At 24 floors, it may be tallest among all hotels in south of India dwarfing every other building in the vicinity, including Hyatt and The Park. It may have all the luxuries within: Soak tub, fruit and chocolate platter, fine linens, pillow menu, etc. The lobby may have a grand chandelier by LASVIT, the Czech manufacturer of award-winning collections. And in tech, it may be cutting-edge: You can open the lock of your room by your phone via Bluetooth; curtains open at the press of a switch; intuitive motion sensors in the room switches on the AC and the ambient lights. It may also offer fine cuisines from the world over and a spa to turn you into a glow worm.
But you just cannot beat the lake. Each of the 285 rooms/suites of Conrad Bengaluru opens out to the lake. And that itself is the biggest pull of this brand new luxury hotel from the Hilton Group. There she is, 24/7, caviar for the eyes, assuming different avatars at different times of the day. I wake up early morning to find her misty and mysterious, a red ray from the pre-dawn sun sweeping across like a riddle. By 10 am, it is another story: Her ripples sparkling bright as army guys from Madras Sappers who manage the lake take to their boats and rowing. By afternoon, the lake is a sleeping beauty and by dusk, she looks oh-so-winsome, all set for an evening soiree, the setting sun dressing her up in a black and red satin gown. You just can’t tear your eyes off the lake as you sip your morning tea and later a nightcap before you sleep.
The serene Ulsoor Lake spans 123.6 acres around the city centre. Built by Kempegowda II after whom Bangalore’s airport is named, locals throng Ulsoor Lake in the mornings between 6 to 10 am to jog, walk, stretch, or walk their dogs. Birdwatchers bring binoculars to see brahminy and black kites, cormorants, wagtails, kingfishers, pond herons, white egrets and other waterfowl.
Just like distant mountain peaks tempt trekkers to climb up, the lake, far down from my 18th floor room window, teases and tempts me to come down from my ivory tower and explore her curves. I wake up one morning to take a walk around it. A park on one of its sides is venue to the fitness conscious, walking running and pumping iron in the open air gym.
I return to my room only to find the curtains drawn. The housekeeping guys must have done it. Nah, I want my lake along with my Assam tea and press a button. Like magic, the curtains slide across either sides and there she is, the Lake Placid, revealing itself in full sparkling glory.
The view alone justifies the Rs 15,000 plus a night that the hotel charges for my room. The other amenities come as a bonus and a fat bonus at that. The spa, for example, has me spend more than an hour under the nimble fingers of a Naga masseuse. It is one of the most innovative massages that I ever got. Called Sport Massage, here the rubs are farm and vigorous as the masseuse pulls and stretches your arms and legs.
“Hold my waist, please” she says. With my face down on the pillow, my hands reach out for her waist behind my bare back. A woman’s waist with all its curves make for a fine grip, as my hands search for her waist. But where is her waist? My hands stretch out as far as they can go, but there is no waist. “My waist, please, my waist,” she repeats.
And it is then I realise: What she means is her wrists, not waist, her accented English has me get the word wrong. She is very good of course as I surrender my body with nothing but a soft muslin disposable white underwear. More than the massage, I often find the masseuse more interesting, the journo in me throwing a few questions at her.
Yes, she loves her job in Conrad Bengaluru, more so because her last experiences in various day spas had not been been very good. “Here, only educated and cultured people come. At other places, clients used to ask for all kind of not so nice favours,” she says. Having got to know that I am from her neighbouring state Assam, she opens up all the more, talking about her non-existent boyfriends, her elderly parents back home in Dimapur and her roommates who are but her protective brothers.
As for food, Caraway Kitchen at the lobby level is the place for breakfast and offers a culinary journey spanning from Asia to the Americas. With four live open kitchens, you can eat anything from Italian to south Indian.
By afternoon with nothing much to do, I sit at The Lobby Brew, enjoying everything liquid from mojitos to tequila. For dinner, we have the luxury of trying out different cuisines every night. At Mikusu, it is a blend of Japanese, Chinese and Thai cultures with a curated range of sake and Asian cocktails. At Indian Durbar, the chef who belongs to a family of nawabi cooks, churns out time-honoured dishes from royal kitchens from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Night next, we are sitting in the open air Mediterranean restaurant Tiamo, next to the deck of the infinity pool with panoramic views of the breathtaking Ulsoor Lake, great company and a lovely breeze caressing our faces.
After every meal or drinks we need to smoke and that’s when you are directed to the smoker’s corner (outside the lobby) where stone benches make for perfect sitting, gossiping over a smoke. There is an entire floor of smoking rooms, but as one smoker says, “This is my favourite spot of the hotel!”
Centrally located at the edge of M.G. road in Kensington Road, the hotel is a world by itself. No wonder, the world has started homing in here already, barely two months after its launch.
Besides, it’s a hotel where the word ‘no’ is not in its lexicon. Make a wish and you shall be left pleasantly surprised. That was exactly what happened when a British guest wanted to see an Indian elephant. She had gone to a forest reserve around Bangalore to see it, but she returned to the hotel disappointed – she could spot none.
So the hotel concierge did something extraordinary. One morning the lady was called to the lobby. She was blindfolded and taken out to the foyer. There her fold was untied. And what did she see? Standing tall in all its magnificence, there it was, an Indian elephant right in front of her eyes, leaving her speechless. Needless to say the gesture was lapped up in delightful gratitude. Such is the service offered.
It helps that the staff is young, full of beans, and energetic, going out of their way to do things for you. They are aware that a lot of responsibilities lie on their shoulders – it’s a new hotel and they got to build a solid reputation for it.
The staff also includes the bespectacled, clean-shaven doorman who doesn’t look like the traditional Indian doormen. Rather you can pass him for an young IIM graduate. “I like it here. I get to open doors for so many important people. They are all great and nice people,” he says. In fact, he likes Bangalore better than Jaipur, his hometown. There is a strong reason for that, of course: “I will have to grow a maharaja mustache if I work as a doorman there, which I don’t want,” he explains.
The hotel also makes it easier to explore the world outside, in this case Bengaluru (oh how I hate the city’s new name). With a programme called 1/3/5, it allows you to explore the city if you have one, three or five hours in hand before you catch your flight back home.
We follow a three hour itinerary and land in Commercial Street and Brigade Road, the places Bangalore go shopping and pubbing. We buy junk jewellery and we buy linen sarees at Mysore Saree Udyog and we have coffee at the famous chain Hatti Kaapi and generally walk around exploring. Unlike Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar or Sarojini Nagar, these places are not crowded leaving you enough elbow space to walk around in peace.
Other itineraries in this programme take you through colorful markets, colonial-era museums, brewpubs, luxury shopping malls, and of course the Ulsoor market where locals buy banana leaves, strings of jasmine and marigold, and coconuts and all manner of kitsch. Other stops may include Bidhan Saubha, botanical gardens, military museum, biological park, butterfly gardens, etc. The five hour itinerary takes you away from the city for trekking, and other adventures.
In fact, you must go to Soukya, a world-class holistic health centre that hosted personalities like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cambridge and Middle Eastern royal families. An hour outside Bangalore, the verdant property lined with pink bougainvillae has organic gardens, a restaurant, rooms, and halls for massage, meditation and yoga.
At the end of it all, however, it is all about the lake. I return to my room, dust myself off, settle down on my wing chair, legs resting on the pouffe, my loyal Old Monk for a drink, and of course my eyes drawn towards the seductress she has now become: Reflecting the lights of the buildings around, the lake looks bejewelled, all dressed up, waiting for a gentleman’s arm.
Well, shall we? It’s gonna be one electrifying night.