The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Past, present blend in hospitality hub Carrying past into future

The rhythm of Rabindrasangeet, the serenity of the Ganges, the allure of the Sunderbans, the club culture and culinary craze of Calcutta, the traditional motifs of the Palas and the technology tools of GenY…

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee could not have asked for a more spectacular symbol of “the best of Bengal” as a New Year gift to the city. Sonar Bangla is what it is called, the glory days of Bengal is what it aspires to recreate and a re-launch of Calcutta as a cultural-cum-business centre is what it aims at. When the chief minister lights the inaugural lamp in the Bay of Bengal lobby overlooking a lily-laden lake on the last evening of the year, he will be hoping to ignite a 2003 where size and substance do matter.

Try this for size — the ITC Sonar Bangla Sheraton Hotel & Towers is spread over 16 acres, has 239 rooms in three residential sections, four parking lots for 300-plus cars, over 7,000 square feet of banquet space, two tennis courts, a chip-and-putt golfing green, a near-Olympic size swimming pool, an 13,500 sq ft tropical health spa…

Try this for substance — seven restaurants for over 700 foodies (Peshawri, Dum Pukht, Pan Asian, West View Bar & Grill, Dublin, Eden Pavilion and Health Spa Cafe), three of the most talked about men in the food-and-beverage business of the times (Mohammed ‘Bukhara’ Imtiaz Qureshi, Bill ‘West View’ Marchetti and Timothy ‘Dublin’ Bryne), four Darjeeling tea pavilions floating on the waters, three lounges bathed in sunshine on the waterfront, three distinctive residential blocks (ITC One, Sheraton Towers and Executive Club), a spacious art gallery, antiques in every corner, contemporary communication comforts at every turn…

“It is a strong expression of regional roots, carrying the past into the future. This unique business resort will emerge as a destination and send out a positive signal of Calcutta being a busy business and cultural hub,” says Habib Rehman, managing director, ITC Hotels.

A quintessential ‘baganbari’ with every modern amenity is the idea that lies at the core of this ‘five-star super deluxe’ hotel on the EM Bypass, built at a cost of around Rs 240 crore. “This is a ‘restobiz’ for the traveller to conduct business smoothly and also rejuvenate the spirit,” says Ranvir Bhandari, general manager.

Rejuvenation and resurgence are the right words to know once one drives up the Burrabazar-inspired cobbled pathway, crosses the “only curved arch” of the mammoth architecture and steps into the spacious world of straight lines and understated elegance. “This, for us, embodies the pride of Bengal — the look is picture perfect, the feel is formal yet relaxed,” says Anil Rajput, vice-president, project finance and development, ITC Hotels.

The splendour and the sprawl aside, it’s the tastebud trail that could make this one of Calcutta’s favourite hangouts. “We want this to be the place where the city dines,” stresses Rehman. And those sold on the kakori kebabs in Delhi Maurya’s Bukhara could take heart in the fact that Imtiaz mian, the man behind the hotel chain’s gourmet wonders, is here to stay. “I will not leave Calcutta till the Sonar Dum Pukht and Peshawri here are acknowledged as the best in the land,” declares the 71-year-old man, through his grey handlebar moustache. Among the city-special menu modifications are a Bangali spread and a Marwari meal in Dum Pukht.

But how far must Sonar Bangla feast on the existing players in town' “Our target is 60 per cent occupancy in a year. That would roughly mean drawing half the crowd away from two of the principal competitions and adding another 10 to 15 per cent travellers,” says Rehman. Food and beverage, and banquet events are also billed to be the major revenue drivers.

The ‘competition’ is in watch-but-won’t-wait mode. “Every player will now be leveraging on individual advantages and innovating constantly,” says Amitabh Rai, general manager, Oberoi Grand. The debut year of Sonar Bangla will find the grand old lady of Chowringhee unveiling a spa and wellness centre, besides upgrading its restaurants.

With the hospitality industry warming up this winter, it’s clear who the winners are: the business traveller and the Calcutta consumer.

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