The Aman, New Delhi
A lone sandstone-carved elephant at the Porte Cohere (main entrance) sits on a dais adorned with marigold flowers, ready to receive guests; the 31 rooms come with Bhagalpur silk-weave bedspreads and jute slippers; a fleet of 15 silver Ambassador cars are at hand to ferry guests on sightseeing tours around Delhi; and a Traventino marble-top elephant console based on a never-used-before design by Sir Edward Lutyens graces the reception lobby.
The Aman at New Delhi’s Lodhi Road has been in the works for almost four and a half years. The hotel finally opened one of its two wings on the site where the old Lodhi Hotel (famous for Woodlands, the city’s most upmarket restaurant for dosas until the 1980s) once stood. The second wing is scheduled to open in September.
This is the first time the Aman Resorts chain has opened a property smack in the middle of a bustling city such as New Delhi. The Aman at Summer Place, Beijing, which opened last year, is on the city’s outskirts. Most of the 19 other properties are in far-flung holiday destinations such as Amansara at Siem Reap in Cambodia, Amanwana on the Indonesian island of Moyo, and Amanwella at Tangalle, Sri Lanka.
The Aman, New Delhi will have a fleet of 15 Ambassador cars, (left) 57 rooms will have private plunge pools
Antony Treston, the general manager of the hotel in Delhi, says the opening of their 21st property also marks the 21st year of Aman Resorts, and that city hotels were the next logical step for the chain to take.
Aman junkies, luxury travellers who revere the hotel chain, need not worry though, as the resort chain’s founding philosophy stays the same—to offer its clientele a unique and subtle take on local culture, with a stylish twist. From sourcing local building material (the Khadera and Gangapur stone slabs for the buildings and flooring), incorporating local architectural elements (jaalis along the entire façade) and commissioning local artwork (stone sculptures from Jaipur for the rooms and red sandstone stone columns for the reception area), to employing local artists, musicians and singers, the chain offers its guests a glimpse of local culture without overwhelming them.
While some concessions have been made at The Aman, New Delhi—unlike other Aman properties, it is Wi-Fi-enabled and television sets have been installed to accommodate the city traveller—the ground rules have not changed. The number of rooms remains small—a total of 67 rooms and suites (39 are currently open) in a property that spreads over 7 acres. Only guests are allowed access to most facilities, including the pilates studio, pool, cigar lounge, and tennis and squash courts. And there are no banquet spaces or large conference rooms for business travellers. “This is strictly an oasis,” Treston says.
To create a resort feel at a busy city corner, Australian architect Kerry Hill and his associates have built guest rooms along the edges of the property; all rooms face inward towards an expansive green lawn and a sunken courtyard which houses the pool and three AstroTurf tennis courts. Jaali screens topped with white bougainvillea plants separate the pool deck from the courts and cast ever-changing shadows and reflections on the water in the 50m swimming pool.
The bougainvillea plants—currently just bushes, like many of the bamboo plants on the property—are a recent addition. Adrian Zecha, the Aman founder, did not like the bare separation between the pool and the courts on one of his walk-throughs and asked for the change. Treston says Zecha tweaks the design until it meets his standards—this attention to detail is another touch that Aman junkies love.
However, we have a suggestion too: Hire the services of a good landscape consultant and a team of people with “green thumbs” pronto. The sight of dried bamboo plants, an almost dead Ficus tree, and bald patches on the lawns is not very relaxing.
The hotel consists of a number of stone buildings at right angles to one another, all connected by long corridors and hallways. The Australian architect may have taken a bit too much from local architecture—the fierce angularity of the buildings matches the Soviet Bloc-style office buildings nearby. Thankfully the Soviet Bloc look does not devalue the subtle, understated elegance of the resort. After a while, the stunning amount of space and the fascinating play of light and shadow thanks to the jaalis is far more in focus than the severe lines of the buildings.
The Tapas lounge
Of the 67 rooms and suites, 53 have private plunge pools on their balconies, complete with retractable awnings and day beds. The suites also offer an outdoor private dining deck. The room and suite layout is open, though sliding panels can demarcate the closet and bathrooms from the living rooms and bedrooms. The dark wood panels and low-slung olive furniture could have created a suffocating look, but contrasted with the clean stone work, floor-to-ceiling windows, orange marigold flower arrangements and non-imposing stone sculptures—the only artwork in the rooms—the interior creates a soothing, balanced ambience.
The key design feature comes from the amount of space in each area, enhanced by deft placement of mirrors. Also, rooms in the fourth to eighth floors of the Aman block have an impressive view of the city. On a clear day, you can see Humayun’s Tomb, the tomb of Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khana and, across the Yamuna river, the Akshardham temple.
A huge spa—the most famous of Aman’s amenities—spreads across 1,538 sq. m. and comprises separate male and female sections, a couple’s spa room, and two traditional Turkish hamams (steam baths).
Besides guests at the hotel, a limited number of “by invitation only” spa memberships will be issued. The eight private treatment suites could be hotel rooms in themselves, with day beds, a massage table, pedicure and manicure station, bath, rain shower and eucalyptus steam room. And there will be plenty of treatments to keep you there, from a 75-minute anti-ageing facial (around Rs5,200) to a 90-minute Char Haster, or four hands, massage (around Rs8,300).
There would be no reason to leave the room. Ever.
Besides the spa, the real attraction for Delhiites is Lodhi Restaurant. While the rest of the resort aims to cater mainly to hotel guests, the three-level restaurant, housed in a separate building, has a fine-dining Catalan restaurant and a Spanish Tapas Lounge, the first genuine one for Delhi. The Tapas Lounge also houses the Corcho—a semi-private area that can seat 16 people. Tapas will be served during the day; at night the lounge will be converted into a bar, where guests can nibble on Pinchos (portions that can be served on a small slice of bread held in place with a toothpick).
The second fine-dining space, the Aman Restaurant, focuses on Indian and Thai cuisines. Another first for Delhi is a Naoki counter on a raised dais in the middle of this restaurant where guests can sample Kaiseki-style cuisine (French-inspired food with a Japanese touch).
Even though opening a luxury resort during a downturn may seem a somewhat surprising business move, plenty of Aman regulars—old and new—will likely find an oasis of calm at the new hotel.
The current tarrif of a single bedroom in the Aman wing is $550 per night (around Rs28,000) and the two-bedroom suite is $1,200.