The first thing I notice about my suite at the ITC Mughal is the black-leather massage chair by the window; the second, that the window offers a clear view of the glowing Taj Mahal. This blend of modern decadence and past resplendence is a fitting introduction to a 30-year-old hotel that has recently reinvented itself — and our reason for staying there. Strolling through a glass-enclosed bridge connecting the lobby with the rooms, it’s apparent why The Mughal was given the Aga Khan award for architectural excellence. The architecture is very Mughal indeed and fashioned after Fatehpur Sikri, its low-lying red-brick buildings interwoven by sparkling waterbodies, private courtyards, and 35 acres of tranquil gardens. Despite its beauty, the hotel has absolutely no airs about it. Rather, it’s all quite happily laidback and homey.
Things step up quite drastically once I enter Kaya Kalp, the hotel’s superb new addition. The ‘royal spa’ (an apt moniker) is a visual and sensory delight. I imagine the brief given to its architect and interior designers was straightforward: make use of the Mughal love of geometry, open spaces intermingled with shaded courtyards, running water and greenery. Embellish with plenty of stone latticework, mirror and inlay work, marble and mother-of-pearl. And reinforce everywhere the vivid leitmotif: the pomegranate, which Babur is believed to have brought to India. Formulaic as it may sound, it’s far from cliché. The ubiquitous anar is used in an impressive variety of ways, from treatments to design elements such as lush stained-glass panels and red engineered stone that swells across the white floor like a crimson wave. And what Kaya Kalp especially has in its favour is space, more of it than any other spa in India: 99,000 sq ft to be exact, which includes a startlingly pretty pool and an open-air greenhouse that will also be used for outdoor treatments.
The existing treatment rooms are all unique in style and theme, and each seems to better the last. Over two days, I sample the spa’s signature ‘journeys’. Exotic Pomegranate starts with a ritual scrub: a sticky, sweet-smelling concoction of brown sugar, lime, ginger and pomegranate, vigorously applied then smoothly wiped clean before an Aromasoul massage. The cherub-faced Thai masseuse is gentle with her strong hands, and the light massage oil smells divine. Another Kaya Kalp speciality follows: the Pearl Illuminating facial, which utilises pearl powder and leaves my skin luminous. The next day, I check into the royal hamam, the room the spa staff are proudest of, for a Hamam Pick-Me-Up Ritual. The room is a wonder of marble and mirrors, and fills up quickly with steam as I’m scrubbed, soaped, massaged, and repeatedly washed down with warm and cool water. It’s an odd sensation to be bathed by someone — but strangely luxurious as well. These intensive treatments and the overuse of all my senses leave me drained and unwilling to leave my plush bed for any reason but to revisit the spa. I do squeeze in a trip to the Taj, but find myself eager to return to my haven. After the chaos of big-city life, I can’t think of anything better than to be quiet, alone and pampered like a princess for a few precious days. It might well be true that the Taj is no longer the only star of Agra.
Treatments Massage, Ayurvedic rituals, chakra balancing and gemstone massage, beauty elixirs, hair and scalp treatments
Treatment Rates Rs 2,000-15,000
Treatment Packages Rs 18,000-89,000 for 3-6 days (including room tariffs)
Room Tariff Rs 14,000-40,000
Contact 0562-4021700, www.itcwelcomgroup.in