ITC Mughal in Agra, home to the Taj Mahal, had two of its presidential suites make it into the same list: the Mumtaz and the Nur Jehan suites, the latter of which welcomed us for a night. Not only is it breathtaking, but it also gives new meaning to a “spa getaway.” This gigantic suite comes with a private therapy room for two with a steam room and Vichy shower, plus a long plunge pool and sitting area under the stars.
As spectacular as the Taj Mahal is, and as fascinating as the nearby Red Fort is, they were really the only attractions coaxing travelers to sit on a bus for about four hours to reach Agra from New Delhi—and once they’d seen them, visitors would turn right back. According to ITC Mughal’s general manager Sanjay Sharma, the property’s award-winning Kaya Kalp Spa was a great contributor to guests now staying an average of 1.9 nights instead of one night. “The spa changed the profile of the hotel, with people staying longer,” he explains.
And what a spa it is—the brand’s flagship spa, in fact. It’s a gorgeous escape with a pomegranate motif throughout, with indoor/outdoor showers in each treatment room and a hammam. Each treatment begins with a foot ritual, where all questions pertaining to one’s preferences are asked. Guests pick their own preferred scent from options that include sandalwood and eucalyptus, then succumb to their ritual of choice.
As in the other Kaya Kalp spas in the other ITC properties, there are many alternatives for the world-weary here, including the oh-so relaxing Kaya Kalp massage, a pomegranate sugar scrub or Ayurvedic treatments such as the Shirodhara therapy, where warm oils are poured on the forehead to unblock nerve impulses and stimulate blood circulation to the brain. We’ll also want to go back to get the massage using hot herb- and spice-filled poultices. The spa and the hotel where it resides, which made Travel + Leisure’s “500 Best” list earlier this year, is certainly worth the drive and the wait behind the water buffalo leading the way in and out of Agra.
Have clients pack their stretchy pants. ITC has several brand restaurants throughout its hotels, each definitely worth a try, plus a few signature options depending on clients’ stays.
In New Delhi, we learned about the art of slow-cooked meals and its exciting medley of flavors at Dum Pukht at ITC Maurya, also home to famous Bukhara, where heads of state and many other VIPs have enjoyed a host of tandoori options from India’s northwest.
As in Bukhara, aprons are handed out at Peshawri, where we went in fingers first into so many kabobs and ate our weight in Indian breads during our stay at the ITC Mughal. In Bangalore’s other jewel, the ITC Windsor, we headed to Dakshin, which celebrates the cuisine of Southern India, to gorge on vegetable stews simmered in coconut milk, masala-coated prawns and all the lentil and curry dishes we could get our hands on.
Some restaurants are indigenous to a particular hotel, while others are found in several. At the ITC Gardenia, for instance, Japanese restaurant Edo offered up sushi, tempura and grills with a wide choice of sakes. There is no room at all for finicky eaters to complain.
art & architecture
Each property’s design is different, telling its own story of a particular Indian dynasty or a time in the country’s history. The majestic ITC Maratha in Mumbai, for instance, follows a different decorative theme in each floor and has an outstanding art collection, including tribal art, jewelry and coins. Guests can even take some artwork right on their skin—intricate mehndi designs, which they can have done at the spa. Pooja did ours and it lasted for weeks, the best reminder of our time in India.
There are also more than a few art stunners at ITC Maurya, including the Arthashastra series by prolific M.F. Hussain, which depict different events of the Mauryan Empire. Even more visually imposing, however, is the “Great Procession” mural by Krishen Khanna, a narrative of the different stages of life painted on a wooden dome and easily spotted and appreciated from the lobby.
Even in the same city, two ITCs are never alike. ITC Windsor is romantic, very much a colonial charmer with Queen Anne furniture and Georgian windows; it’s said that the Dalai Lama loves to stay here, and we can see why. It’s also got a beautiful Presidential Suite, with a small yet beautiful dining area done up in red and a rooftop deck with a view. ITC Gardenia, also in Bengaluru, was designed by the same architect, yet it veers into the modern—picture an open, airy lobby, a hip bar with a South Beach vibe and a grass rooftop on its Lotus Pavilion that celebrates the brand’s green approach.
Additional ITC luxury hotels are found in Kolkata, Jaipur and Hyderabad. Call for individual rates.
Archived related articles (available on recommend.com):
India Travel Planner (May 2012)
ITC Hotels: itchotels.in