For centuries, it was the mark of luxury for an Indian hotel room. From the tropical plains to the heights of the Himalaya, India’s top hotels made a feature of offering a hot bath, even if the water was melted from ice and heated over a yak-dung fire.
It’s a tradition that predates the arrival of European plumbing in India – elegant, carved-stone bathtubs were found in the palaces of 16th century Mughal emperors, with water channelled in from nearby rivers and streams. All that could be set to change if hotels follow the Indian government’s new guidelines on the criteria for a five-star hotel room. With bathtubs no longer mandatory, many hotel groups are installing only showers in new properties, and some are even yanking out the tubs from established hotels to gain valuable floor-space.
The trend reflects a global move away from hotel bathtubs, particularly in city locations. According to research carried out by the Oberoi Hotel Group, which operates hotels in India, Indonesia and the Middle East, fewer than 10% of bathtubs in city centre hotels are actually used, meaning hotels are paying good money to install and maintain something that is essentially an ornamental feature.
An added bonus is water conservation – a growing issue in densely populated India. A shower can use a fifth of the water used to fill a bathtub, and guests are more likely to take a cool shower than a cold bath, reducing hotel energy bills. For some, however, a deep, relaxing bath is a luxury worth paying for. Many of India’s lavish heritage hotels still insist on offering guests a butler-drawn bath, often with a floating sprinkle of rose petals, to recreate the luxury enjoyed by India’s maharajas and maharanis.