Suite Wars: India


India has always been known for its rich history, majestic palaces, and fascinating temples. In recent years, high-end hotels have also figured into the mix, and the world’s second most-populous country is now a serious contender in the global luxury-travel market. The following six suites are essential for any upscale visit.

Situated in the fabled pink city of Jaipur, the almost 300-year-old Raj Palace gushes regal splendor. With a glorious heritage of historic Rajasthan royalty, the Raj offers the chance to be transported back in time to experience the lifestyle of a bygone romantic era. The Durbar Mahal Suite is a speechless rendering suite used as private quarters by kings, and its main features are a high ceilinged, double-height reception room with vaulted apartments that overlook the inner courts and the Charbagh garden (Persian-styled quad) of the palace. The old sleeping chamber of the Thakur Sahib (colonial lord), it’s decorated with gold-leafed painted walls and gleaming gold and silver furniture. It also has a private passage connecting the Raj’s multiple pavilions and the Zenana (the area of the estate where women were secluded). Oh, and the old kings’ throne is definitely á propos-the suite has been named Asia’s Leading Suite by World Travel Awards 2008.

Moving on to what appears as a surreal white marble and mosaic wedding cake seemingly floating in the middle of Udaipur’s Lake Pichola, the glittering Taj Lake Palace transports the fortunate to a world of fantasy and courtly love. Conceived in romance in 1746, the fairytale pleasure palace was a central location in the 13th James Bond movie, showcased as Octopussy’s lair. The Khush Mahal Suite, formerly the queen’s chamber and now one of the TLP’s six grand royal suites, offers a rendezvous with the lavish lifestyle of a Rajasthani ruler. Tucked away to the rear of the palace, the suite is subtly divided by cusped arches and exudes an aesthetic of understated elegance. As stained glass panels transform sunrays into a glittering kaleidoscope, the antique swing, suspended by decorative gleaming brass chains, invites you to enjoy the tantric opulence of this magical retreat. The full package of wow, it was also recently chosen as one of the 12 destinations in the Leading Hotels of the World $1 million “Around the World in 80 Ways” promotion.

Next is an elegant garden oasis in the middle of bustling New Delhi, The Imperial. The king of the colonial hotels, its spectacular architecture and unhurried attention to detail frequently play host to world celebrities, heads of state, and VIPs-it’s a favorite of Padma Lakshmi, Vikram Chatwal, and countless “best of” lists. Comprising a total area of 3,000 Crestron-controlled square feet, the Royal Imperial Suite’s classic oriental furnishings, exquisite artwork, and ubiquitous polished marble projects that certain prime ministerial oomph. It has a sitting area, a dining area for up to 12 (with specially designed silverware and crystal glass/china ware), and a study with 80 coffee table books. The master bedroom has a four-poster king size bed with linen from Porthault. The bathroom includes a large shower cubicle, steam room, sauna, Jacuzzi, and a double vanity counter. There’s also a separate entrance for butlers, baggage, and service staff. But the coolest feature is the 675-square-foot private veranda, where you can treat yourself to the finest of Darjeeling teas and feel the first rays of the morning sun herald a new day in the heart of India’s capital.

Now visualize your exit strategy from the chaos of Delhi: the Oberoi Udaivilas’ private charter has whisked you to utopian Udaipur, the city of dawn. Guided onto a canopied boat and then ferried across Lake Pichola, you’re led to a palatial estate (30 acres of formerly royal hunting grounds) of lush gardens, tucked away terraces, and decorative fountains. Swoon your way in and around the stunning architecture, then saunter over to a traditional Kashmiri gondola where Champagne and canapés for two await. Later, enjoy dinner or cocktails on the Bhagwanti Royal Barge, floating to the islands across the calm waters. Intimacy is a pursuit taken seriously at Udaivilas, making it a perfect decompression chamber of surreal beauty and timeless luxury. How perfect? How about being ranked numero uno in Travel+Leisure’s Top 500? That’s in the world, Haute lovers. Considered just about faultless for the flush and flirty, the hotel’s Kohinoor Suite has an incredible X-factor, with its own pool, a butler, a garden, and a steam room. Its 2,650 square feet also has two separate bedrooms and a living room with two working fireplaces, and also features a patio with a dining and relaxation pavilion. When, and if, you decide to come out, exquisite indo-evolved meals are served by an impeccable staff in the courtyard under starlight, accompanied by live instrumental music. There’s also an incredible five-star spa with a range of Ayurvedic treatments, one-to-one yoga classes, meditation sessions with a guru, and cooking lessons with the master chef. Basically, this place is off the hook.

After another short flight (40 minutes), another masterpiece awaits you in Jodhpur. The golden-hued Umaid Bhawan Palace is an icon made for icons-when Madonna took a holiday in India, this is where she got her inner maharaja on. It’s also where Liz Hurley and Arun Nayar held their elaborate wedding ceremony. It has its own theater, eight dining rooms, and a banquet hall that seats three hundred people. Deep within the palace is an indoor swimming pool with a mosaic of zodiac symbols. Another part of it has been retained as a museum, while another slice remains a royal residence for the current Jodhpur Maharaja. All in pink, black, chrome, and mirror, the premium Maharani Suite includes spacious private drawing and dining rooms with an attached kitchenette, a large balcony with a spectacular view of the palace gardens and the Mehrangarh Fort, and a dressing room with a wardrobe. When you soak in the bath carved out of a single piece of pink Italian marble (designed by Norblin), perhaps you’ll think, “Maybe it’s finally time to write my memoirs and live in this hotel for a few months?” It’s just an exquisite place with an energy that says peace.

Peace is also a commodity found at Devi Garh, a grand 18th century palace hotel perched in the stunning Aravalli hills in Southern Rajasthan. A great place to nest, the property has been re-imagined as modern in a deliberately unpretentious, serene, and calming way. The World Travel Awards 2008 Winner for India’s Leading Boutique Hotel, it’s a place that makes you feel obscenely pampered. The concept behind the design philosophy of the tasteful and elegant Devi Garh Suite Complex is that of “Shiv” and “Shakti”-the respective male and female energies embodied in Shiva, the Hindu god of creation and destruction, and Shakti, his consort, who personifies the power of femininity. The eponymous 1,200-square-foot premium suite boasts a private sun deck and a Jacuzzi. It shares a black marble pool with the slightly smaller Palace Suite (which together form the complex, as the two bedrooms are available together or individually). A complimentary bottle of vino on arrival properly lubes you for your brush with the divine, or at least with whomever you’re with, as you reflect on your suite Indian sojourn that gave you the distinctive, the authentic, the undeniably opulent, and the blissful.