Call me a traditionalist, but I am strongly nostalgic for hotels with grand exteriors, lavish lobbies and breathtaking chandeliers. So, a retreat just about an hour from New Delhi, modelled ambitiously on the architecture of India, sounded like my cup of tea. But I returned with mixed feelings about the experience. As I take the slip road after Mansesar on the national highway to Jaipur from Delhi, the barren land and mined hillocks successfully conceal what lies ahead. After about 10 kilometres on a winding road, ITC Grand Bharat, a monument-like structure, reveals itself with equal measures of surprise and wonder. Inside, a moustached man in a uniform blows the bugle to announce my arrival. Six uniformed men — three on either side of a plush red carpet — march in attention for a royal welcome. I need a moment to fully soak in the grandeur of the pink sandstone structure. The facade, I’m told, is inspired by the architecture of the palace of Baroda. From a distance, I can’t help but think of Bollywood films like Mohabbatein and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham when I see the building in its entirety. It is only with a detailed, descriptive tour of the property that I begin to notice the nuances of the architecture.
The central square dome is modelled on the Mukteswar Temple in Odisha and the columns on the step-wells of Adalaj in Gujarat. On a closer look, I see can see the carvings on the pink sandstone columns. My guide for the day tells me that these are based on architecture from the Mughal era. Inside, the lobby flaunts exquisite jaali work on white marble, which has been installed by local artisans. “Embodying ITC Hotels’ ethos of ‘responsible luxury’, each ITC luxury hotel engages with local artisans and craftsman during its construction,” says Dipak Haksar, COO, ITC-Hotels Division. A water body named Yamuna separates the residential enclaves from the central building. The steps around these water bodies are replicas of the ghats of Varanasi. The enclaves themselves are made to resemble housing from ancient civilisations, though to me they seem more Georgian. The view from one of the suites’ terraces is much like one would see of an archaeological site in a history textbook. Looking down at the sprawling land below, replete with steps, water bodies and domes of different shapes, I can see what an empress must have seen when she stood on such terraces to look at her kingdom. Putting together the concept and bringing together different architecture styles was a great challenge for the design team, according to the company. “When we resolved to compose a paean to the grandness of Indian civilisation, architecture was a question that left us stumped,” says Haksar. “With a plethora of architectural styles through the ages, no one style could lay claim to epitomising India’s architectural heritage as a whole.” While I can relate to the dilemmas of the design team, the entire property has too much of a tableau feel to be truly historic. Perhaps if, over the years, it loses its perfection, wears a rugged appearance and ups its vintage quotient, it would seem more of a tribute to Indian architecture and less of a film set.