In the background the jagged traces of the ancient Aravalli range, gouged into canyons in some places signal their presence. In other areas the earth is softened by clumps of forest trees, fields, the habitat of the local Meo tribes and even a few ponds, check dams or jhodas and ancient wells.
As though reflecting the hierarchy of sky, mountain, flat plain and rain-fed riverine streams, the architecture of the ITC Grand Bharat invites the visitor into a contemplation of form and space. The sandstone in bands of dark pink and cream has been massed on a monumental scale to form the main building. It straddles a mid-way mark of the 1.2 sq. km. estate.
Built on a slightly raised platform it overlooks a superbly landscaped concourse of green lawns, geometrically sliced by pink graveled walkways edged by rows of ornamental trees and a central fountain. The approach road takes half a circle in a long loop from the lower end of the property to the ceremonial entrance. Here the guest alights under a gently curved arch that makes a playful reference to the more elaborate Torana that was carved in stone at the 10th century Nagara style temple of Mukteshwar at Bhubaneswar, the capital of Orissa. It is flanked on either side by two square sentry boxes with overhanging chajjas, utilitarian sunshades that are a practical necessity under the Indian sun.
The main domed roof forms the pinnacle of the vista. There are references to the architecture of the Kalinga School of Architecture from Orissa. The stone lions that squat from the corners of the parapet of the terraced areas also carry a distinct Eastern feel about them. These are lions that would be at home in the courtyards of the palaces and temples of South East Asia as they would in Orissa.
The Buddhist influence may be noticed in the arched Bho-Chaitya style decorations that adorn the base of each of the four facades of the squat square dome. The Bho is a pleasing form of ornamentation. At the very top a beautifully proportioned Amalaka, or ridged ‘gooseberry’ motif keeps that energy in place, with thin spires from the middle pointing to the sky.
In keeping with this trend of thought, i.e. directing the energy flow towards the center of the main building, the guest is welcomed first at the ceremonial entrance and led across a red carpet into the front of the building, where there is yet another domed portico on level with the first platform. On either side are two taller domed ceremonial sentry boxes. Over the main entrance there is the specially designed “Crest” or Coat of Arms, if one may call it that of ITC Grand Bharat. It shows a pair of peacocks within a sun sign that shelters a lotus in bloom! Finally a magnificent glassed doorway opens into the cool interior of the Sangam - The Lobby and up and away into the atrium.
The main entry and the lavish corridors to the left and right, where the discrete process of registering the guest takes place, are depicted as the meeting of the three rivers of the Northern plains, the Ganges, the Yamuna and the Saraswati flowing undetected below the ground. As described elsewhere, there are eight pillars defining the lobby space beyond this confluence that looks high into the domed ceiling with the Tree of Life motif. The eight pillars represent the four stages of an individual’s life.
Back again at the entrance you notice the carved perfection of the pillars lining the covered corridors that create a frieze of light and shadows around the main building. The design of the pillars that soar over two floors to uphold a semi-open area for holding receptions have been adapted from those of the well known Adalaj stepwell near Ahmedabad in Gujarat. The pillars with their uniform four sided facets are important linking devices that provide continuity to the separate wings of the hotel.
In much the same way the jalis, or pierced stone screens, the lotus motif embossed or carved on the stone facades, in darker pink stone, the repetitive use of the sheltered courtyards for enjoying an evening tea and the many water bodies create an impression of a vast chessboard waiting for the games to begin. They complement the numerous domes, some of them hatshaped in rising tiers, others bell-shaped, some mounted on four slim pillars like Chhatris, or ceremonial stone umbrellas, and still others as in the series of apartments surrounding the swimming pool, in the form of cupolas defining the terraced rooftops like a banquet of fine dining clothes laid out under the starlight to invite the guardian spirits of the countryside.
If the main building complex is formal in its design, the hundred residential suites that have been built each with a semi-private garden and a dipping pool accessed by steps like the famous Bathing Ghats of Banaras; or with a terrace with a marvellous view and a private domed cupola, bring to mind the charm of the inner cities of Jodhpur or even Jaisalmer. The famous havelis, or private residences of the merchants of Rajasthan and Gujarat managed to create marvels of architectural beauty within narrow streets and inward looking communities. If the old havelis created their own dynamic of courtyards, both public and private, the suites here also provide ample areas for bathing, dressing or taking an early morning dip as a salutation to the Sun or just resting in the shade of a verandah.
Set in its own private enclave separated by fountains is the Presidential Suite of four very distinct stand alone villas.
As described in a note the villas have been designed to reflect four significant Royal eras:
Creme de la creme of Indian Luxury ITC Grand Bharat sports four Presidential Villas, each a representative of a distinct Indian empire and its corresponding architecture style.
Founded in 322 BC, the Mauryan empire was one of India’s first super-empires, stretching in span from present-day Myanmar to Afghanistan and Kashmir to the border of Tamil Nadu. Its architecture comprises of Hindu, Jain and Buddhist influences, as may be experienced at the villa.
The Mughal Empire (1526- 1857) was one of India’s largest super-empires, and it united far flung areas and people through an inclusive and tolerant policy that extended to its architecture. The Mughals patronised a unique architectural style which was an amalgam of Islamic, Persian and Indian architecture.
The Chola dynasty was one of Southern India’s longest ruling kingdoms (300 BC to 1230 AD). Chola kings were great patrons of art and architecture, and considered one of the greatest temple builders in Indian history.
The Marathas ruled much of India in the period immediately preceding the consolidation of British rule in India. Their architecture style is distinctive in its mathematically precise rules of ornamentation.
After six in the evening ITC Grand Bharat lights up and takes a new dimension. The fountains that play across the lawns, the outlines of the many domes, the terraced rooftops, with their balconies and linking stairways suggest a film set in the days of the great Merchant-Ivory recreations of the sumptuous era of princes and poets. The marvellous Apas Promenade shimmers with its hanging pierced brass lanterns, a triple tented enclave with its white canvas top is lit from inside like a Pasha’s hideout. The central pool of water resembles that of a painting in a Rajasthan miniature with thinly clad women letting down their hair waiting as heroines in painted scenes are wont to do, for their lovers.
The grand era of Indian royalty sizzles in the background as the Chefs prepare a royal feast. The Staff of ITC Grand Bharat set alight their tubular paper kites that float high up above the domes of the Apas Promenade and vanish into the darkness.
In spite of so many references to the past there is light touch that makes the ITC Grand Bharat feel almost like home.
At the Aravali Pavilion the pale eggshell blue of the patterned walls are complimented by a delicate trio of water colors by the noted artistillustrator Suddhasattwa Basu. He’s painted them in a style that recalls the light touch of a Japanese calligraphist but with the strong design sense of the master weavers of the Indian Jamdani fabrics. They are both delicate and robust tracing a pattern of lotus leaves and buds, with the unexpected addition of shrimps, dragon-flies and a blue beaked kingfisher waiting for a quick dip into this watery underworld.
The table linen has embroidered bands in pastel colors, with beaded rings to hold the serviettes and blown glass goblets in darker turquoise, lime green and raspberry pink - the same pink we may add, as the embroidered waistcoats worn by (the waiters and the young staff). The effect is of being in a morning room of exquisite charm, the interior reflecting the dappled sunlight falling on the pools of water outside just as a pair of sunbirds alight upon the morning glory.
By way of contrast the style at the Peacock Bar is in the opulent style. The Peacock motif that has inspired countless designers and architects is here revealed in carved wood, inlaid panels and in all the peacock colors of the soft furnishings. Bird motifs also inspire some of the original prints that hang in the suites. The ceilings have been inscribed with scroll-like tendrils of the Tree of Life that adorns the main atrium at the Sangam - The Lobby.
Equally exquisite are the panels that frame the corridors of Kaya Kalp - The Royal Spa. They reflect the continuous excellence of the Rajasthani style of fresco painting with gem like brilliance depicting the stylized outlines of the fruit trees and ornamental plants that enlivened the mind and spirit of their owners living in a desert region.