The Maurya Sheraton: Homage to an Ancient Empire
Destination Delhi – The ITC Maurya Sheraton
Nestled in elegantly landscaped greenery, just fifteen minutes by car from the city centre (and around a half-hour from the airport) the 438 room ITC Maurya Sheraton Hotel is as swanky as they get – beginning with the lobby: A three-tiered dome with colourful wooden murals hanging from above, the space brings a grand atmosphere.
In fact, the Indian artwork at the hotel happens to be second to none when compared with others of Delhi’s finest, featuring originals of such greats as M.F. Hussein, Jamini Roy, Meera Mukherjee and Anjolie Ela Mennon. If you happen to arrive prior to check-in time, no need to worry: you can either admire the murals and paintings while waiting for the room to be prepared or simply kick back on comfortable couches while eyeing wells of floating freshly cut rose petals. A selection of newspapers will be brought (both domestic and international) if you are planted for a time, this with a cup of French-pressed coffee and freshly baked biscuits. And, if you don’t mind an atmosphere of sometimes noisy tour groups and certain self-important types, the lobby is a nice place to lounge. It’s certainly comfortable.
A better place might be the coffee shop: This was THE coffee shop in Delhi before café culture took India by storm, and still boasts some of the best hot beverages and light snacks in the sub-continent. In addition to light fare, The Pavilion as it is called, offers a wide spread of tasty Indian and continental dishes as well as an extensive buffet, providing a global experience. Appetisers range from English favourites like Prawn cocktail to Indian staple, Tandoori Drumsticks to Portuguese Piri Piri Spiced Vegetables. Roast tomato and French onion soup flank Anglo-Indian Mulligatawny on the menu. But many prefer a broth of Tom Yung Kung from the Eastern States and China submerging kaffir lime and prawns. There are salads and gourmet sandwiches of all kinds, including burgers, pizza and pasta as well as Indian favourites like Chicken Tikka Masala. Also, this is one of only a handful of places in the city where you can get decent Atlantic Salmon and steak from reliable imported steer (which one can, without hesitation, proceed to order rare). And, whether Firni is your fare or olive oil cocoa fudge cake, the sweet tooth is enthusiastically indulged in the creamy decadence of the Pavilion desert cart.
So, you’ve had some eats while waiting for your room to be ready, and now could really use a soft but firm bed on which to set down – a spotless functional shower with toiletries that pamper. You’ve come to the right place. The rooms tend to be lavish while not being overly ornate, maintaining a sleek modern look and containing pretty much every conceivable comfort. The rooms run from decently sized to utterly spacious. All are immaculately clean, and always contain fresh fruit, freshly cut flowers, and the turndown service includes chocolates.
The Towers Club – An Exclusive Hotel Within the Hotel
As though this weren’t good enough, the hotel offers exclusivity and further pampering even in the lap of luxury in the Towers Club. This quiet and exclusive block with its own check-in and check-out reception and lounge with complimentary evening cocktails and hors’d’oeuvres contains 188 rooms, 18 Club suites and 67 executive rooms. All rooms come with complimentary luxury buffet breakfast in an exclusive breakfast room. With its own concierge and reception, the service is personalised and advertised to “celebrate the individual in ‘You’ “. (I have tested this credo by sending a concierge out to run to the market, get me medicines, pick up junk food that doesn’t burn a hole in my wallet, and other somewhat unorthodox but innocent tasks – all of which were done without question – and that with a smile, so long as the ‘baksheesh’ is flowing.)
The rooms, which tend to cater to business travelers, offer a comfortable and tech-savvy work space and state-of-the-art in-room facilities including a relaxing massage chair that isn’t ripped from an episode of Seinfeld.
Distinguishing it from other hotels, the Towers Club also has an exclusive floor dedicated to the lady traveler – the EVA rooms. These address the need for utmost security for our lady guests. This is particularly significant, given India’s reputation as a place that has, in recent years, been known to imperil the lone female tourist. And, as many Indian might tell a wary Western or Indian woman – Delhi is not the safest place in the country for the gender – not by a longshot.
In fact, safety and security is of the highest order at the Maurya Sheraton for which they have established industry benchmarks in India. It’s no wonder that their presidential suite has actually housed presidents such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama on visits to India. Due to the position of the buildings deep inside the yoke of the property – and with scores of armed guards patrolling the place, the Maurya Sheraton is a place that the US Secret Service has relied upon to keep their head of state safe – that says a lot.
Even the venerable Taj Group doesn’t compare with the arrangements at the Maurya. In veritable war zones, hotels have been havens in which guests have taken refuge because of fine management and top security. The Maurya is certainly one such haven (even though India is far from a war zone). Still, in a world mired in perpetual low-grade conflict, security has never been more important and the Maurya is one of the safest place to be in Delhi .
Firmly ensconced in the womb that is the Maurya Sheraton, you might be a little reticent to leave the comforts of the hotel and venture into the crowded dusty bustle of tourist sites in Delhi, however historic they might be. The 24-hour tour desk would quickly shake off such inertia, for they offer useful tips for guests and can make special arrangements to ensure that tourist plans go as planned. Aside from bus tours of historical sites around and near the city, including a day trip to the Taj Mahal in Agra, the concierge can arrange private car, walking – and even bicycle tours (not recommended for the faint of heart). Nearby tourist attractions include the Presidential Palace, India Gate, the National Museum and Dhyan Chand National Stadium and the historic sundial, Jantar Mantar. Agra is just three and a half hours by car, and Fatehpur Sikri can also be done in a day trip.
After a day of site-seeing or shopping at Connaught place (Delhi has always been a great place to shop – but it has recently become a more comfortable place to shop, which is significant for tourists) after winding down with a complimentary happy hour refreshments at the Towers Club, one may prefer a frontier feast. Bukhara, the hotel’s North-West Frontier restaurant, features the cuisine of a region that has been at the confluence of Middle Eastern and South Asian culture.
Bukhara – A Singular Dining Experience
Featuring, sizzling Peshwari kebabs, marinated for hours in the finest herbs and spices and natural tenderisers making for flavorful and succulent meat that falls away from the skewer, the cuisine of the Bukhara is cooked in traditional clay ovens. Unlike curry, the meat is served without any gravy so the chef must take great care in preparing the marinade. This provides the unique flavor of each selection. Chefs train for years to get the breads just right – from flat breads to yeast raised Naans that are crispy on the outside but soft in the middle without feeling doughy. It is paradoxical though, that for a cuisine dominated by meat preparations, their signature dish is vegetarian: Dal Bukhara, a combination of whole black lentils (‘white eyed’ Urad dal), tomatoes, ginger and garlic and slow-cooked and simmered over charcoal fires of the tandoor overnight for 18 hours at a stretch! The hotel claims it to be the longest cooked lentil in the world – a claim that is unlikely to be challenged.
The ethnic ambience adds immeasurably to the experience: The decor consists of stone walls and flooring, hung with Bukhara carpets. Rough-hewn trestle tables and wooden stools complete the rugged look. Copper pots and urns are suspended from the ceiling and pillars; the crockery is earthenware in an earthy ochre colour. Adding to the charm are the menus being painted on a block of wood. The chefs perform in a display kitchen, the sight of which both entertains and wets the appetite. Patrons are invited to photograph the activity. Given checked aprons, guests are also encouraged to eat with their hands to experience the food through all their senses (though it’s certainly not mandatory for those not so inclined).
The restaurant, too, is part of urban legend: It is said that a visit to Bukhara once inspired celebrated Indian artist, M.F Husain, to paint his trademark horse on his canvas, while dining at the restaurant. The powerful image has been replicated on the famous Bukhara Apron.
Other restaurants (total of six) include the Golf Bar where you can chat and relax over a selection of the finest wines and spirits in the traditional ambience of an English Country Club, overlooking the grounds and tennis court. It also boasts of a selection of some of the rarest Scotch whiskies. Uppercrust, is their poolside snackbar. Dum Pukht carries on a 200-year old culinary legacy from the kitchens of the Nawabs of Awadh. Biryani cooked over a fire in sealed earthenware pots or deghs, is the delicacy at this establishment in which the cuisine is recognized by the subtle use of spices and a delicate flavour. They also have an Italian restaurant called Westview, well-known for hand-crafted pasta and home-made gelato.
What’s next? You may be aware that, in the nineties, the hotel was known for the superclub, Ghungroo. Named for the ankle-bells on classical dancers, the backbeat from Ghungroo would cause the lobby to shake at night. Back then, one might half-expect SNL’s Butabi brothers to emerge, heads jerking from side-to-side to Haddaway’s ‘What is Love’ – not quite the scene that fits with the rest of the hotel – which is probably why it was closed down in 2002. A six-thousand square foot Irish- styled pub called The Dublin was put in its place. Done over in shamrock green, the pub is lined with soft leather sofas with stained glass panels decorating the walls. The ample bar space serves a fine selection of malts. Ales are a favourite – and cigars smoked in a designated area. This is definitely a place for adults to wind down after a long day or relax after dinner.
If you prefer a nightcap in the room, room service is runs 24 hours and offers a full range of fine spirits. The all-day menu also offers great snacks and delicious meals, which is a selection of what’s available at the Pavilion.
The Fusion Spa
No review of this or any other ITC luxury hotel can be complete without mention of the Spa. The group’s signature Kaya Kalp Spa marries the European spa experience with herbal Ayurvedic remedies and massage. Named for the Sanskrit word, Kayakalp, which means rejuvenation of body, mind and soul, guests are pampered with a treatment that recaptures the ancient customs and medicinal legacies of Mauryan India in an ultra-modern facility that can stand up to any spa in the West. Ayurvedic body treatments, relaxing massages and ancient ritual combine into an experience that is meant to nurture not only the body but also the mind and spirit. Among the major rituals offered are Exotic Pomegranate Spa Journey, de-stressing therapeutic Hot Stone Massage, and traditional Gemstones Massage. The latter utilizes gemstones along with natural aromatic therapy. The experience is uber-relaxing and makes the ITC Maurya Sheraton distinct from other hotels as an island of respite and rejuvenation in one of the world’s busiest metropolises.