Vivanta by Taj, a view of the
first luxury resort to open in Kashmir Valley.
Sup on sambhar with onions all the way from Chennai, feast on
smoked salmon with capers, throw in some golf or just sit back and
take in the breathtaking scenery. It's the Vivanta by Taj, the
first luxury resort in the volatile hills of Kashmir that brings
with it the hope of prosperity, peace and many tourists. Forest,
lake, hill and verdant green. The newest property by the Taj group
of hotels in this picturesque summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir
that opened earlier this month has it all. It is perched atop the
Kralsangri Hill, overlooks the Tulip garden, the Dal Lake and the
Royal Springs golf course and has the densely forested Zabarwan
Hills in the backdrop.
The resort is 20 km from the Srinagar international airport and
provides a panoramic view of the entire city.
Like the changing patterns and colours of a kaleidoscope, many of
Srinagar's heritage sites like the Sankaracharya Hills, the shrine
of Sheikh Humza Makhdoom, Sharika Devi Temple and the Hazratbal
shrine can be seen from the high perch of the Vivanta.
But this is not just a hotel, and Srinagar not just any other
Forty of the hotel's 48 rooms are already booked with hopes of a
peaceful summer at one of the world's most scenic trouble spots.
In the last 20 years of armed violence, tourism has taken a
massive beating. Most local hotels, houseboats and guesthouses had
either been used as makeshift barracks by the security forces or
shut down by the owners during the 1990s.
As the levels of violence started dipping, life slowly came back
to normal. But the peace has been fragile, with the last three
summers beginning well but ending in strife. Last year, for
instance, clashes with police claimed more than 100 lives.
A tourism department official said the opening of the Taj would
set at rest many doubts.
"The coming of the Taj group of resorts to Kashmir is a good omen
and we expect this would set at rest the fears and doubts of those
who still believe Kashmir is not a safe tourist destination," the
official, who did not wish to be identified, told IANS.
Hotel officials are also gung-ho and say their hotel would attract
the discerning tourist to the valley.
"We are here to provide the best of our services through the new
market authorities are promoting here," said Basharat Rashid, the
sales manager of Vivanta Taj, adding that security usual for such
high end tourist resorts was provided.
"The resort evokes the spirit and the ethos of the valley while
its unique design flourishes the Vivanta philosophy of hospitality
with a difference."
The resort's restaurant Latitude has full length glazed windows on
three sides so guests enjoy their food without missing the visual
treat before their eyes.
Chef Vijayan from Chennai, who has been with the Taj group for the
last 28 years, is thrilled: "Kashmir is simply god's gift to
mankind. This is the first time I have ever come to this place and
I cannot put in words how I feel."
His expertise is south Indian cuisine and he has taken care to
ensure that authenticity is not compromised.
"I have brought sufficient stocks of curry leaves, onions for the
sambhar, etc., from Chennai. The most sought after breakfast at
our resorts is the south Indian breakfast", he said.
Another chef at the hotel is Muhammad Abbas, who specialises in
Italian, Lebanese and continental food.
"Prawns, lobsters, crabs, prime steak. You name it and we cook it
like nobody else does," Abbas told IANS.
While the presidential and luxury suites are still to come up,
rooms are available in two tariff ranges -- at Rs.14,000 and
Rs.13,000. There are separate packages too.
Locals are happy at this addition.
"Dal Lake can be viewed from here as never before," said Bashir
Ahmad War, a retired veterinarian who came for lunch to the
resort's Latitude restaurant today.
Till the Taj resort that opened on April 17, Srinagar had just two
hotels in the higher end bracket -- Broadway and Lalit Palace.
The Oberoi, which functioned at the property where the Lalit
Palace Hotel is now functioning, shut its operations with the
beginning of the separatist violence in early 1990.
(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at email@example.com)