FDCI’S INDIA MEN’S WEEKEND 2023 COMMENCED WITH A RUNWAY ON THE RIVER MANDOVI IN GOA

The first edition of the India Men’s Weekend 2023 curated by the Fashion Design Council of India was held on January 14th in Goa at a location most unwonted, yet astoundingly beautiful – the state’s former largest prison, Aguada Central Jail. The India Men’s Weekend showcased the works of eleven Indian designers with six ensembles each – Rajesh Pratap Singh, Abraham and Thakore, Varun Bahl, Abhishek Gupta, Arjun Khanna, Ashish N Soni, J J Valaya, Manoviraj Khosla, Rohit Gandhi + Rahul Khanna and Shantnu and Nikhil and Rohit Bal’s Alexander jeans for men.

The jetty of the Aguad Port and Jail Complex in Sinquerim turned into a runway on the river Mandovi’s calm, turquoise waters, with a ball of fire setting the blue skies ablaze with its molten glory, making the India Men’s Weekend show the first of its kind to held in a jail in India. Talk about a crime of fashion that no one could be imprisoned for! Some of the clothes on the runway maybe, and their respective designers!

The Aguada Jail made for a fashionably bewitching scene for the show, and was supported by the Aguad Port and Jail Complex in Sinquerim. The Aguada Central Jail, the largest prison in Goa till 2015, is a part of the famed and impregnable Fort Aguada built by the Portuguese from 1609 CE to 1612 CE. The 17th-century Portuguese structure has been renovated and repurposed since by the Goa Tourism Development Corporation at a cost of approximately Rs 22 crore and is open to the public. It is now a heritage site, that pays homage to the freedom fighters of India, and houses a museum and viewing galleries since the redevelopment. Interestingly, água means water in Portuguese.

The India Men’s Weekend will be an annual event on the FDCI calendar in Goa, and possibly other cities in India December 2023 onwards.

©Rubina A Khan 2023

CHRISTMAS WONDERLAND AT THE DORCHESTER, LONDON

It’s a Christmas Wonderland at The Dorchester Rooftop in London, with the hotel’s first ever festive pop-up in full sway this holiday season. Inspired by the Frost Fairs that were held on the frozen River Thames between the 17th and 19th centuries when the river froze over, yesteryear Londoners celebrated the season by building markets, playing games, and cooking hearty dishes on its icy surface. It is not surprising that the hotel chose a historic theme for its traditional festivities this season, given it has an extraordinary history of its own.

It is hard to believe that the grand dame of London, The Dorchester hotel in Mayfair (the Money Mile as I like to call it), was once just square miles of strawberry fields. The area began to take shape in May 1686, when King James II granted permission for a fortnight of festivities. The festival ran for another 78 years and thus, born the name May Fair. The origins of the hotel go back to 1792 when the Earl of Dorchester, Joseph Damer, bought a house, and named it the Dorchester House. By 1910, the house had evolved into the American Embassy, as well as a hospital during World War I, before being demolished in 1929. It was then rebuilt into the world’s first hotel to be constructed with reinforced concrete, when it opened its doors on April 20, 1931 as the hotel we all know and love, The Dorchester.

The rooftop terrace, overlooking Hyde Park, has three Winter Globes for pod-style dining. With a choice of two set menus – a party menu of shared delights and a three-course Chef’s menu, both of which include a glass of Veuve Clicquot Champagne, given the pop-up is in collaboration with LVMH.

“We have created tantalising plates inspired by the finest flavours of the Frost Fairs including Lobster Stockings, Vacherin Fondue, Alpine Salad, Smoked Trout with Warm Potato Salad, Venison Wellington and Chestnut Mandarin Baked Alaska that is flamed table side, to name a few. The Winter Globes have been incredibly popular so far. People are excited to cosy up with friends and family with great views and traditional food this festive season,” says Martyn Nail, Culinary Director at The Dorchester.

You either get cosy or cosy up on the Dorchester’s rooftop, but there’s a warm inside too. Inviting hot drinks, a nibbles menu and wintry cocktails are available along with live entertainment, whilst you enjoy a cigar on the smoking terrace, sip on whiskey and port pairings, and savour classic cocktails with a twist such as a Bourbon Espresso Martini, Islay Hot Toddy, Hot Buttered Brandy and a Rosemary Negroni. Frost Fair themed cocktails like Thames Mead and the Golden Elephant will pique your interest – apparently, an elephant was seen on the Thames as a highlight of the very last Frost Fair (this elephant sure wasn’t treading on thin ice by the sound of it)!

The Christmas Wonderland remains open through to New Years and can be booked till January 3rd, 2023. You can also see the very first festive celebrations filled with holiday decorations by in-house designer florist Philip Hammond, within the transformed Promenade of The Dorchester and the new Artists’ Bar after an expansive renovation by designer Pierre-Yves Rochon.

The best time to go to the Christmas Wonderland is at sunset to watch all of London come alive with the holiday decorations and lights – the twinkling night scape is breathtakingly beautiful.

©Rubina A Khan 2022

Hindujas Repurpose Winston Churchill’s OWO With £1.2 Billion Into Raffles London Hotel

The Indian industrialist brothers – Srichand, Gopichand, Prakash and Ashok Hinduja, of the Hinduja Group, a multinational conglomerate with interests in oil, automobiles, banking and real estate, are making acquiring historic and heritage properties in London a game of Monopoly, buying not where the die rolls, but where their eye goes. In 2006, they bought 13-16 Carlton House Terrace, built in 1831, spread over 67,000 square feet in the City of Westminster, with Buckingham Palace close by, for £58 million from the Crown Estate and spent another £50 million in renovations before they could move in and call it home in 2011.

The brothers have since gone on to purchase Britain’s Old War Office (OWO) at Whitehall, for £1.2 billion in 2014. Designed by British architect William Young and originally completed in 1906, the OWO is a Grade II* listed building that has witnessed innumerable world-shaping events. The OWO’s 1,100 rooms and four kilometres of corridors, were used by Winston Churchill during World War II, leading Britain to wartime victory. Grand in size and stature both, with classic Edwardian baroque interiors, the OWO has since been renovated for over five years, in keeping with the rich legacy and the historical architectural elements of the building by the Hinduja Group at the helm of the 5,80,000 square feet redevelopment that cost a Gross Development Value of £1.2 billion. Interestingly, James Bond, the fictional MI6 icon of espionage, was conceived at the OWO when writer Ian Fleming worked in Britain’s Naval Intelligence Service, acting as key liaison with the department, overseeing Operation Goldeneye. As a result, the OWO has made starring appearances in 007 films like Skyfall, Spectre, License to Kill, A View to a Kill, Octopussy and No Time To Die over the years. 

Once the planning approvals came from the Westminster City Council in July 2017, Britain’s former Old War Office went from being a government building, to a mixed-use building with a 250 year lease from the date of acquisition. After being closed to the public for more than a century, the OWO, now repurposed into a luxury hotel called Raffles London at The OWO, is all set to open in the spring of 2023.

“The OWO is my greatest legacy to London for future generations to enjoy,” says Gopichand Parmanand Hinduja, co-chairman of the Hinduja Group. 

The 120 rooms and suites that comprise the OWO hotel, including a Winston Churchill Suite, have been designed by French architect and interior designer, Thierry Despont, known for the restoration of the Statue of Liberty in New York as an associate architect in the 80s and transforming landmark buildings like The Getty Centre and Maison Cartier. The 85 branded residences, a first for Raffles in Europe, come with a heady mix of history, mystery and royal glamour set in an enviable location, making them the most expensive in London to date. They are priced upwards of £7.1million for a two-bedroom residence, £10million for a two-bedroom residence designed by Albion Nord and £14.25million for a three-bedroom residence designed by Angel O’Donnell, with prices including fixtures and fittings, but not the artwork. A four-bedroom residence 5.02, on the fifth floor, is an ode to the espionage history of the building. It is accessed through the Spies Entrance, a door used by MI6 staff after covert missions, and the name has been retained from 1909 when the British Secret Service Bureau was established as a department of the War Office. It still makes for discreet arrivals and departures, but not without the 24/7 monitoring by on-site security. 

The OWO residences seem to have outperformed the Prime Central London market, with a new record for values achieved on a price per square foot basis, within months of their launch. A new benchmark of over £11,000 price per square foot was achieved on one of the unique turret residences, a four bedroom duplex. It is safe to say that the OWO residences, located in an unparalleled and iconic part of London, serviced by the Raffles team, are a coveted buy. 

Not only is the OWO the Hinduja Group’s first foray into the hospitality business, but it is also the first Raffles hotel in London, and the first Guerlain Spa in London, exclusive to the Raffles London at The OWO too.

Philippe Leboeuf, Managing Director at Raffles London at The OWO confirms the opening of the hotel, “This staggering piece of British history will be open to the public for the very first time from Spring 2023, thanks to the Hinduja’s tireless work in sensitively conserving this significant address, partnering with experts including English Heritage, MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) and EPR Architects. This beacon of British heritage and modern craftsmanship will also be home to Raffles first hotel in the city, Raffles London at The OWO and it’s a once in a lifetime project for the Hinduja family which will become a new icon of global hospitality. Since acquiring the OWO, the Hinduja family have overseen the meticulous restoration of Britain’s former Old War Office with a vision and commitment to preserve its heritage, all the while breathing new life into the landmark.”

The acclaimed Italian-Argentine Chef Mauro Colagreco of Mirazur (three Michelin stars) a modernist cuisine restaurant that he opened in 2006 in Menton, France, will be creating unique dining experiences set within the OWO’s most storied rooms, driven by a commitment to seasonality, local procurement, and sustainability. Chef Mauro was awarded the rank of Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur in the 2022 honours list by the French government. 

“Chef Mauro is undoubtedly one of the world’s most recognised chefs, with a phenomenal  reputation and we’re excited to see him bring his experience to Raffles London at The OWO with concepts that are tailor-made for our well-travelled guests,” says Stephen Alden, CEO of Raffles & Orient Express. 

Out of the nine restaurants and bars (including a rooftop restaurant and bar with expansive views across Whitehall, The Mall and Buckingham Palace) slated to open at the OWO, Paper Moon, a family-run Italian restaurant founded by Pio Galligani and his wife Enrica Del  Rosso in Milan’s fashion district in 1977, is the first independent restaurant to have been announced so far. Paper Moon is located in a space overlooking Horse Guards Avenue. There are plans to open restaurants serving Indian, Japanese and French cuisines which are still under negotiation.

“These vibrant new restaurants will be part of the dynamic dining offer which will place The OWO as a new epicentre for London’s culinary scene, and sets the stage for an entirely new hospitality experience for visitors and Londoners,” says Madani Sow of Westminster Development Services. 

This hospitality venture is the first of its kind in scale, spend and historical relevance, with an Indian business family restoring the history of a British landmark. It remains to be seen if the billions that The OWO has been bought, acquired and repurposed for, tempts the Hinduja family enough to make hospitality another key business for their group. 

This feature first appeared in Hindustan Times on November 27th, 2022

©Rubina A Khan 2022

Business Princess Paris Hilton In Mumbai On October 19 | Hindustan Times

The most famous American platinum blonde in the world, after Marilyn Monroe of course, is hotel heiress, beauty entrepreneur, DJ and singer, Paris Hilton, who is coming to Mumbai on October 19th, her fourth trip to India so far. Fresh off closing Donatella Versace’s Spring Summer ’23 runway show in Milan as Bridal Barbie, in her favourite shade of pink (which should really be called Paris pink by now) replete with a fantasy veil, the original influencer and reality TV star of the Noughties, will be flying in to Mumbai via Dubai, to promote her latest 2022 fragrance, Ruby Rush, at a launch event to be held in the city on Thursday, October 20th. The rush for selfies with her on the night of the launch might just eclipse the fragrance for a haute second though.

The fashion forward Hilton has been in the beauty industry since 2004 when she launched her first fragrance called Paris Hilton, the success of which led to a fragrance empire of over 25 perfumes that brought in $3billion in revenues.

Hilton first came to India in September 2011 to launch her accessories and handbag line, with another trip soon after in December 2012 when she turned tables in Goa as a DJ, and December 2014. During these past trips, her itinerary wasn’t only about work. She made time to go to the Siddhivinayak temple in Prabhadevi to pray, visited Ashray, a children’s orphanage in Bandra, and partied with Bollywood stars like Salman Khan and jewellery designer and beauty entrepreneur, Queenie Singh, who’d hosted a party for Hilton on her maiden trip in 2011. “Paris is a very affectionate person. She loves people, music and fashion. She’s a star. I meet her once in a while at Cannes and she’s always very cordial,” says Queenie Singh from London.

The business princess of all things pink, glam, haute and blonde loves Indian fashion and Indian food, but regrets not being able to visit New Delhi or the Taj Mahal in Agra on her past trips as she always stayed for about three days each time. Perhaps, a visit to the monument of love is on her itinerary this time around, eight years since her last visit to India in 2014. And more so if her husband, venture capitalist Carter Reum, who she wed on November 11, 2021, in Bel Air, wearing an ethereal Oscar de la Renta wedding gown, accompanies her, given their first year anniversary is just around the corner. And, if they do make it to the Taj in Agra, it’ll be on the ‘gram.

Like she’d say, ‘That’s hot, India’s hot!’ 

This feature first appeared in Hindustan Times on October 9th, 2022

©Rubina A Khan 2022

India Tourism: How ‘Revenge Travel’ Saved The Industry | BBC

More than two years after the Covid pandemic halted travel, India’s tourism and hospitality industry is now cautiously hopeful. Independent journalist Rubina A Khan writes for the BBC on what’s driving the optimism. 

Tourism constituted almost 3% of India’s GDP and generated around 100 million jobs in 2019. But the sector was severely hit in India – like in other countries – when the pandemic struck. Only 2.74 million foreign tourists visited India in 2020 compared with 10.93 million the year before, official data shows. While the number of foreign visitors is still nowhere close to pre-pandemic levels, travel company operators and hotel industry executives say an upsurge in domestic tourists is making them more upbeat. 

After two years of being cooped up inside, Indians are now travelling with a vengeance – ‘revenge travel’, as the phenomenon is called. And many, experts say, now prefer to travel within the country instead of flying to more expensive destinations abroad. The industry is also benefiting from new trends borne of the pandemic, such as micro-holidays and workcations. Deep Kalra, founder and chairman of travel website Make My Trip, says the sector started seeing an upturn in the last quarter of 2020, and has been consistently recovering ever since. “In fact, the last three fiscal quarters have operationally been the most profitable ones for our company,” he says.

EXPLORING INDIA

Experts say the pandemic offered Indians an opportunity to explore their own country. India has always been a popular tourist destination. From historic forts and stunning palaces to dense jungles, there’s no shortage of options for visitors. But with international travel disrupted for months, more and more Indians became open to the idea of vacationing within the country, says Vishal Suri, the managing director of travel company SOTC. “The pandemic has given Indians a new-found appreciation for the outdoors,” Mr Suri says. He adds that there has been an uptick in demand for unexplored destinations – people are seeking ways to combine pilgrimages and spiritual trips with experiencing local food, cultural trails and adventure.

The pandemic also generated new trends such as staycations and workcations – combining remote working with vacations. “Travellers are now extremely comfortable with booking homestays that offer exclusivity, privacy, and the comfort of a home away from home,” says Pradeep Shetty, a senior official at the Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations Of India (FHRAI). Mr Kalra from Make My Trip agrees – he says that people have warmed up to the idea of travelling within India whenever possible. “Even the travel frequency has changed and become more regular. The annual break has now turned into micro-holidays with people increasingly taking more breaks in the form of multiple weekend getaways and seasonal holiday breaks,” he says.

IMPACT ON HOSPITALITY SECTOR

This shift has turned out to be a revenue-spinner for hotels in India, as people are now willing to use the money they would normally reserve for their international vacations on better facilities domestically. Some luxury hotels dropped their prices at intervals in the pandemic, leading to a spike in bookings and short-term revenues. Puneet Chhatwal, the managing director and CEO of The Indian Hotels Company Ltd (IHCL) – India’s largest hospitality company which operates the Taj chain of luxury hotels – says that after each successive Covid wave, the recovery was “stronger and quicker”. “The IHCL’s occupancy figures today exceed the pre-pandemic levels – a resurgence that is primarily fuelled by domestic tourism,” he adds.

Raffles Udaipur – run by international hotel chain Raffles – is situated on a private island and opened in August 2021, just months after the devastating second wave of the pandemic in India. But the hotel has seen a “healthy rate of occupancy” every month throughout its first year of operations in India, says Puneet Dhawan, the hotel’s senior vice-president for India and South Asia. “While we have no pre-pandemic metric to compare to, we have observed a steady rise in the response to our property,” he adds. Mr Dhawan says the hotel is gearing up for an even busier year ahead – starting with the tourist rush in winter and the upcoming wedding season. Mr Kalra says there are other positive signs too, such as the resumption of corporate travel – a trend that is likely to increase in the coming quarters, aiding overall recovery for the travel industry. 

CHALLENGES

But despite the optimism, people in the industry say that domestic tourism alone cannot take the sector back to the pre-pandemic-level of growth. In September, India’s tourism minister said that the government was working towards the all-round revival of the tourism sector. But foreign arrivals continue to be dismal – data shows they dipped by 44.5% in 2021 compared with the year before. “India has not released a single campaign inviting the world to us. What we need is a stellar marketing strategy that excites travellers enough to choose us, especially the 60 million people that used to travel to China and aren’t today,” says Dipak Deva, managing director of the Travel Corporation of India, one of India’s best-known travel agencies. He adds that the government also needs to restore its e-visa facility – especially for countries such as the UK from where a large number of tourists visit India – as the current procedure is too cumbersome.

However, Mr Kalra feels that both domestic and international travel are “here to grow together, and not against each other”. “With international travel now returning to the fore, we are confident that in a few quarters, international travel will also be able to recover completely.”

This feature first appeared on BBC on October 7th, 2022

©Rubina A Khan 2022

RUBINA’S REVIEW | MANDARIN ORIENTAL BANGKOK’S AUTHORS’ LOUNGE AFTERNOON TEA IS DELICIOUSLY ROYAL

In the mid-nineteeth century, when Thailand was still known as Siam, a rest house established for travelling foreigners on the banks of the Menam River (Chao Praya River), became one of the greatest hotels in the world – The Oriental. The Oriental, now Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok, was the first luxury hotel in the Kingdom of Siam. In 1865 the hotel’s original structure was destroyed in a fire and was replaced by the current structure in 1876. It was a Danish-born sailor, H.N. Andersen, who gave the Siamese capital a new hotel, a modern, luxurious Oriental Hotel. On 17 December 1890, His Majesty King Chulalongkorn paid a private visit to The Oriental to assess the ability of the hotel to host royal guests. The King was so impressed that he decided to accommodate the Crown Prince Nicholas of Russia, who became Tsar in 1894, at The Oriental in April 1891. It was the beginning of a long lasting relationship between the legendary hotel and Thailand’s Royal Palace. Today, 146 years later, the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok is a proud landmark in Bangkok, a beautiful building that links the glorious years past, present and those to come in Thailand.

The Authors’ Lounge, on the ground floor of the original Oriental Hotel, lends an old world charm, reminiscent of the early 1900s, with turn-of-the-century style wicker furniture and hand-painted fabrics, alongside framed photographs of the famous writers who have stayed at the hotel since the late nineteenth century. Apart from the telling literary history of yesteryear Siam and its people, The Authors’ Lounge is renowned for its traditional afternoon tea, and is also one of the most photographed locations in Bangkok, if not Thailand. It was a beautiful rainy afternoon, with the sun playing hide and seek, that I sat down to experience the Summer Afternoon Tea Set at the Authors’ Lounge. A beautiful hostess, Parichat, led the way and I chose a table overlooking the garden and the Chao Praya river. The distinguished jewel jade and white tones of the lounge add serenity to the regal elegance of this historic lounge.

The afternoon started off with the most delicious Earl Grey infused peach sorbet and Champagne foam, followed by the setting down of the Somerset book on the table by the elegant Pansamon – an event in itself – sliding out the most decadent pastries and savouries from the mock book, with theatrical precision and sophistication. The Prawn roll brioche bun, Spicy tuna salad wafer, Charcoal choux with smoked salmon and sunflower seed crème and Egg salad with Avruga caviar sandwich and the selection of pastries – Blackberry flower cake and coconut cloud, Green coffee bean tiramisu, tangerine marmalade and cardamom, Charlotte cake apricot, pistachio and thyme, Raspberries and yuzu New York cheesecake, Hazelnut and milk chocolate textures, Brioche feuillette, strawberries and vanilla custard – they all looked too pretty to eat, but eat I did. You could measure each sandwich and pastry and they’d be the exact same size and dimension, just like they came out of a royal kitchen for high tea. Then came the warm traditional scones with a selection of home-made jams, Devonshire clotted cream, mascarpone and butter. Everything tastes divine and it’s hard to pick a favourite from the tea set. I went with an iced coffee, instead of tea and it was just as fine, watching the rain come down, from the warm confines of the Authors’ Lounge, thinking of all those writers and travellers who stayed here before, and created literary legacies.

You need to reserve a table on Mandarin Oriental Bangkok for the Afternoon Tea and the team very graciously accommodates your food specifications. They also have an Oriental Afternoon Tea Set as well as a Vegan and Gluten-Free Afternoon Tea Set.

Through its 146 years of existence, The Oriental’s grandiose façade has greeted travellers, dignitaries and literary figures from around the world like The Prince and Princess of Wales, The Queen of Sweden, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando. British spy novelist John le Carré, wrote The Honourable Schoolboy at the hotel and Barbara Cartland named one of the heroines in Sapphires in Siam after an Oriental employee. Others, like Noël Coward, simply admired the riverine views, declaring: “It is a lovely place and I am fonder of it than ever.” Joseph Conrad, the sea captain and writer, was a frequent visitor to the bar of The Oriental and Vaslav Nijinsky danced in the ballroom in 1916. Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok’s affinity with the literary world is best exemplified in the Authors’ Wing, which houses the Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham, Noël Coward and James Michener Lounges. In these specially created salons, images of these literary greats are juxtaposed with scenes from The Oriental during those eras, as well as quotations from the authors’ books. Khun Ankana’s Study, also situated of The Authors’ Lounge, pays a pictorial tribute to the inimitable Ankana Kalantananda, The Oriental’s longest-serving employee who joined the hotel in 1947 and worked there for over 60 years.

The Mandarin Oriental Bangkok’s staff, right from Jed at the entrance to the hostesses, servers and spa staff are all marvellous and wonderful, and exemplary in their service. It’s a beautiful world they have all created inside this grand dame of a hotel in Bangkok.

Like W. Somerset Maugham said in The Mixture of Before, “Now it is a funny thing about life, if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it.

Rubina’s Rating: 10/10

Disclaimer: Any part of the content on the rubinaakhan.com website cannot be reproduced without prior permission and crediting the website and the author.

©Rubina A Khan 2022

RUBINA’S REVIEW | BANGKOK MARRIOTT HOTEL THE SURAWONGSE IS MODERN LUXURY WITH A THAI HEART

Night views of the city of Bangkok from the Yao Rooftop Bar at the Bangkok Marriott Hotel The Surawongse

The Bangkok Marriott Hotel The Surawongse on Thanon Surawong in the Bang Rak district of Bangkok opened in April 2018. Bang Rak is one of the fifty provinces (khet) of Bangkok, that lies on the eastern bank of the Chao Praya river, and it is rich in multicultural Thai history, with the British Club, the Neilson Hays Library and the mixed-use, pixelated skyscraper, the King Power Mahanakhon building in the area. The contemporary high-rise hotel, a 40-minute drive from Suvarnabhumi aiport, is the first Marriott hotel in Bangkok to offer a combination of 303 guest rooms, suites and residential suites from one to three bedrooms for short and long-term stays, making it a very popular choice for both leisure and business travellers, and as a wedding destination, given it won the International Hotel Award for the Best Wedding Venue for Thailand in 2020. The tree-lined, sun-dappled neighbourhood of Surawong equipoises vintage and contemporary Bangkok culture with a steady pace, with exciting stand-alone cafes, bars, restaurants, tailoring shops and foot spas that you can discover walking around, without the noise and traffic snarls of the very busy Sukhumvit, which I had experienced on my first trip to Bangkok on work, for a Bollywood film. I walked in the rain and a thunderstorm on my very first evening out in Bangkok their time around, not of my own volition of course, and drenched as I was, I still found the area of Surawong charming and beautiful.

As you step inside the hotel, the most intoxicating aroma of fresh, Thai jasmine flowers embraces your person in the lobby – a beautiful way fo saying ‘Welcome to Thailand’ without any words. The check-in is seamless and very quick, as are the lifts and the speed of their wi-fi. The hotel’s design is modern, minimalistic and discreetly luxurious, with a hark back to traditional Thai culture in its hand-painted walls and glass murals of Thai country and court life in its design story. There’s a gallery in the lobby that displays authentic Thai hand crafts, alongside some beautiful bronze sculptures. Floor to celling windows in the rooms add length and breadth to them, as do the varied shades of grey furnishings and glass murals in the one bedroom residential suite, that also comes with a washer and dryer right by the entrance of the room. It is an important addition to the in-room amenities in the times we live in. The bathrooms are spacious, with rain showers, ensuite bath tubs and ample counter space. The housekeeping and hygiene standards of the hotel are faultlessly stellar and a top priority for them – the kitchen, living area, bedroom and bathroom looked as good as new every day of my stay and it was very impressive as cleanliness in a non-negotiable factor for me when booking a hotel. The one bedroom residential suite starts at THB 7886 per night including taxes, equivalent to INR 17,400 or USD 223 approximately. My room was a haven of peace and calm, where I could hear my own thoughts at my pace, through the blurred lines of reality, drinking my sweet Thai coffee with three shots of espresso – something I created to balance the dominant sweet flavour.

The breakfast at the Praya Kitchen is just the best, with every kind of food imaginable for a global palate. You can get in some cardio first thing in the morning just walking around the restaurant, getting your breakfast items, and there is nothing you could want at breakfast that they don’t have, including Indian. I used to look forward to going down to Praya on the third floor for breakfast every day. I loved their Truffle Scrambled Eggs, fresh coconut water, carrot juice and Thai milk coffee every morning. And I picked and grazed on other dishes. The soft and pillowy croissants were made from riceberry flour, a rice variety manmade in 2002 by the Rice Science Center at the Kasetsart University in Thailand, which is a cross breed of fragrant black rice and jasmine rice, resulting in a deep purple whole grain rice, also known as Forge Husband or Khao Leum Pua from the Tak province. Riceberry is rich in antioxidants, fibre and Omega 3 fats and is considered a Thai super grain. The Praya Kitchen’s buffet dinner, Thursday to Sunday, serves up delicious Thai street and Western food, from Som Tam salad, Yellow Thai curry with crabmeat, Pasta with Bamboo Shoot Beef Ragout, Ribeye Steak with Pepper Sauce, Beef Fried Rice in Chilli Oil, Goose liver foie gras to spicy Beef Chilly Thai style to fresh Phuket lobster and my favourite dessert, Tub Tim Grob. The Praya Kitchen is the busiest at breakfast and during the dinner buffet, but the attentive staff make it an absolute pleasure for every diner with their affable and responsive presence, every single time.

Hand-painted mural on the Praya Kitchen wall at the Bangkok Marriott Hotel The Surawongse

The Infinity Pool, a good size for a city hotel, is on the 18th floor, with stunning views of the city during the day and at night. The Quan Spa too is on the same floor, as is the 24-hour gym and the kids clubroom. I loved the Aroma Fusion treatment with Rose Oil (a very healing and therapeutic blend) and my therapist was incredible. Interestingly, the oils used for the Aroma Fusion treatment are decided by the time of day – so given my time was mid-afternoon, I was prescribed the Rose Oil. The Muay Thai treatment, very popular with Thai boxers, is their signature therapy, which I will definitely try the next time I am in Bangkok.

The striking King Power Mahanakhon building is a short 13-minute walk away from the Marriott Surawongse, where you can go up to the 76th floor in a lift that takes you there in 47 seconds, and then get on another hydraulic glass lift that takes you to the 78th floor where you can walk all over Bangkok, on a glass tray, 314 metres above ground. Walking on glass is not as easy as walking on the ground people, and if you’re afraid of heights or glass cracking under your feet, it’s a no-go. I walked, but barely! The views from up there are breathtaking and so worth the fear of walking on glass, a terrifying thrill to say the least! Interestingly, the Thai name for Bangkok, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon, is actually a short form of the capital’s full name, which is almost a sentence to describe the city than a name: Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet. The Grand Palace, Wat Pho and Wat Arun temples are 15-minute cab rides away from the hotel, as is the Iconsiam shopping mall, with queues outside the Louis Vuitton and Hermes stores. The hotel also runs a complimentary regular shuttle van service to Sala Daeng BTS skytrain station for its guests. The Marriott Surawongse has a 101 Things To Do in and around the hotel in every room, which is a thoughtful cultural touch towards its guests. It’s a google concierge on paper that outlines the neighbourhood and Bangkok for you that’s rather helpful in a country where English is a conversational barrier.

Views of the pixelated, mixed-use skyscraper, Mahanakhon, from the infinity pool of the Bangkok Marriott Hotel The Surawongse

Watching the sun go down on Bangkok from the Yao Rooftop Bar, Bangkok’s first Chinese influenced restaurant and bar, on the 33rd floor of the hotel will have you taking selfies against the stunning skyline with sweeping views of the Chao Praya river and the Mahanakhon, toasting your life. The bar is busy, the music heady and the menus are lit – they light up on touch and that’s a genius move because no one wants to read a menu full of Cantonese and Shanghainese delicacies in the dark. The retro Chinese themed Yao rooftop vibe is all about endless dumplings, dimsums and drinks, delicious living at its best, with a Thai summer breeze caressing your every move.

The hotel is situated diagonally across the privately-funded 101-year-old Neilson Hays Library, founded in 1869, that’s been designed in a neoclassical style by Italian architects, Mario Tamagno and Giovanni Ferrero. The library houses 20,000 books, with a variety of contemporary fiction and non-fiction, with new titles every month and it has one of the largest collections of English language titles in Bangkok. The library seeks to promote English literacy in the country and encourage a love for literature, particularly among younger generations. It is also the oldest non-profit organisation in Thailand and you can support it with 100THB to use the library’s facilities. It has events ranging from musical performances to cultural conversations for both children and adults. It has a cafe the same compound too, Palam Palam, which means “sweet taste” in Thai. The British Club of Bangkok, a private members’ Club on Thanon Surawong, founded in 1903 as a British businessmen and diplomats’ club, but has since developed over the past century to become a social, sports & cultural centre for the English-speaking community in Bangkok, is also a short walk from the hotel. The British Club organises tours on request.

This was an Eat, Sleep, Seek, Shoot and Spa trip to Thailand for me and the exemplary service at the Bangkok Marriott Hotel The Surawongse made it a flawlessly memorable experience.

Rubina’s Rating: 9/10

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©Rubina A Khan 2022

Writing My First Book, Adventures Through Covid, Grounded Me, Says Author Parris Fotias

Luxury and austerity, antithetical as they are, have never existed in the world as intimately as during the pandemic. Inexplicable, but true, like most things during this time. Parris Fotias, Regional Sales Director, Dorchester Collection hotels, was flying back home to Sydney from a work trip to Mumbai in February 2020 when COVID-19 hit, a nightmare that the world is yet to wake up from. His work life entailed checking in and out of airports and the most luxurious hotels in the world, including nine of the Dorchester Collection that have played architectural parts in films and Netflix series, and are stars in themselves. One cannot think of a London without The Dorchester and 45, Park Lane, Los Angeles without The Beverly Hills and the Bel Air, Paris sans the geranium dotted façade of The Plaza Athenee and Le Meurice, Italy without Hotel Eden Rome and Principe Di Savoia, or the beautiful English countryside without Coworth Park in Ascot. A confined Parris didn’t just work from home, he played from home too. He wrote a book – his first – Adventures Through Covid: The Art of Subconscious Travel In A Transcendental State that was published in July 2021. His ability to make people laugh in these times through his words, strung together like a bejeweled necklace of hilarious gems is literary art. Rather outré for a jet-setting luxury hotelier you might think, but not if you know Parris, who’s a contemporary Greek Coeus, with an enviable humour to match.

Rubina A Khan converses, albeit digitally, with the luxury hotelier and first time author, Parris Fotias in Sydney:

While the world was grappling with lockdowns, covid news and stagnation, you wrote a book – Adventures Through Covid: The Art of Subconscious Travel in a Transcendental State! How did the idea to write one in such bleak and dire times come by – whilst you were barbecuing at home in Sydney or in one of the umpteen hand-washing or shower sessions at home? 
To be completely honest, I never consciously set out to write a book. The idea to start writing was initially born upon my return to Australia on February 29th, 2020 from Mumbai, India, which as of writing, is still my last international trip. Throughout the month or March, as the severity of COVID-19 became apparent, I felt compelled to reach out to as many of my clients as possible, just to check in on their wellbeing. So, I started sending them a weekly email and by the beginning of April, this had somehow morphed into a Dear Diary episodic series. At first, I tried to keep each entry short and sweet, but then found I myself compelled to share my own frustrations at being grounded and in lockdown. I also began referencing many long forgotten travel journals, regaling my new found audience with anecdotes from past trips. By the time I realised what was happening, it was December and I had been writing for almost nine months.

Adventures Through Covid vacillates from sardonic to dry humour at its best, but your writing is authentic to each chapter. Is the humour an extension of your personality?
I think most who know me well would say that humour does play a big role in my life and that it is an extension of my personality. Not to say that I always try to be amusing, but more often than not, I do try and find the funny side of most things. As Oscar Wilde once wrote, “sarcasm is the lowest form of wit but the highest form of intelligence”.

The situations in the book are real to your life in Australia, but the writing commingles beautifully with the fictional reactions to each odd hurdle created by the pandemic at your home and at work
One of the things I attempted to do was to make each entry relevant. I would pick a topic that had made an impression on me and would begin writing. I also tried to weave in personal experiences into the narrative that held relevance to what I was preaching about. I am just fortunate that I had enough entertaining tales that I could incorporate and keep the reader amused.

For someone who lived in and out of airports, traveling to some of the most glamorous cities in the world on work as the Regional Sales Director of the Dorchester Collection hotels, you have expressed your stifling existence very ably through your book. Was it a release to do so? Did the writing help you cope?
Absolutely! Writing has always been a passion of mine but one that I have neglected for many years. Being able to indulge and write again helped me forget about what was happening in the outside world for a while. Yet, it was far more than just a guilty pleasure, it was definitely cathartic. It became a form of therapy, allowing me to express my frustrations which then led to conversations and discussions. And, it also grounded me. The entire process allowed me to remember how very fortunate I have been to travel for a living and visit so many amazing destinations. It made me realise that travel is indeed a privilege and one that should never be taken for granted.

Travel is indeed a privilege. What did you abhor the most about your forced confinement in the first lockdown? 
The lack of spontaneity is what troubled me the most. Not being able to make that last-minute decision to head out to dinner or catch up with friends. We were definitely just existing day to day, and not living our lives during that period.

Who read the first draft of your book? And what did he/ she/ they say?
As I mentioned above, the concept was originally a Dear Diary email episodic series so, I would hasten to say that my clients were the ones who read the first draft of my book. They were the ones who encouraged me to keep on writing and by sharing their own tales and stories with me, inspired me to relive adventures that I had not thought about in years.

How come you decided to self-publish the book? With your stellar grasp on the language and your bereft-of-emotion prose (which is remarkable given you were low-key venting!) persuading the reader to keep turning the pages till the end, you should have got a publisher! 
It wasn’t until the beginning of 2021 that I even considered publishing Adventures Through Covid and so my rationale at the time was simple. This pandemic would be done and dusted by the middle of the year. As mine is a topical story relating to the pandemic, I needed to fast track the process and get my book published as quickly as possible before everyone got on with their lives and forgot about COVID-19. So I decided to self-publish. Yes, hindsight is a wonderful thing and had I known then what I know now, I would have gotten a publisher!

What is your favourite part about the writing process? Did you write a page everyday? Was there a method to the creation of the chapters?
That is a tough question. I would say that what I loved the most was when I was able to incorporate an anecdote or memory from my past, into whatever topic I was waxing lyrical on that particular week, making it relevant to others. It was a weekly diary entry so I would write every week. Sometimes I would get an idea at the start of the week and would work on it a little every day. Other times, I would struggle to come up with a relevant topic and would have to write everything on a Friday morning which is when I tended to send it out to clients.

Has writing the book been the most satisfactory aspect of life in the lockdown? 
I won’t lie, writing and publishing a book was a personal milestone that was extremely satisfactory – something that I have always wanted to accomplish. Yet I always abide by the saying that one must make your favourite experience your next one. To this point, I found so much joy in creating new memories with my family during lockdown. This included tuning in, singing & dancing to Hot Dub Time Machine – the world’s first Time Travelling DJ every Saturday night, and preparing Sunday lunch where we would head outside and spend a few hours, forgetting about the world for a while.

Who were you reading whilst writing your book? And who are some of your preferred authors right now?
My favourite authors include Christos Tsiolkas, Anne Rice & Jeffrey Eugenides, although I will say that I normally read whilst travelling. I also enjoy a lot of non-fiction and during the writing process I was reading Chaos Under Heaven: Trump, Xi, and the Battle for the Twenty-First Century by American journalist Josh Rogin, which is both fascinating and terrifying.

Have you travelled since the release of the book in July 2021 and where? What feels like the most freeing aspect of life today?
I have only made two trips since the release of the book in mid-2021. One was a work trip to Melbourne at the end of 2021 and the other was a weekend away just a few weeks ago in January 2022 to the Southern Highlands to attend my cousins 50th Birthday party. But since mid February, I am back to travelling regularly for work, new variants withstanding of course. The most freeing aspect of life today is being able to visit friends, family and clients without too many restrictions. And, being able to head out to the amazing restaurants and bars that we have in Sydney.

From writing press releases for the Dorchester Collection Group to publishing your first book in the thick of the lockdown when everyone was at breaking point, you need to write another book this year given the pandemic rages on… what do you think? 
One never knows!  Now that I have whet my writing appetite, the skies the limit.

Adventures Through Covid is available to purchase on Amazon

©Rubina A Khan 2022

Mumbai’s Money Is Moving In Realty, Despite The Calamitous Second Wave In India

Mumbai’s got money and it’s moving in realty, despite the Maharashtra government not extending the stamp duty waiver on property registrations in March earlier this year. INR 420 CR was collected in stamp duties in June 2021 as 7,850 properties were registered in the month compared to 5,640 units registered in June 2019, indicating a growth of 39 percent. However, in May 2021, INR 268 CR was collected in stamp duties due to the calamitous second wave across India – which was roughly half of the INR 534 CR collected in May 2019. Evidently, people have been buying property in Mumbai, albeit in an undefined, heterogeneous pattern. 

In fact, prices have increased too, if you can call a slash in prices from a sharp 30% in 2020 to a 20% in 2021. Actor Ajay Devgan bought a bungalow in June spread over 5000 square feet in Juhu, Mumbai for INR 47.5 crore (which would have sold for over INR 60 CR easy, pre-Covid) and he paid a stamp duty of INR 2.37 crore on the purchase. A South Mumbai apartment that was priced at 15 CR went on to sell at 9 CR in the first phase of the pandemic in 2020 with the stamp duty waiver, but commands a selling price of 11 CR now. The reason for the upswing in the most expensive, not to mention glamorous city in India, is that builders and developers have smaller inventories now and they are trying to make some cash whilst the demand is still on the rise, given the pandemic has made forecasts and predictability highly unreliable and inaccurate during these times. Who would’ve thought there’d be 7,850 property buys in a strained and stretched economy, right? Even though it is not a seller’s market, the seller is making some kind of profit. 

But property sells in North Mumbai are taking place in a very contrasting pattern to the realty index in South Mumbai. No, it has nothing to do with Bollywood’s residential dominance in the ‘burbs. In Bandra West, a two-bedroom apartment, measuring a 1000 square feet, that lists for INR 4.5 CR, sells at INR 4CR. Clearly the 20% drop in listing prices in South Mumbai are not at play in North Mumbai as there is a paucity of developments in the suburbs and the supply does not match the extensive demand, yet. So, the seller is more rigid with the pricing and gets whatever he/she asks for without having to conform to the South Mumbai pricing index. 

Recently, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) had set off a dampener with its proposal to increase property tax by at least 14 percent based on ready reckoner rates as on April 1, 2021. Property tax rates are calculated based on the ready reckoner rates of 2015 in Mumbai and the BMC wanted to revise the rates following the current ready reckoner rate. But on June 18th, the Maharashtra government announced that there would be no change in property tax till the pandemic continued, as it did not seem fair to burden people with an increase in the tax. The announcement didn’t just come as a huge relief to home-owners and stakeholders, but assuaged buyer sentiments, leading to a spike in buys in June. It remains to be seen what the next 6 months of 2021 will bring to the realty table, and at what cost, and more importantly, will a structured buying and selling pattern emerge from it all? 

This feature first appeared in Gulf News on July 20th, 2021

©Rubina A Khan 2021

RUBINA’S RADAR – THE UNEDITED LIVE INTERVIEW SERIES

Hi everyone! On January 20th, 2021, I started a new series of live conversations called RUBINA’S RADAR – UNEDITED – on Instagram and Youtube with couturier Rohit Bal, a legend on India’s fashion landscape. It’s been two months since, and twelve interviews thus far, with some of the most legendary international icons and visionaries from the worlds of fashion, film, sports, luxury travel, business and then some…

There’s more coming up, so tune in every week by following me on Instagram: @rubinaakhan.inc and subscribing to my YouTube channel: World Of Rubina Khan

Thank you! Stay safe!

Love, Rubina

©Rubina A Khan 2021