The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel was and still is the grande dame of the Bombay/Mumbai hospitality scene. It appears, like a mirage at the edge of Apollo Bunder, facing the Arabian Sea. In fact, the best view of the hotel has to be taken from the water.
The Hotel was opened in 1903, and commissioned by the wealthy Parsi merchant Jamshedji Tata, founder of the Tata Group, purportedly as a response to his being snubbed by the grand hotel establishment at the time, Watson’s Esplanade Hotel.
When the hotel opened, it was the first in India to have electricity, elevators, butler service and other luxury amenities. It would set the standard for many other hotels to come.
The hotel was designed by Indian architects, Sitaram Khandarao Vadya and D. N. Mirza in an Indo-Saracenic style, which was, at the time, the architectural style associated with modernity and British India.
In its time, the hotel has played host to maharajahs, heads of state, celebrities and writers. The last viceroy of India, Lord Louis Mountbatten spoke at the Taj two days after India received its independence.
In 1973, the Taj Mahal Tower wing was opened, and with its opening, the main entrance of the building was shifted from where the present swimming pool now sits, to the ground floor of the Tower wing.
The Taj was the site of a terrorist attack in 2008, with bombs being set off in the building and more than 200 guests being held hostage and more than 150 others killed. The hostage situation was resolved by the army in three days but the hotel itself was damaged, with the ground floor entirely gutted.
The restored hotel was finally reopened in 2010 and swiftly reclaimed its position on the Mumbai hospitality scene. Security scanning of all visitors – still in place today, ensured the safety of hotel guests.
During my sojourn in Mumbai, I stayed at one of the sea-facing rooms in the historic Palace Wing of the hotel. From my room, I could see the iconic Gateway of India, and the shimmering waters of the Arabian Sea extending to as far as the eye could see.
Mumbai would be the last port city stop on my Grand Tour of the Subcontinent. From here on, I venture inland, to Delhi and the princely cities of the former Rajputana (today’s Rajasthan).