Deep in negotiation with a rickshaw driver one sunny Friday morning in Pune, India, my train of thought is suddenly interrupted by a seismic unsettling. Halfway down the street, rounding the corner and coming straight at us careens a cart pulled by a pair of two-ton oxen with long, red, vicious horns jutting from their noble heads. I take a moment to absorb my surroundings: on the other side of the thoroughfare, a bright and shiny new building towers out of the lush, west Indian landscape, surrounded by tall, grey stone walls, twenty some floors of steel, glass and wood. To my left, a faithful rickshaw driver who just drove me through the winding streets of Pune, patiently waiting in his black and yellow steed for me to produce the right number of rupees to make his trip worthwhile. Coming from the right and closing are the same massive bovines that broke my concentration earlier–though now, a little closer.
This is India, a constant stream of distraction and activities swirling around every person, the steady drumbeat of prosperity marching right alongside the poverty and cultural overload. I’ve come here to Pune, just a few hours’ drive outside of Mumbai, to witness the opening and inauguration of Marriott’s 500th hotel and convention center.
It’s a symbolic opening for both the hotel brand and the country at large, as both look to expand western brands inside of the rapidly growing Indian economy. But mechanically, this hotel is exactly as a Marriott should be: clean, well-appointed rooms, comprehensive food and entertainment offerings and razor sharp, attentive staff. And right behind these openings, another dozen Marriott properties are slated to begin operation in the Indian subcontinent in the next year.
%Gallery-109388%The grand opening celebrations were grandiose and lavish, with local and foreign media privy to the finest of pool deck parties, live entertainment and fireworks to top off the affair. With the festivities behind them, however, the Pune Marriot now has its work cut out for it: there are very high western standards to hold, hundreds of rooms and dozens of conferences to book and, most importantly, the trust and business of an entire culture to earn.
It’s the sort of situation encountered every day in India, navigating through passenger, bicycle and rickshaw traffic in a rented Mercedes, crowding the only Mexican restaurant in town with 300 other patrons, sitting inside of a Hindu temple while the security guard pecks away at his smart phone. Like the scene in front of me on the streets of Pune, India is all about thriving in the midst of chaos, and once the dust settles from this opening, the real test will begin.
Quickly I dig my SLR camera out of my bag and snap a shot of the hotel with the ox and cart passing by. Somewhere inside there’s a press conference waiting for me, a few quotes to collect, a few words still unwritten. For leisure I hope to one day return.
Marriott Pune Hotel and Convention Center: SenapatiBapat Road • Pune, 411053 India
• Rooms: 416 with 44 suites
• Meeting rooms: 12 with 19,000 sq feet of space
• Marriott Rewards Category: 3
• Specialty restaurants; Indian, Asian and Italian
• Room rate at time of publication: $143/night
Editor’s note: Marriot invited Gadling to this event and provided some transportation and lodging. We were free to roam and write at will.