The newly opened Taj Swarna is located on the northern fringes of Amritsar, the largest city in the Indian Punjab. The hotel is 11.7 kilometres from Amritsar airport and provides easy access to the old city, the Golden Temple, Ram Bagh Gardens and other sights.
With just 148 rooms and nine suites, Taj Swarna Amritsar is definitely at the boutique end of the spectrum, but still projects a grand, sophisticated image. The impeccable public spaces are a masterclass in modern Indian interior design, blending clean, modernist lines with rich Phulkari fabrics and a touch of Bollywood - note the huge chandelier in the foyer. The hotel, which opened in April 2017, has two restaurants (The Grand Trunk and The Chinese Room) plus a lively evening bar called The Peg which delivers a steady stream of live cricket on TV and beats from a resident DJ. The hotel's recreational facilities include a lap pool, luxury day spa and fitness centre.
Guest rooms are uncluttered and elegant, with just enough luxury touches to keep the most demanding traveller happy. My Taj Club Room was spacious, well lit and richly decorated with Indian throw rugs and bright cushions. I particularly liked the dinky yellow sofa at the bottom of my bed. The marble-clad bathroom was compact but well designed with a deep tub and plenty of fluffy towels. The big windows, meanwhile, provided a panoramic view of the old city. Since my room was on the fifth floor I also had access to a private Club lounge and the services of a butler and assistant butler.
Before you charge out into the chaotic streets of Amritsar in search of street food, pull up a chair in The Grand Trunk which serves some of the city's best North Indian cuisine. The menu includes local favourites such as Parati Gosht, (seared lamb), Dal Amritsari (lentils simmered in a clay oven) and Lasooni Palak (spinach flavoured with burnt garlic and fenugreek). Finish off with a house-made dessert like Kulfi Falooda, Gulab Jamun or Rangla Punjab - an ice-cream sundae served with dried fruit and rose syrup. For breakfast tuck into wafer-thin dosa, paratha packed with potato, cottage cheese and cauliflower or Idli, a cake made from fermented rice and lentils.
Cocooned inside the air-conditioned Taj Swarna enclave, it's easy to forget that India is right on the doorstep. Nearby Circular Road is teeming with little workshops, mobile phone sellers, food stalls and other colourful shops. You can pick up a bicycle rickshaw here if you need one. For something a little more tourist-friendly Trilium Mall, which is adjacent to the hotel, has several familiar outlets, like the Body Shop, Lacoste and Gant. The concierge will be happy to arrange a guided tour of the Golden Temple or a visit to the Indian-Pakistan border crossing at Wagah to witness the evening flag-lowering ceremony, another must-do experience in Amritsar.
This compact yet stylish five-star hotel is a much-needed luxury option in Amritsar. Standard rooms are modestly priced and the facilities, food and service are exceptional.
Taj Swarna Amritsar, Plot No. C-3 Outer Circular Road, Opposite Basant Avenue, Amritsar, Punjab 143001, INDIA. Phone: +91 183 665 8000. From $142 a night, including free Wi-Fi. Buffet breakfast is extra. See https://taj.tajhotels.com
Mark Chipperfield stayed as a guest of Taj Swarna Amritsar and Abercrombie & Kent.