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'Pandit-ji' adds a dash of opulence to his UK hotels
Shyam Bhatia in London | November 17, 2003 16:12 IST
A Non-Resident Indian in the United Kingdom, enchanted by his memory of luxury living in Dubai, has decided to relive the experience through his newly acquired five-star hotel in the heart of London.
Joginder Sanger is known among his friends as 'Pandit-ji,' a reference to his Brahmin roots and to the high esteem in which he is held as a mover and shaker within the UK's Indian community.
Earlier this year he and his family had the surprise of their lives when they visited Dubai and stayed at the legendary Burj Al Arab, where room rates start at $1,000 a night.
What was planned as a pleasant three-day stopover en-route to India, turned into a five-day adventure, then a seven-day experience and, finally, a nine-day odyssey that the family continues to remember with delight and appreciation.
"The gifts in our rooms alone were each worth $200," recalls 61-year-old Sanger, explaining that the Burj staff offered him a generous discount, amounting to two nights' free accommodation, if they extended their stay.
Back in London, memories of the Dubai experience so captivated Sanger that he determined to take a leaf out of the Burj's book in refurbishing the 64-room Bentley hotel aimed exclusively at the upmarket traveller visiting the British capital.
It is not just the prices -- £4,000 per night for the three bedroom Imperial Suite -- that invoke memories of upmarket Dubai, but also the luxury furnishings, rich colours and haute cuisine that so many Gulf hotels have long taken for granted.
On Sanger's instructions, the interior designers brought in to refurbish his hotel have dispensed with the 'minimalism' so popular throughout the 1990s.
Instead, they have gone on an extended shopping spree to bring in African and Italian marble, Louis XV furniture, crystal chandeliers and deep red silk fabrics to cover the walls.
"People want to be comfortable and cosy and they can't do this in a minimalist property," asserts general manager David Cowdery. "So it's spend, spend, spend time, and only the best will do."
Other elements of the 'best' include a Turkish-style hamam and gourmet cuisine prepared by chef Andrew Turner, either in a private dining room, or within one of the Bentley's opulent restaurants.
Although Sanger readily accepts that the Bentley could become the jewel in his crown of other hotels, it is the 120-room Washington Hotel, a four-star establishment in London's Mayfair, that is the current flagship of his expanding empire.
He also owns a budget hotel near London's Heathrow airport and a fourth boutique hotel near Oxford Circus that is due to open in the months to come.
Sanger is typical of the UK's enterprising NRIs who have propelled themselves upwards and onwards through a combination of sheer hard work and business acumen.
Loyal to his adopted country, as much as he is to India, his ready wit, and warmth have won him a wide circle of devoted friends.
When he first came to the UK in 1962, Sanger opened a travel agency that led to his subsequent appointment as general sales agent, first for Air-India and then PanAm until the American airline closed down in 1991.
Business came hand in glove with social work that has seen him actively involved in raising funds for worthwhile causes, including the Gurudwara Singh Sabha in Southall, London's Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, the Balaji Temple in Birmingham and the UK's Sardar Patel Memorial Society.
Although he continues to operate a small travel business on Poland Street, off London's New Oxford Street, Sanger now spends more time overseeing his fast growing hotel chain.
His nearest ethnic rivals in the hotel industry to date are the India-based Taj group, who own the prestigious St James Court near the UK houses of parliament, and Kenyan-Indian businessman Jasminder Singh, who recently took over the Intercontinental on London's Park Lane.
Sanger is unfazed by the competition. He says there is plenty of room in the business for all who are prepared to work hard. It is a measure of the respect he commands that even his rivals defer to him as 'Pandit-ji.'
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