Whisked seamlessly in a seven series BMW from the airport to the Four Seasons Hotel, Mumbai, my reintroduction to the Maximum City as it has endlessly been called, after seven years away. My companion was only used to the good life, and whilst I love scruffing around in India, as I call it, tuk tuks, busses, quirky characterful hotels (never too backpackerish mind you, I am not into suffering for my art) I decided to humour him by returning to my high-end luxury travel roots. Selfless of me I know. I was also intrigued. Coming from a luxury travel background where, character, history, a sense of all that is India, whether Mughal, Colonial British, Dravidian, even Dutch or Portuguese has been vital to my repertoire of hotels and experiences chosen, I disliked the Four Seasons when it first opened, intensely. I was incredibly snobbish about it, the way only a spoilt British Sales Director could be, though many joined my ranks. Oh, it was on the wrong side of town (for India Gate and all that is Empirical), the view was over the slum, who wants to see that? The entire property was International, modern, designed with clean lines, plush granted whilst also being almost clinical, who wanted five star International when in India? We were scathing, brutal in our remarks and I was about to find out, incredibly short sighted.
Forty minutes after landing (we were up front), I was on the 28th floor, airport to hotel to suite in less time than it usually takes just to battle Delhi airport. I was reminded of a day, seventeen years ago, when looking out over Jodhpur from the fort, my then colleague, in a rare moment of inspiration, declared the blue of the Brahmin houses to have an ‘oceanic effect.’ I have never been able to better this, and this description came to me as I looked at the view from The Four Seasons, though this time I was looking at more of a pond than an ocean. I am not referring to the Arabian Sea, which, shrouded in a blanket of dark, menacing, monsoon clouds, was angry and grey but the roofs of the slum below, the majority of which were covered in the ubiquitous, vibrant, blue plastic sheets with which many Indian slums are synonymous.
I was itching to get down and explore. Thanks to Slum Dog Millionaire, slum tours of this city have now become a must do on many peoples list, some consider it voyeuristic, taking people to see how the ‘poor people live;’ but this for me is the India I have come to love, the people, from the grass roots up, experiencing day to day life through their eyes (I do see the irony of then being able to return to a swanky hotel) but I have never met a people more resourceful, resilient and welcoming; the generous and heartfelt hospitality of the poorest of this country’s inhabitants time and time again, I find humbling. Some of the nouveau riche could learn a thing or two from them, that is for sure.
However, my companion and the hotel staff, had other plans. Taken down to their restaurant, San-Qi where we were treated to the most sumptuous feast, course after course of sampling platters from each of four different cuisines Chinese, Thai, Indian and Japanese the plates just kept on coming. Praying that my pudding stomach would kick in for savouries as I didn’t want to leave a morsel, I was ultimately unable to do justice to all that was proffered; was this their clever way of ensuring a return visit? Even if it was, it was a thought most welcome but I did reach a phase of please no more, I couldn’t, not even for dessert. We escaped to the pool deck, dessert followed us. There was to be no escape. Figuring a walk was the only way to attempt to battle the inevitable ensuing bulge, my thoughts returned to exploration but again, I was thwarted. This time by the spa.
Now, this would be most women’s idea of heaven, it is my idea of hell. Check out my posts on Ayurveda; I see it as a fabulous thing, I get it, I do it, but it doesn’t mean I have to enjoy it. My usual philosophy when having to undergo a massage is grit teeth, grip table and hang on not until the bitter end, but the ‘Oh, thank the Lord it’s over,’ end. I faffed as much as I could, was it really ok to venture through the hotel in a robe that was big enough for three people? Shouldn’t I just nip back and change? Oh look a shop of over-priced garments, surely I need to look through each and every piece, oh and trinkets, look, how charming these tiny elephants are….. This is all the more unbelievable as I also hate shopping, I have often thought I have a man’s brain in a female body. I was finally ushered into the treatment room (I mean, I have a dad who was a dentist, the word treatment isn’t great) successfully, only because it meant I could avoid the Jacuzzi, steam and sauna. I may happily take train journeys in India in third class compartments, eat street food of dubious quality but I can’t bear floating around in bubbly water that several other people have shared or sitting on a bench that countless other people’s bottoms have sweated on, why would you? Not that the Four Seasons spa was unhygienic, far far from it, it’s just my personal foible trying to find excuses for the fact that quite frankly, I find spa ‘wet rooms’ dull. I just don’t get that whole ‘relaxation’ bit and so faced with these options, I virtually skipped towards my waiting therapist (again, is this really a good choice of word?).
OH MY WORD. The next hour was one of the most incredible I have experienced. The room was dimly lit, not too dim as to stub ones toes, but perfect for relaxation. The bed was the body temperature side of warm, was comfortable enough to sink into without hampering the treatment and the bits of me which weren’t exposed were covered in fluffy warm towels worthy of Harrods’ luxury collection. This wasn’t too bad at all. I almost started to relax. Then I saw her venturing towards the music system. Oh heaven preserve us, please no, not faux waves crashing against the beach, guaranteed to send one rushing to the loo mid treatment or heaven forbid, screeching dolphins or whales grumbling to each other about the quality of the plankton imbibed that lunch time. But no, I did make a point to remember what it was, though my memory, fails me, suffice to say, it was the perfect choice. The therapist was one step ahead the whole time, a small tray for my watch and jewellery, bottles already opened, oils warmed and despite my best intentions, I slipped into what can only be referred to as massage heaven. I would like to say I am a convert to massages in general, though I fear that I am only a convert when staying in Four Seasons hotels. It was magical, marvellous, even, dare I say it, sublime, and I do believe I have never used that word in all my writings before.
By now, I didn’t even want to escape the hotel, all thoughts of explorations vanquished to a distant box in my brain. A return to the room and a lazy hour on what can only be described as ‘the most sumptuous hotel bed I have ever had the delight to laze around on.’ Did I have to go out? Couldn’t I just stay here, watching TV? TV is a real treat for me, as I don’t have one and I love the indulgence of losing myself in utter dirge every so often. But no, again, I was not to get my own way.
Glad rags on and up to the 33rd floor to AER, Mumbai’s most buzzing cocktail bar, where there is a daily queue of Mumbai’s new elite, for whom INR1500.00 per cocktail is not even a consideration. Personal cocktails were designed for us by their award winning mixologist, heaven again, this time in a glass, again accompanied by wonderful views. Of course, one couldn’t just stop at one. Too many hours later, finally sinking into bed with one last treat, a platter of hand-made chocolates courtesy of the manager waiting in the room. I devoured those at 0500 when the rain lashing against the windows woke me, a wonderful storm and the perfect place to view it from, sadly barely a thought to the slum below. How easily one can become spoilt.
Some people may say that I am opinionated, I have certainly been around in India for long enough to form opinions and have gained a reputation for sharing them, in what the vast majority agree is in a harsh but fair manner. I never denigrate for the sake of denigrating, I give what I like to call, constructive criticism – I appreciate that this is a blog and many of my hotelier friends are free to comment on this! However, I am also happy to be proved wrong and I have to say, my initial impression of the Four Seasons has been blasted into the stratosphere.
The service is slick, trust me, in between all the pampering I put them through their paces and threw the odd test in just for the devilment in me, they foiled me at every turn. The rooms have all that you could want and are comfortable at the very least. The food was excellent and there was a vivacity about the whole place that really showcased all that is happening now in India. Modern architecture and interiors, impeccable service, vibrancy and positivity. No, this isn’t the India of history, heritage, monuments and slums, The Four Seasons represents all that is new in India, all that it is striving towards, rather successfully I might add. Right now it is a very exciting place to be and the Four Seasons, the perfect place in the city from which to witness it from.
Of course, I returned two weeks later and did Bombay in what couldn’t be a more different style, auto from the airport, ventured into the slums and threw myself for an entire day into the streets with 100,000 other people to experience the apparent mayhem that is it’s biggest festival of the year, Ganesh Chaturthi. But more on that another time.