Hotel with a Past
It is a journey back in time in more ways than one. For me, personally, it is because I am visiting the Garden City after almost two decades. It is also time travel of a different kind as I am headed towards the iconic property that has completed 125 years of its existence – The Taj West End in the heart of Bengaluru.
I walk out of the city’s airport to be welcomed by the smiling staff of The Taj West End and ushered into the warm sunshine. The drive from the airport to the heart of the city where the hotel stands proudly on 20 acres of land opposite the Turf Club is completed swiftly in the cool confines of the Jaguar that eats up the distance with ease. As we swish through the gated entrance to the property and glide to a halt outside the building that houses the lobby, time seems to stand still. I instantly spot a motionless carriage standing in the verandah and a Victorian letterbox from times gone by. And the Gothic arches that I also spot are some of the best preserved examples of Bengaluru’s architectural style of yore.
Post a traditional welcome in the contemporary lobby, I walk down a small winding pathway to my suite. Spacious, well-appointed, with all the trappings that spell comfort and convenience, it offers a photogenic view of the landscaped greenery. I peep out at the adjoining verandah before I freshen up and step out, ready to partake of the fresh air and timeless essence of what makes The Taj West End so special. I discover over the leisurely weekend that it is a seamless combination of the people and the place that makes it so unique.
Diehard foodie that I am, my first halt is naturally the Masala Klub eatery where a full-flavoured meal at the Chef’s Table awaits me. I discover how easy it is going to be to pile on the calories during my stay as I savour the varieties of mouth-watering delicacies that are served up. And while chatting with Executive Chef Sandip Narang, I garner secrets of cooking age-old favourites in a simple way. In between two of the courses, I am offered a tamarind sorbet to break the flavours. Interestingly, this is made from the tamarind taken from a tree that stands outside and is as old as the hotel itself.
Post the satisfying meal, I brush aside the idea of relaxing in the suite and opt to explore the property. Refusing the option of taking a ‘cart’ for the most part of the trail, I choose to stretch my limbs. The sun has by now gone down a bit and the winter nip in the air makes the stroll pleasant as does the company of the concierge, Debayan Ghosh, who is a veritable fount of information, even of events that have happened ages ago.
We stroll towards the Muneshwara Temple that is located a little distance away from my suite – an interesting element in a luxury hotel. It is small but is said to have a powerful spiritual draw for the staff and guests. Years ago, there was a huge jamun tree next to the temple but during a storm, it fell on the temple. Miraculously, nothing happened to the structure and it has been well preserved to date, as is the Rain tree (Samanea saman) that was planted approximately in 1848 and is the second oldest tree in the Garden City. The greens of the lawns lure me into walking barefoot for a bit and I make a mental note to get up early to repeat the exercise in the fresh morning dew that drenches the grass, even though I know that is most likely to be a promise easier made than kept.
The spa that is housed in a stand-alone ‘cottage’ beckons and I decide to succumb to its charm before taking the evening ahead. Stepping into its serene interiors, I soon find myself in the treatment room. Eyes shut, soft music lilting into my ears, I am gently lulled and transported into a nirvanic state by the massage.
I head back towards the lobby for some culture soaking. Geeta Maini’s art show at the Art Corridor transports me mentally back to Mumbai – what with several offerings showing ‘Mumbai magic’ on canvas. And then post a dinner under a clear starlit sky on the lawns outside Mynt, I retire, completely satiated to my room. The subtle flavours of the specially created ‘Signature Drink 125’ linger on my palate.
I am up and out early in the morning, waltzing on the green grass. And perhaps before other guests have stirred out of their comfortable spaces, I have plonked myself down at a table on the pool-deck for an Anglo-Indian breakfast. As one dish after another makes its arrival – appam with stew, eggs and bacon, khichdi topped with a piece of egg, cheese-chilli toast and more – I ask how all this can comprise one meal. Only to be told that the Britishers and residents of yore feasted at the start of the day, had a sparing lunch and wound up with an afternoon high tea and an early supper.
A not-so-rapid exercise is next on my menu and I take off – determined this time not to get lost in the many narrow pathways that dot the property. I spot the tennis courts on one side, see a board that mentions the Noble Laureate Sir Ronald Ross, before I criss-cross back to the main building to encounter the business centre that residents can use to keep up with work. That, for me is far from my mind, and I spend the better part of the morning relaxing on a lounge chair on the deck. It is easy to doze off under the sunlight that warms my skin.
I step out of this oasis for a little shopping and sightseeing. Lunch is partaken at the iconic Karavalli Restaurant in the Gateway Hotel on Residency Road. It is a must-eat spot for me as it has recently been reinvented and it has also been recommended to me by my artist cousin Jaya Javeri. From the Camaro con cilantro (prawns flavoured with fresh coriander and cooked in a delicate saffron rice), the Pothi churu (a Kerala speciality made up of ghee rice with chicken curry wrapped and steamed in a banana leaf) to the sweets (my favourite was the Gatti shaavige payasa – the creamy vermicelli pudding set in a mould and served with a caramel sauce), I am completely drenched in the flavours of the South. Chef Naren Thimmaiah has designed the menu to reflect his 22 years of research on the home cuisines in Coorg, Mangalore, Calicut, Travancore, Vitla and more.
Night falls early in this city and with the nip in the air, I pull on my silk suit to afford a little warmth. An attentive staff member watching me rub my hands together offers me a shawl to keep the chill at bay. Dinner is at the tony Blue Ginger – where I am seduced by Vietnamese offerings.
Next morning, I morph into Lazy Jane, only to surface post noon. As I walk into Mynt, there is a live song and music performance on the lawns. It is a relaxed Sunday morning and families fill the tables, partaking of the enormous brunch that is spread across the area.
It is almost as if time has stood still – offering many moments to relax, unwind and return to base with my body and soul completely nurtured. On my way out, I am almost tempted to drop a letter into the Victorian letterbox. But, I leave that impulse for the next time I am there.
Nuggets from Time
- In 1887 Mrs. Bronson – a Victorian lady – opened a boarding house with 10 beds and called it Bronson’s West End.
- The success of Bronson’s West End attracted the Spencers, wine merchants who bought the property for a princely sum of Rs 4000.
- Queen Elizabeth II stayed at the West End during her 1962 visit to the city.
- Sir Winston Churchill came often to West End when he was a journalist. Particular about the sandwich he ate, he would supervise its making. It became world famous as the ‘Club Sandwich’.
- Sir Ronald Ross was stationed here with the British army. It is said that on the lawns here he discovered the cure for malaria and in 1902 was awarded the Nobel Prize for the same.
- Reportedly Prince Charles stayed here on his visit to India during a troubled phase in his personal life and would spend a lot of time sitting on a chair on the lawns.
- Dilip Kumar was a regular guest at The Taj West End. He loved staying in the 15 series.
- MF Hussain loved staying in the 14 series and it is said that once he started painting, he would not step out for a stretch of three days.
- The Jagirdar of Arni liked the hotel so much that he stayed in it for 36 years.
- Finance wizard Sir Warren Buffet lived here and was fond of fruits, especially the kiwi. He would raise his hands to signal to the butlers when he wanted to have some.
- Business tycoon Laxmi Mittal liked coconut chutney very much. On a special request from him the hotel packed ten coconuts so that he could enjoy the same flavour of the coconut chutney back home!
- When film-maker David Lean learnt that his butler had to walk to the hotel, he gifted him the cycle that was used during the shoot of A Passage To India.
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