Mumbai, May 22 (IANS) Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who stayed a brief 15 hours in Mumbai, felt “fascinated” by his sojourn in the iconic Taj Mahal and Palace Hotel, officials said here Wednesday.
Li, who arrived at the hotel along with his large entourage, left after breakfast around 8 a.m. Wednesday morning.
The hotel team was prepared to receive the VVIP with a red carpet, an ethnic Indian ceremony complete with the auspicious `aarti’, `tika’ and garland with melodious tunes of the sitar and tabla playing in the background.
Besides his official meetings with Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, family members of the legendary Indian medico Dwarkanath Kotnis and captains of the Indian business and industry, Li also interacted with the hotel staff.
He particularly expressed his gratitude to Hemant Oberoi, corporate chef and grand executive chef, who carefully designed the visiting dignitary’s menu.
After his official engagements, Li was shown to the famous Tata Suite commanding an awesome view of the Mumbai Harbour, Gateway of India, the promenade and the Arabian Sea.
Symbolising grand splendour and sophistication, the same suite has earlier hosted US President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Hollywood star Tom Cruise among many others.
As part of the customized preparation for the Chinese Premier, 13 dedicated staffers catered to his every need, ensuring a taste of royal living – a luxury and extravagance that was once the sole preserve of kings!
Li was awestruck by the facade of the hotel and impressed by the quintessential service he was extended – he lived at the Hotel Taj Palace in New Delhi during the first leg of his visit.
“We are honoured by the premier’s visit. The Taj has had a long association with China and we look forward to deepening our relationship with the country,” said Indian Hotels Co. Ltd. managing director and CEO Raymond N. Bickson, who was present to receive Li.
Interestingly, the Chinese premier preferred to stick to a largely Chinese menu for dinner Tuesday night, supervised by Oberoi.
The four course dinner included cold starters, Tofu, pickled winter melon and five pice nuts, followed by a sweet corn vegetable soup and a selection of main course non-vegetarian and vegetarian fare.
This included sliced lamb with onions, shredded chicken in red and green pepper, prawns kaseong, stir fried vegetables, kung pao vegetables, dry cooked haricot, stuffed peppers with mustard sauce and mixed fried rice.
The meal was downed with a dessert comprising fresh mangoes and five spice sabayon.
To commemorate the Li Keqiang visit, the hotel’s celebrated Golden Dragon restaurant launched a delectable Sunday Dimsum brunch.
A spokesperson said that the hotel’s association with China goes back to four decades when it opened the country’s first Sichuan restaurant Golden Dragon here in 1973, followed by the House of Ming in Hotel Taj Mahal, New Delhi, in 1978.
“Since then, we have been privileged to host several Chinese dignitaries including (former Chinese) president Hu Jintao, (former Chinese) premier Wen Jiabao, (classical pianist) Yuja Wang and several others,” the spokesperson said.
Now, the Taj Group is spreading wings to China with the launch of Hotel Taj Temple of Heaven in Beijing next year, besides a property in Hainan island, a premium holiday resort.
Soon to follow would be another Vivanta By Taj Hotel in the Kunming Expo Garden in Yunnan province.
Prior to his departure Wednesday morning, the Taj presented a coffee table book, “The Taj at Apollo Bunder” penned by historians Charles Allen and the late Sharda Dwivedi, written over two decades.
With a foreword by Ratan Tata, the book tells the story of an unique institution which has come to epitomize the resilient spirit of Mumbai since over a century.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at [email protected])