The noise of traffic along Strand Road, one of Kolkata&rsquos busiest thoroughfares, fell away as I crossed the Circular Railway line and entered the white washed portals of the land-based reception of the floating hotel, which lay docked beyond, on the Hooghly River.
Originally opened in 2007, probably the first floating hotel in India, the Floatel had caught people&rsquos fancy. But then owing to various reasons, it was shut down. Now, acquired by Hotel Polo Towers Group, a flagship hotel brand from north-eastern India, the hotel has got a thorough makeover. Rechristened Polo Floatel, it is now an upscale full-service hotel, including an all-day multi-cuisine restaurant, The Bridge - Bistro Bar.
The reception done up in marine blue and with lots of shipping paraphernalia led to a jetty which connected with the floating hotel. Tucked between the landmark Howrah Bridge (Rabindra Setu) and the Second Hooghly Bridge (Vidyasagar Setu), the hotel offered a panoramic view of the Hooghly River and the opposite banks. But what was heartening to note during a quick tour of the ship was that, unlike its predecessor, it had a feeling of airiness.
There are a total of 58 luxuriously appointed cabins, divided into Strand View Cabins, River View Cabins, River View Suite with Balcony, Strand View Suite with Balcony, Strand View Heritage Suite with Deck, and River View Heritage Suite with Deck. The cabins feature eclectic décor elements with specially sourced maps and souvenirs reflecting the old Calcutta of the erstwhile colonial period. Rooms come with features such as wardrobes, television, wi-fi access, in-room dining, etc. Room rates are upwards of Rs 4,500.
Keeping the corporate clients and social gatherings (wedding, birthday parties, etc.) in mind, Polo Floatel offers a range of banquet spaces, well-equipped with modern amenities, spacious seating arrangements, a dedicated event planning team and innovative menu options. Banqueting and conferencing spaces have independent access and breakaway rooms. Besides, there are lawns and open decks with lovely views of the river. In fact, Polo Floatel is a photographers&rsquo delight &ndash from serious ones to Instagram fans.
Polo Floatel has used its location to its advantage to offer its guests some special services (on separate payment basis), including boat rides and heritage walks. From time to time, they also host musical programmes, including rendition of folk songs by rural artists. From Anchorage Boat Ride Deck, you can leave for an exclusive cruise on the river, with a special picnic hamper. The hotel is located near the Kolkata&rsquos central business district (Benoy Badal Dinesh Bagh or Dalhousie Square), an area famous for its heritage structures, and an early morning guided walk will show you why Calcutta was called the &lsquocity of palaces&rsquo in the yesteryears. If you are fond of museums, with special permission you may pay a visit to the Maritime Archives and Heritage Centre maintained by the Kolkata Port Trust.
According to Deval Tibrewalla, CEO, Hotel Polo Towers Group. &ldquoWe are re-launching the iconic Floatel to become the definitive address for style seekers. The all new re-imagined Polo Floatel preserves its maritime legacy and a sense of fun whilst providing the Polo Towers Experience that we are known for.&rdquo
The tour of the ship concluded with a sumptuous lunch at The Bridge - Bistro Bar on the upper deck. Depending on your mood and the time of the day, you may settle down at the bar or at the well laid out covered dining area or the open air lounge area. The afternoon being hot, we decided to opt for the covered dining area. The curated menu appeared to be based on three pillars &ndash the Hotel Polo Towers Group&rsquos rich North East heritage, old Calcutta favourites and the chef&rsquos modern take on comfort food.
We started off with Naga Chilli Cheese Toast, with our host warning us to go easy as the chilli is known for its pungency. But thankfully, the cheddar cheese had partly taken off the heat. Next we dug into a Mediterranean Mezze Platter (falafel fritters, mini pita, baba ghanoush, beetroot hummus, tzatziki, marinated olives and fattoush salad) which was refreshing after the spicy toast. Next we chose the Boathouse Bistro Fish Fry (made of air fried breaded bhetki fish fillet, served with fries and chilli mustard sauce). Thin crust handmade pizza loaded with veggies, and spaghetti pasta in tomato chilli basil sauce opened the mains. But I waved them away to sample the Kolkata Mutton Biryani served with a side of raita. The mutton was succulent and the potato melt-in-the mouth but the biryani was a tad on the sweeter side. The Pork in Massaman Curry with Jasmine Rice was also quite a hit. A meal for two would be upwards of Rs 2500 (with alcohol).
By the time we were over with the meal, the sun had slipped down the horizon, giving us the perfect excuse to move outdoors for our dessert and coffee. As we dug into the yummy Nutella Banofee Pie, we watched the life on the river unfold below. Small fishing boats and slow moving cargo boats floated by. The regular ferry boats were more frequent and sailed away speedily. Some of us scanned the river to see if we could catch a glimpse of the rare Gangetic Dolphin, one of the four species of river dolphins found in the world. But we were not lucky though the staff working on board said they have seen the animal occasionally.