At Leela hotels, pampering begins before check-in

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The Leela Palaces Hotels Resorts' philosophy, Atithi Devo Bhava, Sanskrit for "the Guest is God," is more than just a catchphrase. Arriving guests at the chain's upscale hotels across India are met with a Hindu welcoming ceremony, given a flower lei and a bindi, a spot of reddish powder rubbed on the forehead, where Hindus believe the spiritual "third eye" is located.

The special treatment actually begins at the airport, where baggage is collected and guests are escorted into air-conditioned BMWs equipped with Internet access and cell phone plug-ins. (At the end of a stay, representatives check in bags with airlines ahead of time and help get guests to their airport gates.)

The Leela operates city center properties the Leela Kempinski Mumbai and the Leela Palace Kempinski Bangalore in two of India's most thriving business meccas as well as the Leela Kempinski Goa and the Leela Kempinski Kovalam Beach Kerala beach resorts. The Leela has a marketing and sales alliance with Kempinski Hotels.

The company is spending more than $207 million to build six new hotels: two in Delhi, and one each in Pune, Hyderabad, Udaipur and Chennai. 

With approximately three staff members for every guest, a Leela hotel combines Indian history and culture with ultramodern amenities, including plasma TVs and wireless Internet access. All four properties boast state-of-the-art gyms, large swimming pools and on-site health spas.

Elite Royal Club accommodations offer even more perks. Set on the top two floors of the Mumbai and Bangalore hotels and in separate structures in Goa and Kerala, the Royal Club offers ultraexclusive services such as personalized butler service, separate spas, dining facilities, libraries and lounges with complimentary champagne, cigars and Internet access.

Rates at Leela hotels range from $250 to $1,500.

On a recent tour of Leela properties, the first stop was Mumbai. The Leela Kempinski Mumbai, less than a mile from the airport, is set on a lush, landscaped 11 acres. 

The 390 rooms and suites boast a combination of modern convenience and vintage India.

There are excellent food choices on property. Stella, for gourmet Italian; Citrus, a 24-hour contemporary restaurant with outside seating; the Great Wall for Chinese; and Jamavar, Leela's trademark Indian venue. Leela is renovating ESPA, the European-inspired spa, and expects to open in early 2009.

In Bangalore, the Leela lies close to India's equivalent of Silicon Valley. With copper domes, arches, ornate ceilings, outside gardens and plush sitting areas, the nine-acre property is a standout.

Each of the 352 guest rooms has pool or courtyard views, and many boast terraces. The Leela Bangalore recently added a wing with 105 rooms. The 20,000-square-foot ESPA has a full menu of Ayurvedic and Western treatments.

Leela Goa hugs 75 acres on what has been called one of the top 10 beaches in the world. This 205-room resort has a choice of villa-style rooms or club suites and a 12- hole, par-three golf course. 

The newly finished Royal Club has spacious one-bedroom suites with terraces, outdoor showers, small kitchens and plunge pools. Midprice guestrooms around the lagoons were recently renovated; many include porches. ESPA will be undergoing a renovation in early 2009.

Leela Kovalam, the most serene of the four properties, is located on cliffs overlooking the Arabian Sea in a lush, 44-acre forest. The Divya Spa is a complete Ayurvedic treatment facility, with a spacious yoga room overlooking the sea.

The property has 182 rooms with suites on the Arabian Sea, some with private sundecks. The Club wing has a living room, library, dining area, health center and private spa.

For more information or to book, call Preferred Group at (312) 913-0400 or visit www.theleela.com.

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