Faletti's over the Ages
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The Faletti’s of Lahore is the oldest colonial period hotel in the historic city of Lahore. When it starting operating in 1880 it was, without doubt, the finest the city had ever seen. The ‘Civil & Military Gazette’ newspaper of 1887 in an advertisement claimed that it was fit for “a maharajah”. Today it remains among the very best, with more tradition, history and class than any of its modern competitors.

This is not co-incidental, for this unique hotel has a history of excellence. The origins of this hotel lie in the Napoleonic Wars that ravaged Europe in the 18th century. The Faletti clan of Sagliano Micca, Piedmonte, in Italy, was well known for its culinary excellence. Even today all over the world the Piedmont eateries are known for their excellent cuisine. Being near the French border these areas were part of the expanded French Empire of Napoleon Bonaparte. Most of the Faletti clan were made to join his army and participated in the wars that followed.

After Waterloo and the depressing economic conditions that followed in Europe, people from the entire European continent started to move westwards, mostly to the United States. A considerable number of Italians began to migrate too. The Faletti clan, so the record tells us, migrated to the USA, South America, France and England. Even today in New York they remain a tightly-knit community.

In Italy immense wealth of the Lahore Darbar of Maharajah Ranjit Singh, mostly, one assumes, through popular gossip that followed the return of General Ventura of the Sikh Army, whose wealth even in 1848 was legendary in Italy. It seems this lure of the East compelled Andrei Faletti to move to Lahore from Hammersmith in England, where he worked in a hotel.

The circumstances of his arrival are little known, but what is known is that he took up residence in 1872 in a house in Tehsil Bazaar inside Bhati Gate, located as it is in the Taxali area. From there he started trading, making numerous friends among the ruling British elite. As circumstances would have it, he became friendly with a beautiful courtesan, a friendship that was to last a lifetime.

By 1876 he had moved to a new flat on The Mall. It was here that he set up a company to plan his grand dream of a hotel “fit for a king”. He approached the Governor of the Punjab, Sir Robert Davis, and in a meeting in August, 1878, at the Governor’s House of Lahore he was assured the “fullest possible support” of the authorities if “the proposed hotel met the highest standards of service”. The company registered with the office of the Deputy Commissioner had four investors led by Mr. Andrei Faletti.

Mr. A. Faletti approached a well-known chartered architect’s firm by the name of Anderson of Simla and Karachi. The young Mr. J.R. Anderson sought assistance from the famous Bhai Ram Singh, probably the greatest architect and designer then and working as a teacher with Lahore’s Mayo School of Arts, now known as the National College of Arts. The resultant design, which was an Anderson creation, was shown to the authorities in Town Hall in Lahore and official approval was granted. By the end of 1879 the structure was complete and by the middle of 1880 it was ready. The inauguration was performed by the new Governor, Sir Robert Egerton, who said on the occasion: “Finally we have in Lahore a place that meets the highest standards expected of a British hotel”. After the inauguration the road was named after Sir Robert Egerton.

In those days guests arrived in horse-driven buggies and the hotel owned three two-horse driven carriages for their guests. The rear portion of the hotel had a stable and the staff lived and worked there. The carriage staff that came with the guests used the stable to wait and moved only when an ‘usher’ announced the expected departure of a guest. It was almost like England recreated in a foreign land.

Initially the hotel was restricted to the ruling classes, mostly British officials and the rich Rajas, Nawabs and the emerging entrepreneurs of the Punjab and India. It was such a success that from the initial 44 rooms permission was sought in 1897 to expand to 68 rooms, which permission was granted by the Resident Engineer based at the Town Hall.

In 1905 the founder of the hotel passed away. The authorities made a special dispensation and allowed him to be buried in Lahore’s Royal Artillery Bazaar graveyard. Today his grave lied in the middle to the right of the main entrance, a typical square structure one finds in a European cemetery.

By 1923 the firm Anderson and Aserpota of Simla and Karachi had applied to the Town Architect for permission to use an incinerator to dispose of waste given the large amounts generated. Lahore had never experienced such a large hotel and the owners felt that the time had come for “a scientific way to dispose of waste”.

Ironically, the Chief Engineer withheld permission for the hotel management could not provide a guarantee that “smoke would not pollute the surrounding areas”. In Lahore this probably was the first example of what we in modern times call environmental awareness. By this time the hotel was being managed by a firm named Associated Hotels of India, which owned the Cecil’s of Murree, Flashman’s of Rawalpindi and Deans of Peshawar.

In 1942 the entire company and assets of the Associated Hotels of India was taken over by the Oberoi Group, owned by the legendary hotelier Mohan Singh Oberoi. The life of M.S. Oberoi itself reads like a fairy tale of a rags-to-riches story. Born in the village of Bhaun in Chakwal, then part of District Jhelum, he did his initial schooling at Bhaun, then moved to Rawalpindi, where, as M. S. Oberoi himself writes: “For the first time I saw an Englishman and a hotel”. On the death of his father he moved to Lahore where he worked in a shoe factory. Here he decided to change himself radically by cutting off his traditional Sikh beard and discarding his turban. His family disowned him, but he took his wife and two children and moved to Delhi, where he worked as waiter in a hotel run by Mr. Clarke for Rs. 50 a month.

Both Clarke and Oberoi moved to Simla, where Mohan Singh Oberoi learned how to run a hotel. He was sharp and honest and very soon circumstances opened up and he purchased the hotel itself. There was no looking back for this great hotelier from Bhaun, for by 1942 he had purchased the Associated Hotels of India and by 2003, the year he died, he was among the world’s biggest hoteliers, owning prestigious places like the Imperial in Mumbai and similar ones in 15 countries.

But it was Faletti’s that he loved most, for when working in Lahore, as he was to write much later, he was denied entry to it and walked away wishing to one day buy it. That prayer, he says, the Almighty answered in no small terms. After 1947 the hotels remained with his group, and he was a regular visitor from India. In the September 1965 War the entire properties of the Associated Hotels Group was taken over as ‘enemy property’ and handed over to the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation.

In 2000 the hotel was finally auctioned, and today it is the prized possession of the Imperial Hotel Services Group. The legend of Falettis’ Hotel impressed the present owner, who true to his word invested to conserve the legacy of this great landmark of Lahore. Even the well-known trees have been taken care of, a promise to the environmentalist of Lahore. What you see today is how it looked in 1880, a place then before its time, and a hotel today that reflects a traditional of excellence that sets it apart from any other hotel.