Re-imagined Taj Mahal: Building Afresh Upon its Rich Legacy of 40 Years, Creating New Benchmarks for the City’s Hospitality Industry

With a fresh lease signed, IHCL has put into place a re-imagined property that builds upon its rich legacy of four decades. It has been work in progress in the last year or so, with a phased development of its public areas, services and its rooms. 

Taj Man Singh, as it is popularly referred to, is a popular landmark in the history of New Delhi’s hospitality industry, a landmark that has grown in esteem over its 40 years of existence. It lived through its 30 years lease with the NDMC, saw a few repeated extensions of life till a new tender was issued. IHCL won the fiercely contested bid, staunchly wresting its legacy hotel, to create a re-imagined property for the next few generations.

Only recently, I was attending an industry event when I chanced through the lobby area, proceeding towards the elevators. This is when I thought I had seen something that I may have missed earlier. I retraced my steps, impulsively, and took a fresh view of the lobby which I thought looked doubled over in sheer size. That was my first impression and one that lasted.  I also said to myself, considering how this hotel has been home to people like myself last 40 years, deserves a narrative of its own, to be shared by numerous others like myself. Thus, this minute review that follows.

I looked around more carefully, the fountain in the middle had gone, and now it was one single canvas enhanced with more marble jaali work, more eclectically placed, no longer like a boundary wall on all sides, but only discreet corners and cut outs, open and enticing. The jaalis had become more prominent and yet less obtrusive! Modern furniture, yet totally in sync to give an element of more space; it were these small and subtle tinkerings that I thought had given a new dimension. The waterfall going down to the meeting areas one level below, the Diwan-I-Aam and Diwan-I -Khas, which are both incidentally closed undergoing their complete refurbishment, down the circular staircase has been spruced up, looks whiter, shows more intricate workmanship, and is overall more impressive as well.

The Emperor’s Lounge, there is no big change, there are numerous subtle changes, the feeling is altogether refreshed. The large windows overlooking the greens had been opened out earlier but somehow these now look like opening onto a bigger expanse of green. The feeling is more opulent and open. It has a new seating pattern with sprightly yet more comfortable chairs.

The Lobby has seen more changes. Little glass cabinets spaced out, are now a collective experience of the Khazana – they have done away the large showroom, which I gathered is being rented out to an iconic retail brand. This will overlook the Mont Blanc showroom that has been there for years; this is where I bought my Mont Blanc collection over many years, while my wife would be busy selecting from that large all India saree collection at the erstwhile Khazana. And yes, the toilets have moved out – they are now housed onto your left side (no more on the right side) as you enter the hotel. Yes, I must mention the thick marble columns, the few that are there in the lobby area, they have been treated with additional marble frames etched on them, giving them a subtle and most elegant design.

Retracing my steps, looking for more subtle changes, I noticed the ramp up to the hotel has been changed. The fountain has moved out to the portico, with some intricate jaali work in metal and gold; size wise, though it is a new piece, the fountain has become a central figure, with the sound of water flowing ceaselessly, ensuring you don’t mind waiting for the car to show up when you are leaving.

Who inspired these changes? The hotel team sat down with the internationally acclaimed designer team out of Singapore, Aston Design, drew inspiration from both the legacy of the hotel, the city’s rich heritage as well as from the architectural influences of Lutyens Delhi.

The hotel, almost some months back, as its makeover gets completed in diverse openings, had unveiled the re-imagined and re-designed avatar of The Chambers, an institution that has enjoyed a global patronage since its inception over four decades ago. This is the members’ only club of The Taj, across the chain, with a single unified membership. The new Chambers offer two distinct floors of classic elegance in a contemporary setting. The higher level has the bar lounge while the lower level has the restaurant seating, both inter connected with an exclusive glass elevator. If you have been to The Chambers earlier, the changeover is more than dramatic, it is a totally new experience, very modern and yet very much The Taj.

The Chambers by protocol is for a community of members, who are accomplished acclaimed achievers. Members can conduct business or simply unwind. New features include Albero, a 60-seater restaurant; seven meeting rooms, of which one is designed by the renowned Italian luxury brand, Stefano Ricci; The Chambers Lounge, a sophisticated bar; and a cigar lounge. Albero and The Chambers Lounge offer Indian and international cuisine; the menu features several world classics with a modern twist and specially-crafted set cuisine for power breakfasts or a light, relaxed meal. I gathered from the chef that cheese and wine pairings, dark chocolate and almond boards, and a wide range of beverages are additional attractions.

The Chambers, today, has presence across eight marquee Taj hotels in six cities including Dubai and London, and will soon have its presence in Bengaluru and New York. From a fine selection of wine, malts and whiskey, to trendy concepts like beverage trolleys, gin-carts and desert trolleys, the culinary journey offers immersive experiences. The Diageo Bar is designed as a Blue Label bar with a display that shows unique offerings, rarest and most treasured selection by Diageo. The Cigar Lounge has state of art contemporary seating in a very intimate enclosed space for the guests to relax and enjoy their smoking experience. There is a humidor room attached to the Cigar room, which showcases an impressive collection from Davidoff.

Unveiling more new features at the hotel must prominently include the Luxury Residences, featuring one and two bedroom elegantly appointed Residences with contemporary facilities and personalised services that the hotel is world renowned for. These 14 Luxury Residences feature living and dining spaces, interconnected suites, walk-in rain showers, spacious wardrobes, fully equipped kitchens with modern conveniences and appliances such as washing machine, microwave, induction stove tops, dish washer and refrigerator.  The Residences are complimented with the hotel’s notable services that include the concierge, butler service, personalised and flexible gastronomic offerings and culinary consultants, dedicated housekeeping and access to The Taj Club Lounge.

The Hotel has introduced new categories of luxurious and thoughtfully curated accommodation. The bespoke selection of Signature Suites includes Lutyens – The Grand Presidential, Rambagh Presidential, Versailles and Tanjore, and others as well as the newly introduced Taj Club Balcony Suites, Taj Club Suites and Taj Club Premium Rooms. These blend functionality with art décor, unique in themselves in creating facilities that today’s traveller is looking for.

Not to forget, I must mention that the entire hotel has gone for an extensive state of the art air technology, with the installation of a Swedish technology air purification system to control PM10, PM2.5 & PM1 as per WHO guidelines to mitigate the spread of harmful microbes and also to maintain the Indoor Air Quality (IAQ).

Earlier during the covid breakdown, as and when there was opportunity, the hotel was busy opening up the vision and outlook 2.0. Perhaps the first would have been Machan, the 24-hour outlet on the lobby level. For us Delhiites, when the hotel opened its doors for the first time, more than 40 years ago, what had made headlines was the décor and food, especially the invitation pricing that was unheard of in the city, among the deluxe five-star hotels. Machan made a big impression for all the good reasons and it has been here to stay, as a favourite for all meals, including its mouth-watering midnight offerings. The Machan of 2020, and beyond, has once again brought local and global cuisine inspired by the forests of the world and India in an ambience that offers everything new with the charm in keeping with its legacy. 

Custom designed wall covering recreating scenes of the jungle-scape, with carefully thought-out details that layer the grand Machan experience, depict the beauty of nature and magnificence of the ‘Indian Tiger’. The tree canopies, a series of terracotta animal masks specially created by local artists, the contemporary lanterns, raised platform and banquette seating, all set the scene for a relaxed and social dining experience.

For over four decades, House of Ming had been a much-loved restaurant for Chinese cuisine in the Capital for its signature favourites, comfort cuisine of Sichuan and Cantonese flavours and warm service. It’s an entirely new experience, more contemporary and yet there are touches that remind you of its rich traditions spanning over four decades. Signature dishes continue as does some of the senior staff on hand. The chef promises even more selection of food, in which various cooking techniques – roasting, baking and frying, have been incorporated from all over China. Carving stations have also been set up and interactive experiences have been curated which display the skills of our culinary Chefs at the guest’s table. Imperial dining has been introduced which offers an immersive and fine-dine experience with Chef’s Choice menu presenting seventeen courses, designed exclusively for the private dining rooms. The menu classics and the evergreen favourites feature on the menu in addition to novel items and dishes with a modern twist.

More changes are on the anvil, as the banquet halls remain presently closed for renovation. And so is the spa, which promises to be yet another feather in the hotel’s cap. A refurbished experience, that harks back to the hotel’s 40-year old legacy, and yet looks forward to a new era of hospitality in the city and in the country. Taj signature spa, Jiva, will make its maiden appearance at the hotel. Also in the making, is the first of its kind hair spa, with its own signature treatment rooms and its eclectic coffee shop.

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