Luxury Explorer Review

5-Star Hotel Review

The Taj Mahal Hotel

India

Perfectly positioned in a leafy residential area of New Delhi

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The Taj Mahal Hotel

Location

Located in the heart of the capital

Travel Information

Delhi airport - 20km

Top Tips

A private driver smooths out all the bumps in your travel plans

5-Star X-Factors

The staff - Taj has identified the precise polarity of supreme service and only attracted individuals who want to make this their mantra

Delhi undercover

A trip to Delhi for a couple of days was the chance to explore the city with my colleague and friend of many years, Mr G, while staying at one of the city's finest hotels, the Taj Mahal. With the monsoon coming early and little warning of our arrival, it was, literally, an undercover operation.

The Taj experience was personified by Manoj, our trusty driver. Manoj used to work as an engineer for one of India's deregulated telecoms companies before joining The Taj Mahal Hotel in Mansingh Road. What defines Manoj also defines the Taj: he swapped helping eight million new users join mobile phone networks every month (just think about that number for a moment; it tells you much about India today) for a job as a brand ambassador.

Punctual, impeccable, courteous, thoughtful, a smoother of bumps in your travel plans (and of pot holes in the road), he never imposed and always ensured you enjoyed every minute of your 'Incredible India!' experience. Manoj makes politeness seem special because, even in a life packed full of luxe-trotting, it comes no more sincere than this.

The remarkable thing about The Taj Mahal Hotel in New Delhi, and for that matter all Taj Hotels we feature, is that Manoj is not a one-off. Taj has identified the precise polarity of supreme service and attracted only individuals who want to make this their mantra. It makes you ask "why aren't other hotels like this?" and answers it at the same time.

Two days are not enough to do this wonderful city justice, even when waking hours are extended by jet lag. But this is how most visitors experience India's capital city, whether they are using Delhi as a holiday gateway to Rajasthan, the Himalayas or elsewhere, or, increasingly, as a business entry point to one of the world's fastest growing economies.

As an India-junkie, I knew what to expect, but was surprised at how much less daunting everything was than on my last visit. The (completely full) daytime BA Business Class flight from London was as smooth as any I could remember and the pick up at the airport was equally soothing. Arriving at 11pm means the traffic is bearable, but high humidity was obvious from the moment we left the air-conditioned terminal building. Manoj arrived, white-gloved, white-tuniced and black-hatted, armed with cool towels and cold water. His smile was a good omen.

Sweeping vista

The Taj Mahal Hotel wears its five-stars with a Mughal twist. At 30 years of age, it's not an old hotel (and far from the most beautiful, to be honest), but it occupies a prime site with, from the upper floors, a wonderful city vista: Luytens' Rashtrapati Bhaven (once the opulent home of the Viceroy and his 2,000 servants and now the Presidential Palace, with a few less helping out), the Rajpath and the expansive greenery that this part of town luxuriates in. Always ask for a room with this view, as the alternative, overlooking the pool, is less remarkable.

The rooms were two Deluxe Kings. Spick and span with everything you'd want for a short stay, although the bathrooms, beautifully-fitted, were on the small side for one so spoilt. I've always thought you can tell a lot about a hotel by studying the underbelly of a basin; here, everything was as well-finished below as above, and cleaner than most hospitals.

The typical Taj design aesthetic isn't to everyone's taste, but you can't criticise the generous attention to detail. The 42" Samsungs are state-of-the-art, faxes in every room, desks and WiFi lead to impressively early emails back at base, beds are super comfortable, sheets are crisp, pillows just right, towels are thick and large, remote controls actually work and everything is spotlessly clean. There was even a little box on the desk containing a pencil, ruler, rubber, Pritt Stick, scissors, etc. How thoughtful for a business-trotter.

Suite success

If you have a suite-tooth, the Grand Presidential Suite is as vast as any corpulent industrialist or ego-fuelled politician would ever want, with plenty of room for entertaining and directing worldwide operations, but my pick of the rooms are the Executive Balcony Suites especially ones with a Presidential Palace view. These are spacious junior suites, clean-lined, coolly upholstered with lashings of leather and white marble in the bathrooms. They are contemporary and stylish, with a groovy Maharajah flavour that's just about right for anyone looking for an elegant stay in modern India.

The public spaces buzz with a melange of international grand-tourists, businessmen and local socialites. The staff float about attending to everyone's slightest whim: girls in red saris or salwar kameez, men in dark suits. However, the huge main space with multi-domed ceiling is compromised by rather dull furniture, masking the central large white marble fountain. The rear entrance from the pool, however, features a dramatic and impressive white marble staircase decorated with intricate fretwork, which makes a case for sometimes entering by the back door.

The food is always great at Taj hotels. With the European-style Grill Room on the top floor fit for high-powered politicians and plutocrats, and House of Ming offering Sechuan and Cantonese cuisine, we chose the Japanese restaurant, Wasabi by Morimoto, with fish flown in daily from the world's finest fish market at Tsukiji, Tokyo.

The food is Nobu-good, without exaggeration, and the interior, touched by minimalist design, counterpoints the succulence of the cuisine. A mouthwatering selection of negiri sushi and rolls was washed down with a glass of Schlumberger Riesling, followed by a dainty glass teapot-like carafe of chilled, dry and fragrant saki.

With sleek new suites and designer Japanese restaurants, is this early evidence of a new Taj city experience emerging? Much is changing on the Subcontinent, and Taj is keeping pace, but while this aesthetic adventurer welcomes design evolution, the magical service must never change.

The investigation continues...

Mr G had never visited before, so Manoj arranged a tour that included the best of Lutyens' New Delhi India Gate, the Presidential Palace, the wide boulevards of the Rajpath, Connaught Place with a visit to The Red Fort in the old part of town.

Leafy green New Delhi was designed by Edward Lutyens and Herbert Baker (an oft incompatible blend of British architects) and built between 1917 and 1931. What strikes you about New Delhi is both the magnificent scale and the stunning contrast between deep green grass and trees and the dark red sandstone, brought from Agra to build these dramatic edifices. The natural red soil adds another hue to create a palette fit for kings, maharajahs and latter-day presidents and diplomats.

Seeing red

The Red Fort is a must-see. To get there, you have to brave the hustle and bustle of Old Delhi and 'real India'. This is a contrast to the rarified air of the new city, as your approach to Old Delhi is heralded by much honking of horns and swerving of motorised rickshaws. Mr G looked a tad less relaxed, but assures me now that he relished the new experience.

At the Red Fort, much of the hassle has been removed and cleaned up, although you will still be followed by a few hawkers and encouraged to buy many things you don't want. Some of the youngest are the most persuasive and surely heading for success in the new India, in contrast to their parents, who probably never moved on much.

The Red Fort is a vast structure, built over nine years by Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan between 1638 and 1648, but is now a shadow of its precious stone-studded past. Even so, it's still incredible; a home built on a vast scale with walls extending more than 2km, illustrating India's glorious and opulent past.

In those days there were waterways of perfumed water, marbled hammams where 100 concubines bathed naked, manicured lawns, a solid golden throne (nicked by the Persian King Nadir Shah in 1739 in return for sparing the Emperor's life), intricate mosaics and delicate carvings and paintings adorning every structure. Described in the verse of Amir Khusro, "If there is Paradise on the face of earth, it is here, it is here, it is here", it is still easy to imagine why.

Delhi is a city of the past and of the future. It has been the capital since 1911 when, following the Delhi Durbar, King George V moved the centre of government back from Calcutta. It is a city worth weaving-in to any itinerary for at least two or three nights, even if you're book-ending trips to Rajasthan, Shimla or Bhutan. Mr G and I inspected two other hotels on our Delhi undercover operation, and agreed that the service was consistently excellent. At the Taj Mahal Hotel, it's just about perfect.

Peter Matthews
Peter Matthews


Luxury Explorer
Luxury Explorer

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