Review: Oberoi Amarvilas and a visit to the Taj Mahal

For the past year or so I’ve been traveling so much that I haven’t been able to even keep current on trip reports. The good news is that I’m now caught up, which means that in the future I hope to write them as the actual trip happens.

The one glaring omission from my trip reports being “current” is my trip to India and the Maldives from last year. It was such a mega-trip that I kept putting the trip report off so that I didn’t fall too far behind on other reports, which were shorter. It’s sad because my trip to India was probably the best I’ve ever taken. From a tourist’s standpoint, India is one of those countries you either love or hate. Very few people have visited and feel indifferent towards it. I loved India, and can’t wait to return.

So I want to go ahead and wrap up some loose ends from that trip, and I’ll do so in individual installments.

I’ve already written about my stays at the Aman properties in India, which were hands down the three most specular hotel experiences I’ve had in my life. First we visited Aman New Delhi, then Aman-i-Khas, and then Amanbagh (if you haven’t read those reports I suggest checking them out).

Anyway, our first stop after the Aman New Delhi was the Oberoi Amarvilas, which is the only resort where every room overlooks the Taj Mahal. We stayed there for only one night as it was ~$400 for the night, though worth every penny.

The drive from Delhi to Agra took about five hours, and driving in India is anything but boring. We were there right after monsoon season so we literally drove down a rough, dirt road almost the whole way. The drive usually only takes 3-4 hours, though the roads added substantially to our travel time.


Driving in India


Driving in India


Driving in India

We pulled into the hotel in the early evening and were immediately welcomed by a handful of bellmen. The resort entrance is stunning, and I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.


Oberoi Amarvilas entrance


Oberoi Amarvilas entrance

The lobby was also beautiful, and we were immediately offered towels and drinks as we were welcomed to have a seat on the balcony as they processed check-in.


Lobby


Lobby

All I could say was WOW. That’s the Taj-friggin-Mahal! From the balcony of our hotel. Wow. In addition to that amazing view, they had musicians and dancers performing on the building across from the pool.


View of the Taj Mahal


Dancers

After having some drinks on the balcony we were escorted to our room, which was their entry level premier room. It’s worth noting that every room at this hotel features a view of the Taj Mahal.


Hallway

The room had two twin beds, a desk, and TV.


Premier room


Premier room


Premier room

While I’ll talk a bit more about the Taj Mahal shortly, let me just say it’s something pictures can’t do justice. Having a view of the Taj Mahal probably ranks as one of my favorite hotel memories ever.


View of Taj Mahal from our room

The bathroom was pretty spacious and featured a sink and shower.


Bathroom


Tub


Shower

All rooms at the Oberoi come with butler service, which include the following:


Butler service

I do find it kind of funny how they list all the things the butler is there for, and then say “any other service you may like.” Might as well not list anything at all! 😀

I also loved the “Do Not Disturb” sign.


Funny!

We got up at around 5AM and were in line at the Taj Mahal by 5:30AM, as it opens at 6AM. We had a guide who was fantastic and shared some some interesting stories. The most interesting had to be about what eunuchs do in India to make a living. Since it’s such a taboo they apparently show up at every “happy” event (birth, wedding, etc.) and refuse to leave until they’re paid exorbitant amounts of money, or they’ll bring bad luck. Our tour guide recently had a child and paid an exorbitant amount of money for the eunuch not to disrobe in front of his home, or else he feared it would bring bad luck to his son.

Anyway, on to the Taj Mahal. I don’t know what to say. Pictures simply can’t do it justice. They can’t. There are some landmarks I feel like you can “see” on Google Images and get a good idea of, while there are others that have some spirit about them that you can’t experience unless you’re there. The Taj Mahal is one of them.


Entrance to the Taj Mahal


Taj Mahal


Taj Mahal

After touring for a few hours and hearing about its history we went back to the hotel for breakfast. While the spread was fantastic, the service was even better. The servers were amazingly enthusiastic, sincere, and friendly, as I found to be the case more in India than just about anywhere else. For example, as I went around taking pictures of the buffet they’d follow me around and open the lids to make sure I could capture a picture of everything. They jokingly added “you’re posting these on Trip Advisor, right?”


Musician outside the restaurant


Restaurant servers


Restaurant


Breakfast buffet


Breakfast buffet


Breakfast buffet


Breakfast buffet


Breakfast buffet


Breakfast buffet


Breakfast buffet


Breakfast

The hotel also has a beautiful pool with stunning architecture all around it, though we didn’t have time to spend there as we were continuing to Ranthambore the same day.


Resort


Resort


Pool

The hotel also had a nice gym, which I didn’t have the chance to use during our short stay.


Gym


Gym

This hotel is consistently ranked one of the top “X” hotels in the world and is typically sold out months in advance, and for good reason, in my opinion. If the Taj Mahal wasn’t on your “bucket list” of places to see, add it. And while this hotel is pricey, staying here for one night is well worth the cost for the views alone. You won’t regret it.

Amans and Oberois, damn you for ruining my impression of virtually every other hotel chain!

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Comments

  1. Ahhhh..it brings back my memory when I first saw Taj Mahal in person. It does look like super nice hotel. However back in the days we were in student budget so we traveled from New Delhi and back on the same day. It was rough to do it in one day. But we did see a leash bear begging for money on the way.

  2. Hehe reminds me of visiting the Taj Mahal as a kid in the 90s, cramming 5 family members into a Hindustan Ambassador plus a driver for a day-trip from Delhi. Your trip seems a bit more luxurious :p

  3. Thank you so much for this; something I definitely plan on doing…

    Regarding the hotel, the rooms looked well kept, a bit shabby, if I may say so, from the pictures…Did it feel that way in the room? Or am I just unfortunately comparing it to new US hotels…?

  4. @ Oscar — What am I missing?

    @ blueline7 — They definitely weren’t the most modern rooms, though I found them to be charming without being shabby. This definitely isn’t a place to go exclusively for the rooms, though. I don’t think the pictures did it justice.

    @ JetAway — We had a driver with us the entire time. Gotta love how affordable that is in India!

  5. Stayed here with the family on my trip to India a couple years back. Was a fantastic location, but I spent a little to much time on that toilet you pictured… 😉

  6. “Amans and Oberois, damn you for ruining my impression of virtually every other hotel chain!” You are finally getting it! Next time your in Bali (yeah you love it but 10 years ago let alone in the 80’s)You will find whats left of old Bali is in the regions where the Aman hotels are and the Bali of old exists. Oh and you do villas in Bali and Thailand not hotels. Excited by the Park Hyatt Sydney, 85% of the money s in the view, The Langham doesn’t have the view but is a much more refined Hotel within a few minutes walk of the Park Hyatt and is in the residential area and not the tourist area. The Russell Hotel is sublime, if you can get in but don’t do points. Your realiseing that the best things in life are not free!

    I will break one of my cardinal rules for those who read this the superlative view of the Opera house, Cumberland Hotel, have a draught beer on the roof top for 5.00US. then walk under the bridge or through Argyle cut to the Paragon Hotel for the most famous local view of the Bridge and the Langham is in the middle. Stay at the Russell, and have a meal at the Atlantic restaurant all for less than the rack rate at the Hyatt (it only has rack rates unless you are using points and god be your bank manager if you want a view, half the hotel faces the foundations of the bridge!)Yes it’s a blog about spending points but I read it for the luxury?? component of course I make allowances for the American hotel chains.

    @Oscar it’s a blog about travel and the perks if you want to make inuindos about some thing other than that it’s none of your bushinesses and not relevant here or is your name Frank!

  7. Butlers in high end hotels is becoming quite common practise. The only issue is that in most cases, unless in countries where staff is trained well, it remains a marketing ploy. Having a butler at an Aman (and even there, it’s an exception, given that everybody in house takes care of you) is quite different from having one at a St Regis where training is poor, like in Singapore where our butler, though charming and polite,was just a former waiter who had been trained really lightly (unless you’re staying at the flagship property in NYC).
    However, seeing a list of services available is a really good thing. Most travelers don’t have any real experience when it comes to using their services (it’s not like if we all had butlers at our homes :D), tend to feel discomfortable for using them (lack of knowledge and maybe even fear because of symbolism) and therefore don’t use them. By explaining these services you basically encourage the guest to use butlers without feeling discomfortable, whose cost is incorporated in the room rate !

  8. It will really be helpful for your readers to state what it cost you to stay in your trip reports: What you paid, or how many points you burned, or if it was a stay that a sponsor provided. Some of us non travel bloggers just can not afford the mega bucks you guys pay. It will also be helpful if you put this info on TOP of the post so if it breaks our price point we…stop reading & go to the next travel blog. Just a few suggestions.

    Dang it, Taj Mahal just moved up on my go to list now, thanks a lot!!

  9. We spent New Year’s here in 2004.. The view of the Taj is just magical; probably ranks as one of the best views I’ve ever had. I sat on the balcony each morning drinking coffee and taking it in… truly spectacular

  10. @ Duncan — Will be staying at the Park Hyatt Sydney in a couple of months and of course could never afford it, though I’m using points. Saving up to hopefully do the Aman Bali experience next time I’m there, as I’ve heard amazing things. If only they weren’t so darn expensive!

    @ gpapadop — It’s in the first paragraph of the actual review. 😉

    @ John — I haven’t posted it yet, as that’s next.

  11. Agree you have to see the Taj Mahal in order to really understand its beauty. My favorite picture from my trip to India is a picture of the Taj Mahal taken from across the river at the Fort at sunset. I wish we had stayed at the Oberoi but that was not in the budget for that trip.

  12. Ben- Your breakfast plate is full of Indian food. How did you like the food while you were in India? Did you get sick at all?

  13. @ John — Loved, loved, LOVED Indian food! Only got sick once… on a five hour car ride to Delhi. Worst five hours of my life. I’ll stop there…

  14. Luck is right, seeing the Taj “in person” is a completely different experience from seeing pictures of it. It somehow seems to shimmer in front of you – it’s like it’s alive, moving. In pictures it’s just pretty. In person it’s utterly amazing, almost transcendental.

    Of course I’m sure it looks even better with a “ladies high value ticket”…

  15. I’ve been to India twice on business, total of 4 weeks, gotten sick from food once. I recommend staying and eating in good quality hotels, or eating in restaurants you’ve carefully “vetted” beforehand.

  16. I was in India for two months. I agree eating in good hotels helps and choosing high end restaurants. I watched everything I put in my mouth. I had no ice for 60 days and drank a lot of bottled water (make sure the bottle is opened in front of you). I missed getting a really nasty bug by 5 or 6 days. Two of my coworkers went out to eat together and both got giardia (sp?). If I had been in country at the time I would have been at dinner with them.

  17. @ Dan — I think in the US people are extreme with personal space. For example, you see empty seats on the subway/train all the time where people choose to stand instead of sitting next to someone. People definitely get a bit closer in India and push quite a bit, though not much worse than other places, in my opinion.

  18. I am not sure why tourists to India insist on taking a taxi or private car for long distances. In cases where the train is impractical, I would think a bus would be more comfortable. Of course bus service runs the gamut in terms of quality, but I’m sure you can find a high quality bus service on such busy routes. A good bus will be more comfortable than a private car, or god forbid, an auto rickshaw, for anything more than a couple of hours. On rough roads the motion of the bus will be less, simply because it’s a much bigger vehicle. Sit near the front or middle if you get motion sick. Take a taxi at the other end to get to your final destination. Buses are safer and you won’t get nearly as many stares from pedestrians.

  19. Hi Lucky–
    I love reading your reports. Did you post a report for your flights to/from India. I’m wondering which airlines are the best in that region and it would be very helpful if you posted a TR on the flights. thanks!

  20. @ NYCFLYEr — Sadly never got around to it. I flew American on a service which has been discontinued in the meantime, unfortunately. Nowadays if flying to/from India I’d say you’re generally best off using Star Alliance miles.

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