Uncovering the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel
The Taj Mahal Palace hotel is Mumbai’s oldest building to have lifts and style in harmony
Whilst standing at Mumbai’s Apollo Bunder, one question plagued my mind- what was built first: the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel or the Gateway of India?
The architecture and logic makes an onlooker point the finger at Gateway of India and say “look it reads ‘1905.'” Alas you are mistaken. The very ground that the Gateway stands on today never existed before 1905.
To my utmost surprise, the Taj Mahal Palace hotel predates the Gateway of India by 2 decades.
The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel is world famous for its hospitality, luxury and opulence. It has played host to some of the biggest names in the world- The Obamas, the Beatles, Angelina Jolie, The King and Queen of Norway, Louis ‘Dickie’ Mountbatten and possibly the wealthiest of them all- Indian Maharajas.
Many describe the hotel to have been a playground for the Maharajas and that it satisfied their somewhat outlandish demands too. One employee at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel remembers how shocked the staff at the reception and lobby was to see a Maharaja stride in with a pet tiger!
By the looks of it, Jamshedji Nuserwanji Tata had exactly that in mind while building this gem of a hotel. No one knows the exact inspiration to build a five star hotel but there are plenty rumours out there. Some suggest that Tata was not permitted into the posh Watson hotel and out of revenge he built the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Others suggest a more likely event that Tata wanted to build a hotel fit for Bombay where the elite could live. After all Bombay had become an industrial hub and rich industrialists often docked here.
What you don’t need an expert to tell you is that there was no expense spared for this hotel. Everything had to be a specimen of grandeur otherwise it didn’t fit in.
Jamshedji Tata himself set sail to Paris, London, Berlin and Dusseldorf. He took inspiration from the art, craft, decors, technology and style of these places and incorporated it all in his new hotel.
He returned with ideas to install lifts, electricity, butlers and what not. Most skeptics argued that this idea of his would not come up to scratch. Why would an economical businessman pay such hefty prices to stay overnight?
Tata didn’t seem to care. He got going on his hotel’s exterior.
Even today as you glance at its dome and the walls, you’ll wonder- what architecture is this? You’ll find the Victorian Gothic and Indo-Saracenic architectural styles with some hints of Edwardian and Romanesque styles too. It is estimated that expenses went up to £ 250,000 and then some to build the hotel excluding the relatively new Tower.
Personally I believe the Tower built next to the old hotel spoils the aesthetics. It doesn’t fit in with the original structure in colour or in style.
On 16th December 1903, the hotel welcomed tourists for the first time. It welcomed about 17 guests that day who had to pay astronomical prices- Rs.10 for single room and Rs. 13 and Rs 20 for more luxurious ones. Do remember a few annas bought a lot of everyday items in the 1900s!
Which was the first building to have electricity in Mumbai? Find out.
After paying handsome sums of money, how did visitors find the hotel?
Lo and behold, some of them remarked that the architect had got the direction wrong. The entrance wasn’t from the sea side but from the city side. The garden was wrongly placed.
However, architects Sitaram Khanderao Vaidya and D. N. Mirza had planned everything with ingenuity. Fortunately after the death of Sitaram Vaidya, WA Chambers carried on as planned but added the dome to the original plan.
The Garden was at the entrance of the hotel on the city side. The hot air from the sea would be attracted there. A city side entrance would make the hotel more accessible.
This also left space to make all the rooms sea facing. And what a grand sight that would have been, with no Gateway of India below, guests would have been treated to splendid views of the sea beyond, absolutely no land to obstruct!
Inside this magnificent hotel, guests were welcomed with American fans and English butlers. They had access to Turkish baths. There were lifts to take guests upstairs. To impress people further, the hotel was the first private building to have electricity and also the first to have a 24 hour restaurant.
It might have also been the first to introduce the elite to a party nightlife. The Taj Mahal Palace hotel started Bombay’s first licensed bar and a discotheque.
Who wouldn’t want to step inside and glance into such grandiosity?
Unfortunately for Jamshedji Tata, he didn’t live long to see his hotel go on to become popular. He died a few months later on 19th May, 1904. He never saw the hotel shut down for business during the WW1 and instead provide 600 beds to ailing soldiers.
Subsequently after the war till date, the hotel has grown its status and changed its decor. It no longer sports English butlers and European decor. It has been converted to look a whole lot more desi. Indian food, art, tradition and culture are on display here. The Taj Mahal Palace hotel is now a true symbol of Mumbai and India- a vibrant amalgamation of the old with the new.
The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Museum formerly Prince of Wales Museum has step up a special India and the World exhibit. 230 objects from all over the country and the British Museum, London are on display here. Explore them via our special Picture Gallery. Type in your email here to explore.