With a driveway lined by 24 towering palms and turbaned sentries
at the door, The Imperial hotel in New Delhi will instantly
transport clients back to the glamour of India’s Raj.
Built in 1931 by the British as a “legacy” hotel one that would
memorialize their influence in India as well as provide a suitably
luxurious place for them to stay while in its capital The Imperial
remains an outpost for Anglophiles. After five years of renovation
(including a 17,000-square-foot spa scheduled to open later this
year), the hotel is beginning to reclaim its place among the
legendary colonial properties of Asia, like Raffles in Singapore
and The Strand in Rangoon.
“The hotel believes in superlatives,” said former public relations
director Aruna Dhir. “The oldest, the best, the most unique.”
The Imperial was the only hotel included in architect and city
designer Sir Edwin Lutyens’ master plan for New Delhi, and it
became the unchallenged meeting place of the international
community. The World Bank located its first India offices at the
hotel, which also housed 13 embassies. Luminaries of Indian
independence, including Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, met or
stayed here, as did British figures from King George V to Lord
Louis Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India.
Management quarrels led the property into decline in the 1970s,
but today the international crowd is back. During a recent visit,
The New York Times columnist and India booster Thomas Friedman was
filming in the lobby and on the grounds. Other film crews sidled up
to the plentiful breakfast buffet, and well-heeled tourists from
around the world took tea during the too-hot afternoons.
Part of the hotel’s appeal is its elegant, eclectic architecture a
mixture of Colonial, Victorian and Art Deco and its effortless
conjuring of a time and a political system that was coming to an
end, British rule in India. The hotel’s 232 guestrooms and suites
offer a similar sensibility. The Heritage wing boasts quaint
touches (pull-flush toilet, anyone?), but rooms can be a bit
underwhelming. Put clients in the Art Deco wing. Renovated in 2002,
the hallway carpets are already a bit dingy, but the rooms let you
step back into the 1930s, with hardwood floors and art deco
headboards and fixtures. The large bathrooms are equipped with deep
tubs perfect for soaking after hard, dirty days of exploring the
city’s Red Fort, Great Mosque and other grand monuments. The 44
suites are even grander, with rainfall shower heads, Bang and
Olufsen stereo and video equipment and elegant appointments.
Completing the sense that it is someplace special is The
Imperial’s renowned art collection. Nicknamed the “Museum Hotel,”
The Imperial’s hallways are lined with 3,000 lithographs,
sculptures and photographs depicting scenes of great battles,
coronation ceremonies or Maharajahs draped in diamonds, their
handlebar moustaches curling royally toward their eyes. Roll-top
desks, chests with beveled mirrors and other eclectic antiques are
strewn elegantly about. The collection is so large that it has its
own full-time manager, who offers free tours on request.
The magnificent public spaces full of art, marble, fresh flowers
and a groovy international crowd. The restaurants also boast al
fresco dining rare in New Delhi in the hotel’s manicured gardens
when weather permits.
Service can be spotty and sometimes a request has to be made
several times. Rooms that overlook the atrium can be noisy and a
bit grim during the day.
All rooms and public spaces feature high-speed wireless Internet.
The hotel also has a 24-hour business center with Internet access
and other standard services. All rooms offer two-line phones with
Getting online in the business center can be slow and expensive
(about $5 for 30 minutes). Less expensive Internet cafes abound in
New Delhi. Taxis or hotel cars that pull up to the entrance will be
expensive, but walking a few yards to the main road will allow you
to hail a more affordable rickshaw.
Business travelers make up 65 percent of the hotel’s patrons, with
high-end leisure clients balancing out the remainder. Eighty-five
percent of all clients are international.
Standard double rooms begin at $375 a night. Suites go up to
$3,900 a night.
Commission: 10 percent