All the happenings, stories and snippets from the vibrant world of Serena Hotels Pakistan
Our featured blogger is Nageen Hyat, Human Rights & Social Activist, founding member of Women’s Action Forum (WAF), Curator and Founder-Director of the Nomad Gallery.
It is a gray, overcast morning in Islamabad as I drive up the steep ramp to the entrance of the Islamabad Serena Hotel, cradled in and supported by the massive sandstone wall. Nestled in the heart of the Capital with the landmark Margalla Hills to its North, on no less than fourteen acres of superbly landscaped terrain, the commanding exterior of the building appears austere, dramatically rugged and non-conformist; as I reach the entrance level, I find the majesty of the view rather exhilarating and diverse…. stretching over the verdant Margallas to the Rawal Lake at the other end. The towering structures and manicured gardens are impressive and, in spite of being a frequent visitor to the hotel, I notice each detail more closely since it will be ‘my home away from home’ for the weekend as part of a cultural route that I have undertaken as a nomadic traveller seeking to find destinations with strong cultural nuances. Obviously you need some sort of a framework; mine was provided by the Serena Hotels.
I find what I am seeking, beyond the thorough security checks at the entrance, on accessing the dramatically lit, lofty main lobby. .. a meticulous blend of the richness of traditional and contemporary Islamic architecture and design. The central fountain, artfully designed and richly decorated, geometrical flooring and the magnificent hand-etched Iranian ‘Lalae’ or ‘Shamadaan’ almost floating from the aesthetic, hand-painted ceiling. I learn that the exquisite ‘naqqashi’ (painting) on the high ceiling was by the deft hands of the master painter Ustad Saif-ur -Rehman , a winner of the coveted Pride of Performance award, and other artistic creations have been achieved by the brilliant Michoo Salahuddin,Pakistan’s National Ceramist , Shafique Rana and Usad Allah Rakha. Indeed an impressive way to keep dying crafts alive and reflect Pakistan’s culture!
After receiving a warm welcome, I was whisked through reception and escorted to a charming suite on the fourth floor of the Rawal Wing. The interior is spacious and designed with strong influences from the region of Swat – richly carved furniture, warm tones of woven ‘jamavaar’ and printed textiles and textured furnishings. Original paintings hang on select walls and create an evocative mood. The view from the rooms is unhindered and the natural beauty of Islamabad is visible and enhanced through the mist and shifting clouds, creating a romantic ambiance.
I felt the true spirit of the hotel as I walked down the elegant and understated corridors, observing the painted niches at one end and the jewel like ceramic insets at the other.
The attention to detail is inspiring and makes for an enjoyable and aesthetic experience when I enter Wild Rice, the Asian cuisine restaurant, for lunch. The mood of the interior shifts to warmer tones of the Orient and an atmosphere of peace and serenity with splashes of saturated colour on various walls, dramatic imagery of the artwork and a welcoming, open kitchen…
After a delicately flavoured, exotic meal, I wandered through the hotel, stopping at the Satrang Gallery to view a group exhibition of contemporary art. The SerenArts initiative was launched by the Serena Hotels in March 2012 and is a thriving space with an aim to encourage young artists and artisans.
The Bazaar court- attractive free standing garden structures creating an elegant focal point as well as a cool, shady retreat. Soon, the comforting hot chocolate arrived and I lingered on in the garden with a book and newspapers till the temperature dropped considerably and the chilly breeze, so reminiscent of Islamabad’s winter, forced the guests to move indoors.
My evening was spent in the suite – an ideal environment to relax in, order room service and step out to the terrace overlooking the gardens and watch the twinkling lights of an Islamabad night. I picked out a book from the select collection, so thoughtfully provided, and proceeded to read for a while…
The sky was azure blue the following morning, so I stepped out for an early morning walk in the hotel’s undulating gardens surrounded by the delicate charm and heady fragrance of roses in a sumptuous, deep velvety bloom. Wandered through the ‘Baradari’, an area defined by columns and arches around the glimmering water of the swimming pool with an open kitchen offering grilled items.
After a light breakfast, I headed to the Maisha Spa and Health Club, a haven of serenity, spread over three levels, offering a Spa, state-of the- art Gym and Zen space. The treatments offered are ancient, varied and rather exotic. I choose the Maisha Fusion massage, which was an ideal choice to pamper and revive body, spirit and mind in the hands of Ayu, a trained therapist. The aromatic ginger tea that followed needs special mention!
The temperature controlled swimming pool is inviting as I view it from the Nazara Lounge, a unique and special restaurant on the 6th level of the Hotel’s Margalla Wing. The panoramic view from Nazara is magnificent, encompassing the spiritual power of nature in the surroundings of the city. The seating areas were occupied with various groups of business travellers – gathered from the rather audible conversation on their mobile phones – as well as families on holiday!
At mid-day, the lilting strain of the sitar drew me towards the popular Zamana restaurant where I paused to acknowledge the two musicians playing near the entrance. I received a smiling nod and moved on to a warm welcome at Zamana, overlooking the gardens and linking the inner spaces with the natural environment almost fused as one. The two-tiered space creates an ambiance of modern minimalism with a sense of rustic refinement. I absorb the aesthetic details and feel a sense of protection of local culture and heritage in an environmentally sensitive and refined manner. This is what appears to be the crux of the mandate of the Serena hotels and the reason that I am inspired to understand it in more depth. The buffet offers a wide ranging menu of delicious choices and condiments ranging from Continental, Pakistani and Asian cuisine. The service staff was attentive and efficient creating a warm personalised link with travellers from all parts of the world.
Over the period of my stay I find ageless hospitality of a personal nature intertwined with conversations that provide an interesting insight for me. I am sharing some with other travellers to highlight and make more meaningful the essence of my relaxing weekend in this WORLD OF QUIET ELEGANCE….!