One of Bangalore and Mumbai’s favourite Indian hotel chains has soft-launched its fifth property in India, in the National Capital Region (NCR). Perfectly poised at the edge of Gurgaon, just south of the toll booth on National Highway 8, its prime location offers easy access for business travellers. But with an economic downturn, and several other business hotels in the vicinity, the Leela needs to stand out, or it will become just another building on the block. To try and set it apart, the Leela group hired curator Rajeev Sethi to fill the hotel with bold sculptures, contemporary photography and new paintings, all commissioned for the hotel. The artists focused on the loss of the village of Guru Dronacharya, now the Millennium City. It’s a slightly ironic self-evaluation: Another monolithic building complex in Gurgaon—replete with private residences, a modern mall and cinema hall, and a hotel—questions whether monolith building complexes are good for people, the environment and the future.
The good stuff
I break out into a cold sweat whenever I have to go to Gurgaon, but it was an utter joy to drive into the Leela, avoiding the chaos of the city’s business district. There’s no need to wade through the Gurgaon traffic, and it’s centrally located for quick access to Delhi and the airport. The location also benefits vastly from being perched on the edge of the Rajokri green belt that divides Delhi and Gurgaon. Looking out of the two-storey glass windows in the lobby, I could trick myself into believing I was not in Gurgaon. The view pays off again at the poolside, nuzzled on the second storey between the mall and the hotel, with the greenery blocking out the constant din of construction in the business district. The best rooms, even more desirable than the panoramic suites (which feel slightly odd with their curved structure), are the terrace rooms: They face the green belt and have small redwood outdoor patios. After a long day of battling the business district, returning to one of these dark wood rooms with open glass bathrooms will feel like coming back to an oasis of calm. The contemporary art adds a nice touch. Raghu Rai was commissioned to photograph traditional Rajasthani dancers against a modern backdrop. His powerful portraits add glamour to the cleanly designed rooms.
However, the contemporary art and interior design are hit or miss. Construction is still under way on much of the hotel, so it may look different when fully completed, but a few issues likely won’t go away. While the risk taken by the hotel chain to use contemporary Indian artists to explore very pertinent issues in Gurgaon is admirable, there are some strange choices. For example, the lobby’s subdued cream and gold colour palate creates a reserved, calming atmosphere, nicely contrasted with the beautiful view of the green belt outside the front windows. But an enormous red and blue and green sculpture of an abstract lotus floating in water looms over the front desk, popping through the upper lobby floor. It’s jarring and looks out of place, as if the front desk area was designed for a different space altogether and wrongly wound up at the Leela. Also, the luxury fine-dining restaurant, on the sixth floor, overlooks the expressway and the toll booth. From up there, the steady stream of cars almost looks like a strange postmodern art piece; perhaps at night with the lights it will look all the more so. But it seems a shame to waste a sixth-storey view of nature for the traffic pouring through the gates.
It’ll be interesting to watch how this hotel grows in Gurgaon, where one building is as indistinct as the other and it’s tough to stand apart. A double occupancy, deluxe room starts at Rs10,300 a night (plus taxes). The room tariffs are dynamic, and change according to the reservation date.
The Leela Kempinski, National Highway 8, Gurgaon. For details, log on to www.theleela.com