After many years, the Eastern Hotel threw open its gates again on November 19 last year, albeit with a fresh look and a new brand name – The Lalit Great Eastern, the new moniker courtesy the The Lalit Group, which took over and refurbished the heritage hotel.
A glorious past
Talking of heritage, the Great Eastern is one of the few hotels in India which can boast of a genuinely great heritage. Kolkata, or Calcutta, as it was then known, being the capital of British India helped in the setting up and growth of big businesses in the city, and this was one of the major success stories. And as it happens with many success stories, the start happened on a much smaller scale.
Auckland Hotel opened its doors on November 19, 1841, being named so after the then governor-general Lord Auckland. After 15 years the name changed to Great Eastern Hotel Wine and General Purveying Co., and finally to Great Eastern Hotel Co. Ltd. in 1915.
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, 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
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.
Later, Lalit Suri Hospitality bought the hotel and decided to refurbish it completely, and make it into one of the best heritage hotels in India. Well-known Kolkata-based architect, Dulal Mukherjee worked with the company to redesign the hotel. Extensive work had to be undertaken to restore several parts of the building.
A promising future
The Lalit Great Eastern, now restored to its original glory, is an amalgamation of the styles of three different eras of history – Victorian, Edwardian and Contemporary, reflected in Heritage Block 1, Heritage Block 2 and the New Block, respectively.
Spread across 2.3 acres, the hotel has 221 rooms, 21 deluxe suites, two presidential suites, a ballroom and two speciality restaurants. Modern facilities such as a health spa, a swimming pool and open-air lounges have been added to it.
To add to the heritage feel, some of the rooms are named after famous personalities who have stayed at the hotel. For example, a room is named after Mark Twain, while another bears the name of Michael Madhusudan Dutt.
The hotel is completely in sync with global standards of heritage hotels.
The reopening of Great Eastern Hotel is also symbolic of the city turning around, after years of neglect. Keeping up with the times, blending heritage with modernity, the City of Joy is slowly but surely reclaiming its due place in history.
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