125 years old, still retains grandeur of the past

125 years old, still retains grandeur of the past

125 years old, still retains grandeur of the past

In the world of failing businesses, it’s a milestone worth celebrating. Taj West End, Bangalore, has completed 125 years, and in the process also earned the distinction of being the oldest, running hotel in the country.

There are other hotels in the country as old as the Taj West End, but what sets it apart is the fact that it has not closed its operation even for a day since it was opened. And that makes its saga all the more interesting. It’s a legacy that breezes through an era of
archetypal British culture, albeit giving a rosy view of it. When aristocrats were paternalistic, the staff deferential and devoted.

The hotel has an old and venerable history of its existence. When the British chose to build military barracks in Bangalore in the early 1800, this quaint, sleepy town became the nucleus of their activities and the Bangalore Cantonment was laid out as a military station where mostly English officials resided with their families. Since English “sahibs” and “memsahibs” didn’t mingle with the local populace, some of the enterprising ones took it upon themselves to open establishments for the exclusive English clientele.

In 1887, a very affable British woman Bronson opened a boarding house with 10 beds and called it the Bronson’s West End. She started this venture in a modest one-storey building on Race Course Road. Soon the inn was bustling with regulars, so to accommodate them all a second building that belonged to the Secretary of the Race Club and then a third building which belonged to the Grenadier Guards, an elite regiment that was stationed in Bangalore at the time, were taken over.

In 1912, there was a change of ownership and the Bronson’s West End was taken over by the Spencers, who after having been successful as wine dealers had enough money to expand and invest in departmental stores and hotels catering to the need of the English upper class trying to adjust to life in India. The Spencers ensured that the milieu of the life back home was recreated at the hotel and that’s when the West End acquired the characteristics of a truly country club atmosphere.

The patrons flocked in to wine, dine and play in the newly added dining and billiards rooms. The Indian cooks in the kitchen churned out their own recipes and added flavour in the otherwise bland English food. The masters savoured the added tang and the famous Anglo-Indian cuisine came to acquire prominence on the hotel’s menu. The Anglo-Indian food, considered the mother of fusion food, became the staple of the country’s Anglo-Indian population and the general food connoisseurs.

Well-heeled Indians and the members of the royalty, too, rubbed shoulders with the rich and famous from the world. The vivacious and beautiful Devika Rani, who held the film world in thrall for two decades, and her venerated Russian husband Svetoslav Roerich, were regular visitors. The Jagirdar of Arni made the West End his home for 36 years and the Raja of Chettinad, too, was a regular.

Sir Winston Churchill dined at the West End when he came to India as a cigar-smoking war journalist. Later, Prince Charles enjoyed its hospitality during his trip to India in 1961. The hotel’s precinct and its ambience have been shot extensively in David Lean’s “A Passage to India”. Actors Dame Peggy Ashcroft and Rex Harrison strolled on its canopied walkways. In 1984, the Spencers called upon the Taj Hotels Resort and Palaces to carry on the old world charm of the luxurious West End, while bringing fresh life and modern ideas of hospitality to Bangalore’s most popular country club.  At present, there are 117 rooms in the hotel and it continues to welcome heads of state, international celebrities and corporate moguls.

Speaking with a sense of pride about the ongoing celebrations, Sanjay Sood, the general manager of the Taj West End said: “The hotel has unveiled its new 125 years logo. A “Champagne Heritage Walk” has been specially designed to bring alive glorious moments of the bygone era and acquaint guests with the life and times of the colonial India. A traditional Anglo-Indian menu has also been introduced.”

Sauntering through the corridors of history, one can see the fascinating  features of the British architecture like the tiled roofs, distinctive gables, dormers, monkey-tops, trelliswork and intricately carved fascia. There is an operational red-coloured letter box with the Queen’s crown on it and happens to be the oldest post box in Karnataka.

The 1887 Block – the oldest block of the hotel--still stands tall and so does the 1905 Block, the second oldest block bearing testimony to the lasting beauty of the
colonial architecture. Italian tiles have been retained in portions of the old buildings and so has been the Bronson’s emblem – a grenade with a flash. The serene surroundings can be soaked in from the terrace garden after climbing the 100-year-old staircase.

Since time immemorial, the hotel’s vista has been a preserve of Bangalore’s greenery. There is a raintree, which is older than the hotel, and has been standing since 1848.  Four cycads that adorn the lobby are over 130 years old. With over 125 varieties of trees, 500 varieties of shrubs, five kinds of grasses and a number of terrestrial and aviary fauna, the hotel simulates the tropical rainforest ambience.

Indeed, the history of the Taj West End is entwined with the socio-cultural milieu of Bangalore. So while celebrating the customary 125 years of the hotel, one also fetes some of the last vestiges of the City’s stellar past, and its harmonious soul.