Our journey to the tea country of Darjeeling included a few days in Kolkata formerly Calcutta and as we were researching life in the days of the Raj, we chose a famous colonial era hotel.
The Great Eastern, now The LalIT Great Eastern Hotel, was established around 1841 at a time when Calcutta, the seat of the East India Company, was the capital of British India. Referred to as “the Jewel of the East” in its heyday and Asia’s only five star hotel, the property went into sharp decline after independence in 1947 followed by a fatal dive when the state government took over the management. Hotel guests were replaced by hordes of hawkers and squatters. In 2005 the building was thankfully sold to a private company and The LaLIT Great Eastern finally reopened in November 2013 after extensive and, as we discovered, high quality renovations. Not that you would know as you approach the front of building for the first time.
‘Here we are,” the driver said pointing to what looked like a building about to fall down – the ground floor boarded up with sheets of old corrugated iron. Quite a shock until he turned the corner and we saw the elegant new entrance. The marble clad foyer is a vast and impressive venue for guests and a grand style piano rescued from the old days. A maestro tickles the keys every evening. Check-in was completed in our extra large and very nicely decorated room number 3416. Flooring is timber over concrete which can be noisy and the timber theme is carried on to feature walls. It was great to see international plugs at the desk. There were racks for the luggage, a floor to ceiling window (no view) and a large, comfy chair. The king size bed was as inviting as it was comfy with super soft pillows. Power and light controls are included either side. The fridge was well stocked (beer about $6.50). We had plenty of free bottled water, a lovely marble clad bathroom big enough for two with a large separate shower (rain or hand held). It was rather surprising to see that after all of this expense the towels were rather thin and grey and the hair dryer more resembled a toy. Back in the room there is plenty of hanging space, a full length mirror, the safe is at the right height and lighting is excellent. Dining is another treat to look forward to – starting with an endless list of goodies on offer for breakfast in the sunny ground floor restaurant. Want your eggs cooked a special way? The chef awaits your order. Dinner here is another gourmet adventure, particularly if you like Indian food as much as we do.
To conclude. This property has risen from the ashes of what was regarded as Asia’s greatest hotel. The ghosts of the Great Eastern can now walk tall again. Rating 5 stars.
Written by Ian McIntosh