Wanting to end our trip to India on a luxurious note, we opted to stay at The Taj Mahal Palace, which is strategically located in Mumbai’s prime historical and commercial hub: Colaba. The city’s financial hub, parliament, stadium, offices and shopping districts are all located within close proximity; as is a flourishing art and heritage precinct with must-visit museums, art galleries, churches and synagogues.
For me, it was a dream come true…After doing some research online, I discovered that staying at the Taj Mahal Tower, the adjoining tower to the iconic Taj Mahal Palace was much cheaper (especially when booked on booking.com as opposed to directly with the hotel) and we could still use the heritage hotel’s facilities. Furthermore, the fancier palace rooms would’ve gone to waste as we spent a lot of our time out and about.
After a fun wedding in Goa, we flew to Mumbai for two days before heading home. Upon arrival at the hotel, we passed through the intense security that could rival an airport’s. At the massive reception with a huge floral centerpiece on a table in the center, we checked in.
Far from the usual process, we were welcomed in the traditional Indian style where a lady dressed in a beautiful sari and a man in a kurta did a little ceremony: a Welcome Aarti. We then received, Tulsi Malas, necklaces meant to ward off evil and bring good fortune. Also at the reception, a tribute to the hotel staff and guests who tragically lost their lives during the Mumbai terror attacks lies behind a glass wall. Their names are all inscribed onto a wall in an area that was decorated for the festive Christmas season. There is also the name of Lucy, a brave dog who was shot dead by the terrorists. I thought that this was such a lovely way to pay tribute to the brave hotel staff who put their lives at risk to protect the guests.
Rooms (Taj Mahal Tower)
After checking in, we headed to our rooms in the Taj Mahal Tower, adjoining the Taj Mahal Palace. Designed by American architect Melton Bekker, the 22-storey and 275-room Taj Mahal Tower opened in 1973. Bekker incorporated Indian design elements like Tanjore pillars from the south and arched balconies from 14th century imperial Rajasthan into the distinctive tower which is topped with a jagged crown.Simple yet elegant, the Tower rooms were contemporarily-styled with gleaming floors and floor-to-ceiling glass windows with views of Colaba below. The rooms were spacious and large with two double beds, a chair and desk, a nice sofa, a television, a safe, air-conditioning, and coffee and tea-making facilities.
The bathroom in my room was specially adapted and so it had a larger shower with a seat, a toilet and a sink with the usual hotel toiletries.On the other hand, The Taj Mahal Palace wing has the original, albeit pricier, 285 Heritage rooms which feature more old-fashioned décor with dark wood furniture and smaller windows with heavy drapes, overlooking the Arabian Sea. Adding onto the historical charm, the palace rooms also have exclusive butler services. The two very separate wings are linked directly from the lobby and share the hotel’s many five-star facilities.
The Hotel and Facilities
Just around 25 minutes’ drive from Chhatrapati Shivaji International airport, The Taj Mahal Palace offers a range of amenities to guests including a night club, an outdoor swimming pool, a gym, yoga classes and a fitness center. The hotel maintains its role as Mumbai’s most prestigious hotel, offering guests limousine rental services, a luxury yacht for hire and a private jet on standby at four hours’ notice.
After checking in and freshening up in the rooms, we headed back to the lobby to book our Heritage Walk, free for hotel guests, before heading to explore the hotel on our own.
Strolling through the walkway between the two hotels is an array of high-end boutiques, including Louis Vuitton, a book shop and a barber shop.
Also in the walkway is a nice display of all the celebrity guests at the hotel including the Obamas, Kate Middleton and Prince William, Sir David Attenborough, Mick Jagger, Margaret Thatcher, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Russell Brand, Prince Charles, the Queen, Hilary Clinton, just to name a few.
The hotel was also popular with The Beatles. In fact, I later learned that Ravi Shankar taught George Harrison to play the sitar here back in 1968, and John Lennon and Yoko Ono once stayed in the hotel’s Rajput Suite for five days without once leaving.
After a brief peak in the La Patisserie, a cake shop and delicatessen that had gorgeous desserts and a selection of sweet and savory treats on display, we headed out for dinner to Pizza By The Bay.
The next day, after a scrumptious brunch at Swati Snacks, we spent the afternoon on a Heritage Tour of the hotel. Starting at the original reception of The Taj Mahal Palace, which has the iconic swing (a popular photo op) and this multi-level diya stand, where, in the evenings, a priest would play sweet tunes on a flute, we started the tour.
The hotel’s reception opened into a nice lounge that spills out onto the pool and the poolside Aquarius restaurant.
Built in 1903 by pioneering Indian industrialist Jamshetji Tata, The Taj Mahal Palace is the Tata Group’s flagship hotel. Legend has it that Jamshetji read a sign outside the famous Bombay’s “Whites Only” Watson’s Hotel that said “Dogs and Indians not allowed” which enraged him so much that he decided to build a grander hotel that was open to all.
The resulting six-story architectural gem, merging Greco-Roman, Islamic, Maharajah and Victorian Gothic styles, topped by a glittering Florentine dome, quickly became Bombay’s most iconic luxury hotel – and so it remains to this day in renamed Mumbai.
When it opened, it only cost six rupees to stay at the hotel.
Located right opposite the iconic Gateway of India, The Taj Mahal Palace was not just ground-breaking for its open-door policy, but also the first hotel in India to have electricity, German lifts, Turkish baths, English butlers, American fans, the first licensed bar, the first all-day dining restaurant and the first discotheque.
As Mumbai’s first harbor landmark, the hotel’s original main entrance including a horse and carriage driveway was on the other side, where now the pool is, and the ocean was at the back, although it is now always viewed and photographed from the ocean side.
After hearing all about the hotel’s charming history, we headed to the palace wing to see the corridors. Here, we saw the old wooden travel agency office and post office counter, preserved but unused relics of an era when the hotel took care of the guests’ travel arrangements and correspondence in addition to their accommodation.We also peeked into the opulent Ballroom, spacious enough for 450 guests, is perfect for conferences and grand private events.
The Taj Art Gallery is home to a rather impressive collection of gorgeous artwork where prominent Indian artists such as S. H. Raza, Ram Kumar and Jehangir Sabavala have all previously displayed their masterpieces. Today, the gallery works with a young generation of artists working with painting, sculpture and a range of experimental media, all of which have found a home at the hotel.We learned so much during the Heritage Walk about the hotel history and background. It really is worth doing.
Not only did we learn that the Taj’s iconic stairwell survived the tragic 26/11 attacks but also that the teak paneling on the wall in the photograph below was once the Air India counter!Following the Heritage Walk, we headed for afternoon tea at the Sea Lounge, a highly recommended activity for all foodies.
Like its architecture, the hotel did not cease to amaze me with its vast variety of food. There are so many amazing choices. The most famous are Wasabi by Morimoto, a brand extension for America’s famous “Iron Chef”, and Harbour Bar, the oldest licensed bar in Mumbai. Others include Golden Dragon (Chinese), Masala Kraft (Contemporary Indian), Souk (Eastern Mediterranean), Shamiana (international), poolside Aquarius restaurant, La Patisserie, Sea Lounge and Apollo Lounge.
With restaurants to check off my Mumbai bucket list, I only managed to try the afternoon tea at the Sea Lounge. Offered daily between 4-7PM, the Sea Lounge High Tea Buffet is an extensive evening affair with an array of Indian street food-style chaats including bhel and pani puri, finger sandwiches, canapes, Indian snacks (farsaan) such as dhokla and khandvi, a selection of Indian and Western hot snacks, fruits, chocolates, and an array of English cakes, chocolates, desserts and scones.
Listening to the live piano tunes as we sat on the with the art deco furniture in the Sea Lounge’s old colonial charm added an unmatched element to the decadent afternoon tea.
A departure from the traditional three-tiered tea, the buffet-style afternoon tea is a must-do even if you’re not staying at The Taj Mahal Palace. Paired with your choice of tea or coffee (obviously, we got masala chai, because when in India…), I was a little envious of the patrons who came early and had managed to snag a table by the large windows overlooking the Arabian Sea and the Gateway of India below.
But it was okay as the service was exceptional with the staff going out of their way to bring me treats from the buffet table so that Mom, Dad and Diva didn’t have to assist me every time I wanted a top up.
The other meal we had at the Taj was breakfast at the Souk, the Eastern Mediterranean restaurant at the top of Taj Towers. Due to the busy holiday season, the hotel was serving breakfast at the Souk, so on our last day at the hotel, we headed up to the hotel for a decadent breakfast.With a wide selection of cereal, bread, pastries, Indian breakfast delicacies including dosas, bateta shaak and puri (potato curry and fried puffed bread), eggs made to order, fresh juices, smoothies and a selection of coffee and tea, it was incredible.
Not only was the food delicious, but the aerial view of the Arabian Sea and Mumbai below was also breathtaking though it was a little foggy early in the morning. And the service? Oh, the Taj just spoiled us!
What Else to Do Nearby
Located in Colaba in the south of Mumbai, The Taj Mahal Palace is right opposite the gateway of India. So, after afternoon tea at the Sea Lounge, we managed to visit the Gateway of India, a 26-meter-tall basalt landmark arch commemorating the landing of King George V and Queen Mary here at the Apollo Bunder pier on their visit to India in 1911. It was completed in 1924 and has been a popular gathering point ever since. Luckily, we got there right at sunset.
Spend some time shopping in the famous markets such as Crawford and Chor Bazaar right outside the hotel. And there are plenty of shops and restaurants including the famous Leopold Cafe close by too.
If you want to indulge yourself in Mumbai then The Taj Mahal Palace’s grandeur, service and spectacular interiors are perfect for you. I know I’m now looking forward to trying out some of the other Taj hotels.
Photos and videos by Hitesh & Diva Shah