India 13.10.2020 Lucie Grace
Journalist and editor, Lucie Grace, reviews one of the Taj Hotel's newest properties, having opened in 2019. The Taj Hotel closed during the Coronavirus pandemic and recently reopened with strict health and safety measures in place. Here Luce, who has been living in India since early 2020, reviews the hotel and what it is like to stay. Here you can read her thoughts on what life is like in India today.
I’ve been lucky enough to stay at a couple of Taj branches in my time, India’s premier luxury hotel chain that spans the vast country with almost 100 outposts in most cities and tourist destinations, as well as having bases in a number of international locations. My recent stay at Taj Rishikesh was something else entirely, as I enjoyed two days of the most calming and rejuvenating experience that really felt in another league to my previous stays.
The first thing that strikes you on arrival to Taj Rishikesh is the incredible landscape of the property whose cluster of buildings subtly nestle the banks of the Ganges across 12.5 acres of riverside land. The architecture of the campus reveals itself as you tour and traverse the hills from the comfort of your golf buggy ride, as the structures are not initially visible thanks to the sensitive use of materials such as grey slate and terracotta brick that blend with the natural environment, so that they are practically camouflaged in their surroundings.
The wonderful staff greet your from the car door on arrival, with a few current safety measures in place. As your bags are loaded on to your golf buggy, you briefly sign a health statement, so necessary in these times. The staff might be in masks, but that doesn’t detract from the warmth of welcome and beauty of the property. Hopping on a golf buggy to your room is the only way to travel. I stayed in one of the semi-detached villas, ideally placed in the middle of the property, equidistant from the River Ganges and spa, to the upper level’s bar and dining hall.
There’s a wealth of wellness activities that guests are invited to join as a complimentary addition to your stay. My first was the 5pm meditation session with Yogi Ji, in the completely congruous setting of the open air pavilion space, where the silence is only met by the gentle cricketing of cicadas and the flowing, rushing River Ganges. His guided meditation calmed my mind and let all thoughts of the world outside Taj Rishikesh float away. Following that I was welcomed to the daily 5.30pm Ganga Aarti, a moving Hindu ceremony that gives thanks to Ma Ganga, the river goddess. As the priest raises his flame to the east (the rising sun) and west (setting sun) a bell rings to give thanks for the day passed and the day ahead. The next morning I set my alarm and trundled down to the open air pavilion for the daily 7.30am yoga class again with Yogi Ji. An awakening class of stretches and static asana poses was just the gentle reviving my day needed.
As well as these harmonious healing offerings there’s a world class on site spa ‘Jiva’ staffed by international experts where you can book into for a wide range of massages, treatments and one to one yoga classes should you so desire. Jiva spa is also home to a gym, steam room and sauna, the use of which are included in your stay. Just beyond the spa and overlooking the River Ganges is a beautiful outdoor swimming pool that slots alongside the river so well you feel you’re swimming in it.
The decor throughout the hotel is minimalist and calming, with grey fabrics and wooden interiors heightening the nurturing nature of your stay. My luxurious room housed the comfiest bed I’ve stayed in while in India. It was like sleeping on a cloud. The attention to detail in the room’s design and facilities is impressive, with everything you could need provided. Bath salts, slippers, snacks - and I must mention the thoughtful inclusion of face masks and hand sanitizer. A useful information sheet on rules and regulations in this time is included in every room, which made me feel very safe and well looked after. The highlight of my room however was the stand alone bath in the bathroom which I made use of every day after my gym workout.
The last point I must make is the incredible cuisine at this property. The hotel has three dining spots but during my visit the largest restaurant hosted breakfast, lunch and dinner for all visitors, who could sit inside or outside on the terrace, immersed in the beauty of the natural hillside surroundings. The thali I was treated to on the first night was absolutely outstanding, ten small dishes (a thali is akin to a tasting menu) made entirely of local ingredients to the Uttarakhand state countryside. The care and thought that goes into every dish is evident, with the chef coming out to visit guests and talk them through their order. I also highly recommend the mocktails which are brewed with individual creative flair that I could never hope to recreate. Other highlights for me on this gastronomic extravaganza were the breakfast dosas (I adore dosas and these really blew my mind) and the pastries which are baked on site. International dining options are also available but I stuck to Indian dishes and am glad I did so as I experienced a new height of local flavours.
All in all, I left Taj Rishikesh entirely relaxed and pampered, feeling as though I’d been on a health retreat rather than a hotel visit. I can’t recommend this property highly enough and look forward to visiting again the next time I need a restorative, luxurious weekend break.