It was five in the morning. The sun wasn’t up yet and most certainly, it wasn’t time for me to be either. Unfortunately, the luxury of sleeping in, especially in my extremely comfortable bed, wasn’t to be. A cup of steaming tea in hand, I dragged myself to the large window at the very end of my deluxe suite and couldn’t help but replay the old television advertisement for tea—of Ustad Zakir Hussain playing tabla in front of one of the ‘seven wonders of the world’. The first sip was indeed a ‘wah’ moment, not for the taste but because of the view outside. How often does one get to drink a hot cup of tea with a gorgeous view of the Taj Mahal for company?
The Taj Hotel & Convention Centre Agra opened its doors in May this year. The 4.5-acre property is some years old but was recently taken over by the luxury hotel group. Boasting of 239 rooms and suites, with some facing the monument, it is strategically located on the Taj East Gate Road. A 10-minute walk brings you to the Unesco World Heritage Site itself.
I had arrived a day earlier from the Capital by road, and a traditional welcome later, I was treated to a delectable array of Asian dishes at Palato, the hotel’s all-day diner. Executive Chef Shivan Khanna pampered me with prawns, dim sums, green curry and finally, chocolate and darsan. He joined the Agra family from Kolkata’s Taj and has been adding his own touches to the menu. The seating area is quite massive and with winter around the corner, the renovations near the outdoor area will make it a cosy and comfortable space. The property itself is all modern, but with subtle, elegant motifs that reflect Agra’s heritage.
Personally, even after living in Delhi for the past eight years, I had never considered Agra as an overnight destination. Less than four hours away, a day-long trip with a breakfast of bedhai (a cross between kachori and puri) and sabzi, and a visit to the Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort, Akbar’s tomb and Fatehpur Sikri later, it would be time to head back.
As a hotelier in Agra, getting a guest to stay back is serious business in one of India’s most visited cities. “Agra is becoming extremely popular for MICE events,” said GM Rajat Tuli over a meal. The Taj Hotel & Convention Centre boasts of having the largest banquet space among the hotel group, in the city and in the northern part of the country—a total of 40,000 sq ft.
Not just for MICE events but Agra is gaining momentum as a wedding destination too. With the kind of space this new Taj offers, planners are keen on expanding destination weddings near the ‘monument of love’. And with talks of flights and the push of an airport nearby —instead of a drive from Indira Gandhi International from Delhi—the city is more than ready, and waiting, to welcome customers with open arms.
A musical next door at Kalakriti and dinner split between Infini, the multi-purpose rooftop lounge, and Daawat-e-Nawab, a restaurant that specialises in the Nawabi style of food on the ground floor, I was ready to call it a day.
After another cup of tea, I was ready for the majestic Taj Mahal. With guide Deepak for company, we set out. Among recent rules, the East Gate entry has slightly changed, while tickets have been priced separately to see the grounds and to go inside the tomb.
The white Makrana marble structure gleamed in the sun. I never did like mathematics in school but one can’t help but admire the perfect symmetry and precision involved in Mughal architecture. Built between 1631-48 by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj Mahal is a masterpiece—the use of solids and voids, light and shadow, depth perception, and pietra dura motifs make it a monument like none other.
Tired-yet-satisfied after my early morning excursion, I sat by the infinity pool to have breakfast and was greeted with a view of the monument. I dug into hot bedhai and sabzi (the hotel arranges for a champagne breakfast on the rooftop on special request) as three children splashed around the pool to their heart’s content, enjoying the warm water. I sighed. It was a glorious morning indeed.
The property has 239 modern rooms including 12 lavish suites and one presidential suite. See tajhotels.com.