The opening of the Vivanta by Taj-Gurgaon, the group’s 100th hotel in India, highlights its modern edge and its traditional hospitality
Chic. Edgy. Stylish. Stylish. Edgy. Chic. I finally propose a game to liven up the press conference. Tequila shots every time we hear a synonym of chic. Double shots for conjunctions. Like stylishly edgy. Or edgy-chic. The blasé clutch of journalists around me agree enthusiastically. Admittedly, the speakers have a good excuse. After all, this marks the ponderously elegant Taj group’s brave foray into a world of young, sassy swank.
Of course Vivanta by Taj – Gurgaon is stylish. And edgy. Ok. I’ll also give them chic. (*Tequila shot alert*) The gleaming new property takes you by surprise, an incongruously slick contrast to Gurgaon’s dusty buffalo-speckled roads. Inside, the lobby is bright with air conditioned sunshine that pours through its glass edifice, lighting up intricate ‘jali’ work, the hotel’s design leitmotif. There are couches plump with vermilion cushions, sleek light fixtures and a minimalist reception desk which turns into a bar on opening night. (I kid you not.)
This is the Taj group’s 100th hotel in India. The brand is using its newest Gurgaon property to demonstrate not just how far they’ve come, but also how they’re capable of evolving to suit the needs of contemporary travellers while staying true to their core strengths. In 1901, Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces opened their first hotel in Mumbai, which went on to become a symbol of maximum city’s glamour and resilience, especially after the 2008 terror attacks. Draped in gilt, spangled with chandeliers and steeped in old-world charm, Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Palace hotel is a world away from its newest property, built more than a century later. Designed for the new age traveller, Vivanta by Taj – Gurgaon is electric with energy. And as they put it, it “redefines urban chic.” (*Tequila shot*)
Raymond N. Bickson, managing director and chief executive officer, Indian Hotels Company Limited declares that this “will set the standard for a new India,” adding that it is part of their strategic growth. In a bid to differentiate their properties, the brand architecture now divides the Taj hotels into four categories: the luxury hotels, Vivanta, Gateway and Ginger. Bickson says that they plan to “ramp up to 200 hotels” in the next five or six years. They also have about 17 International properties; a number which Bickson says should expand to 30 in about the same time. Another Vivanta is lined up for Dwarka in the NCR for 2014. After which the Taj Group plans to move into Guwahati, and then China.
Launched in 2012, the Vivanta brand is classified as ‘cool luxury’ for the ‘global new age customer who has contemporary style’. (*Tequila shot*) Built with an investment of Rs. 450 crore, this is India’s 26th Vivanta, and it’s designed to offer a unique perspective of both the hotel and the city it calls home.
Move away from the clichés, and it is a refreshing take on five-star hospitality. No obeisant butlers, snooty maitre des or look-at-me luxury. Interiors are plush, but understated. Facilities are more thoughtful than opulent. And the staff manage to balance efficiency with genuine warmth.
What’s fun is the creativity that leaps out at you unexpectedly. Touches like a ‘tranquil sleep’ spray by your bedside. Or bespoke ‘Gurgaopolitan’ cocktails, vodka-spiked, honey-laced and pink with pomegranate, created by celebrity flair bartender Attila Iskifoglu for the hotel’s bar, Tease. Then there’s the cheeky ‘Yellow Line degustation menu’ by Executive Chef Sanjeev Chopra, inspired by the street food specialties at every metro station. (The yellow line ends outside the hotel, which makes for some great scenery for train buffs.) It includes lush papri chaat from Chandni Chowk, steamy momos from Hauz Khas and addictively drippy kala khatta chuski from Chhatarpur; all washed down with deliciously fizzy goli sodas.
Although Gurgaon is hardly the most colourful destination in India, the Taj does try gamely to infuse it with romance via their ‘Vivanta Motifs.’ This includes a damp squib ‘backstage pass’ to the Kingdom of Dreams musical, offering a peek into the green room, which unfortunately smells of old socks. (We do however watch a charming sliver of the show.) We also try one of the Tallis & Co itineraries which alternates between fascinating and hyperbolic. It introduces us to historian K.C. Aryan’s brilliant museum of Folk and Tribal Art. It also waxes eloquent on Gurgaon’s ‘18th Century market,’ a noisy street bristling with scooters, electronic shops and fluttering street signs. We’re especially tickled by the guide’s endearing efforts to convince us that ‘mudahs,’ those ubiquitous cane and bamboos stools, are Gurgaon’s ultimate contribution to Indian art.
Vivanta by Taj – Gurgaon is finally thrown open with a glittering party that spills across the hotel. Upstairs, at Tease, Attila Iskifoglu juggles flaming bottles, much to the delight of the air-kissing, champagne-glass clinking soiree. On the terrace designer Little Shilpa unveils her latest collection of deliciously eccentric hats. Downstairs guests draped in designer labels delicately spoon up mutton keema with blistering parathas, inspired by MG road, from the degustation menu. Chic. Edgy. Stylish. All in one night. (*Tequila shot*) The next 100 hotels look promising…