The ITC Grand Chola, built as a tribute to the Chola dynasty, is an unabashed monument to luxury. Shonali Muthalaly has the details

We drive around the building. And drive. And drive. At every turn, smartly dressed security personnel wave us forward. The compound’s meticulously landscaped, the building’s got that freshly minted look, the staff are on high alert. And still we drive. Finally inside the hushed lobby of the newly opened ITC Grand Chola, we’re enveloped by the scent of expensive perfume and golden light.

This lobby has been built to impress, with a sweeping grand staircase, billowing chandeliers dripping light and reams of gleaming marble stretching out in every direction. Then, we begin to walk. And walk. And walk. Seeing a theme here yet?

This isn’t just a hotel. It’s an overblown, exaggerated, unabashed monument to luxury.

About 1.6 million sq.ft. of built-up area in total. With 600 rooms, all equipped with iPads so guests can see who’s at the door, order a blazer from the Will’s Lifestyle boutique downstairs, or get room service to bring them a macchiato, without so much as getting out of bed. There are 78 serviced apartments, with one, two and three bedrooms. A total of 10 restaurants and bars. About 27,000 ft dedicated to luxury retail. And a whopping 1,00,000 sq.ft. of banqueting space.

Intricately designed

The hotel, open for a month and already boasting 70 per cent occupancy, has been built as a tribute to the Chola dynasty. Bristling with intricate stonework, created by 4,000 artisans from Mammallapuram who worked on site, the building has been created to be a showpiece. So other than the inevitable big name paintings, a few Husains here and a few Thotta Tharanis there, the emphasis is on rich detailing on walls, windows and upholstery. On dramatic chandeliers, bouncing their golden light off panels heavy with gilt. On massive door handles painstakingly carved into the shape of a peacock. We begin at the grand lobby, one of four — a tribute to Chola temples, which have four entrances. It’s bordered by a residents’ lounge, one of the hotel’s six lounges. In addition to these, the hotel is liberally peppered with little nooks and corners for people to meet, or rest. It makes the space feel less overwhelming. While the hotel is undeniably ostentatious, it’s cleverly designed to be open, so that meeting, lounge and dining spaces flow into each other. Hence, as you walk through the elevated sky bridge, what would have normally been a cold intimidating corridor is livened up by the fact that it overlooks the Madras Pavilion, where you can see industrious waiters setting up the buffet counter and hear the comforting, ceaseless clatter of spoons and hum of soft conversation.

There are other thoughtful touches to ensure that people don’t feel completely lost in the ITC Grand Chola’s gargantuan interiors. The most obvious are touch kiosks, featuring flat screens that help you explore the hotel. You can access a map, get directions and scan them on to your smart phone. Then, if you have five minutes to spare, there’s one more feature: You can send yourself a postcard.