A Grand View of the Taj Mahal
Home to the world-famous Taj Mahal, Agra has gained worldwide fame for its impressive works of architecture. As the second corner of India’s popular Golden Triangle along with Delhi and Jaipur, the city is rightfully an essential stop for visitors to India. But aside from the Taj Mahal, few people know about the gardens of Agra. The first Mughal Emperor, Babar, had brought into India the concept of gardens: fountains, fruit-bearing trees, fragrant flowers and water channels. Today the garden city of Agra is splashed in emerald green, with luscious greenery lining its streets.
Blending beautifully into the city’s landscape is the ITC Mughal Agra, a Luxury Collection hotel set in 35 acres of luxurious gardens. Drawing inspiration from Agra’s garden flair, the plush hotel softens up its imposing redbrick exterior with emerald green grass, lotus ponds and blossoming lilies. Even the building’s red facade is inspired by the architectural marvels of the Mughal empire: resembling the Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri.
The Taj in the Distance
From our suite at ITC Mughal Agra, we were treated to a view of the ivory-white marble dome of the majestic Taj Mahal. Although the view was slightly obstructed by a series of corrugated roofs and sky soaring trees, it was clear that the Taj was just within a stone’s throw away.
Earlier that day, we had arrived to the humidity and heat of Agra only to be whisked right into the cushy comfort of our hospitable host, ITC-Welcomgroup. We were warmly welcomed by its staff and presented with beautiful jasmine flowers and a refreshing glass of coconut juice.
Back in our fifth-floor suite, we drank in the view from our cushy divan seating conveniently designed to sit right by the bay window. The Mughal inspired interior design is evident from the lavish furnishing: a elaborate Persian carpet, velvet upholstery, ancient traditional paintings and exotic teak furniture. A high-powered massage chair sits by our bedroom window, adding an element of relaxation to our suite.
“We have heard stories of how prosperous the Mughal empire was, with their lavish palaces, banquets and extravagant lifestyles. The only way to fully understand it, is to actually live it. Our hotel aims to give guests that experience.” Jyoti Chitkara, the hotel’s marketing manager explained.
It’s no wonder the entire hotel is tuned to such refined perfection. As the winner of the first Aga Khan Award for Architectural Excellence to be won in India, ITC Mughal Agra definitely lives up to its reputation.
Jyoti brought us on a tour around the compound, starting from the resplendent lobby to its swimming pool and royal spa.
The hotel’s two Presidential suites have hosted a string of VIPs and celebrities including Nelson Mandela. The Raja Mansingh Suite, named after Emperor Akbar’s main advisor, offers a regal combination of royal ambiance and modern luxury. The suite is equipped with two rooms, massive marble-floored bathrooms and a sprawling living area decorated with antique chests and paintings. The Tansen Suite, named after Akbar’s favorite musician, is starkly contrasting with a romantic flair: a traditional swing looks out into the gardens, while a four-poster bed invites you to a cushy sleep. This suite is especially catered to honeymooners or couples looking for a tinge of romance.
Every meal at ITC Mughal was a royal feast, each one better than before. The hotel’s specialty restaurant, Peshawri, is a unique Tandoor restaurant that serves up North West Frontier cuisine in the traditional way.
Since its opening a few decades ago, the restaurant has yet to change its menu. Its head chef explained that they want to give their guests the classic, traditional style. Guests who have eaten here seem to come back again and again, with each visit springing a different surprise on them.
At Peshawri, we were encouraged to eat with our fingers. They believe that silverware when in contact with food produces a chemical reaction, thus affecting the original taste of the food. We devoured one slice of dish after another, savoring the richness and flavor of the barbequed meats.
Of the myriad of meats and vegetables dished out from the open kitchen, I particularly enjoyed the fried paneer (cottage cheese) stuffed with mint chutney. The roast leg of lamb when topped with the refreshing yogurt dip created an explosion of flavors in my mouth.
The hotel wins its guests over with its impressive culinary offerings. The Bagh-E-Bahaar multi-cuisine restaurant had an amazing array of foods on its menu – ranging from Western/European-style cuisine to traditional South Indian food. I was blown away by the South Indian feast that the head chef had specially designed for us.
The latest addition to ITC Mughal Agra is the in-house spa. The Kaya Kalp Royal Spa, just inaugurated two years ago, has already bagged several awards including the Best City Spa of the World in 2008 by UK’s Tatler Magazine, as well as Asia Spa’s Best new Spa of the Year award.
In honor of Mughal Emperor Babar, the pomegranate fruit has been used as the theme of the spa. Combined with the extensive use of greenery and water, the spa gives an exotic, refreshing feel to the hotel. The mood is heightened at the lap pool, reserved only for spa guests.
Exhausted from weeks of traveling, I was treated to a Pomegranate Journey – the spa’s specialty treatment that included a pomegranate scrub, a bath that used pomegranate liquid and a full body massage. It was like knocking on the doors of heaven, indulging in the sensation and then returning back to Earth.
Disclaimer: My stay was sponsored by the hotel, but all opinions are my own.
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