#TBT: The Imperial Hotel, New Delhi, India
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New Delhi as the new capital of India, is a conceit of the 1930’s. With state buildings designed by British architect Sir Edward Lutyens, it is a blend of Mughal architecture with a strangely deco interpretation of classic roman. The Imperial hotel is part of that deco heritage, with a 1930’s à la mode exterior, and a draped cream and gold colonial interior.
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The Imperial opened in 1936 as Delhi’s first luxury hotel, and a wonderful deco monster in which nearly every major issue that resulted in the move from British rule to partition and independence was discussed by Mountbatten, Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah. It held the reputation as Delhi’s finest Hotel until falling into disrepair in the ’60s and 70’s when it became a backpacker paradise. The 1980s saw its revival by the owners with extensive renovations that honoured the hotels colonial past.
This was our first trip to India, or more specifically Rajasthan.
There were other firsts – first time in an A380 with Qantas, my first time to Hong Kong, and our first time on Indian carrier Jet Airways.
We arrived in Delhi around 11pm local time on our 5 plus hour A330 Jet Airways flight from Hong Kong and then checked into The Imperial at about midnight. We arrived exhausted, as well as firm non-converts to airline herringbone business class seats.
I don’t have a clear memory of our actual arrival at the hotel, other than there was a vast porte cochère staffed by a tall man with an excentric turban, and long corridors of marble tiles and columns.
On arrival, we were greeted with a garland of orange flowers, marigolds, I think. They were amazingly fragrant, and even in our exhausted jet lagged state, lifted our mood. We were guided to our room after a swiftly executed checkin.
We did a quick unpack in our Heritage category room, and were in the extremely comfortable sleigh like king size bed with excellent Porthalt linens as soon as we could be.
This was our first nights sleep in a 25 day long trip around Rajasthan. We had a car, a driver and guides in each destination in our itinerary, and would be joining up with a rag-tag bunch of friends, culminating in a 3 day celebration at Shahpura Bagh of a British friends significant birthday.
We had a vast array of sights on our itinerary, including the Taj Mahal, and some really significant hotels to stay in like the Lake Palace in Udaipur. Not to mention wildlife, and even tigers to see at Ranthambore national park.
We spent 4 nights at The Imperial. When we weren’t out touring the sights, we were beside this pool recovering from our jet lag. Iced water, towels and suntan lotion were distributed by attentive staff. Delhi was hot, and this enormous palm fringed pool was a total oasis.
One day, we headed to our room, after touring some sights and tried to return some documents to the safe. The safe would not open. We called reception, and they sent a member of their security staff. He explained that when the cleaners entered the room, they had seen the open safe. They immediately exited the room, locked it and called security. Security then closed and locked the safe, so the cleaning staff could go about their work. He explained that this was their standard procedure to both protect guests belongings and the reputation for honesty of the hotel’s cleaning staff.
I was impressed with this procedure. I don’t know if this is standard in hotels, as fortunately, we don’t leave room safes with objects in them unlocked when we leave a room – well at least not until this occasion. It was a well thought out procedure that protected both hotel staff and guests.
We knew we had a driver. He, along with our guide, had taken us to various sights over the several days of our stay. But we didn’t realise that he was our dedicated driver, and would be for the next 20 days.
On the Sunday of our stay, with no scheduled activities, we planned to visit the National Museum, and then spend the rest of the day beside the hotel pool. Through reception we organised a taxi to take us there, and return us to the hotel.
The next day, our driver who was about to take us on a 4 hour trip to Agra asked – via the guide – if we were dissatisfied with his service or his vehicle. He had taken our use of a taxi instead of using his services the day before as a personal slight!
We didn’t realise that he was at our disposal for the next 20 odd days across all our destinations in Rajasthan for whatever transport we required. He soon learnt our preferences – that we didn’t like eating in roadside tourist bain-marie bacteria traps, and far preferred a cool banana or other fruit for our lunch on the road. Without asking he made sure that there was a constant reserve of cold diet coke, sparkling water and canned lemonade for our road trips, once ascertaining our preference.
He was a total joy, and we managed to communicate with his limited English, and our complete ignorance of any Indian language other than the greeting Namaste. He was also a bit of a ‘fixer’ successfully negotiating with our friends drivers to get us all to varied spur of the moment destinations safely and securely.
Needless to say, he earned our gratitude, and what we hope was a generous tip.
If it doesn’t sound too cliched, this was a trip of a lifetime, and a wonderful introduction to India. The itinerary was superb, accommodation excellent, and the sights never to be forgotten.
The Imperial Hotel, certainly gave you the flavour of the bygone era of the British Raj, but with more modern ammenities and service. The 7 acre property in the middle of the chaos of Delhi is a colonial era oasis.
It may not longer be the best hotel in Delhi, but it retains the best heritage.
. . . and now, a tiger. Because.
Summary Colonial deco design, dark wood, 4 restaurants, French linens. Retreat from bustling Delhi, pretend it's still the British Raj, order a G&T and lay by the pool.