Whenever I have walked through the lobby of The Oberoi Grand Hotel, I have felt that I am being watched and assessed by silent pairs of eyes. Trust me, I didn’t want this to sound spooky but the minute you are in the lobby after entering through the beautiful large doors, there is a sense of history which hits you bang on. Something so gorgeous, so majestic, yet so old and standing so beautifully after so many years, speaks volumes about the property.
With the marble columns and the 110 year old handmade mouth blown chandelier from Belgium, it is an unparalleled way to welcome the guests. Over the years, I have noticed that leaving aside anything else; it is the Lobby which the General Managers are finicky about. As Mr. Varun Chhibber – General Manager – The Oberoi Grand Kolkata, joined us for the tour along with Ms. Aparna Banerjee Paul and the concierge, one could not miss the glint in his eyes as he spoke about the property. Be it the Piano in the lobby which is there for more than 90 years and just like any other old asset of the hotel, has been a witness to changing times.
The Oberoi Grand Hotel was the first one to introduce the hydraulic lifts in the city and as the elite of the city queued up for the experience, Arathoon Stephen (whose life story demands a separate chapter altogether, he came down to Kolkata from New Julfa in Ifsahan with 100 rupees in his pocket and later became one of the richest Armenian real estate barons) started selling soda and refreshments to people who waited for the lift.
It is like an Oasis in the heart of the city. Chhibber says as we step out of the main lobby area to the pool area and that echoed in the mind. The location of The Oberoi Grand Kolkata is such that in the midst of perhaps the busiest areas of Kolkata, which is Esplanade but as you enter and stand in the pool area, it seems from a different world altogether. The silence and calm serene breeze that flows across the place is a welcome contradiction to the outside location. As we go through the colourful history of Prince’s, the first night club of the Hotel and then subsequently, Pink Elephant which had become a legend of some sorts, one could only imagine the rich and the famous from the yesteryears, shaking a leg or two here.
We travelled around the property and kept on the listening to the rich history of the place. It was thrilling and at times the sheer awesomeness of the place would make you pause, think and relook and wonder how it would have been then. Most of the times when we come across a piece of history, we tend to travel back in time and plant ourselves in that point of time and virtually relish the moment.
We were climbing up the stairs, the Grand stairs as it is known and we relived the history of this stair getting built in 48 days by Burma teak which was imported through ships. The stairs take you to the Grand view and the balcony at the top which once used to host the Maharajas and the elite of the society for evening tea overlooking the Chowringhee, which obviously was not crowded a few decades back.
We ended the tour over a Grand lunch at 363 degrees, the all day dining of The Oberoi Grand Kolkata. Incidentally, when this was getting made, the challenge was to incorporate the sky light into the dining area and as we saw it from the roof, we realised how tough it must have been to introduce a modern technique in a historical heritage building like this.
We often check in to a hotel, enjoy the amenities and the luxuries that is being offered but then there are Hotels and there is The Oberoi Grand Kolkata, which is loving known as the Grand Dame of Chowringhee and she stands still generation after generation, witnessing the change all across.
Heartfelt Gratitude to Mr. Varun Chhibber , Ms Aparna Banerjee Paul and Mr. Nabeel Rehan – Front Office supervisor who was our guide for the afternoon.