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Taj Connemara – a proud symbol of our tradition: Submitted by: Krishnamrutam | Date Added: 27 Oct 2012
Listed in: Destinations / India - South India Synopsis

Taj Connemara, located in the heart of the business district, is Chennai's only business hotel which offers a blend of "state of the art" business amenities and a quaint old world charm. Taj Connemara, Chennai – whose signature hospitality lingers in mind for months and I enjoy some privileges that comes with being a regular in this Imperial Hotel which is in the heart of the Shringara Chennai, very close to the Chennai Egmore, Central Stations, off Mount Road, aka Anna Salai, in the White City of Chennai. What is a White City? You have to ask those who know Chennai. Staying in the Taj gives you the comfort of a home away from home. You feel every moment of your stay is worth the money you spend over there in terms of value addition to your life, even if you are not a regular traveler. The Chennai City has a long history, dating back to 2nd century A.D. Christians commemorate at St.Thomas Mount the martyrdom of the Apostle. The great astronomer-geographer Ptolemy’s chronicles vouch for the existence of the Port of Mylapore and its being known to Greeks and Romans in the 2nd century AD. Inscriptional and literary evidence undoubtedly establish that the Parthasarathy Temple in Triplicane and Kapaleeswarar Temple in Mylapore were sacred places even as long back as in the 7th century. Mention has been found made of the early settlement of Santhome by Arab travelers and merchants of the 9th and 10th century. Marco Polo, the Italian traveler visited the place in the late 13th century. There are records to show that the Portuguese settled around Santhome in the early 16th century. The Connemara is Chennai’s only heritage hotel. Built in 1854, it has the art deco look and is today infused with the spirited style of Vivanta by Taj. Some of the standout features of this property are its central location; its lobby, which has a unique blend of the chic and the classic; spacious, well-appointed rooms with high ceilings and a distinct colonial character; and its beautiful poolside, which is set amid lush greenery. Additionally, the artefacts in this property and rooms lend an interesting heritage touch to the hotel. The Connemara — as the folks in Madras (now Chennai) have come to know it — began its remarkable life way back in 1854 as the Imperial Hotel. This became the Albany in 1886 and, four years later, morphed into the Connemara, named after the title of the Baron of Connemara, Robert Bourke, the governor of Madras from 1886 to 1890 and one of the shapers of the city in its early days. Lord Connemara, as The Madras Mail of November 27, 1890, has it, "ruled the land, lived his little span and then passed away, neither unregretted nor unsung". Art Deco in India was not merely a stylistic mode of architectural design. It has been referred to as "the gateway to Indian modernism" and this can be perceived in Chennai too. Changes in planning, spatial organization, materials and construction accompanied changes in external expression and together they reflected as well as constituted broad socio-cultural changes. From 1930s onwards, many buildings in George Town were built in this mode.Also along Mount Road and adjoining areas are other types of Art Deco buildings, The Hindu office with its stepped form and Connemara Hotel of the 1930s are some of the city landmarks.

There are several fascinating points with regard to your stay at Taj Connemara right from the time you land at the airport when Mr. Devendra or any other smartly dressed officer of the Taj receives you down at the airport and smuggles you out to a comfortable, really cool, air conditioned car which has wet-towels, cold drinking water, newspapers and magazines and the English speaking driver who makes you very comfortable and narrates you about the latest buzz in town. Riding to the city in leisure time is a bliss but if you love Chennai for what it is, you won’t love any other city the way you do Chennai, except that the city with its chaotic beauty has a human spirit that is indomitable and captivating. This time around, we were received by the concierge and my familiar friends from the Taj – Vikas, Ashirbad, Girija and also there was also my friend Mr. Vijay Shrikent who asked us for a meeting later to share a captivating array of new dishes they had imported from Kerala.

The check in was very smooth as usual for me, thanks to Vikash Sharma and Girija, Duty Manager (Ashirbad was was away on a training program – but he made it a point to call me from Goa, as soon as I landed) to the wooden room as I call it (184). Somewhere I had mentioned to Vijay Shrikent that I love wood, can put up with steel but hate plastics. May be for this reason that they had given me the ‘wooden room, huge, all wood – flooring, ceiling and Victorian but refurbished furniture. Once you are into the suite, then the check in formality starts and ends with only a paper to sign, nothing very elaborate about it. Rather simple. The view from suite is fantastic with the swimming pool on the left and the long corridor on the right. There was the pool down behind the restaurant, The Verandah. I have not seen a better pool with all its landscape, so bluish and rejuvenating with all its charms and comfort, close to the Spa. This time we had a fantastic experience in the Rain Tree (Chettinad Restaurant – with a trolley of condiments – beware, once you start licking those mouthwatering condiments or concoctions you will end up forgetting the main menu). Phone to Suresh for a table because it is always difficult to get a table in the Rain Tree. The sidewalk to the Rain Tree is lined with marvels of Indian Art, sculpture and architectural wonders. But those who have been to the Rain Treee, could say, it is a mock-up of the old Chettinad household replicated in Connemara, the incomplete wall finishings, a replica of an ethnic kitchen, with clay tandoor and the works. The food at the Verandah improves day after day and as long as you crave for some ethnic food, you should be happy with what the Verandah and the Rain Tree have to offer in their traditional thalis and period cutleries that remind you of the resplendence of the olden Chettinad Kings. Every inch of the hotel is squeaky clean and house-keeping is prompt and non-intrusive. Thanks to Nagaraju. We had all our special requirements taken care of for Puja by Gopi, though we missed Kannan, who I came to know was under transfer to Taj Fishermen’s Cove. Someone’s loss is someone’s gain.

The pillow works of the bed resemble those of the Leela. We had a sound sleep like a baby that keeps you alert for the rest of the day. Add to that the sumptuous breakfast they offer with varieties of continental, South Indian and oriental menu items that could tickle your taste-buds. I have already mentioned somewhere that nobody makes chicken sausages and pongal like the way the Taj Connemara does. It hardly matters whether they have patented their culinary style.

Full Review

Taj Connemara has got hardly any parallel though we have extensively stayed in almost all the Taj Residences in the country. The Connemara is a standout property in the rebranded Taj bouquet of hospitality offerings. Like its Vivanta siblings, it focuses on delivering premium hotel experiences with imagination, energy and efficiency. This heritage structure was built in 1854 and named Imperial Hotel, renamed Albany in 1886, and called the Connemara in 1890. Today Connemara is a household name in Chennai.

I had the wonderful experience of utilizing their chauffer driven car also. It’s value for money. One of the days, while we were at the breakfast table, Mr. Vijay Shrikent, the General Manager joined us and during the course of our pleasant conversation with him, I mentioned about the improvements he has brought about and he was pleased. He explained about a few imports from Kerala cuisine he has got implemented in the Verandah. Dapper and soft-spoken, Vijay Shrikent is not the kind of person to go overboard or get loud about anything. But turn the light on the hospitality icon he oversees and the general manager of the Taj Connemara (or Vivanta by Taj – Connemara, to give its rebranded, modern name) cannot stop singing the praises of a property that stands apart with its blend of colonial allure and contemporary amenities. Vijay foresees the Connemara standing out in the clutter of competition through the sheer appeal of its elegance. All our future plans, in terms of the overall product and activities, are channeled in this direction.

You don’t have to go to the Taj with an agenda because Taj itself is an agenda, fascinating, homely, luxurious and always magnificent. Right from the General Manager Mr. Vijay Shrikent to the lowest level housekeeping staff Kode, right from front office managers to the waiters in the restaurant, Mr. Bhaskaran in particular, they all speak a single language of unmatched hospitality to make every moment of your stay there a delectable experience. We were stuck one day at the other end of the city and we needed payasam to be made for our evening puja. I called up and asked for Bikash Sharma, narrated our predicament and there he was – our problem was solved.

Colonially elegant and infused with design touches hinting to its imperial past, the Taj Connemara, is Chennai’s only heritage hotel. Modern comforts, thoughtful service, soothing views and complete privacy help make your stay comfortable and memorable. The banquet halls at the Connemara have witnessed some of the most memorable entertainment and social evenings the city has ever hosted. In one of their halls they have a grand piano as an endearing relic of a glorious past. All of this is apart from the emotive connect that the Connemara has with Chennai, its history and its people. This is a very special bond, one that gets stronger with every passing year.

Perhaps the oldest tradition here is the weekly lunch of the Rotary Club of Madras, which has been faithfully meeting here since May 10, 1929. And the tradition continues. We also have The Madras Book Club meetings, which have been held regularly at the Connemara over the last two decades.

For our stay in the certain luxury hotels like the Taj Bengal, Rambagh Palace or the Lake Palace, we used to have a dedicated butler. But in the Taj Connemara, which is a Vivanta hotel, I never missed a butler because many of the staff here, from the rank and file attends to your wishes however eccentric they are with absolute dedication and there is hardly any room for you to ask for more since what you get is always sumptuous with the signature Taj magnanimity befitting that of a king. This is their USP. The Taj hospitality is indomitable. You get value for money in several hotels, but we hardly get value for the heart. In Taj, you get both in plentiful measures and when their senior officers escort you to the car on your way back to the airport or one of their representatives meet you at the destination airport and finishes all the boarding formalities for you, you feel you stay was worth. When we bid farewell one of the staff handed us a package of food which he explained for the road (for the air) For what price you may ask but who else cares like the way they do in the Taj. Memories remain in the mind – delightful and ecstatic until we visit Taj next time. Somebody said nothing works in South, except politics and cinema and lockouts. You ask Mr. Vijay Shrikent, and he would have a different story to tell.

If you were to describe Connemara as you would a person, then think of it as the distinguished and avuncular elder of the family, a repository of stories of an age gone by and a raconteur with whom you can slip into easy comfort. Settled rather comfortably in the heart of Chennai, Vivanta by Taj – Connemara is far more a heritage site than a hotel. It is, in the elegant words of historian S Muthaih, a chronicler of our times, "part of the tradition of Madras".

The Connemara has aged a lot better, becoming one of the great hotels of Asia, spoken of in the same breath as the Taj in Bombay, the Great Eastern in Calcutta, the Gale Face in Colombo and the Raffles in Singapore. Its ownership passed through different hands and its façade and interiors changed with the years, but the Connemara retained the allure that has always characterized it, enhanced by the colonial legacy of which it was born and enlivened by the city that it has embellished with its magisterial presence.

Today the Connemara is a modern hotel in every sense of the word, but this modernity is meshed with a sense of history and custom in a manner that few structures, devoted to the care and well-being of visitors and guests, can boast. The legend that once spanned the entrance of the hotel could scarcely have been better suited:

Nor fame I slight, nor for her favors call,
She comes unlooked for, if she comes at all.

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Taj Connemara – a proud symbol of our tradition Taj Connemara – a proud symbol of our tradition Taj Connemara – a proud symbol of our tradition Taj Connemara – a proud symbol of our tradition Taj Connemara – a proud symbol of our tradition Taj Connemara – a proud symbol of our tradition
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