Great Eastern Reopening – Resurgence of Kolkata’s lost heritage

Great Eastern Reopening – Resurgence of Kolkata’s lost heritage

November 10, 2013

The Great Eastern hotel in the heart of Calcutta will throw its gates open again on November 19, with a fresh look and a new brand name.

A glorious past

Great Eastern was opened for the first time on November 19, 1841. The hotel was initially called the Auckland Hotel after British governor-general Lord Auckland. It was renamed Great Eastern Hotel in 1915.

November 19 is also the birth anniversary of Lalit Suri, the founder of Lalit Suri Hospitality, which owns a 90 per cent stake in the hotel, which will now be known as Lalit Great Eastern.

During its heyday, the hotel was known variously as the "Jewel of the East" and the "Savoy of the East" and was prosaically described by Kipling in his short story City of Dreadful Night. It was said of the hotel that "a man could walk in at one end, buy a complete outfit, a wedding present, or seeds for the garden, have an excellent meal, a burra peg (double) and if the barmaid was agreeable, walk out at the other end engaged to be married".

The hotel has housed many famous personalities including Nikita Khrushchev and Nikolai Bulganin, Elizabeth II, Mark Twain, Dave Brubeck, and Mahatma Gandhi. Until its closure for restoration in 2005, the hotel was the longest continuously operating hotel in Asia.

Bringing back the glory

Team had the privilege of visiting the hotel recently and witness how work was being executed at a “rapid pace” to meet the deadline; almost 90 per cent of the hotel could be used once it was formally launched.

The Bengal government took over Great Eastern in the late 1970s after a financial crisis had brought the hotel to the brink of closure. However, the Left Front government failed to improve the hotel’s condition because of several problems, including labour trouble and a lack of bookings.

To revive the fortunes of the hotel, the previous government sold 90 per cent of the government’s stake to Lalit Suri Hospitality.

A promising future

City-based architect Dulal Mukherjee, who has helped Lalit Suri Hospitality redesign the hotel, said extensive work had to be undertaken to restore several parts of the building.

The property had been broadly divided into two parts — the original building, called the “heritage block”, and another portion that reflects contemporary trends in the hospitality sector.

Spread across 2.3 acres, the hotel will have 221 rooms, 21 deluxe suites, two presidential suites, a ballroom and two speciality restaurants. It will also have modern facilities such as a health spa, swimming pool and open-air lounges.

According to the plans, the new Great Eastern will meet global standards. Some of the rooms will be named after famous personalities who have stayed at the hotel. For example, a room will be named after Mark Twain. Another will bear the name of Michael Madhusudan Dutt.

Parting Thought

The reopening of Great Eastern Hotel is just symbolic. After years of neglect and stalemate, the city slowly turning around.

Keeping up with the times, blending heritage with modernity, the City of Joy promises to reclaim its due place in history.

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Comments (3)
November 12, 2013
If its a heritage building, please consider reducing traffic load and commercial activities in the vicinity.
Mainak Reply
November 10, 2013
Once it was the pride of Kolkata... hope it regains that former glory.
R Gupta Reply
November 10, 2013
This is the right way to preserve Calcutta's rich heritage instead of raising beautiful buildings and putting up non-descript apartment buildings.
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