More stars for Kashmir

A five star hotel conceived by Shiekh Abdullah and businessman Khawaja Saif-ud-din Baba took more than thirty years to complete. With a management contract with Tata group, the hotel is expected to bring world class service and high end tourists to Kashmir. Ibrahim Wani reports.

When the steep climb on the Kralsangri hill completes, a spectacle awaits. The view from the hill top is mesmerising. The meandering roads around the Dal, the in-bloom Tulip garden, the royal spring’s golf course on one side which looks below, and the Zabarwan range on the other. All of Srinagar can be seen from the top even the airport which is 20 Kilometers away.

Any tourist who would visit this place would never want to leave. It was this thought which prompted Khawaja Saif-ud-din Baba, owner of the Saifco business group to construct a world class hotel at Kralsangri. Khawaja is popularly known as Saif Neelam, on the name of the famous cinema he owned in Srinagar. The plan to build a hotel at Kralsangri was actually conceived by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah around three decades ago.

On April 17, around 30 years after they first dreamed of the project, Khwaja saw his and the late Sheikh’s plan finally fulfilled. “The plan to build a hotel at Kralsangri was conceived by Sheikh Abdullah. Its foundation stone was laid by Farooq Abdullah and it was inaugurated by his son, Omar Abdullah,” said Khwaja at the inauguration of the five star hotel.

The dream comes true for Khwaja after numerous delays and hiccups along the way, the most prominent being when in 1986 Jagmohan – the then governor stopped the construction raising environmental concerns. The construction was restarted in 1987 during Farooq Abdullah’s government after a favourable court judgment. Militancy in the state also put the project back by a number of years.

Addressing the gathering on the inauguration, Khwaja Saif-ud-din who could hardly speak because of old age, said that it was a dream come true for him. He also pointed out the resort would be a ‘no-smoking’ and a ‘no-polythene’ zone addressing environmental concerns.

The hotel inauguration marks the maiden foray of the world renowned Taj group of hotels, with whom a management contract has been signed.  Under the contract signed on December 10, 2009, the hotel has been christened as Vivanta- the up market brand of the Taj group.

The resort constructed at a cost of over a hundred crores and spread over an area of six acres, offers 89 rooms and 6 suites, including a 2,500 sq feet presidential suite. Each room has a comfortable study table, 40 inch LCD TVs and large plush bathrooms with bathtubs and rain showers.

All the suites offer a private balcony. The hotel also offers a choice of dining options including Latitude – the coffee shop, and Jade Dragon – Chinese specialty restaurant. The hotel also has high-tech meeting rooms, a well equipped business centre and retail spaces besides an exotic spa – Jiva.

“While Jammu and Kashmir needs no introduction, we feel that there is great scope to develop tourism and hospitality here. This hotel will generate employment and will have a downstream effect in bringing business to Kashmir. We are happy to have received support and encouragement from the government and hope to grow and expand in the state,” said Abhijit Mukerji, Executive Director, Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces.

The agreement with the Taj group is a revenue sharing one, where 20 percent of the annual turnover will be Taj’s under the management contract.  While as most of the management will be drawn from outside the state, most of the staff in the hotel would be local. “We have around eighty percent of the staff selected locally,” said a hotel insider.

“We are very happy that Taj is coming to Srinagar. This is a very positive development for Jammu and Kashmir as it will enhance tourism in the state,” said Omar Abdullah, state’s Chief Minister.

Farooq Abdullah praised the efforts of the Saifco group in making his father’s dream possible. “The hotel will boost tourism in the state,” he said. Reverting to his humorous self he added that people with money should help the poor and the needy “and also take care of the political parties and the stone-pelters.”

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