Five-star hotels are much like the empires of old. They emerge, and subsequently go through the phases of newcomer, empire-builder and, finally, instant brand recall and effortless pedigree.
The Wyndham Grand Agra is definitely in the first phase of its evolution. And in Agra, which houses the country’s tourist holy of holies, competition is fierce. Some of its rival five-stars have been in their imperial phase for a while now and seem set to continue. The Wyndham Grand definitely has its work cut out. The hotel actually started life a year ago under a different moniker, The Orient Taj. The formal opening as a Wyndham property took place in November last year. So this is, in effect, the hotel’s first full season in the hurly burly of Agra.
It certainly is beautiful. I pass through sliding doors into the main lobby — a massive, ornate and very pretty space with beautiful marble floors inlaid with just the kind of designs that you see at the Taj or any of the mature Mughal monuments. A marble Rajasthani jharokha and a massive chandelier — think of the ceremonial chandeliers you find in Mughal shrines and magnify those by twenty — dominate the foyer, with stairs curving around the side of the space. It’s luxurious all right, but not at the cost of appearing tacky. I’m not a lover of luxury spaces, though I would be lying if I were to say that I don’t appreciate them. The Wyndham Grand certainly has elegance to spare.
The hotel is situated on a massive twenty-acre plot on the Fatehabad Road leading away from the TajMahal, and it does suffer from a relative lack of proximity to that landmark. However, it makes up for this with a magnificent Mughal garden all its own. This central courtyard of pretty fountains and terraced gardens extends from the lobby area to the presidential wing — still under construction — and it’s fringed by self-contained units of standard suite blocks. As of this season, these and 16 deluxe rooms are the only accommodation on offer. In design, the blocks are like large gated havelis, with four suites ringed around a small courtyard.
I was led to one of these, and I was immediately struck by the homeyness of the room. Everything in its right place, near at hand and comfortable. Three large bay windows looked out on the garden, and I must say that, despite my disdain, I was beginning to feel properly regal.
A road journey can be hungry business, and even though Agra is only a four-hour drive from Delhi on a mostly good road, I was ravenous. So I was whisked off to one of the hotel’s six restaurants, the all-day-dining, Orient Café. It professes to serve light meals through the day, although there was certainly nothing light about the spread I ordered, starting with a cream of chicken soup, then a really juicy chateaubriand steak with babycorn, mushrooms and bell-peppers before finishing off with a delicious Mexican brownie.
If you haven’t heard of the Wyndham group, it’s among the largest hotel groups in terms of the sheer number of hotels worldwide. The Agra property is Wyndham’s first luxury offering in India, but the group has been around for a while, the chain of Ramada hotels being its most visible face in the country. Recently, the group acquired the exclusive rights to manage the Chatwal group’s Dream hotels. And now this. So Wyndham’s profile in the Indian hospitality scene is definitely rising.
However, the fact that the hotel is new is evident in the rawness of the staff. Requests for wi-fi passwords take time and sometimes minor requests are forgotten, and I also received a random call from housekeeping enquiring if I needed an extra bed, but to an extent that is understandable. If anything, this reminds you that you are dealing with human beings, not drones. And the smiles are genuinely warm. I can live with that.
About of intensely touristy behaviour in the afternoon and I’m back at the resplendently lit hotel at dusk. Perfect time for a massage. I make my way to the spa area, a large space called Al Sehat. At the time of writing, the hotel was still to decide on an outside vendor to run the spa, but the very relaxing Balinese oil massage I received spoke quite highly of the spa’s existing staff and facilities. I was booked for dinner at the open-air Rajasthani restaurant, MahroGaon, but I was way too well-oiled and sleepy to venture out. So I ordered in another meat fest of mutton dum biryani and handigosht and whiled away the rest of the evening sunk in the comfortable embrace of the king-sized bed, reading. Now this is proper luxury.
Places like Agra are ruled by the tourist season, so hotels have to diversify to stay profitable. Wyndham seemed to be well equipped for this with a separate convention area, complete with a large conference hall and secluded lawns. During my stay, there was a lavish wedding in progress, as well as a political press conference. To the hotel’s great credit, none of the guests seemed to feel even the slight bit inconvenienced. Ultimately, if you can keep your guests happy, the imperial phase cannot be far away.