These monks, although living in their quiet retreats, away from towns and villages, were nevertheless mindful of the needs of travellers and pilgrims who found shelter and food at these monasteries.
It is interesting to note that these monasteries are located on the ancient trade routes between important deities of the region.
It is gathered from some inscriptions that merchants gave liberal donations for the construction and maintenance of these establishments. Mere charity was obviously not the motivation in these displays of generosity. The trader travelled with their merchandise and money on these routes and the viharas were their hotels.
In the medieval period this ancient institution gradually assumed a more secular character. Although religious centres invariably had dharamshalas and musafirkhanas attached to them, the caravanserai appeared as an exclusive traveler’s lodge with a nanbai or cook attached with it.
Sher Shah Suri, the Afghan Emperor and the builder of the Grand Trunk Road, is credited with having built caravanserais at regular intervals all along this highway creating favourable conditions for commerce and travel. However, he was not alone in this venture. The Mughals built such facilities all over their empire.
Later kings, rajas, navabs, rich businessmen and philanthropists built sarais making travel less arduous. At approximately the same time, the inn was the Western counterpart of India’s sarais. With the expansion of commerce, travelling became profitable and with it emerged the business of providing comfortable shelter and good food to the growing number of travellers.
The sarais in India like inns in Europe or the stagecoach stations in the USA of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries stood all along the well-travelled routes. They provided food and shelter to the travellers and fodder to their horses.
The amenities these early hotels offered would seem to us to be primitive but they conformed to the lifestyle of that age.
With the passage of time the age-old institution of the sarai or the inn adapted itself to the ever-changing and constantly growing requirements of the market and has evolved into the modern hotel.
From the age of the bullock cart and horses through the age of the rail road into the era of the jumbo jet and supersonic aircraft, the hotel industry developed with the simultaneous development of transportation systems. It also reflects the standard of living and the lifestyle of the society in which it operates.
The development of hotel industry in India is also continuous and satisfactory. The British introduced hotels in India mainly for their own use or for foreign visitors.
Some seventy years back, baring the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, almost all hotels in India were owned and operated by the Britishers and the Swiss. There were Albion Hotels, Victory Hotel and the Hope Hall. The arrangement in these was an excellent one.
Western-style residential hotels are comparatively of recent origin in India. These hotels were first started about 160 years ago mainly for princes and aristocrats and high dignitaries.
The credit for opening the first Western-style hotel in India in the name of British Hotel in Mumbai in 1840 goes to Pestonjee who is the pioneer of Western-style hotels in India. The Auckland Hotel was started in 1843 and in 1858 it was renamed as the Great Eastern Hotel.
Today there are a number of western-style hotels in Kolkata Great Eastern, Oberoi Grand, Kenilworth, Park, Hindustan International, Taj Benga! Etc.
By the end of the 19th century, there were many western-style hotels in South, like Imperial, Albany, New Woodland, Elphinstone, Napier, Pandyan (Madurai), Bangalore International, West End (Bangalore), Savoy, Ritz (Hyderabad), Palm Beach (Visakhapatnam) etc.
The twentieth century can be called the turning point in the history of the hotel industry in India. It was during this period many big business owners entered into the field.
In 1904, Jamshedji Tata opened the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai. Front facing the Mumbai harbour and overlooking the Gateway of India, it was until recently, the largest hotel in the East.
It is rated among the top ten hotels in the world. Jamshedji felt that it was essential for the advancement of the country that it should have an up-to-date hotel to provide facilities and comforts to visitors from all parts of the world.
Today there are many hotels in the chain including the President Hotel, the Fort Auada Beach Resort, the Lake Palace (Udaipur), the Rambagh Palace, Taj Palace (New Delhi), Taj Bengal (Kolkata) and many more.
The Indian Hotels Company Limited, owned by Tatas manages the famous Taj group of Hotels. This chain has fifty-five properties in India and abroad. It has drawn up a plan of Rs. 1,500 crore to add forty more hotels to its present fifty-five. The Taj Hotel in Mumbai, the Taj Palace Intercontinental in New Delhi and the Taj Bengal in Kolkata account for 76 per cent of its profits.
Another entrepreneur who entered the field of hotel industry is Rai Bahadur Mohan Singh Oberoi who opened a chain of Oberoi Hotels in India and abroad. Mr. Oberoi started his career as a clerk but later became a partner in the Clarks Hotels, Shimla.
In 1933, Mr. Oberoi took over the Grand Hotel, Kolkata on lease and gave it a new look and new life. Mr. Oberoi built a hotel on Gopalpur on sea, in Orissa, Mount Everest in Darjeeling, the Mount View in Chandigarh and the Palace in Srinagar to his chain of hotels.
In 1973, Oberoi commissioned the 500-room luxury hotels the Oberoi Sheraton, Mumbai. It is a product of Indo- American partnership. Other hotels of Oberoi chain are Oberoi in Singapore, Abu Dhabi, Sudan, Zambia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Fiji, Mauritius, Indonesia, Zanzibar and Colombo.
Oberoi’s School of Hotel Management in Delhi recognised by the International Hotel Association, Paris, trains up young people from different countries.
Charle Ritz, son of the Swiss Caesar Ritz started Ritz hotels in India. The Ritzs are located in Mumbai, Kolkata (now defunct) and Hyderabad.