Fit for a Maharaja

What is there left to say about the Taj Mahal that hasn’t been said before? Every superlative has been used to describe this wonder of the modern world. This is as epic a love story as they come: before Queen Mumtaz Mahal took her last breath, Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan promised to build an unparalleled monument to immortalise their love. This vow took him 21 years and 20,000 labourers to fulfill.

Just 600 metres from the Taj Mahal, The Oberoi Amarvilas, Agra has a jaw-dropping vantage point to take in this majestic structure. Why wait for opening hours or be caught up in queues when you can contemplate the beauty of this labour of love from the private balcony of your suite? In fact, it is visible from every room, the lobby, bar, lounge and even the library. As awe-inspiring as the vista is, a hotel cannot rest on views alone.

The exquisite Oberoi Amarvilas stands on a nine-acre oasis of terraced formal gardens, fountains, reflection pools and pavilions. Its design reflects the Moorish and Mughal architecture that is the calling card of the Taj Mahal. The hotel’s interior exhibits the intricate handmade crafts of the region with lashings of filigree and marble inlay work, gold thread embroidery, woodcarvings and handwoven tapestries. The elaborate interiors flow through to external grounds that are something out of an Arabian Nights fantasy. The pool is composed of Persian blue mosaic tiles, encircled by lanterns, grand curved archways and a stunning terraced garden.

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If you really are a maharaja, you can always book the extensive 175-square metre Kohinoor Suite. Replete with Burma teak armoires and sandstone flooring, its layout includes living, dining and study, walk-in closets and butler pantry. Whatever you do, book a room with a balcony as this is a once in a lifetime experience. What a marvel – to see the Taj Mahal bathed by the first rays of dawn, multi-hued at dusk, or glowing in the moonlight.

There are several delectable dining options, all eclipsed by the divine Esphahan Indian restaurant. Dine outside under the covered verandah, take in the sounds of the live Indian music and dig into a thali, essentially a tasting plate of various Indian delicacies. By now, you’ll feel like royalty, so continue the theme with a holistic treatment derived from Ayurvedic principles at the Oberoi Spa. Using this ancient system of healing, your body type or dosha is determined to match to the appropriate therapy and oils used. The clincher is the Shirodhara therapy, a steady stream of warm oil that flows onto your third eye (also known as the middle of the forehead) to clear the mind and soothe the senses.
As tempting as it is to stay in your plush surroundings, venture out to explore the centuries-old city of Agra. The area’s trifecta of major drawcards – the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri – are all UNESCO World Heritage sites. Conveniently, the hotel has its own electric carts to take you directly to the entrance of the Taj Mahal. The 16th century Agra Fort is an imposing complex of Mughal-era buildings in a blend of red sandstone and white marble. It has served multiple roles: first as fort, then palace and finally prison for Shah Jahan, who, after building both Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal, was deposed by his son. Further afield, the walled city of Fatehpur Sikri served as the capital of the Mughal Empire in the 1500s. It is a mixture of Hindu and Islamic styles, built by Emperor Akbar in 1571 in honour of Sufi saint, Salim Christi.
You might be tempted to do a whirlwind visit, but spend at least two nights in Agra to enjoy the rich history of the region, and the impressive Oberoi Amarvilas.

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