Those grumpy Bengalurians, as residents of the city previously known as Bangalore must now be unfortunately addressed, are notorious for crying themselves hoarse over the withering away of their garden city. Yet, on my maiden visit to Bengaluru, I found a city of broad, leafy avenues, sprawling gardens, street corners shaded by ancient trees — and, yes, there was definitely a nip in the air. What also made me firmly assume the contrarian view was my assignment, a pre-launch inspection of ITC Royal Gardenia, a hotel which turned out to be more a glorious ode to the city’s garden heritage than a place to lay your head. Here, in the lofty, wind-cooled lobby, and in the Cubbon Pavilion coffee shop, you will find the very first vertical gardens in India (at least in the hospitality sector). That’s not all that’s ‘green’ about the luxury chain’s newest hotel though, but more about that later.
First, the flourishes, of which there are enough to please the grouchiest guest. For a biggish hotel (it has nearly 300 rooms) set in the heart of town, the first pleasant surprise is space, particularly the generous use of it in public areas, beginning with the soaring lobby which anchors the hotel. Once I’ve fended off — with limited success — the tika-garland-and-headdress-to-boot routine, my charming hostess whisks me off to my (large) room. It’s dressed up in soothing tones, with two flat TVs, a spacious bath and a private balcony, and I can hardly complain. A massage chair by the bed valiantly tries to substitute the human touch. The butler comes by. Flowers peek from the window boxes lurching out of the balcony — my own little garden. There are views of the garish, unreal pile of UB City on VittalMallya Road, and I’m happy to turn the gaze inward.
Lunch is at Kebabs &Kurries (the other major F&B offering is West View, and a Japanese restaurant, Edo, will be added soon). ITC loves o repeat a good thing, and this restaurant’s sumptuous offerings owe their lineage to venerable houses like Bukhara and Dum Pukht. True, there were no surprises on the excellent, excellent menu, but if it ain’t broke, why fix it?
You’d imagine the same would be true of the choice of architectural style, but you would be very mistaken. Comparisons with ITC’s other hotel in Bengaluru, the utterly lovable Windsor, are inevitable. And what a departure it has been. While the Windsor is painted in bold strokes of Raj nostalgia (the luminous Lalbagh-inspired conservatory, which doubles up as the coffee shop, is the jewel in its crown), the Gardenia, designed by Rajinder Kumar Associates (the interiors are by London-based Francesca Basu) is all modern lines and subtle hues. The exterior sports Gwalior sandstone and Malaysian red bricks, interspersed by panels of smoked oak and copper strips in a matt copper-sulphate patina, and an impressive blue copper roof. A sort of India Habitat Centre meets Newari architecture, and I mean this in the best possible sense. Nature in its many manifestations is invoked throughout the property, and each floor has a distinctive theme —Trees, Foliage, Flowers, etc — expressed through colour, motif and texture.
But for a truly in-depth understanding of what went into the Gardenia’s making, I had to descend into the belly of the beast. Here, deep below the bustle of the hotel’s public face, I met I.K. Suresh, manager, project engineering, in his modest, functional office. The kebabs and curries had made me sleepy but when Suresh turned on his PowerPoint presentation, it took my breath (and torpor) away. Considerable energies were invested into ensuring reduced site disturbance and 50 percent of the site was restored to its original state. Thoughtful touches include storm water management, water efficient landscaping, low volatiles in all sealants, adhesives and paints, solar geysers, a copper roof that is 60 percent recycled and near-zero solid waste and water discharge. There was a lot of other very technical stuff that blew over my head but was proof enough of good intentions.
Back to the flourishes, of the green variety. The showstopping vertical gardens, erected by a Singaporean gardener, host several species of philodendrons, in varying shades of green. And lest you imagine every vine that trails up a wall is a vertical garden, note that these gardens are actually planted vertically. The soil-free media in which the gardens thrive, a mix of organic (peat moss) and inorganic (pumice/volcano stone), need not be renewed for a hundred years. The plants are fed a nutrient-rich diet through a spray and drip irrigation keeps them hydrated. There are conventional gardens as well, and the roof of the multi-column Lotus Pavilion, which the lobby leads on to and which is inspired by Tipu Sultan’s palace at Srirangapatna, has a lush head of grass.
ITC’s hotels have always drawn inspiration from their surroundings. The massive lily pool at the ITC Sonar, Kolkata, which while effortlessly evoking the ponds of Bengal sends ripples through an otherwise minimalist aesthetic, is a case in point. So the Gardenia’s primary conceit, the garden, was almost pre-ordained (whatever Bengalurians might say). At the time of my visit, the gardens looked a tad weary (opening night anxiety, maybe). But I’m told that the greenery, particularly 14 metres of the vertical variety stretched across an entire wall of the Cubbon Pavilion, is coming into its own quite nicely.
Given our cramped cities, this is perhaps the way ahead for urban gardening. If you cannot expand sideways, the only way is up. If this can apply to buildings, why not to gardens as well?
Where: No. 1, Residency Road, Bengaluru (35km from the airport)
Accommodation: 231 ‘Towers’ rooms, 35 ‘ITC One’ rooms, 10 Junior suites, 7 ITC One suites, 1 Long-stay suite, 1 Queen suite, 1 Presidential suite
Tariff: Rs 12,000 (Towers), Rs 14,000 (ITC One), Rs 20,000 (Junior suites).
Contact: 080-22119898, www.itcwelcomgroup.in