MUMBAI: You might have heard of the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower. In 2008, it was the center of a series of coordinated attacks in Mumbai by members of the Islamist militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba. The pictures of smoke coming through the massive red Florentine Gothic 240 feet central dome of the hotel became the symbol of India’s commercial capital being under siege.
In April this year, “Hotel Mumbai” — directed by Anthony Maras and starring Dev Patel — chronicled the courage of the hotel’s staff during those horrific events (the staff’s selfless service has also been the subject of a Harvard Business School case study). The hotel is an emblem of Mumbai’s heritage and resilience.
According to legend, the industrialist J. N. Tata decided to build the hotel early in the 20th century when he was refused entry at The Watson Hotel, then the city’s grandest. The Taj Mahal Palace was constructed in 1903, and is still considered the grandest hotel in India. It sits across from the Gateway of India (although the hotel actually predates that iconic monument). It was from the steps of the hotel that Lord Mountbatten announced India’s independence.
Following the 2008 attacks, the hotel underwent a reported $30 million refurbishment, reopening in August 2010. And the improvement work didn’t stop there; a new spa and modernized gym were unveiled last year.
But the hotel remains instantly recognizable as the “Grand Old Lady of Mumbai.” With its Oriental, Florentine and Moorish architecture — complete with alabaster ceilings, onyx columns, silk hand-knotted carpets and marble floodways — it really does feel like a palace. On its walls are some of India’s most important artworks; its Belgian chandeliers are priceless; and the Edwardian-Gujarati trellises are crafted with precision. It has hosted the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Oprah Winfrey, Mahatma Gandhi and Bill and Hilary Clinton. Ruttie Jinnah — the wife of the founder of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah — had a permanent suite at the Taj.
In the 1970s, the Tower was added so that the hotel could accommodate more guests and business-friendly facilities, but the Palace (referred to as “The Heritage Wing”) is the one to stay at.
The Taj, as it is fondly called, is where locals go to celebrate special occasions — its ballroom is still the most prestigious wedding location in Mumbai — and where tourists come to experience Indian hospitality. All of the generously sized rooms in the Heritage Wing enjoy butler service, and comprehensive attention-to-detail — for example, leaving a bookmark next to your current bedside read.
The regal poolside (on the lobby level) is a great place to enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner, but for afternoon tea the Sea Lounge is a must. Its art deco furniture and views of the Arabian Sea will transport you back to the days of Colonial India.
The hotel has several restaurants (warning: they are, unsurprisingly, among the most-expensive in the city) including Mumbai’s finest Japanese venue in the city, Wasabi by Morimoto, and Masala Kraft, which is all about modern Indian cuisine.
But since the hotel is located in the wealthy residential area of Colaba, many of the city’s best eateries are within walking distance. As, indeed, are some of Mumbai’s best shops, from lifestyle store Good Earth, to the by-appointment-only jewellers, Gem Palace. Plus the city’s art district Kala Ghoda is just around the corner.
Any stay at this Indo-Saracenic beauty, with accommodation straight from the days of the Raj, and its deservedly world-famous hospitality, really will leave you feeling like royalty.