Hospitality

Review: ITC GRAND BHARAT

Facade,-ITC-Grand-Bharat
The view as one approaches ITC Grand Bharat. The residential areas are to the left

hotelsecrets-logo2MANESAR

Wow. That is going to be a rather over used word during your stay here. As you repeatedly discover a design inspiration from an architectural gem or  stumble across a carefully designed wall, or even actually step into the ‘ghats’, there’s a lot that will elicit spontaneous surprise from any visitor to ITC Grand Bharat.

After years of anticipation, one of India’s most eagerly awaited and ambitious hospitality projects is finally open. ITC Grand Bharat, located where ITC Classic Golf Course was, is India’s first all suite hotel, and ITC’s first foray into the resort space. Conceived as a kind of Camp David, an exclusive retreat when the powers need to confabulate away from the hubris, Grand Bharat is one of a kind – a sparkly new property that overwhelms the senses at first encounter.

dresserGrand Bharat is located about 50 kilometres south west of Delhi, literally a stone’s throw for a rural retreat. But wait, a longish drive through highways and winding rural roads, and almost a few rural houses jutting into the aforementioned pathways, where you might be justified in thinking the cab has lost its way, but for the aspect of you being in a hotel cab. Just as you tire of the windy roads, the driver will point as monumental edifice suddenly swims into view. A temple you think, Akshardham 2.0 in the middle of nowehere? More on the architecture as we explore the hotel, but the first view could cause you to think that this is indeed a temple in the guise of a modern hotel. The reverse is actually true – it’s a shrine to modern hospitality, couched in traditional architecture.

There is no time to reflect however as a welcome befitting an erstwhile royal, complete with trumpeters, tika and flowers showered from above, also brings to an end of the drivable part of the guest’s journey. Henceforth this vast property spread over 300 acres (most of which is the golf course) has to be traversed on foot or as most do, on golf carts that scurry over as you beckon them.Grand Bharat is located about 50 kilometres south west of Delhi, literally a stone’s throw for a rural retreat. But wait, a longish drive through highways and winding rural roads, and almost a few rural houses jutting into the aforementioned pathways, where you might be justified in thinking the cab has lost its way, but for the aspect of you being in a hotel cab. Just as you tire of the windy roads, the driver will point as monumental edifice suddenly swims into view. A temple you think, Akshardham 2.0 in the middle of nowehere? More on the architecture as we explore the hotel, but the first view could cause you to think that this is indeed a temple in the guise of a modern hotel. The reverse is actually true – it’s a shrine to modern hospitality, couched in traditional architecture.Do take in the stories on offer.

Th einter
The dome in Sangam has the ‘tree of life’ etched on its surface

The all suite hotel has been designed to make the guest feel like a royal. Exploring what is purported to be India’s first all suite resort is a voyage of discovery. As the name implies, the resort draws inspiration from myriad sources for its aesthetics. The main building has most of the public spaces, and the sense of awe starts right from the lobby, named Sangam after the meeting of the three rivers – two real, one mythical.

The central dome is inspired from Odishan Nagara style temple of Mukteshwara. The capitals and the detailing on columns pay homage to Gujarat’s Adalaj step well. Parapet details come from Vadodara’s Laxmi Vilas Palace while the ghats of Varanasi are present in a scaled down version, next to a water channel named Yamuna! Mughals contribute design inspirations for the interiors, and for one of the yet to open Presidential villas, of which there will be four, all inspired from different dynasties to have ruled in India. There is a dizzying array of details to be noted for those interested and this makes the story of the hotel even more singular. Note the fountains or the Tree of Life or the carpet designs, or the signature Kaya Kalp spa…

The residential block
A view of the residential blocks at the retreat look a little too closely set for privacy

The residential blocks are to north of the main block. From a distance, it looks like a complex not unlike that PWD comes up with in it. The area is densely packed, with lanes intersecting and connecting. Could it have been more spaced out, especially given the vast space of the retreat? We shall never know. Another drawback is the exposure to the elements in a region with nine months of summer. The residential blocks are not connected to the main hotel and even a golf cart journey, however brief, exposes you to the summer sun, or monsoon or a chilly winter evening.

With no entry level rooms, the resort has opted for cozy suites that comprise of a living room, a bedroom, a closet and a vast washroom. Unsurprisingly the rooms are heavily stocked in every conceivable amenity imaginable, some just for pure indulgence. A chocolate picture frame? Monogrammed towels? Each ground floor suite has a semi-private pool, while the upper floors have a terrace view.

A
The Apas Promenade by the poolside is a great evening dining option

Dining at the resort is unlike any other hotel in India. The showcase India Room, with its striking interiors, offers an “array of cuisines of the colonisers of India – from the Greeks, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French, to the British”. The menu is rather limited though. There is no all day dining restaurant, instead the nearest option is the 3-meal bistro, Aravali Pavilion. Pastel hued and soft in contrast to the glitzy India Room, it too offers its menu in prefixed sets. The Peacock Bar is just as multi hued as its inspiration and so are its unique cocktails. The Apas Promenade is by the poolside and offers local cuisine (Look up F&B section for more details).

MUST DO 
t A tour of the hotel to appreciate its rich aesthetic sensibilities. CANNOT stress this enough. 
t Dip your feet in the suite pool and relax with whatever accessories you prefer (think refreshing drinks, favourite books, soothing music….)
t Dinners by the poolside at Apas Promenade and at India Room
t A signature massage at Kaya Kalp
t A visit to the links, if only to admire the outsized peacocks

The resort is located where ITC’s Classic Golf Course was, and though the course has shifted slightly, it is now an add-on for those who want to putt as well. It’s a 27-hole course designed by Jack Nicklaus. Any visitor however would be well advised to take a leisurely tour of the vast course, if only for the spectacular setting amidst the and the rich variety of birds skimming through the links.

Ambitious, the retreat’s design may be an acquired taste. Its service standards – it is staffed by ITC’s future leaders – are unique as well.  General manager Anand Rao, an ITC veteran, is confident that the resort will attract its clientele, which at a stated starting price of about Rs 25,000 per night, will definitely be an exclusive list! Look out for off season discounts. Well the envelope has been pushed, and exclusivity alone should ensure a popular resort even when the golfers are away!

SNAPSHOTS: DAZZLING DETAILS 

  • That's the first look of ITC Grand Bharat

v Location
mapThe resort is located about 50 kilometres south west from the centre of Delhi, Connaught Place. The airport is closer, about 30 kilometres away. The approach lies through National Highway 8, or the Delhi Jaipur highway – wide and well laid, but occasionally chaotic. Drive past Gurgaon on NH8 and once past Kherki Daula toll booth. About two kilometres after keep your eyes peeled for a turning that points to Wet n Wild Resort(!). Turn right (approaching from Delhi) and it is about 10 kilometres inside.

v Check in
The welcome is one of the grandest by a hotel. At the gate, reminiscent of north Indian temple gates, there’s literally a committee to welcome you. One person will apply the tika (a vermillion dot that is considered auspicious among north Indian Hindus). Another will offer delicious welcome drinks. Rose petals are showered from somewhere above. There’s trumpeter nearby that heralds your arrival by blowing welcome notes on the bugle! A butler, yes you have them anyways, will solicit your welfare and enquire if the journey was okay. Bags, what bags? Those have already gone to your room, er suite, courtesy invisible other staff! As for check in, at your leisure, dear guests!!! Yes, you walk down a very red carpet!

The octagonal lobby is ornate and replete in symbolism
The octagonal lobby, called Sangam, is ornate and replete in symbolism, setting the tone for the rest of the retreat

v Lobby
As you enter the imposing temple type building, you will figure out that the centre is a cylindrical (octagonal) drum shaped structure topped by a spectacular ‘tree of life’ image. On ground, where you are, your butler / guide can show you around with greater detail, you could think you are now inside the palace. Opulence envelops you in the shape of cut glass lamps, plush sofas alternating between sea green and mustard in the centre, and orange on the sides accessorised with raw silk cover cushions in different patterns, brass elephants on their wooden pedestals, miniature terracotta vases from Bengal and Odia painted bottles as table top decor, extensive wall art, bunches of orange birds of paradise stems paired with drooping orchids in tall shiny gold coloured vases, gleaming marble pillars, richly embroidered and very new Persian style carpets… All on a marble floor criss-crossed with mustard stones in a diamond pattern with deep green flowers as relief.

This area has a name – Sangam – after three rivers – two actual ones, Ganga and Yamuna and one mythical, Saraswati. There are eight pillars, signifying the eight stages of life as indicated in the Vedas. The Tree of Life is an expression of the Indian philosophy of ‘Vasudaiva Kutumbakam’ – the world is a family. Yes, there is a sort of reception counter in the corner, you note when senses are satiated.

int-decor
You could be forgiven if you thought you were visiting the palace of a particularly well of royal scion!

v Design
Each of ITC’s luxury hotels has been themed after a historical dynasty or period or region – Mughal, Maratha, Grand Chola, Maurya etc. Well, for ITC’s first resort (the earlier ones are all city hotels) the problem was of plenty. The result finally was to opt for an amalgamation of styles. Taking it further, ITC also opted to look beyond the well known dynasties from India’s past and look at some of the lesser known architectural traditions, no less spectacular.

The first visual impression of the main building is that of a large sandstone temple. The central dome is inspired from Odishan Nagara style Mukteshwara temple of Bhubhaneshwar. The main entrance to the hotel block has been inspired by the torana or arched gateway of the Muktesvara Deula.

The capitals and the detailing on columns pay homage to Gujarat’s Adalaj step well.

Parapet details come from Vadodara’s Laxmi Vilas Palace, part of the Indo-Saracenic school, a legacy now shared with India’s British era buildings.

The ghats of Varanasi are present in a scaled down version, next to a water channel named Yamuna!

Mughals contribute design inspirations for the interiors, from modified Shahjahani arches to massive domes to pietra dura inlay work, and floral patterns. They are also the inspiration for the yet to open Presidential villas, of which there will be four, all inspired from different dynasties to have ruled in India – the other three being Mauryas, Marathas, and Cholas.

There is a dizzying array of details to be noted for those interested and this makes the story of the hotel even more singular, and even a museum of sorts, with many a story written into the walls and interiors. To get a tour. I loved the carpet designs, the inlay work, the colonial era railway themed wall panels, the flying birds in Kaya Kalp…

v Rooms
Well it’s a suite, to start with. The living areas are to the left of the main building (as you face it). Arrival is by golf cart – advisable as it may some distance away and in a maze of labyrinthine lanes. The residential quarters are either on the ground floor or first floor. The former get to share a common pool while the latter get a terrace.

The bedroom
The bedroom of the Deluxe Suite is full of little touches, from the ceiling design to bedside lamps to a royal inspired headboard among others

You enter the Deluxe Suite – 70m2 – through your access key to the living room. Rather cramped, the room is chock full of everything such a room in an opulent house would have. Plush white upholstery sofas, an oval teakwood centre table, a work desk, lots of wall art, stunning lamps. Gadgets include a flat panel TV and multiple ports for anything you may want to hook up.

A wooden sideboard has a small cupboard with cutlery including balloon wine glasses, coffee maker, beautiful white mugs with the Grand Bharat logo (though I found ones in other hotels with ITC’s hallmark design to be prettier!). There are fruit bowls, chocolates and cookies on a matching white tray and inside a mini tagine. The tea bags are from Twinning’s and include ITC’s tea blend infuser. Even the milk sachets are D’lecta! There’s a minibar of course.

The bedroom is again a tight fit. The tent like ceiling and wall designs give the impression of a luxury tent. The bed headboard is straight out of the royalty designs again. The bed though is very comfortable – soft enough for you to sink in and relax. Of course pillows of your preference are available! Well, 300 thread count linen sheets and a Signature WelcomSlumber kit should do the magic. A large chest of drawers can serve as adequate storage. to eye masks, ear plugs, There are three bottles of Forest Essentials sleep infusers! There’s a beautiful niche next to a window at the other end of your suite, with a seating space and curtains. Art also comes by the way of murals, ornamented alcoves, striking olive cushions, hanging bedside lamps… Another TV may want you to not get up, if you are so inclined.

The walk in wardrobe, in the space between the bedroom and the washroom is spacious. Again from robes to slippers to laundry bags, all provided.

The washroom is huge. Well lit, a huge bath, a matching shower area, massive wall to wall mirrors, two basins all around a large dance floor (well, given the space, it could be!) make it a welcoming space. Lots of amenities are stocked, from dental care to shaving kits to body lotions, sowing kits to vanity sets to a variety of inhouse toiletries (ITC’s Essenza di Wills). And there’s a ‘vanity’ chair – white if you please!

Sliding doors connect and separate the different units of the suite, ensuring privacy whenever required. A safe ensures, well safety. There’s free wifi, which works very well even in this out of the way location.

The piece the resistance is a veranda outside the living room which opens to a semi private pool. While it is unfortunately shared with the next suite, you can just pray for it to be empty when you visit! To sit with you feet dipped in, sipping a pina colada (opt for drink of choice) and reading the latest whodunit – life could rarely be more pleasurable!

The largest pool is in the midst of  the residential area. Apas Promenade is at the other end here, with a glimpse of the surrounding residential areas
The largest pool is in the midst of the residential area. Apas Promenade is at the other end here, with a glimpse of the surrounding residential areas

v Pool
Well, the hotel has multiple water bodies. The ground floor suites have semi personal pools of course. There’s a large pool in the centre of the residential complex. There’s a water channel called Yamuna next enroute from the main building to the residential quarters. Then there is an indoor pool in the gym. The spa is surrounded by water. The bath in your room is good for long soak.

v Gym
There is a huge well equipped gym with all the modern exercise options. Separate shower areas for men and women.

v Spa
The signature Kaya Kalp spa is just as ambitious here. 9 therapy rooms provide anything from ‘holistic well being and sumptuous pampering’! Note the sumptuous designs.

v F&B
The resort comes with a quite a few dining options. The showcase India Room, with its striking interiors, offers an “array of cuisines of the colonisers of India – from the Greeks, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French, to the British”. It’s a three course meal, with usually a vegetarian and a non vegetarian option for starter, main and dessert. Dinner only, except for weekends. Expect nouvelle, and nouvelle sized meals.

There is no all day dining restaurant, instead the nearest option is the 3-meal bistro, Aravali Pavilion. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Pastel hued and soft in contrast to the glitzy India Room, it too offers its menu in prefixed sets. Modern Indian Mosaics is how ITC has labelled its offerings here.

The Verandah next door has al fresco dining, and a mobile bar for coffee, tea, wine and beer.

The Peacock Bar is just as multi hued as its inspiration and so are its unique cocktails. Expect ‘Molecular Mixology inspired Classic Cocktails’ and premium spirits.

The Apas Promenade is a poolside loung-y restaurant, and offers local Mewati food. If follows Terra Madre community’s ‘Slow Food Movement’. Semi outdoors, and semi tented, it is perfect for an evening out with like-minded folks.

The hotel also follows the concept of ‘swasthyacuisine, which aims at ‘deconstructing traditional recipes and reimagining them by lowering the calorie count substantially’. Read healthy variants for your traditional meals!

v Golf
As the site of an existing golf course, it is no surprise that this is also styled as a golf resort. The links have shifted, and now are 27 hole Jack Nicklaus designed vast course. There is also a new clubhouse.

v Hotel services
The retreat has facilities such as airport transfer and Safe deposit boxes. There is a fairly large business centre.

Car rental and limousine services are available, and there is a huge parking space for those who choose to drive in.

v Destination
The resort is self contained. Located in the midst of the Aravalis, it is a self contained world for your length of stay. While you can get to Delhi or anywhere else, journeys are likely to take time and appointments outside should be done on the way or while departing from the resort if possible.

Tech stuff
The retreat includes a proprietary face recognition software that will help the hotel know precisely where guest is at all times! Of course each suite comes with a butler, who will be happy (hopefully) to cater to your every whim!

v Best time to visit
November and February should be stellar, when the weather in the region is perfect. The accent is fairly on the outdoors, and this retreat should be perfect in mild winters.

v Do not waste your time on
… trying to step out. The to and fro journeys more than once are just not worth it.

v Hotel group
Part of ITC Hotels, which in India are branded under Starwood’s Luxury Collection.

v Loyalty programme
ITC’s loyalty programme is called Club ITC. Starwood’s global loyalty programme SPG is also applicable.

v Tariff
The stated starting price is about Rs 25,000 per night, though the summer should have discounts. Look out for online deals as well.

v Address
P.O: Hasanpur, Tauru, Dist. Mewat 122 105, Haryana, India

v Book
Log on to http://www.itchotels.in/itcgrandbharat/index.html?r=1 or write to [email protected]

Suman Tarafdar

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