The road to the ITC Grand Bharat winds through the dark red veins of the Aravalli Hills that lie by the borders of Rajasthan, Haryana and New Delhi.
In a few moments away from the main Gurgaon-Jaipur highway we are in the heart of Mewat country. Small boys herding their goats leap out of the way. Women wearing bright green salwars, loose kurtas and matching head coverings draped loosely round their heads pat dry the round cowpats that they will use as fuel. Old Men with white turbans placed like meringues on their dark baked skins sit by the neighborhood teashop. The younger ones collect buffalo milk in long tubular steel cans from their neighbors, driving noisy tractors. The circular mud pots at the wayside water pumps are as elaborately patterned in bands of geometric white and black as those made by the original inhabitants of this ancient land.
The making of the ITC Grand Bharat appears to straddle many worlds, linking the past in all its multitudinous layers of history and legend, to the present. There are bugle-blowing guards at the gateway to the estate. Martially attired men in white, red and gold uniforms trumpet a welcome blast, stamp their feet in unison and hold up an embroidered canopy for the first time guest as he or she walks the marble steps to be greeted in a traditional style into the main foyer.
Equally there is a contingent of young men and women wearing their attitude in their smart contemporary uniforms waiting to whizz you around in their electrically powered buggies. The estate sprawls across 1.2 Sq Km that includes a world class Jack Nicklaus designed 27-hole golf course.
As you enter the main foyer, however it’s the jeweled perfection of the inner sanctum that catches the eye. High up in the vaulted dome of the atrium with carved pillars interleaved by delicate pierced stone jalis, or screens, there appears the branching forms of a Tree of Life. It’s a recurring motif that finds expression in a diversity of forms that, like the birds and beasts and wild flowers and cultivated plants that may be glimpsed outside, are embedded into the fabric of the ITC Grand Bharat. We step onto a carpet that mirrors the floral theme high up on the cupola.
To some of us, what the ITC Grand Bharat represents is the skill of the Indian craftspersons down the ages. Do we note the stylized form of the pomegranates from Kandahar painted on the walls of the Spa? Do we make a claim for the lotus seed-pods rising out of the three grand watercolor paintings in the Aravali Pavilion, or all day dining room with its pale egg-shell white and blue walls? Or notice the real-life pigeons that now line the ledge outside the main façade, along with the stone lion heads that open their jaws in mock warning from the edges of the balustrades on the first floor open air terrace meant for special functions? Even the tablecloths in the dining rooms have embroidered borders and the young men who wait at the tables have vest-jackets with floral motifs in pink crewelwork on them. As for the peacock it has been incorporated into the Grand Bharat crest that adorns the entrance portico along with a flowering lotus.
At night, the carved domes of the central complex and pillared corridors are blue-lit with LED in fine architectural detail. The adjacent complex of smaller villa type accommodation each with its own stone carved terrace and smaller circular domes, the haveli-like area around the magnificent swimming pool and the myriad water courses and fountains, come alive with carefully designed lighting to create a mirage of beauty in the darkness.
Even the Moon rising in the vast eastern sky appears to be choreographed just for us. Nights are especially grand. For it’s then that the silence of the ancient landscape that has seen so many armies and caravans of people march cross to the inner cities of the Indo-Gangetic plain holds its breath and listens.
“The ITC Grand Bharat is the destination,” says Anand Rao, the soft-spoken GM of the hotel by way of explaining both the grandeur of the concept and the simplicity of means by which they make each guest feel at home.
The ITC Grand Bharat also has many practical purposes to fulfill an exclusive meeting place for World Statesmen who need to confer in seclusion, or for CEOs of global companies who meet to plan their future strategy; or for families wanting to take a break; the solitary traveller in need of a sabbatical; or most enticingly for the dedicated golf enthusiast.
Since my companion is a restless ten year old, I am more than content to let her experience all the more energetic activities while I take in the Spa. She goes for a lesson in Segway, Dean Kamen’s avant garde version of self-balanced motorized cycling, spends time getting tips on practicing her swing on the golf course from an expert while the more experienced golfers, groups of South Asian men defy the mid-morning sun and putter their way through the truly magnificent golf course. There are cooking lessons from the dedicated chefs. Zac, the tall ginger haired Barman mixes a deadly cocktail for my hostess and me at the India Room while we wait for our dinner. It’s called the Corpse Reviver and invokes the spirit of Paris in the days of Absinthe, with a mix of gin, Cointreau, fresh lime and a dash of Absinthe.
Somewhere in the distance, one can hear the wild dogs howling in the hills of Aravalli. Then again, it could just be the solitude of a splendid new destination - the ITC Grand Bharat.