I have often stayed at ITC hotels. As a travel blogger too I have worked with them quite a bit. What I like about them is the very local flavor that they bring to their ambiance and the service. You do not feel you could be anywhere in the world when you are staying with ITC. At every step inside their properties, at least in their luxury collection ones, you never forget that you are in this city and state. So this time when I stayed with them at ITC Sonar in Kolkata – I was pretty much drenched in the Bengali ethos.
ITC Sonar, Kolkata
It is a luxury business resort – designed like a resort for the visiting business persons who need luxury while on business trips.
They curated two lovely city experiences for me – a walk through the Colonial Calcutta and another one through the cultural melange of Kolkata.
Let me walk you through the defining elements at this luxury property.
Earth – An integral part of the Architecture
The architecture of the luxury property reflects the ethos of Bengal through the liberal use of Terracotta. The style is minimalistic with straight lines. The soil of Bengal on the walls never lets you forget that you are in the heart of Bengal. Believe me, in the age of glass and steel, the terra cotta exteriors are such a relief to look at. In fact, they seem to help you feel the humidity a tad bit less, even if it is just a placebo effect.
Gerua or the faded red color of Terracotta is soothing. Apart from terracotta, bamboo has also been used extensively – another element that keeps you rooted to the earth.
Air – The fragrance of Kitchen Garden at ITC Sonar
Now, I know a lot of small restaurants, especially in places like Goa are trying to build their own kitchen gardens so that they can use their own greens and micro-greens. However, I never expected a luxury hospitality brand like ITC to be having a kitchen garden as part of their landscape. Yes, this property actually uses the small greens, herbs, and fruits that they grow in their garden, in their kitchens and call it a ‘zero-mile food’.
We took a stroll through their landscaped gardens, they are not just perfect for a leisurely walk but also end up educating you a bit about the flora and fauna of Bengal. There was Gondhoraj or a slightly longish lemon, absolutely native to Bengal, known best for its fragrance. Gondhoraj literally means the King of Fragrance. We were served drinks flavored with Gondhoraj lemon. It is like a cross between a regular lime and Thai Kafir lime. Apart from this, you can spot coconut trees, mango trees, betel trees. Batabi & Pomelo from this garden is added to the breakfast spread.
I also spotted Tulsi, lemongrass, aloe vera and only have to imagine the flavors around you.
You can also spot some birds if you are lucky.
Fire – The Food at ITC Sonar
At the cost of gaining a few pounds, I tried 4 restaurants at the luxury hotel.
We began our culinary exploration with a Bengali Thali at Eden pavilion. Bengali Thali duly came in a terracotta thali with all the flavors of mustard. I being a vegetarian enjoyed the Aloo Posto and Dal Lucchi, while my better half enjoyed his Machher Jhol or the fish curry. Choice of desserts was classic – Rosogolla, Sandesh, Rashmalai and Mishti Doi. You could not ask for a better indulgence. This was like logging into the Bengali sensibility as soon as you land in Kolkata. We would come back to Eden Pavilion every morning for breakfast, sharing the space with Kolkata Knight Riders IPL team that was also staying at the luxury property.
We had the Peshawari or the northwest frontier food at Peshawari. At Dum Pukht, we had the signature Mughlai food of the hotel. You must fast before visiting any of these restaurants. However, this is what was what we expected at this luxury hotel – a fine rendition of traditional rich Indian cuisine.
It was the West view bar & grill that was the surprise element for me. I expected the usual western fair, but what I got was the experimental molecular cooking. Since this is the first time I tasted molecular cooking, it would always remain special for me. I could not have guessed what was served for it looked nothing like itself. Some leaves of spinach came rolled like a piece of green sponge. Mango came as scattered pieces of crystal. I enjoyed eating it all, but what was fascinating was the story of how these mere fruits and vegetables were made to look like what they looked on the plate.
Water – Nurturing the native Shapala at ITC Sonar
The plains of Bengal are interspersed with water bodies. There are so many rivers – big and small that flow through it. I remember reading ‘Letter from a Young Poet‘ by Rabindranath Tagore that he wrote entirely while riding his boat on rivers of Bengal. Shapala is the local name of water Lily flower. At this luxury hotel, there is a vast lotus pond with small rooms to sit inside, surrounded by waters full of colorful lilies and lotus. Sitting inside them is like living a rustic Bengal dream.
What is interesting is that the flowers in the lotus pond have been nurtured in such a way that at any point in time, some flowers are blooming and smiling at you. Traditional lilies and lotus bloom in the morning with the gentle touch of first sun rays. Tropical Lilies bloom during the day and the night lilies – especially the pink ones open towards the evening. It is a pleasure to watch the flowers reflecting in the shallow waters negotiating the waters with green leaves.
If you are in Bengal, you can not be too far from the fish. In the lotus pond at the luxury property, you can feed the hundreds of fish.
In fact, the fish are so used to being fed by the guests that they all move as you walk through the corridor that goes right across the lotus pond.
Ether – The culture of Bengal
Sculptures of Pala dynasty that ruled the region of Bengal can be found scattered across the property. These are not original but the replicas of the original sculptures that you can find in many museums in India. There were some in the lobby, some in the gardens and some in some corner. They filled the much needed historic gap just like ether fills the space.
There are of course the regular facilities like a big swimming pool, a Kaya Kalp spa, conference and banquet facilities. For more details, check out their website.
Thank you ITC Hotels for great hospitality and experience design.
Recommend you to read the following places to visit in Kolkata & West Bengal.