Tuesday, June 24, 2008

To The Manor, reborn

For the past decade Aman Resorts operated The Manor, a ten room boutique New Delhi hotel used as a staging base for their guests en route to the company's more isolated destinations in India. Now Aman has departed The Manor in advance of launching their own property on the Lodhi Road, a much-anticipated new construction slated to open its doors in July 2008. More on that property later.

Management of The Manor has since been taken up by Old World Hospitality Group, who operate a portfolio of successful hotels, health clubs and restaurants catering to the mid-market in India and London. This is their first venture into the top tier of hospitality. Old World has inherited a luxury-grade staff trained by Aman, in a heritage structure, set in an old quarter outside the Delhi city center, a verdant neighborhood called Friends Colony, home of palatial mansions surrounded by lush gardens, and gated compounds. No high-volume luxury hotel can promise this kind of exclusivity or scale, nor this combination of offering. Old World intends to use the next two years for a phased renovation, adding a health spa, upgrading the on-site restaurant, and planning new luxury suites which will double room capacity to 40 guests at full occupancy. Currently the property can be enjoyed as it is, while the new management finds its own keys to entering the luxury category.

The very professional staff, legacy of Aman's celebrated humanistic style, demonstrate more warmth and hospitality than normally encountered in Delhi's top-tier hotels. The 28-seat 77 Restaurant has a new chef who is in the process of creating a fusion menu which combines traditional Indian and Mediterranean cuisines. The existing menu has some very tasty options and nice surprises, especially indigenous recipes, and the kitchen is most accommodating to special requests. An adjoining private dining room seating up to 10 continues the minimalist-yet-comfortable ambiance of the decor. Interior design details, rendered in warm woods, artisan fabrics and Rajasthan marbles, impart an air of elegance, calm and comfort, accented throughout by framed weavings which recollect Harrapan ceramic patterns seen in the excellent Dehi Art Museum. Factor in sumptuous bathrooms of grey and black marble with all the amenities like big towels and robes and fine quality soaps and shampoos, king beds, and classic architecture reminiscent of Corbusier, Mies and the International Style of the 1950s, and the luxury traveler has little to complain about, especially at prices which Old World has dropped for the transition period. These are rates significantly less than those published by the big local players.

Old World's aspirations are high and management aims to keep on coming up with new and refreshing ideas, while upholding an ethos of understated discreet service. Their corporate style is friendly and warm, staff oriented to deliver guest satisfaction. While The Manor is not for the budget traveler, little details like a free internet computer, a complimentary welcome foot or head massage, daily replenished in-room fruit basket, omnipresent security and a croquet set on the manicured emerald lawn contribute to an excellent value proposition in a safe and exclusive hideaway. One feels a sense of peaceful isolation within its walls, in marked contrast to the omnipresent chaos of the Indian capital.

Delhi can be seen in 2-3 days, and most people are there only as a stopover en route to other destinations in the north. It's not exactly a walking city, you certainly can't breathe the air, and traffic is horrendous. The construction of a new metro system means half the city will remain ripped up and snarled in excavations and reroutings at least until the Commonwealth Games in 2010. Brownouts are a daily occurrence. Beggars, wild pigs, monkeys, sacred cows and packs of feral dogs still populate the roads. With a growing human population currently estimated at 17 million, shanty towns and illegal settlements remain a part of the landscape. And the Indira Gandhi International Airport under renovation seems like a bombed-out relic of the Stone Age- in early June 2008 the entire air conditioning system in the international terminal went out for an entire day, creating conditions The Hindustani Times described as "inhumane."

To compound matters, Delhi suffers from a shortage of hotel rooms, especially in peak season- thus reservations are an absolute necessity. Top hotels routinely charge inflated prices for commodified service and industrial grade accommodation. Taken in this context, The Manor, small in size yet quietly elegant, looks like an outstanding alternative to the monolithic New Delhi options which travel agencies often tend to promote.

The Manor

77 Friends Colony (West)

New Delhi 110 065, India

Tel +91 011 2692 5151

Fax +91 011 2692 2299