It’s that time of the year when we can hear the sound of jingle bells at the cash registers. In India, Christmas isn’t as big a deal as in the West, but with our fondness for embracing anything to do with excess, we are rapidly getting there. Shops and malls are already marketing the Christmas spirit, which is not to do with traditional drinks like eggnog or mulled wine, but more about buying gifts for your loved ones. In that, India has set something of a world record. The most extravagant gift to a loved one is, of course, the Taj Mahal, emperor Shahjahan’s marbled memorial in honour of his beloved. His bill came to around R3.2 crore, a king’s ransom in those days. Even taking inflation into account for the past 350 years or so, it barely compares with the gift that another indulgent husband, Mukesh Ambani, gave his wife Nita, the Airbus 319 corporate jet which cost him close to R250 crore.
The difference is that one generates a lot of revenue, while the other is costly to maintain (incidentally, the government earns an average of R23 crore a year as tourist revenue from the Taj). This proves that extravagance has no limits when it comes to gifts by those with extremely deep pockets. So what does one gift the woman or man who already has everything? Arm candy may have different connotations but what you have on your wrist or arm says a lot about your financial status. For women, the ultimate arm accessory would be the Hermés Birkin bag, made fashionably famous by Pakistan’s foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar. The most expensive model is covered in precious stones, but the most coveted is the one made from crocodile skin and embellished with palladium and costing approximately R22 lakh.
Going by the Indian male’s favourite accessories, his arm candy would have to be a mobile phone, and while Apple, Nokia, Motorola and Samsung all make very expensive limited-edition phones encrusted with diamonds and similar bling, the ultimate status symbol is a Vertu, the British-based manufacturer and retailer of uber-luxury mobile phones. Vertu debuted in India last year, with models costing between R1.5 lakh and R15 lakh, but its most expensive model is the Signature Cobra that costs approximately R1.8 crore. Only eight have been manufactured and it is made to order, so it carries a tag of exclusivity to lessen the stress of buying a phone that costs almost as much as the fully-loaded BMW 7 series luxury sedan he will be using it in.
On the other hand, so to speak, she can gift him the most expensive pen available in India, which costs around the same. William Penn, the Bangalore-based retailer of expensive writing instruments, sells the ‘La Modernista’ made by the famous Swiss brand, Caran d’Ache, which comes with a price tag of R1.35 crore! Great for writing off those bad investments.
Austerity takes a holiday when it comes to splurging on something that is the most expensive in its class. So, if you are planning on gifting a loved one a holiday and tagging along for the ride, the costliest hotel stay anywhere in India happens to be in Jaipur, a great place to visit in winter. The Hotel Raj Palace offers a presidential suite that is among the ten most expensive in the world, and certainly the costliest in India.
The suite is actually the complete royal apartment block within the erstwhile palace, refurbished to royal standards, and comes with multiple bedrooms, living rooms, conference and dining room, private access to a home theatre, gym spa, swimming pool, as well as a separate kitchen and library.
Obviously, there is also a 24-hour personal butler service. A night’s stay in the suite is listed at $45,000 a day on the hotel’s website, which is the equivalent of buying an Audi A-4. However, the bragging rights of having stayed in the most expensive hotel suite in India should be well worth its weight in gold leaf.
If you are going to splurge on a hotel stay, you may as well drive up in something equally exclusive. Conquest Vehicles has just made its India debut with the super-luxury SUV, Evade. From the outside, it looks very military-like, but the interiors are more like a presidential limousine with expensive hand-tooled leather and all the fancy trimmings. It’s priced at R8.5 crore, by far the costliest SUV in India. Finally, for those who like their celebrations in five-star environs, here’s the ultimate accessory with your meal; a bottle of Chateau Petrus, one of the most celebrated wines in the world. At a fine dining restaurant in a five star hotel in India, a single bottle of the 2009 vintage will cost R1.85 lakh. That’s an expensive accompaniment to dinner, but then again, Christmas only comes once a year.
The writer is Group Editor, Special Projects & Features, ‘The Indian Express’