Author: C.C.


Symbolising ITC Hotels’ philosophy of responsible luxury, the ITC Maratha, Mumbai also pays homage to the Maratha dynasty of the region, which reflects in its architecture and design, service rituals and cuisine. A LEED Platinum-certified building, the entire electrical energy needs of the hotel are met through wind energy.

USP – The interiors are adorned with Maratha-inspired art, the local tribal art form of Warli, Paithani silks and artefacts, coins and jewellery—all evocative of the region’s rich heritage. The local culinary favourites are presented at Peshwa Pavilion, the hotel’s restaurant, in an exclusive menu called Local Love. Complementing these are Food Sherpa trails enabled by the hotels’ chefs, which trace the city’s most iconic dishes and the influence of the locale’s history and culture on its cuisine.

HERITAGE PICK – The hotel’s exterior is in the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture, seen in prominent landmarks such as the General Post Office, Ballard Estate, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus Railway Station, Prince of Wales Museum and Gateway of India. The dome roof outside has been inspired by Bombay University and Victoria Terminus (now the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus Railway Station).



BLENDING HISTORY WITH LUXURY – The hotel’s Presidential Suite, the Shivaji Suite, draws inspiration from Chhatrapati Shivaji. The rooms have been beautified with Paithani silk bolsters, silk curtains and photographs of Mumbai’s landmark buildings. The architecture and design of the hotel has been inspired by the region and includes indigenous art forms and artefacts. Guests can experience authentic Maharashtrian cuisine in the luxurious environs of the Peshwa Pavilion.

PRIZED ARTEFACT – The Warli paintings that adorn the wall of the hotel’s Executive Club wing on the 11th floor This tribal form of art originates from the North Sahyadris in Maharashtra and dates back to the mythical Mahabharata and Ramayana eras.


A heritage boutique spa ksveli, Ranjit’s SVAASA is a tribute by a wife to her late husband. The over 200-year-old ancestral haveli has been restored, offering boutique rooms and suites and an award-winning holistic spa in the holy city of Amritsar. The warm, personalised service with ancient architecture sciences and the fact that it is the first property in Amritsar with rainwater harvesting and solar heating, and also its usage of vaastu and age-old healthy cooking practices add up to a holistic experience.

USP – It was the erstwhile guesthouse of the late Rai Bahadur Rattan Chand Mehra, O.B.E., who played a key role in establishing the international dry port of green tea and wholesale market within the walled city of Amritsar that exists and runs till date. He also played a pivotal role in the management of the Harmandir Sahib (before the formation of the SGPC) and the local town planning outside the walled city.



HERITAGE PICK – There is a story that after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, Rattan Chand Mehra was called upon by the British government to come to the Town Hall and change the statement in favour of General Dyer as his word held more weight than the entire city of Amritsar. In return, he would be knighted and the family would gain immense wealth and much more. He refused. On the day he died, the entire city downed its shutters in tribute. He was proud of his ancestry and said that when he saluted the British it was with a cat’s-eye ring turned inwards so that he was saluting his own lineage. His portrait with the ring on his little finger still hangs in the corridor of Ranjit’s SVAASA.

BLENDING HISTORY WITH LUXURY – You enter into the Time Corridor, lined with photographs going back eight generations. The suites at Ranjit’s SVAASA are named after ancestors with the Rattan Chand Suite being the most lavish. Where once stood the cowshed and the horse stables is the renowned SVAASA Spa—Hibiscus Pavilion. The young staff is personally selected by Abhimanyu Rattan Mehra. The concept of Ranjit’s SVAASA, created by Rama Ranjit Mehra, is of a home away from home.

PRIZED ARTEFACT – The beautiful silk hand-woven Persian carpet It was made by a craftsman who only made four of a kind. He presented it to the late Ranjit Rattan Mehra for help extended in his hour of need.


Perched 2,000 feet above the city of pearls is the Taj Falaknuma Palace. Built in 1894, it is the former palace of the fabled Nizam, and encapsulates befitting splendour.

USP – Guests arrive in the restored chariot of the Nizam and are welcomed by the Butler and Palace Team. Escorted by the Royal Guard bearing the royal coat of arms and showered with rose petals, one experiences the welcome accorded to the Nizam. Falaknuma means ‘like the sky’ in Urdu and the palace does have a celestial appearance.

HERITAGE PICK – The brainchild of Nawab Mohammad Fazal-ud-din Khan Bahadur, also known as Sir Viqar-ul-Umra, who served as Prime Minister of Hyderabad from 1893 to 1901. The construction of the Falaknuma began in 1884 when its first owner, Sir Viqar-ul-Umra, laid the foundation stone, and ended in 1893. Spread across 93,971 sq m, the Falaknuma was later used as the residence of the sixth Nizam, Nawab Mehboob Ali Khan, who was known to be the richest man alive. It is unfortunate that the palace was kept closed after 1950.



BLENDING HISTORY WITH LUXURY – Spread over 32 acres, it allows you to journey to the golden ages, when opulence and excess were celebrated and savoured in equal measure. The 60 beautifully refurbished and lovingly restored rooms and suites each provide marvellous views of the palace courtyard and the 400-year-old city of Hyderabad.

PRIZED ARTEFACT – The 101 Dining Room houses the globe’s longest dining table which seats 101 people. The dining hall has an exquisite acoustic system where one can hear a conversation at either end of the table. The focus of this room is the Nizam’s chair as the armrest of this specific chair is bigger than other chairs, indicating the social standing of the person sitting there.


The property was created with the intent of giving guests the actual feel and ambience of authentic Kerala while providing modern luxury. Over a hundred homesteads, each over 100 years old, were bought and used in the making of the resort. Hence, much of what you see in the resort is truly historical.

USP – Kerala’s architecture is highlighted throughout the resort. The ancient rules of the traditional architecture have been adhered to while simultaneously imbuing it with flawless luxury, a rare and difficult to create feature.

HERITAGE PICK – The visit of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall to celebrate the Prince of Wales’ 65th birthday is proudly recalled as an honour at the resort.



BLENDING HISTORY WITH LUXURY – The resort combines authentic heritage with every comfort. Rooms are plush and have wood-embellished interiors. Private pools, meandering pools and sprawling gardens preserve the past amid the contemporary.

PRIZED ARTEFACT – The architecture of the Ettukettu multi-cuisine restaurant is breathtaking. Once a palatial mansion located several kilometres away, the structure was dismantled and reconstructed at the resort over four years. The 120-year-old octagonal mansion was the home of the martial arts instructor of the royal family.


The eyecatching Narendra Bhawan reflects the eclectic life of Maharaja Narendra Singhji. Designed as an aristocratic residence, the interiors are a kaleidoscope of scenes and artefacts that evoke nostalgia.

USP – Narendra Bhawan houses Maharaja Narendra Singhji’s memories of his travels and presents a rich and diverse panorama.

HERITAGE PICK – Bikaner’s history dates back to 1488 when a young princeling from the Jodhpur dynasty broke away from his family’s ancient legacy and sought to establish his own lineage. The site he chose happened to be called ‘Jungladesh,’ a barren outcrop of land. Rao Bika was the second son of the Jodhpur clan leader. It is said that he had a fractious relationship with his father and brothers and in exchange for giving up his claim to the throne of Jodhpur was allowed to take the family heirlooms with him. Naturally, he didn’t keep his word and skirmishes would occur.

The Narendra Bhawan

The Narendra Bhawan

BLENDING HISTORY WITH LUXURY – This property celebrates a lifetime—from a royal birth to the fashioning of a global bon vivant and culminating in a socialist enamoured of the new India. From the spa to the cuisine, the man who once lived here is recalled through a collection of memorable experiences—some fascinatingly epicurean, others extremely novel and all forever enchanting.

PRIZED ARTEFACT – The Balam (‘My Beloved’) Table is placed in the rooms. It has a carved white marble base in the shape of a bottle and a spun brass centrepiece and tabletop The brass of the table top and its centre beam are akin to the beams and joints of a roof The simplicity of the design and the blending of traditional materials add romance to a utilitarian object.


The Imperial remains one of Asia’s finest luxury hotels and is the most luxe address in the heart of India’s capital, reminiscent of the grandeur of the Raj. With awe-inspiring heritage interwoven with colonial elegance, it delivers modernity with old-style class and magnificence.

USP – Stroll through its art-laden corridors and you will feel history come alive. The collection of prints, engravings, lithographs, aquatints, mezzotints and painted photographs in the hotel began 80 years ago and is a unique blend of Victorian, colonial and informal art deco.


The Imperial

HERITAGE PICK – The hotel was part of living history with Jawaharlal Nehru’s suite and the embassies of 13 countries. When the British made Delhi their capital in 1911 and Edward Lutyens was assigned to design New Delhi, he chose to build the hotel at the crossing of the Kings way and Queensway ceremonial boulevards. Lady Willingdon gave the place its name and its lion insignia. She also laid the foundation of the royal palms leading to the main porch which have witnessed the very creation of Delhi.

BLENDING HISTORY WITH LUXURY – The doorways and the massive bronze lions at the entrance are Victorian. Inside the high-domed atrium, art deco wall panels and wrought iron balconies recall the early 20th century. A masterpiece of 900 pieces of marble can be seen across the hotel, including in its opulent 24-carat gold leaf form on the pavilion in the lobby. Abounding in London tableware, Italian marble floors, Burma teak and rosewood furniture, Florentian fountains, original Daniells and Frasers on the walls and the finest of Indian furniture, The Imperial with its distinctive low-rise profile recreates the aura of an early 19th century English manor.


The Taj Mahal Palace threw open its stately doors in 1903. It truly embodied founder Jamsetji Tata’s vision for the city, of providing an indigenous hospitality service that would cater to the myriad needs of global travellers. An architectural marvel offering panoramic views of the Arabian Sea and the Gateway of India, it is a graceful landmark of Mumbai.

USP – Home to and retreat for maharajahs, politicos, dignitaries and their entourages, over the past century it has stood witness to the transformation of the country. It has amassed a diverse collection of paintings and artworks. From Belgian chandeliers to Goan Christian artefacts, the hotel incorporates a myriad of artistic styles and tastes.

HERITAGE PICK – In 1947, the hotel hosted the legends and architects of India’s independence. The first speech to industry in independent India was made at the hotel. It was during those heady days of celebration and grandeur that Jamsetji Tata’s masterpiece took its place on the political and tourism maps.

The Taj Mahal Palace

The Taj Mahal Palace

BLENDING HISTORY WITH LUXURY – The property has been ahead of its time since 1903. Jamsetji Tata travelled the world to ensure that the hotel would be magnificent and truly global. To the original structure envisioned in the 19th century, the decades have seen additions from reorganising of rooms, suites and their layouts to the addition of floors and even the construction of the Tower Wing. With layers of history embedded in the structure, the conservationists have had to overcome unique challenges to ensure a seamless blend of heritage and modernity.


Asia’s first luxury hotel, The Laiit Great Eastern is a heritage landmark, located in the main business district of Kolkata. Referred to as the ‘Jewel of the East’ and the ‘Best Hotel East of Suez’ by Mark Twain, it has the distinction of being the longest operating hotel—for 165 years.

USP – Great Eastern in itself is a landmark, being Asia’s first luxury hotel. It owns the first bakery of Kolkata and still serves a few delicacies from the past.

The Lalit Great Eastern Hotel

The Lalit Great Eastern Hotel

HERITAGE PICK – An eight-foot concrete cup stands in the balcony, a replica of the trophy that the wife of A.L. Bilimoria, the then chairman of Great Eastern Hotel, received from Queen Elizabeth II, after his horse won in 1961.

BLENDING HISTORY WITH LUXURY – After a seven-year restoration, the iconic hotel reopened in 2013. The old architecture was preserved and a new portion developed on the available open space. The hotel now has three wings with three distinct characters and decor representing three eras of history, Victorian (1837-1901), Edwardian (1901-10) and contemporary. These three styles have been amalgamated via the corridors which connect them and which house the old artefacts to illustrate the transition. The luxe factor remains the core of this hotel.

Discover The Unique Flavors Of The West Indies

Women lust after Chef Mani not for his power-packed good looks but for his culinary prowess. Some even propose marriage and this talented chef, who helms the kitchen in Pepper Trail, a luxe back-to-nature retreat in Wayanad, north-east Kerala, looks bemused. He thanks them uncertainly because Chef Mani speaks and understands only Malayalam and marriage proposals in any other language mystify him! Even men have tried to pirate him to start restaurants in their hometowns and instal him in their home kitchens! At Pepper Trail, set amidst 200 acres of coffee, tea and spice plantations and encircled by tropical rainforests, the magical surrounds are as much a lure as the bugle call of one’s stomach, answered so ably by Chef Mani’s creations.

In the open-sided Pavilion, the dining area of the resort, we revelled in amazing vistas. A paradise flycatcher flitted past; a Malabar hornbill sat on a distant bough and a brown wood owl came a-calling even as a parade of dishes sashayed across our taste buds akin to ramp models strutting their stuff. I diyappam or steamed noodles made from rice flour; vegetable stew and caramelised bananas; puttu or rice cake with a sweet-sour kadala curry (black channa masala); a delicately spiced tapioca curry; a traditional chicken kizhi, where a subtly spiced chicken is steamed in a banana leaf and served with a mint and coriander chutney. We tried the roasted masala fish curry and ripe banana curry, too. All of it was edible art, artfully served and laced with an earthy, wholesome flavour. The culinary climax would be bamboo payasam, Kerala’s version of kheer, with bamboo rice.

“Bamboos flower once in 145 years and rice is extracted from the flowers and added to payasam,” explained Anand Jayan, owner of Pepper Trail and a foodie who loves to share his passion for local cuisine with his guests. He remembers the time when the food they ate as children was wreathed in the smoky flavours of a wood fire and every bite was savoured and respected…for food is an integral part of a living culture. Indeed, it all began with Wayanad pepper, perhaps the most aromatic and powerful in the world, and that is what Christopher Columbus was seeking. Instead, he stumbled on the West Indies. We too were looking for the much-vaunted subtlety of North Kerala’s cuisine and discovered that in that region, it is threaded by the aroma of Arabian kitchens brought by traders and wayfarers who passed that way in search of the region’s spices.



The cuisine is also laced with the flavours brought by latter-day traders like the Dutch, Portuguese, French and English. “They may take the pepper vine to England,” said Zamorin, the king of Kozhikode, “but can they take the Thiruvathira Njattuvelia??” The latter is the 14 days of rain in June-July which powers the growth of pepper. Indeed, locals reiterate that the food of North Kerala, based on recipes handed over generations, is palate-pleasing because of the clamour and clang of different cultures. Most importantly, it is relished in a circle of warmth, with family sitting together for meals. In Kerala, the foodscape undergoes subtle changes from north to south, thanks to the mixture of spices and the subtle differences in cooking styles of home cooks. Moving away from Wayanad, we dug into the abundant seafood of the Malabar coast of North Kerala.

It was delicately spiced and figured on our menus at Kadavu, a retreat on the backwaters of Kozhikode. The basis of cooking in Kerala is the coconut— the oil is used for frying, and the milk and flesh for the gravy. Spices are used gently or powerfully enough to put your taste buds on high alert. The Kerala curry that we had on several occasions was a thick bouillabaisse of coconut milk and freshly ground spices simmered together. It was aromatic and piquant, and the secret behind it is its long, slow cooking time.

In the coastal North Malabar region, we dined like kings at linen-less eateries on meen mulakittathu, red fish curry which had a tangy ocean-fresh punch. Chicken dry fry (kozhiporichu) was chicken marinated in a mantle of chillies, salt, turmeric, ginger-garlic, aniseed, then slathered in lemon juice and fried to a crisp in coconut oil. The typical kadka fry was mussels simmered in Kerala spices until they were dry and crunchy. There were also lacy appams (originally a Syrian-Christian legacy, but that’s another story) and idiyappams served with smooth curries and stews, and kallumman kai ada made of chicken slivers or mussels wrapped in fried dough and irachi porichathu, lamb slices tossed and fried in ground spices and served in papad baskets.

North Kerala

North Kerala

The fare of the North Kerala Muslim community called Mapilas or Moplahs is more heavily non-vegetarian. Their staple is the mouthwatering biryani, made of lamb, chicken, egg or fish, and eaten with crunchy papad. Arikadukka is another gourmet item and is essentially mussels stuffed with delicately spiced rice dough, steamed in the shell and fried. Chemmeen or prawns are tossed and fried in aromatic Kerala spices and tangy kokum, finished with coconut and served on a banana leaf. This is best paired with a chiffon-like layered Malabar parotta.

Perhaps the piece de resistance of the North Kerala Muslims is a whole marinated lamb stuffed with chicken mince, eggs and masalas and pot-roasted, best relished at a feast laid out to welcome a new son-in-law or a Moplah wedding feast. If you are lucky enough to be invited to a sadhya (or banquet in Malayalam), you will be faced with a formidable array of dishes, over 28 items. These are placed in a precise way on a banana leaf. A sadhya is labour-intensive and cannot be rustled up with a few stirs of a ladle. We relished a sample sadhya at the swish Nombili restaurant at Lalit Resort and Spa, Bekal and the sweet finale, a gooey payasam, made from wheat and rice stewed in coconut milk with jaggery plus slabs of halwa (the latter is typical of Kozhikode), almost did us in. The ultimate was mutta-mala, a steamed egg white pudding with a frill of egg yolk.

Lalit Resort and Spa

Lalit Resort and Spa

Apart from these gourmet creations, what lingers in memory are the finger-licking meals that we have had at no-frills eateries. But, for us, what distils the flavour and essence of the state are the canary-yellow, plump banana fritters that were paired with masala chai every afternoon at Pepper Trail. Soft as a sigh within and crisp outside, they melted in our mouths, generously surrendering their sweetness like the land itself.

Wadiyars: Where Indian Culture And Technology Get Together

My driver for the day, Manohar—a clean-shaven, decent South Indian boy—loves Punjabi rap. This makes me wonder if Mysoreans lead double lives—as the sweet, cultured populace from the memories of my childhood travels and as newly debauched daaru, Dj, dance floor-fiends. Before observing the evolving Mysoorinavaru, there’s the city itself that I appear to have nurtured faulty memories of. The Mysuru I recall had the giant statue of the buffalo-demon, Mahishasura, in the middle of the city. I still have a picture of my sister and me posing with masala cucumbers at the feet of that looming demon with a snake in one hand and a sword in the other. I am determined to click a ‘same location, 20 years later’ selfie, but it turns out that the idol of Mahishasura is, and always was, atop Chamundi Hills, 13 km from the city centre.


I head there immediately, a bad decision on a Saturday. The hill is packed with local tourists. There’s a motorable road going right up to the Dravidian-style temple, but we park on the other side of the hill, in a throng of humanity thatis trudging up the tougher route—1,000 steps—to pay their respects to Mahishasuramardini, the avatar of Parvati who killed Mahishasura, thus giving the city its name and a reason to celebrate the 10-day nada habba or Dasara festival. Nursing a tendon injury, I opt out of the mid-day climb; in any case, it seems like the sort of thing that would be best enjoyed early morning. So we drive back to the city for the long tour of the century-old Sri Ghamarajendra Zoological Gardens, aka Mysuru Zoo, one of the best in the country.

Mysuru Zoo

Mysuru Zoo

It’s close to 4 pm, a good time to observe the animals emerging from their siesta. There are the usual suspects: parents, children, a very patient photographer and a gang of young men who move from one enclosure to another, making kissing sounds at the animals and shouting, “Eyyy, lion!”, “Eyyy, monkey!” The enclosures are massive, and there’s plenty of space within the 157-acre campus to move at your own pace, while taking a break on the many benches provided. There are loos too. Selfie sticks are prohibited. Overall, an excellent way to spend the afternoon.

I espy a white tiger slinking behind an artificial waterfall and rush to that section. He doesn’t come back. The void is filled by the 16-year-old Royal Bengal Tiger, Brahma, who circles the enclosure, sprays the trees repeatedly and has a little bath at the waterfall. About 200 metres away, the lion enclosure is coming to life. The adult male poses in profile and yawns magnificently, while two lionesses roar gutturally. A supine cheetah, barely 50 metres from me, stares philosophically atone spot for over 10 minutes until I realise he’s been staring at a mongoose in the distance.

There is a pair of zebras: Sudheer is a Scorpio-Sagittarian cusp and Riddhi is a Virgo. Most enclosures bear nameplates with the birth dates of the animals, as well as the names of patrons who have adopted them. After ambling around, gawking at wild dogs, bears, rhinos, otters and giraffes, my legs finally give way. It’s too late to visit Karanji lake next door, which has a butterfly park and India’s largest walk-through aviary, home to over five lakh bird species. But the languid zoo ramble has worked its magic. I’ve cut the umbilical cord to those—now dodgy—childhood recollections of the city and am all set to make fresh ones.

By the Blue

By the Blue

The evening is spent at By the Blue, the poolside restaurant on the roof of the Grand Mercure Hotel, with live music, mojitos and a rich Northwest Frontier meal, featuring a sublime Mugewala Kukkad, chicken cooked and baked inside fluffy egg whites. I’m staying at the hotel, which opened just a few months ago on a prime piece of real estate on Sayaji Rao Road, providing its guests a vantage view of Mysuru’s biggest draw, the grand Jumbo Savari (elephant procession) on the 10th day of Dasara.

My company for this night is a merry bunch of imports to the city; a Mumbaikar, a Delhiite who’s worked in Pune and suggests I satiate any vadapav pangs at Bombay Tiffany’s many outlets in Mysuru. The Bengaluru hipster at our table introduces me to a stylish Instagram account. It belongs to the 27th Mahajara of Mysuru, Yaduveer Krishnadatta Chamaraja Wadiyar. (His Insta handle is ‘ykcwadiyar’, follow away!) The young Boston-educated scion of the illustrious Wadiyar clan, who was officially crowned in 2015, married TVishika Kumari of Dungarpur in 2016 in a glittering ceremony at the Mysuru Palace. I’m told they’re the type of blue-blooded millennial couple who could just drop by at the hotel’s coffee shop unannounced.


“He studied in America, what does he know about the city!” This isn’t a harsh indictment of the suave new maharaja, but a gentle observation made by Sachin, a voluble, light-eyed engineering student, of Royal Mysore Walks. Founded and run by enthusiastic young Mysoreans, this walking tour company offers insights into the heritage and culture of the city.

Town Hall

Town Hall

We meet at the Town Hall where he adorns my wrist with a ‘Royal Mysore Walks’ stamp, and quickly figures out that trivia is not my strength. We walk towards the palace, Sachin talking me through the fascinating military ingenuity of the father-son duo, the beloved Haider Ali and the more controversial Tipu Sultan. Tipu laid the foundation for modern-day rockets by crafting iron tubes, filling them with gunpowder, fastening them to swords/bamboo poles and unleashing them in a range of two km, scaring the living daylights out of the British—particularly Arthur Wellesley, soon to become the Duke of Wellington—during the Second Anglo-Mysore War in 1780. Tipu’s taramandalpets (rocket research centres) in Srirangapatna, Chitradurga, Bengaluru and Bidanur infused tech prowess into the Mysorean army which held its own against the might of the British empire until 1799, when the Tiger of Mysore was finally defeated.

While Sachin may not be overly impressed by contemporary Boston-returned royals, he has plenty of delightful stories to share of the Wadiyar dynasty that ruled the state of Mysuru from 1399 to 1947. Like that of Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV custom ordering seven Rolls-Royces (because seven was his lucky number), prompting the British carmaker to thereafter dub bulk orders as ‘doing a Mysore’! Not only was Krishnaraja one of the wealthiest men in the world and a great patron of the arts, he was an ideal statesman (Mahatma Gandhi called him a rajrishi) under whose reign Mysuru became the first state to generate hydroelectric power in Asia, and Bengaluru became the first Asian city to get street lights.

Amba Vilas Palace

Amba Vilas Palace

Krishnaraja’s descendants, locked in a dispute with the state government, now live in a wing of the Amba Vilas Palace, a magnificent blend of Hindu, Rajput and Gothic architecture. Sachin’s bag of Mysuru trivia spills over as we move from the Gome Thotti (Dolls’ Pavilion) to the sunlit wrestling courtyard (a big draw during Dasara festivities) and on to the Kalyana Mantapa. A magnificent ode to the Wadiyar dynasty’s globe-trotting swag, this ceremonial hall sports a stained glass ceiling courtesy of Scotland, tiles from England, mirrors from Murano, chandeliers from Czechoslovakia and an electric fan from America. The three-dimensional paintings are my favourite element in this palace of wonders; it’s surreal to have Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV’s benevolent gaze locked with my eyes as I move from one side of his life-size portrait to the other.