AGRA, India -- When I walked into the Oberoi Amarvilas hotel here,
my eyes settled on a perfectly framed image of the Taj Mahal. But
it wasn't a picture on the wall, it was the real thing, viewed
through the lobby window.
The Oberoi Amarvilas is designed so that all its public areas
and 106 guest rooms and suites have views of the temple.
Many rooms have terraces that overlook the monument -- a private
spot where guests can sip their tea and contemplate the
Taken by the ambience of the hotel and the spectacle outside my
window, I entered into what seemed a fantasy world.
A sense of the fantastic pervades the Amarvilas and each of the
four Vilas properties owned by Oberoi. I stayed at three of the
four during a fam trip sponsored by Big Five Tours, two in the
northern Indian state of Rajasthan and one in Agra in the adjacent
state of Uttar Pradesh.
Rajasthan ("Land of Kings") is rich in historical monuments and
living culture and attracts more tourists than any other part of
India, according to Big Five's director of Asia, Ashish Sanghrajka.
Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, was the capital under Mughal rule.
At each of the Vilas, I had the sense of having hop-scotched
along a timeline, landing with my feet in two different eras. At
each hotel, ghosts of the rajas, in all their splendor, shared my
room with the familiar trappings of 21st-century technology.
Though designed to resemble the ancient palace fortresses of
Rajasthan, the hotels lack nothing of modern conveniences. Rooms in
which Indian arts and crafts are part of the decor also boast
plush, four-poster, king-size beds; private bars; DVD and CD
players; satellite TVs; and Internet access.
India is known as a destination where the ancient and modern
stand side by side, and the feeling that I was straddling two
different worlds struck me during my first night at the Oberoi
Udaivilas in Udaipur, when a turbaned staff member, dressed in the
garb of an ancient raja, all golden threads and tassels, arrived to
help me get on the Internet.
"I apologize that the connection is slow here," he said. "But
other providers are coming into the market and that will give us
better alternatives," he said.
Besides the ancient and the modern, my timeline revealed a great
deal in between.
The bathroom at the Udaivilas features an ornate
Victorian-style, free-standing bathtub.
The separate shower is glass-enclosed, and broad windows look
out onto a private courtyard with a patio and private pool area,
and the banks of Lake Pichola.
Two sets of dimmers control combinations of lights, some modeled
on old-fashioned gas lanterns and some modern spotlights in the
The service at each property was remarkable. More than once I
heard the old Indian maxim, "The guest is king," which alludes to a
tradition of hospitality that is deeply ingrained in the
When one of the agents on the trip needed to change rooms at the
Rajvilas in Jaipur, the staff conducted the transfer of his
property using a detailed room diagram so that every article ended
up in exactly the same place in the new room as in the previous
"My things had been strewn around the room in no particular
order," the agent said. "But they were all replaced precisely where
I left them.
"Even my newspaper, which I had left on the unmade bed, was
placed in exactly the same place, but on top of the made bed in the
Prices for deluxe rooms range from $350 to $475 per night for a
double room. Prices for suites range from $800 to $2,000 per
For more information or reservations, call (800) 5-OBEROI or
visit www.oberoihotels.com. For information on Big Five
Tours, visit www.bigfive.com.
To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].