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Maurya prepares to host Bush 17 Feb 2006

The Asian Age

New Delhi : Frenzied preparations are on in the nation's capital to host the President of the United States, who arrives here on the evening of March 1. Like his predecessor Bill Clinton and a slew of high-level American officials over the past few years, George W. Bush too is likely to stay at the ITC Hotel Maurya Sheraton, located in the heart of the city's diplomatic enclave. According to sources, the hotel is going to be completely booked for three days for the US President and his entourage.

While his final itinerary in the city is still being worked out, the traditional stop at Rajghat to pay homage to the Father of the Nation is still on the cards, although the security agencies have expressed some concern about his vulnerability there. A US Secret Service team has been in New Delhi for the past few days, monitoring all possible stops that the President and his family and delegation might make, as well as the routes that they are likely to take. A visit to Purana Qila, the "Old Fort", is also being considered. The security teams are keeping completely silent on the schedule of First Lady Laura Bush, who is likely to have a number of engagements of her own while the President is busy with state matters.

The sources said the US advance team, which has been in New Delhi for the past two weeks, has virtually cleared the President's stay at Maurya Sheraton. Two leading Delhi hotels, the Maurya and the Taj Mahal Hotel, had been in the running to host the presidential party. A senior ITC Maurya Sheraton executive said: "The advance team from the US has visited the hotel twice in the last two weeks. Last week's visit confirmed that we are ahead in the race. However, we are still waiting for the final letter of confirmation."

This hotel, incidentally, is also going to be the venue of the high-profile wedding reception of New York hotelier Vikram Chatwal and Delhi model Priya Sachdev this weekend, at which a large number of international celebrities are expected to be present. Former US President Bill Clinton is among those on the guest list. Hotel staffers will have barely 10 days after this glamour event to get the pace ready for Mr Bush.

Maurya executives, aware of how their hotel has been identified with the visits of Bill Clinton, as well as his wife Hillary and daughter Chelsea, do not want to compare the two presidential visits. "We pay the deepest attention to individual habits and expectations. Mr Bush's visit is definitely more tightly scheduled," hotel sources said. "High-tech wi-fi systems and the latest technologies are being provided at the hotel. Audits are being conducted round the clock so that no loophole remains in any arrangement. Food safety audits by bio-experts are also being conducted," they added.

The hotel staff are undergoing training drills almost constantly, the sources said. "We have to be very meticulous. If Bush is accustomed to go to bed early by 9 in the evening on days that he has no official engagement, then we have to take complete care of arrangements accordingly," said the hotel staff.

"When Clinton visited India in 2000 he stayed at the Chandragupta Maurya presidential suite at the hotel," they said. For King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who recently visited New Delhi, the hotel constructed an even bigger presidential suite called the Grand Maurya presidential suite, incorporating 13 hotel rooms furnished lavishly in a contemporary Indian style.

The hotel's executives say they are confident of meeting American expectations. Besides the Clintons and top officials like former US secretary of state Colin Powell, the hotel has also hosted the world's richest man, Microsoft's Bill Gates.

The Clinton visit led the hotel to introduce the special "Clinton Platter" and "Chelsea Platter" at its acclaimed Bukhara restaurant. It is yet to be seen what new dishes might be added to the menu after the Bush visit.

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