Thanks to India’s popularity with both the international business and leisure crowds, its major cities all house a number of sophisticated, modern hotels catering to the demanding traveler. Providing the perfect launch pad from which to explore the thriv ing metropolises, these accommodations offer the latest high-tech amenities, luxury touches and attentive service, all presented with patented Indian flair.
As the center of the country’s film and fashion scenes, and its commercial hub, Mumbai is a city that’s always on the go, and its top hotels reflect this high level of energy and style. All the five-star brands have a presence in town, and a number of these hotels are flagships or historic properties. Opened in 1903, the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower combines Moorish, Oriental and Florentine architecture with stunning panoramic views of the Arabian Sea. The Oberoi, Mumbai also boasts sea vistas, along with a Banyan Tree Spa to pamper guests. Set among 11 acres of gardens, waterfalls and lotus pools, The Leela, Kempinski is a haven near the Central Business District, while Starwood’s two city hotels – the towering Grand Central, Mumbai and lush oasis, The Maratha each melds aspects of India’s colonial past with the latest technologies.
Technology is what has earned Banga lore its moniker of India’s Silicon Valley, and the city’s hotel scene has risen to the title. Hidden away on nine verdant acres, which include a private lagoon, The Leela, Bangalore marries ornate domed ceilings and grand archways with essential busi ness services and 21st-century creature comforts. At The Taj West End, 20 acres of landscaped gardens pay tribute to Bangalore’s other nickname, the Garden City; here guests luxuriate in plush Heritage Suites and stellar cuisine, like the exotic Vietnamese served at Blue Ginger. Fine dining and understated luxury are also the hallmarks of The Oberoi, Bangalore, where the 30 new suites boast flat-screen televisions, walk-in closets and separate steam cubicles in the bathrooms.
India’s new urban style is likewise embodied by The Park hotels, an Indian-based chain that’s brought world class boutique chic to the city centers. Boasting contemporary design and art pieces along with innovative cuisine and hot nightlife, The Park has proved a popular choice with both business and leisure travelers in cities like Banga lore, Chennai, New Delhi, Kolkata and Visakhaptanam. It’s not unusual to find today’s Indian city streets lined with shops by marquee international brands; everything from iconic British department stores to shops selling designer sneakers are popping up in all the metropolises. Yet the posh shopping centers and boutique streets also boast an impressive array of local names. Whether designing clothing, jewelry, accessories or home goods, a new crop of Indian designers have made their mark by mixing Eastern materials with Western techniques and sensibilities. The result is stylish, high-quality goods that transcend trends, and instead evoke traditional Indian motifs while still seeming very now. Mumbai, New Delhi, Hyderabad and Bangalore in particular are the best spots to pick up some of these new designer souvenirs.
The luxury of the Raj era lives on at India’s magical palace hotels, which re create the sumptuousness of the past while offering the latest modern-day accents. Known for its abundance of lavish palaces, the state of Rajasthan is home to the larg est number of these standout royal retreats.Once the home of the Maharaja of Jaipur, Taj’s Rambagh Palace welcomes guests to 85 richly decorated rooms and suites, along with majestic gardens. Also in Jaipur, The Oberoi Rajvilas re-creates the grandeur of the Rajput princes with 32 acres of pavil ions, reflection pools and private court yards, surrounded by luxury tents and villas.
In nearby Jodhpur, Taj’s Umaid Bhawan Palace is set in what was once one of the largest private residences in the world. Today guests enjoy 64 lavish rooms, as well as extensive grounds and public spaces designed by Edwardian architect Henry Lanchester in a mix of Eastern and Western styles. Balsamand Lake Palace, also in Jodhpur, is a former summer palace of the Marwar regime that’s set on a 13th-century man-made lake. Suites and deluxe rooms are furnished with antiques and medieval Rajasthani fabrics, while horse-drawn carriages and vintage car rides heighten the nostalgic vibe.
After extensive renovations, the 18th century fort palace of Devi Garh – tucked into the Aravali Hills near Udaipur – has been transformed into an all-suite luxury hotel with a stunning antique-meets-mod ern design. Local materials like marble and semiprecious stones mix with contempo rary furnishings, colorful accents and clean lines to create a unique heritage hotel that exemplifies the New India. A full-service spa offers treatments and packages with a holistic bent, while a fine-dining restaurant and lively bar-both boasting sweeping scenic views-provide the backdrop for memorable holiday evenings.
Nearby in Udaipur, the sprawling Oberoi Udaivilas’ cluster of domed, white build ings sits on the banks of Lake Pichola. Rooms boast private walled courtyards or private pools, along with views of either the lake or a neighboring wildlife sanctuary. Lake Pichola is also home to the Taj Lake Palace – although this hotel sits in the lake instead of on its shores. Called the floating palace, this romantic white marble and mosaic structure celebrates bygone eras with Royal Butler service and rooms opulently decorated with murals, rich fabrics and claw-foot bathtubs.
Finally, the Pink City of Jaipur is home to Samode Haveli, a heritage hotel set in the former manor house of the Samode royal family. Built over 150 years ago, the property now features 29 individually designed rooms furnished with antiques and old family portraits; the Maharaja and Maharani Suites take the opulence one step further with mosaic-covered walls. Fans of heritage properties will also enjoy the majestic Palace Hotel (known as Bikaner House) in Mount Abu.
At one time, train travel used to be the preferred means of transport of gentlemen and ladies-a luxurious, comfortable way to get to your destination. This tradition continues in India, where it’s possible to experience weeklong stays on trains that have been restored to include all the detail and ceremony of the locomotive’s heyday. Must-see Rajasthanl cities like Jaipur and Jodhpur are on the agenda of The Palace on Wheels, which features actual coaches that were once used by the fabled Raj rulers.
In between visiting historic sites and exploring the cities, guests enjoy top notch cuisine and accommodations on the train. Following the route of the legendary Marathas, in the state of Maharashtra, The Deccan Odysseys 21 coaches house guest suites, a business center, lounges, a bar, dining cars and even a beauty parlor, Ayurvedic massage center and gym. Patrons disembark in such cities as Goa, Mumbai and Pure to experience a variety of cultural activities.