experiences.
ITC pioneered the concept of ‘Responsible Luxury’ and all their premium hotels have been awarded the coveted LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Platinum certification making it the greenest luxury hotel chain in the world. Note please, the world not just India!
For me this is important because there is a personal connection which I value. My late father worked with distinction for the great ITC Group but that was in the 1950s and early 1960s when adding a hotel chain to their portfolio had not yet occurred. The Group has many commercial interests and they all are constructive now with E-Choupal bringing rural digital-physical infrastructure which is dear to my heart; that empowers over 4 million farming families. They have an Afforestation programme; a Watershed development programme; Provision of supplementary education to 200,000 rural children; a Women’s Empowerment initiative, Renewable Energy commitment and Empowerment of the Differently Abled.
The Palm Court Maratha
So, back to the hotels…..when a group had taken responsibility right throughout its portfolio then it is fully entitled to concentrate on super luxury hotels, yet they fulfil the requirements specified to be called responsible. That ticks all my boxes in this challenging world where we all need to feel we are custodians of our lands.
I grew up in developing India where there were very few decent hotels but that situation evolved with famous chains and boutique hotels and heritage palaces and forts and now these wonderful state of the art super luxury hotels. I have come to know at least eight of ITC group personally.
This last Christmas we arrived in Mumbai to stay at the ITC Maratha. It was a delight not only because it is a gracious well designed and beautiful hotel but because it is four minutes from the international Chatrapathi Shivaji Airport – I had not yet seen that. The convenience of the hotel and the warm welcome and beautiful suite was a total delight. Christmas is not India’s most populous festival but the hotel had created a Christmas feel and we delighted in all the various restaurants that it offers; the different cuisines are delicious and each of those restaurants has their own special charm. There are gracious lawns and a good swimming pool and Spa. There is a Fitness Centre and there certainly is an Executive Club facility which was good to which we went every evening for drinks and canapes. We used the sleek luxury German car for a ride to town to view some exotic fashion and jewellery shops and also to visit the Mani Bhavan. This was the house to which Gandhi returned in 1915 and so I wanted to visit it a century later. It was a moving experience in a Mumbai that has vastly changed from that century ago, just looking at the archive photography makes one marvel. Even in my lifetime whereas Mumbai or Bombay was a busy city it is now a mega city with great wealth and great poverty alongside. India is fast moving into the 21st century and Mumbai is the Indian equivalent of New York whereas perhaps Delhi which is as big is more like Washington. We went to the Gateway of India and moved around on Christmas Eve amongst the crowds at sunset and there was a sort of security to undergo …..around this famous landmark which was built to welcome King George V when he came as King to India in 1911. Christmas Day was quiet but full of good food, relaxation, bubbly and a pleasant day – we had earlier celebrated with our own family the previous week-end.
Christmas suckling pig – Maratha
Last year we had stayed in ITC The Grand Chola in Chennai which is a fast moving southern city of India, capital of Tamil Nadu. The Grand Chola was new in 2013 and I had spent two days there that year too. It has now matured into a superb hotel with again gracious suites, vast marble foyers and stairs…..allegedly ITC bought a whole travertine marble quarry in Italy to aid its interior construction! The swimming pool is truly beautiful and high up with a courtyard garden around which has already attracted wildlife! The restaurants are diverse and beautiful with glorious food and it has wonderful corporate expanses for conferences and meetings. Oh yes the Spa too of course and Fitness Centre. A great hotel.
We were guest at a royal Rajput wedding in Bengaluru and so we flew over from Chennai and whilst there were guests at ITC Gardenia. We were given the amazing presidential suite which was quite literally out of this world and so beautiful. I should add that in all three hotels we had the added charm of having a butler. The Gardenia has a helipad just above this suite and its own pool. We chose to eat in one of the main dining areas but again the food was a delight. Each of these hotels is different in décor and design and so one never feels that it has been just a chain with same old same old throughout. Indeed the interiors of each were different.
Looking on to the pool in Jodhpur
Then we arrived in the desert state of Rajasthan for nearly two weeks. We stayed at the ITC WelcomHotel Jodhpur (I have not missed the e off the name that is the brand). This was a modern delight relevant to its location and also very comfortable and beautiful with outstanding service and food. There are also separate villas should one wish for that privacy….the pool, the Spa, the Fitness Centre are all there with green lawns and the desert just beyond…a peaceful place to spend three nights. Jodhpur is a favourite destination with its wonderful Mehrangarh Fort and other heritage places. HH Maharaja of Jodhpur ensures that all that belongs to him is very well maintained and also innovative. Like HH Maharana of Udaipur he takes his duty of custodianship of his lands and properties very seriously.
At the end of last year’s journey round India we stayed at the very newly opened ITC Grand Bharat just outside Delhi and Gurgaon. It is about 50 minutes from the airport and the journey is accomplished in a comfortable luxury German 4 x4. The welcome was stupendous. This is an entirely different creation with a 27 hole golf course that is mature and was designed by Jack Nicklaus. It has villas with private heated pools, bigger villas, presidential villas, a beautiful gracious large pool which can be heated, huge stunning Kaya Kalp Spa that I found excellent, a Fitness Centre and lovely restaurants; this hotel however is harking back to the days of empire and India’s five thousand years of unbroken civilisation; its interiors are grand and lush. For me the last of five generations who had served, lived, worked loved and died in India it was nice to see the British legacy recognised. Again we had our own butler and he was a total delight and fun to have around as well as helpful. The Grand Bharat would be an ideal destination for ardent golfers, whereby if the spouse does not golf there is plenty in the Spa and Fitness facilities or the sheer beauty and peace of the place to engage them.
The pool at the Grand Bharat
My husband asked to see the water recycling plant and grey water sewerage water plant which he found impressive. Again this might not be in the conscious of the average traveller but as one who writes about Indian Tourism it is important to me to see how people are confronting and resolving these challenges. He was impressed.
Driving down in a golf cart as the sun set to experience the beautiful golf course was a joy. Here one is in the countryside on the edge of one of the world’s great and ancient cities, masses of peacocks strolled on the putting greens, vibrant bougainvillea’s gave startling colour, the evening bird calls sang out, and it is said that leopards lurk in the Aravalli Hills that come down to the golf course….they are known to be the world’s most ancient range of hills. A stunning location for golfers, and I am not one, but I could see that the Golf Club and facilities were world class. As the sun set I was captivated.
In the past I have stayed at the ITC Sonar Kolkata in 2010 which had excellent service and food but is again totally different architecturally, I have stayed in the ITC Rajputana in Jaipur way back in 1998 and loved it, and the ITC Kakatiya in Hyderabad in 2005. In 2002 we stayed at the ITC Maurya in New Delhi….this was made famous by President Clinton staying there in 2000, also President Putin in 2007 and most recently President Obama in 2015; this hotel is modern in architecture but the architects obviously fulfilled the brief to provide secure presidential suites which is so vital for visiting heads of state. In Bengaluru there is also another ITC Hotel called the Windsor which was the venue for a royal luncheon banquet when we attended the Dungarpur royal wedding last year….again a gracious place. So, I have worked out that I had stayed or experienced most of their luxury collection.
Peacock Presidential Suite Gardenia
This group also has a range of fine business hotels called Fortune Hotels which are also world class having tried about three of them, and interestingly it also has a range of heritage hotels which come under the name WelcomHeritage. These are palaces, forts, havelis, bungalows and special places or as in Kashmir a houseboat or two which give the traveller a sense of the rich past of India. In a big busy metropolis it is invariably luxury that one wants in a central location, but often in a rural environment the ambience of a small intimate place takes one back to an earlier age and the shadows of the past welcome you.
This year and last year we were hosted by ITC Hotels but I have formed my own opinion upon my observations and experiences of their hotels over the last fifteen years.
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