Karnataka: Gateway Chikmagalur

Karnataka: Gateway Chikmagalur
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The Gateway Chikmagalur harks back to an earlier age of resort--where the destination rather than the hotel itself defined the holiday

Nayantara Patel
June 30 , 2014
06 Min Read

A common complaint we hear about this magazine is that it devotes too much space to luxury hotels, places that the average reader of Outlook Traveller seems to consider a waste of money even if he or she had it to spare. It’s both an unfair and fair allegation. Unfair because it doesn’t take into account the tremendous changes the Indian hospitality industry has seen in the last ten years or so—the country now has a set of ‘world-class’ hotels, too magnificent or excellently serviced to ignore in spite of the shrilly superior claims of the middle class. So we visit them, are staggered by them and write about them. Simultaneously, we’re acutely conscious of the fact that most of these sparkling modern palaces are indeed way beyond the ken of people-like-us. I don’t know anybody who holidays at an Oberoi Udai Vilas or a Taj Lake Palace (and actually pays the bill).

But I can think of several who would treat themselves to a night or three at places like The Gateway Hotel KM Road Chikmagalur. Price is a huge factor (for instance, I wouldn’t dream of spending 15,000 rupees a night on a hotel but 5,000, well, I’d dream, and maybe one day I’ll even do it). The new Gateway Hotels brand is focused on this five-thousand-rupee price band, but more about this anon.

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In many ways, the Gateway Chikmagalur harks back to an earlier age of resort—where the destination rather than the hotel itself defined the holiday. Where the only engagement with hotel services was maybe a room service breakfast before you gave in your key at the reception and set off for the day to explore the destination.

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Note that these profundities did not strike me while I put my feet up by the attractive pool looking onto the Baba Budan range of hills, or even while I put my feet into the basin of water for the foot treatment that I’m usually able to bring myself to enjoy when I visit resorts. I didn’t actually have the time for any feet relaxation.

For what a destination this is. The Malnad region of Karnataka is home to immense touristic riches, from the fabulous Hoysala temples of Halebid and Belur, the pilgrimage spot of Sringeri, the Gomatesvara in Sravanabelagola, Karnataka’s highest peak, Mullayanagiri, the Bhadra and Muthodi wildlife sanctuaries, the hill stations of Kemmangundi and Kudremukh, the Kalathi and Hebbe waterfalls, the Ayyanakere lake—all of these spots are less than a hundred kilometres away. There are also attractions closer at hand, such as the coffee plantations, and the coffee processing and packaging plants. Although Coorg produces the bulk of India’s coffee, Chikmagalur is where it all began, where a pilgrim called Baba Budan is said to have planted the coffee beans he smuggled out from Arabia. The coffee production process is a fascinating one, and I spent a few happy hours being initiated into this esoteric business by the Setty family, whose Panduranga Coffee Works has produced excellent, impressively packaged coffee for nearly a hundred years.

A hotel like The Gateway’s primary role is to facilitate this experience of the destination. It does so by virtue of its location, in the middle of a tourist hub, and supplements the experience by offering: comfortable accommodation, quality food that is at once familiar and mildly exciting with the sampling of a few local dishes, efficient service, plus the odd extra, such as a good pool, gym and perhaps a massage salon.

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The compact property is set in lovely gardens, with accommodation primarily available in the 19 expansive Cottage Rooms, many of which feature two queen beds each—perfect family accommodation. The first floor rooms have large verandas, the ground floor units have sitouts bordered by a good-sized patch of lawn. There are another 10 Standard Rooms, not ungenerous in their use of space, but perhaps only to be considered upon the unavailability of the better option. The décor is pleasant without being in any way striking, and I was mildly puzzled by the lack of ornamentation—the firm-mattressed beds (a treat for an aching spine that has held upright tired muscles through the day’s hectic sightseeing) are attired in little more than crisp white linen; the floor tiles are an unobjectionable but hardly chic terracotta colour (but not real terracotta); the very well-supplied bathrooms (full range of Biotique toiletries, including face wash and hair oil) are again studies in homey unpretentiousness.

The mystery behind all of this unravels in long discussions with hotel officials. I already know that this hotel is a 10-year-old property, and that it began life as a Taj Garden Retreat before being made over into a Gateway last year. More than this hotel’s particular narrative, it is the story of the Gateway hotels, which must needs segue into the story of the Taj Group of Hotels as a whole.

For several years now, I have been watching with fascinated awe the Taj brand undergo one transformation after another, desperately seeking clarity and structure for its massive collection of hotels—unrivalled in the country for its range of accommodation across styles, classes and budgets. Establishing the Gateway brand is one way in which the group will impose structure on its unruly collection: most of the hotels that bear the new nomenclature were lesser Tajs—the Taj Garden Retreats and some of the Taj Business hotels. I’m told that the Gateway that will be launched shortly in Chennai will serve as the flagship hotel, and will establish the ‘brand standard’ that guests can expect at every Gateway across the country. Broadly, Taj hotels will be classified under one of three categories: Taj luxury hotels (Rs 15,000 and above a night), Vivanta (Rs 10,000 and above) and Gateway (Rs 5,000 and above). And of course the successful Ginger brand from the same parent company as Taj addresses the budget segment.

The makeover of the Taj Chikmagalur into the Gateway Hotel Chikmagalur isn’t yet complete: upgradations in the form of LCD televisions, a certain degree of décor change, etc are yet to take place. But aspects of the ‘brand standard’—the Active Foods concept, where the menus are designed with a view to maximising usage of ‘superfoods’; the 24-hour room service, regardless of the size of the property; the 24-hour gym—are already on full proud display. Some things, clearly, are worth the wait.

The information

Location: K.M. Road, Chikmagalur, Karnataka; 260km from Bengaluru
Accommodation: 10 Standard Rooms, 19 Cottage Rooms
Tariff: Rs 5,900 (Standard Room)/Rs 6,900 (Cottage Room). Internet rate for April bookings: from Rs 4,325/Rs 5,320
Contact: 08262-660660, www.thegatewayhotels.com


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