It was hard to resist travelling over the last 8 months. Finally, we thought of taking the plunge, packed our bags, picked the car keys and headed to Agra for a royal stay at ITC Mughal.

This time our trip was extra special as it was our first trip post lockdown after a gap of 8-9 months. The old and heritage city Agra known as the ‘city of Love’ not only has the marvelous Taj Mahal but also has the splendid ITC Mughal. ITC’s luxury collection hotel is situated in close proximity to Taj Mahal and is a tribute to the Mughal builders of the past as this hotel is historic and is inspired by the heritage Mughal monuments like Fatehpur Sikri and Agra Fort.

The artistic hotel is surrounded by luxurious gardens, courtyards, waterbodies which add to the beauty. As we entered through the gate we were greeted warmly by the hotel staff. We went through thermal scanning and not only our hands were sanitized, our bags were sanitized too (sani-tagged). This is their #WeAssure initiative to ensure total safety in the pandemic.  Sprawled over 23 acres of luxurious gardens, and in close proximity to Taj Mahal, ITC Mughal Resort & Spa in Agra is a fitting tribute to the great Mughal builders of the past. What we were impressed with was not only the architecture of this place but also the precautions they were taking to keep COVID-19 at bay. Elevated hygiene protocols, state of the art technology, and advanced disinfectants as recommended by World Health Organization (WHO) and Ministry of Health & Family Welfare across all touch points for the safety and well-being are inculcated as part of the We Assure programme launched towards Health, Hygiene and Safety.

The hotel lobby is stunning with a chandelier in between adding its charm. We passed through Humayun Bridge and were taken to the check-in lounge (the people staying in suites are checked-in exclusively here) where we were greeted by the ever-smiling staff of ITC Hotels– Jyoti Chitkara, Asst Sales Manager at ITC Mughal, Samir Jilani, General Manager at ITC Mughal and Chef Kavita Unni who were masked for their protection as well as the protection of the guests and other staff members. ITC Hotels are an epitome of warmth, despite safe distancing, the associated hotels have delivered service par excellence. With #ITCWarmth, the staff faces were masked but not the smiles. This was a special suite where only Suite guests are allowed. We were handed over our respective welcome stoles and our hot welcome drinks which was also an immunity booster.  Interestingly, the cushions at the lounge had the message of we assure.

To reach the suite we passed through Jodhabai Bridge from where we gazed beautiful palm trees and pool through the glass windows on our left and right. The sight itself was so refreshing post the long drive. All the bridges which one sees at the lobby are named after Akbar’s wives. The hotel was built in 1976 by the ITC management. Originally, the total number of rooms in the hotel earlier were 289 which have been reduced to 233 rooms including 17 suites for a better experience of its guests. With 233 rooms and suites, it’s a paradise for the contemporary Mogul-full stay. For COVID-19 precautions, there are footprint stickers on the floor everywhere to remind guests of social distancing.

Next to the big Golden Darbar were some of the accolades the hotel has received. The renowned Aga Khan Award- ITC Mughal has the distinction of being the winner of the First Aga Khan Award for Architectural Excellence, in Asia, and till date, the only Indian Hotel to have won this prestigious International recognition. ITC Mughal has also been the proud recipient of the “Sword of Honour” from the British Safety Council towards its commitment on safety practices. Towards the ethos of the Responsible Luxury, ITC Hotels have been awarded with Platinum certification under the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) (Existing  Building) by the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED certification is a globally recognized symbol of sustainability achievement and leadership.

We stayed in the Royal Mughal Suite and our suite interestingly had a sticker seal on the room door saying ‘sanitized and sealed for your safety’ which was to be opened by the guest when they arrive. The room was a real aesthetic beauty with Mughal architecture, opulent carving, exotic lampshades, marble flooring and Mughal paintings, big sofas and chairs, comfortable couch, red flowers, lots of mirrors and a cosy double bed with a massage chair to relax plus a poolside view from my window. On our private dining table, we found Taj Mahal made of white chocolate along with red velvet pastries and mithai. To add on to the magic, there was a warm welcome note kept on the table for me and my family.

I found my perfect couch from where I could see the amazing pool side view when I drew the curtain. Another delight was when I entered the bedroom, I found the cosy double bed and we had our names crafted on the pillows on it. That was indeed very sweet! In the bedroom was also a remote operated massage chair facing the television. We absolutely enjoyed the massage chair in the duration of our stay. Physical service directories have been bid goodbye as technology takes over for safety with QR codes which can be scanned. From amenities to comfort to luxury, everything is there and it is luxury with assurance {#WeAssure} and Responsibility {#ResponsibleLuxury} with the strict safety measures being taken.

The bathroom was another feather in the hat. Wow, I could not stop adoring the Royal Mughal Suite. The massive dressing area with mirrors and a luxurious bathtub on one side with Essenza di Wills range kept to pamper and relax our senses. The other side of the dressing area had a shower console and toilet. The spacious setting was so soothing and comfortable with interiors- just so perfect for a getaway. There was also a weighing scale kept to keep your target going active all the time.

We got fresh and we headed for lunch at Taj Bano Restaurant. Crossing the indoor area of the beautiful restaurant, we chose to sit in the outside area to enjoy the pleasant weather. Taj Bano is an elegant and spacious buffet restaurant with a view of the courtyard. It offers Indian, Western and Oriental cuisines in contemporary settings with Mughal architecture with traditional Mughal ‘allas’ and an image of ‘Fatehpur Sikri’. Precautions are taken at various restaurants too with sanitisation of not only the seating and ambience but also the plates and cutlery which are sanitized, covered and wrapped with the #WeAssure assurance.

It was time for zaika of ‘Agra ka swaad’ menu especially prepared by Chef Kavitha Unni for us. The Agra ka Swaad menu at ITC Mughal was at another level of taste. Methi ke Kabab and Matar Makhane ka Shorba were very comforting. Khurmi Paneer was stuffed with cheese and was very unique, Dal Dhungari was slow cooked in whole spices and charcoal which had an amazing flavor. The non-veg variety included Bhuna Gosht which was meat latpat cooked in spices and was simply yum. We also tasted Agre ka Gosht Pulao which was remarkable. For, desserts we had a platter with Hot Jalebis with Rabri and Pethe ka Halwa which reminded us of the flavours and the taste of Agra. The rich and authentic Agre ka zaika was out of the world as we had a wonderful Agre ka zaikedaar meal.

With ITC Hotels WeAssure initiative there is assurance of safe dining experience. The management is ensuring less or minimal contact between the staff and guests, Savlon hand sanitizer kept on all tables, all the crockery & cutlery are sanitized and prepacked so that there is no touchpoint between 2 people. Also, you cannot miss their water bottle Sunya Aqua provided in reusable glass bottles as part of their #ResponsibleLuxury initiative which stands for 0 mile bottled water which is bottled inhouse, infused with indigenous ‘Good for You’ herbs to enhance the wellness quotient of drinking water.

While we were having an amazing meal, we could see a set up happening in the ground. Excitedly, we checked with the staff of ITC Mughal and we got to know of the activity which could excite and cheer up any kid. It was a cupcake activity wherein children were invited to make cupcakes and decorate them too. It was a fun filled and interesting activity where kids were seen enjoying. They plan and do such activities regularly.

Post a hearty meal, we headed for hotel tour. We checked out Mumtaz Presidential Suite which was so luxurious and even had a private pool. With artefacts, a spectacular ceiling, it is one of the most luxurious abode one could think of. We also checked out Man Singh Suite. The royal door opened up to a majestic suite which was astounding. The living room was about fascinating seating options within the luxurious set up with a fabulous view from the curtains. Special highlight was the Indian jhoola crafted by Gujrati craftsman. The bed room had opulent curtains attached to the bed which had big red cushions. The suite was equipped with all modern facilities.

Ollie’s Club is a recreation hub for kids where they can play around in sand or can play indoor games like carrom board. There were also toy buses, trucks to hop and jump on also cots for children to rest when they are tired.

We passed by the pool and saw a romantic set up being done close to the pool. ITC Mughal loves to extend such beautiful experiences and memories for its guests and creates these experiences as per request. Dining under the stars close to the pool in nature’s lab in artistic setting would surely call for an experience of a lifetime. Infact, there is also a separate pool for ITC Royal Mughal Suite guests which is exclusive for them.

We spent some time at Maikhana, the Lobby Bar which offers a chic ambience to its guests. A place where you can have a coffee or a drink in the lively environment of ITC Mughal. Chandeliers dropping down, comfortable couches add to the atmosphere.

Kaya Kalp Spa and Salon follows the We Assure initiative and not only has proper sanitization but even glass shields in pedicure area to ensure safety and social distancing. The staff wears gloves for hygiene, sanitization and safety. Infact we were asked to fill a form for which we could pick sanitized pens.

The spa is royal, holistic and harmonizing and offers treatments for the body, mind and soul. It is spread across 9200 sq. mtrs and has won various awards.

With a theme of Ruby Red pomegranate, it has an amazing design as well as therapies. I got a relaxing foot massage done at the spa with Forest Essential products and I enjoyed every bit of it. My tired soul was completely rejuvenated.

Over the weekends live classical recital is also organized in the Lobby area and we also got to hear it.

It was time for dinner at Peshawri. Whoever has dined in at the renowned Bukhara at ITC Maurya in Delhi would not need any introduction to Peshawri. Peshawari has exactly the same concept as Bukhara- from the cuisine to interiors. Peshawri showcases the food resembling the traditional style of the Indian North-West Frontier region where clay ovens or tandoors were used. Everything in Peshawri is made in house and the thaumaturgy associated with it is simple: high-quality and locally-sourced ingredients to encompass only the finest.

A unique thing about Peshawri is that they don’t give you cutlery and encourage you to eat with hand but to ensure your dress doesn’t get dirty they give you an apron.

To keep COVID-19 away, all precautions were taken care of under their #WeAssure programme. From sanitisation of the couch and table to sanitisation of crockery and cutlery which is then wrapped in the WeAssure assurance. Servers were seen wearing mask and shield and dishes were being served on wooden planks to avoid any contact. Digital menu replaced laminated tree menus and wooden tongs were used instead of other tongs.

We tried the iconic Naan Bukhara- a 4 ft huge which is actually bigger than a baby blanket and was so soft, velvety and yummy. Yes, Naan Bukhara is so large that it is often called a baby blanket.

It was a delight being served by the senior most Chef Surat Singh who is the star chef in the buzzing kitchen of ITC Mughal and Chef Kavitha Unni. People across the world know the aura of Dal Bukhara and a true Delhiite like me is no alien to it. We witnessed Dal Bukhara in the making while it was being cooked on charcoal for 24 hours for the authentic taste, consistency and flavour. Other dishes we had included Paneer Tikka, Tandoori Aloo, Bharwan Aloo, Reshmi Kebabs, Mutton Burra and Murgh Makhani. In desserts, we tried sweet dishes like Phirni which was served in a mitti bartan, Gulab Jamun and Rasmalai. 

It was a heavenly treat altogether. The incredible experience, talking to the chef and seeing the dishes being made live which added more to the satiety value. The feel of the place was earthy and old. It was fully packed with people of all ages – young as well as old. It was a great experience altogether to dine in Peshawri, the most exquisite restaurant at ITC Mughal. We truly relished the robust flavors of the North-West frontier made in clay ovens or tandoors with simple, high-quality and locally-sourced ingredients.  The restaurant’s real skill lies in its deceptively lean composition. Instead of the heavy oil and butter base you’d expect from kebabs, Peshawri’s cooking is all light-touch, the selection of kebabs is not accompanied by any sauce or gravy, but only pre-marinated and cooked before serving.

We went back to our beautiful suite and crashed for the night. Obviously, we didn’t sleep in the normal way we usually sleep. ITC follows ‘Sleep like a baby’ and guests can enjoy from a wide range of pillows as per their sleeping pattern and also pampered with sleep goodies which include pillow mist and much more. We woke up to new surprises making use of the luxurious bathtub, getting dressed in the big well-lit area was a beautiful experience.

It was time for breakfast and we headed to Mughal Pavilion for #ZestyMorningsAtPavilion. At the fine dining multi-cuisine restaurant, we could spot servers wearing gloves and masks. With WeAssure, all precautions were being taken care of. What was even more interesting was that there was a glass shield against every food item and no guest was allowed to take the food themselves at the buffet counter. Food was being served by servers wearing gloves and mask.

The extensive menu included vada, idli, upma, parathas (paneer, matar and aloo) and much more. There was also a live counter for dosa wherein hot Dosas and Uttapams were being made fresh and served with all the 3 chutneys- peanut, tomato, mint & coriander. ITC Hotels have a concept known as ‘Local Love’ under which local dishes from the city is served everyday. We tried Bedmi Puri from the Local Love menu and absolutely enjoyed it.

The array of beverages included fruit juice, milk, coffee, chai etc. We met Chef Philip who specializes in South Indian cuisine. One counter which I always check out while at a breakfast buffet is Omlettes and to my delight there were fresh and live omlettes in the making and were served with a choice of white and brown bread. For desserts, there were muffins in many varieties, waffles, pancakes, cinnamon Danish pastry and many more. We enjoyed our breakfast and the lovely spread of desserts too.

It was time for sightseeing. How can one leave Agra without visiting Taj Mahal. This was my second visit to Agra but after a gap of many years. I think my last visit to Agra was when I was in school so I have vague memories of witnessing the beautiful structure. ITC Mughal had arranged for a guide as well as a car for our visit. Because of COVID-19, tickets need to be purchased online in advance as only 5000 people per day are allowed to visit the monument now. No tickets are sold at counters now.

Our knowledgeable guide Mr. Ved Prakash acquainted us to the city as well as Taj Mahal during the drive and within minutes we reached our destination. Taj Mahal is a beauty and was even more beautiful than my expectations. It was lovely to see the Taj Mahal from so close and entering it was like a dream, indeed a very beautiful dream. The white beauty, naqashi, urdu words are written on monument, made with love, for love, by love and in memory of love. It was such a beautiful experience and a memory of a lifetime. I clicked a lot of pictures and loved the peace there and every moment spent in the monument was amazing.

We then came back to the hotel. For lunch, it was Express Wok which is a proper meal in box known as bento-box which comes in both veg and non veg versions. Let us decode the box for you. The Vegetarian Box had Olive Fried Rice, Asian Spring Rolls (made of rice sheets and glass noodles), Stir fried Asian Greens, Okra Chilli Bean (so unique!) and Date Pancake while the Non-Vegetarian box had Kung Pao Chicken, Governors Chicken, Soy Ginger Fish, Veg Hakka Noodles and Date Pancakes. All the dishes were so yum! We loved the concept of the Bento Box which had everything from starters to main course to desserts.

The raw material used in cooking is grown in hotel. They use local resources and products of the region and most of it is produced within the hotel. ITC has been supporting Vocal for Local even before the Government announced. ITC supports the society promising the best of the region in the most hygienic way. Meal in a box is a great concept because there is no wastage and moreover it is pocket friendly.

We went to our room to relax and then headed to Bagh-e-Bahar lounge for another delicious treat. Who can resist yummy chaats while in Agra but with the pandemic we were not sure of stepping on to the streets. Guess what! ITC Mughal ensured we don’t go back without tasting the yummiest Agra ki Chaat. So over the evening they organized a special chaat time and treated us with not just one or two specialities but with 5 yummiest chaats made in house which we relished in the confines of ITC Mughal.

It was a chatpata chaat encounter we had with masalas, dahi, sev, anaar and papdi. From Jalebi Chaat to Pakodi Chaat, Papdi Chaat, Dahi Bhalla Chaat, Motia Makai Chaat…we enjoyed our lip smacking chatpata time with these yummiest chaats. Thank you so much Chef Kavitha Unni for this.

We headed for a walk in the big lush green garden which was full of green plantations and flowers. We also checked out the Mughal Express which stands there as a memory of the nostalgic era. The manicured garden is perfect for morning as well as evening walks and is also great for photo opps

For dinner we went to Taj Bano for a special Awadhi treat. We tried different delicacies like Hara Bhara Kebab, Murgh Kali Mirch Kebab, Subz Zafrani Shorba, Subz Miloni, Jannat-e-Numa, Dal Makhani, Maki Sarson, Gosht Awadhi Biryani and more. For desserts we had Shahi Tukda and Shahed-e-Jam. The meal was rich, authentic and flavourful and we all enjoyed it a lot. The menu was especially curated for us by Chef Ashmit Bhattacharya and Chef Kavitha Unni. A perfect meal and a perfect end!

ITC Mughal is also a renowned destination for weddings and special precautions are followed at the banquet owing to COVID 19. The banquet hall is sanitized each time before and after the event with all safety protocols taken. All crockery is sanitized and paper wrapped under the WeAssure initiative. PPE kits are worn by the staff members. With varied options from lawn to banquet hall, guests are delighted and can host every function be it wedding or cocktail or a reception. The 15000 sq. ft. garden opens into 2 ballrooms with a royal structure with Mughal architecture and a very beautiful sheesh mahal made of mirrors. Deewan-e- khaas is where meetings take place which has glimpses of Mughal architecture everywhere – chandeliers, doors, paintings, pillars all are very Mughal-istic. Even the reception counter has been given Mughal touches to it.

Lady Diana, Prince Charles, Tony Blair, the family of Amitabh Bachchan are some of the celebrities who have stayed in this prestigious property. Infact, the hotel is a heritage property and the shooting of Dilip Kumar’s yesteryear’s glorious film ‘Vidhaata’ took place here. Recently Bollywood actress Sara Ali Khan also stayed at ITC Mughal.

Our morning tea was at Jharokha-e-Taj, which is a perfect place to enjoy a marvelous view of Taj Mahal. It was simply mesmerizing and breathtaking. What an enjoyable start of the day!

It was time to head back to Delhi but not without lunch. The last lunch we had was at the private dining table of our Royal Mughal suite.  Everything is extraordinary when it comes to the impeccable hospitality of ITC Mughal. We wanted to do a quick lunch before heading out to Delhi and ordered for Mezze Platter, Veg Pizzas, Sliders and Tiramisu. How it came was simply artistic. It was a meal to relish.

Even for room service the servers came with shield, mask and gloves and we relished it all in the private dining space of our Royal Mughal Suite. Absolutely loved the royalty and the continental cuisine.

Since we were driving back home and ITC Mughal was concerned about our safety, they ensured we don’t stop on the way and were given packed food for the way back home. We were also gifted an auspicious marble elephant, a memory of the place we stayed in which we could always treasure as a memoir. Loved such small gestures!

ITC Mughal is indeed one of the best hotels in terms of hospitality. ITC warmth and their signature namaste (Atithi Devo Bhavo) is always seen despite social distancing. Thank You Team ITC Mughal, Jyoti, Richa, Chef Kavitha, Chef Ashmit, Mr. Jilani for the amazing stay and the warm hospitality which we still cherish.

With inputs from Shilpa Arora
Photos shot & edited by Shubham Arora

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