Intrepid travel writer Maria Visconti experiences more than a touch of luxury while staying at Hotel Leela Palace Delhi.
My Shatadbi Express from Amritsar pulls up slowly at New Delhi Central Station at midday. Based on past experience I steel myself for the scrum that will follow. The Shatadbi trains are India’s fastest and most comfortable. They are fully air-conditioned, have reclining seats and meals are served onboard.
It had been a pleasure flying through the fertile plains of the Punjab at dawn while a rosy mist still hung over the ripe fields dotted with whitewashed farmhouses and gurudwaras (Sikh Temples) all beginning to shine a bright white in the sun. But the rush to retrieve my luggage from a thousand hands vying to help me at the Delhi station is something I am not looking forward to.
A miracle in New Delhi
Descending on the busy platform I am sucked in by the human tide in an instant. I need to identify my bag and get to the exit where I hope to locate the hotel transfer.
This, I know, will not be easy. But a miracle happens: a smart, handsome young man materialises next to me as soon as I step down on the platform, identifies himself as being my transfer to Hotel Leela Palace addressing me by name and asks me to point to my suitcase which is already levitating its way to the exit.
He retrieves it walks me out of the station where he motions to the driver of a brand new, top of the line BMW. I cannot be happier. There is a cold towel; cold water and the two well-groomed young men who go out of their way to make me comfortable.
They point out places of interest on the way and finally the spectacular wide avenues of New Delhi open up in front of us in all their Lutyens splendour.
The Leela Palace New Delhi
The restrained, low key Prime Minister’s Residence, the President’s Palace and government buildings, follow each other with that characteristic low-key ochre profile Lutyens -the architect who created New Delhi- chose. And just a few metres away another similar building stands apart: Hotel Leela Palace, blending in with the surrounding architectural style.
Unbeknown to me, I am experiencing the Kamal treatment. Kamal means Lotus (the national flower of India) in Sanskrit and it is a new Leela programme designed to accommodate the needs of solo female travellers, hence my handsome saviour at the station, the chauffeured, top of the range BMW and the lavish reception on arrival.
Part of the programme includes selected reading material in the room by female Indian writers, quality toiletries and if you prefer, an entire female staff attending to your in-room needs. Optional shopping tours, day trips to Agra, a make up assistant for special occasions, cooking demonstrations and a personal chef, are also possibilities.
But my only wish on arrival after six hours on the train is to walk into the shower and start exploring the facilities. The rooms at Hotel Leela Palace are lavish in size and furnishings. There are power points everywhere. The bathroom is huge and has a bathtub with scented candles and a TV screen (which I never turn on).
It is April and the weather is mild. The rooftop pool infinity pool beckons. The panorama from here is spectacular. The whole of New Delhi lies at my feet.
The restaurants at The Leela Palace New Delhi
This luxury of 254 guestrooms and suites property include a magnificent royal Indian dining experience offered at ‘Jamavar’; modern international dining at The Qube; an exclusive Japanese culinary experience at Megu; a gastronomically entertaining evening at Le Cirque and a sophisticated retreat at The Library for wines and liqueurs plus of course, the exclusive spa, an experience not to be missed.
I head for Megu, the Japanese restaurant where the décor is dominated by a replica of a Nara giant bell. At the sushi counter Chef Yutaka Saito who divides his time between his native Tokyo, California and Delhi feeds me heavenly morsels.
The experience is unique. This is the best Japanese restaurant in India. The sommelier at the premises is a young Delhi man who has just won the Sommelier Indian Championship and is heading for the Barossa Valley, in South Australia for a work experience.
The Library bar, a restraint, traditional, dark wood locale, spills its seating onto the great outdoors: an attractive, multi-levelled space dotted with flaming fires, romantically illuminating the faces of patrons enjoying the mild evening air.
Breakfasts at Qube are an affair to remember, whether you have it in the air-conditioned glass cube or outside in the gardens, the view is dominated by a giant Devi sculpture radiating peace.
The art collection spread over all levels is astounding: from modern art showcasing female artists to valuable antiques, the atmosphere is laden with the richness of an ancient culture embracing the future.
If you want to experience India in luxury, The Leela Palace New Delhi will start you on the right foot. And of course, the top class BMW fleet is at your command for transfers from and to airports or anywhere you’d like.
Maria Visconti was a guest of The Leela Palace New Delhi.
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