It’s one of those places that fall on your own way to elsewhere. In my years of crossing Manesar en route Rajasthan, I don’t think I’ve ever even stopped for a cup of chai. Or I might have, and forgotten. That was Manesar for you; it just lay unwanted as you drove past, not noticing it. What I did know was that there was a ghastly hotel in Manesar (with a Rajasthani-theme for some reason) where life-sized puppets with fixed smiles were placed at strategic locations with the sole purpose of scaring the daylights out of unsuspecting guests. This hotel I have avoided carefully all my life after seeing its photographs once. When I heard about Grand Bharat coming up in Manesar, a faint shiver ran down my spine as I imagined ITC taking over that hotel. Mercifully this isn’t true. ITC Grand Bharat is a brand new hotel, built from scratch, and looks nothing like that one. It’s not even located near that one.
An ideal short trip
After a month-long visit from the family, with several nieces and nephews jumping out of all corners of the house, all I needed was to be alone and be still for a couple of days. Getting into the car for a short bit before you can fall flat onto a spa bed sounded like just the thing — I did not want the fuss of airports, luggage, flight delays, other people, no — and from my place in south Delhi, the ITC Grand Bharat is just about an hour and a half away. It’s taken me longer to get to work on some days. This also means that if you’re in Gurgaon, all you have to do is turn left and you’re there. This short journey to my weekend vacation thrilled me quite a bit. (I even considered coming back to town for a party.) It turned out that this hotel is located before you actually come upon Manesar, about 20 minutes nearer to Delhi. The car turned left after the Kherki Daula toll and we drove right into a village, complete with cows and uneven construction, before coming out into a greenish patch, almost like a mini-forest with bits of the Aravalis watching over. It’s like you got out of real life and into some sort of Luxury Narnia. A few minutes through this surprising greenery, and you’re in your holiday.
The soft touch
The vast and even-toned expanse of the Grand Bharat is impressive. This hotel is a showcase of architecture from all across the country, hence the name, which means that they have water-bodies inspired by the ghats of Varanasi and that temple design features prominently in the exteriors; the art of different regions can be seen across the hotel, including the stunning hand-painted ceiling of the atrium. The retreat itself is designed like a mandala. As you can imagine, trying to mix all of India’s varied architectural styles can get a bit dangerous but someone has done a clever job of it and, from the outside, ITC Grand Bharat looks like a south Indian temple complex designed by a Scandinavian architect.
This is India’s first all-suite hotel and luxury is in every small thing. A pillow on my bed has my name embroidered on it. (I’m tempted to steal it but better sense prevails.) There is a bottle of fine red wine in the living room. Among the several bathroom amenities is lip balm, that most essential item, and the bed is soft as dreams. Each guest is assigned a resort host, whom you tell everything you want to do and they come up with an itinerary and hold you down to it. My resort host Arunima turns up everywhere. She is sweet, young and ever-smiling but that doesn’t mean she’ll let me slip — gently she reminds me of all the things I’m late for and accompanies me everywhere, much to my embarrassment. After we exchange about 40x “please don’t bother” and “it’s not a bother at all”, I resign myself to this luxury of never needing to remember what I had to do, where I had to go and how I would get there.
I am mostly going to the spa. Kaya Kalp is one of my favourite spas in the country, the best of them being at ITC Mughal in Agra, but this new Kaya Kalp is beautiful. It’s huge, silent, softly fragrant, lightly musical, and beautifully decorated. I am fascinated by the walls of the health café, on which some nice person has painted birds in flight. I can say quite confidently that this is the prettiest spot in Manesar. In my two days in Grand Bharat, I went to the spa thrice. For a full body rejuvenating massage, for a face cleaning ritual — both by the excellent Dorje — and for a meditation session during which, to the guru’s utter disappointment, I started snoring loudly. I woke up most satisfied after the deep sleep and was quite puzzled that this isn’t the purpose of meditation. (What? No relax?)
If you prefer to relax standing, the hotel has Asia’s first 27-hole golf course designed by the legendary Jack Nicklaus. Open to non-residents, I saw a flux of Koreans arrive with the sun on Saturday morning. It was still quite hot, so I preferred to sit back in the rather charming old-world clubhouse, sipping on tea, and watching the acres of greenery with much joy.
Satisfying the soul
When I wasn’t going to the spa, I was eating. Chef Animesh is not like other chefs you’d meet. Instead of being loud and boisterous, he is soft-spoken, warm and does his work quietly. Under his guidance, the food at Grand Bharat is quite good, something you’d expect from an ITC hotel. The Aravali Pavilion is the more casual of the restaurants, serving three meals and world cuisine. You can choose from different set menus such as Swasthya Cuisine or Modern Indian Mosaics, or you can opt from a Best of Pavilion menu. The India Room is the more formal and ostentatious place with food from all the countries that left their mark on India — so a mix of European influences. This is open for dinner only (except on weekends when it is also open for lunch) and its friendly manager Aman kept me company while I dug into a leg of lamb. The best food for me though was at Apas, the poolside restaurant, where I had some fabulous Indian kebabs and curries — even the paneer tikka was yummy. In my enthusiasm, I also signed up for cooking classes with Chef Animesh, where I then proceeded to grin gleefully at him throughout, as he did all the work.
I ended both my days at the Peacock Bar, where the Australian bar chef Zac Abbott does his thing with the spirit. Among several friendly souls in the hotel, Abbott is one of the friendliest (being behind the bar helps I suppose), and his great art, or the Bar Theatre as they call it, is showcasing alcoholic drinks down the years. He starts from the first alcohol ever drunk, reproducing it with mead made of hawthorn berries, honey, yeast, clove and ale, and goes on to molecular stuff. I made best friends with his signature drink, Cigar-smoked Old Fashioned, a most delicious concoction made a lot better by cigar smoke — just what I needed after a month of noise and running around. It was a bit surreal to think that I was sitting in Manesar, heck not even Manesar, and having smoked drinks and fine cuisine while the Narnia and the village waited outside, but one does not question a gift while it’s giving. On my last night at ITC Grand Bharat, then, I retired peacefully, having forgotten the traumas caused by the next generation.