Prior to the British period in India, the concept of a regular hotel was totally unknown in this part of the world. In those days, even the unknown guests, were treated as the representatives of the gods and were served food and comfort with respect by even the common people of the country. During the medieval period, some particular places were used by the long distance travelers, mainly traders, as a ‘halt’ or a stop and many ‘Sarais’ or inns were established in the area (as for example, Mughalsarai) for their overnight stay only.
However, since the days of the East India Company, as Calcutta started to flourish as the most important business and trading centre of the country, people engaged in different trades and businesses started to frequent the city from different western countries, as well as from other parts of India. However, the establishment of hotels in Calcutta was completely a British idea to accommodate those outsiders in the city.
Spence’s Hotel, opened to the public in 1830 by John Spence was the first regular hotel in Calcutta, which is also considered as the first ever hotel in Asia. After a decade, the Auckland Hotel was established in Calcutta by David Wilson, possibly in the month of November 1840. Before the opening of the hotel, David Wilson was doing a separate business of bakery at the same site, since 1830s.
As he could visualise the immense possibility of hotel business in the city, he turned his bakery into a hotel and named it as Auckland Hotel, after George Eden, 1st Earl of Auckland, the then Governor General of India. The hotel, which had many illustrious guests including Mark Twain, was initially said to be opened with one hundred rooms along with a grand departmental store in the ground floor. However, even on those days, it was popularly known as the Wilson Hotel.
Gradually, with the increase of importance of Calcutta as the ideal business centre in India, the number of visitors to the city increased accordingly. Naturally, the expansion of the Auckland Hotel also became a necessity, which was done during the 1860s. With the expansion of the hotel, its managing company, D. Wilson and Co, was renamed as Great Eastern Hotel Wine and General Purveying Co. As expected, the Hotel flourished at an amazing rate within no time and became a business rival of the Spence’s Hotel. Probably, it was the first hotel in India to be illuminated by electricity in 1883 and in 1859, it created a new chapter in its history to include an Indian on its board of directors.
However, for reasons unknown, the name of the Auckland Hotel was changed again in 1915, to the Great Eastern Hotel and that was the end of the Auckland Hotel in Calcutta. With the passing of time, it has now become a forgotten name in the history of Calcutta.
However, it may be mentioned here that, during its heydays the Great Eastern Hotel was referred to as the ‘Jewel of the East; and it housed famous political personalities, like Nikita Khrushchev, Nikolai Bulganin of the Soviet Russia and Queen Elizabeth II of England. Unfortunately, the business of the hotel started to decline during the Naxalite movement of 1970s and was taken over by the local government, who sold it to a private hotel group in 2015. After necessary repairing and renovation, the hotel was reopened to the public in 2013 as the Lalit Great Eastern.