24-Hour Room Service: The Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, Mumbai, India
Old-world charm meets 21st-century resilience
Saturday 11 September 2010
Beside the waterfall in the opulent lobby of the Taj Mahal Palace is a pale marble wall with a gold inscription. It is immediately visible to anyone entering this iconic Mumbai hotel, yet so subtle that many visitors barely notice it.
Beneath the words "For now and forever you will inspire us" are the names of the 20 guests and 11 staff who died in the terrorist atrocities of November 2008, ending with Lucy, the hotel's security dog. A simple statue, the Tree of Life, which somehow survived the carnage on the fifth floor unscathed, has been placed next to it as a message of strength.
Like Mumbai itself, the Taj, an icon on the waterfront of India's most cosmopolitan city, has rebounded. Every one of the surviving staff – some of whom had three decades of service in the hotel – has returned to work, including general manager Karambir Singh Kang, who lost his wife and two sons that day.
"He has been so strong. A lot of staff were inspired by him. If he could go on after what happened, so could they," explained the PR director, Rakhee Lalvani. "It was devastating but everyone was so determined to bring it back, to send out a message you can't beat us. We are going to come back and be better than before."
The hotel has long been a symbol of triumph over adversity. Legend has it that its founder, Jamshetji Nusserwanji Tata, conceived the idea for the Taj at the turn of the 20th century after being turned away from the British-owned Watson's Hotel for being a "local".
The more modern tower of the hotel, which was built in 1973, reopened within 25 days of the attacks. It was followed by its 10 restaurants and bars, as well as the gallery of designer shops and the gracious ballroom with its gold Corinthian columns and chandeliers. The rooms in the graceful old palace building were under restoration at the time of the attacks and finally opened on Independence Day last month. Their old-world charm has been restored but with a modern dash of lighter, fresher colours and improved amenities. Each reopening has been greeted by a flood of bookings, especially by wealthy Mumbaikars who seem to have an emotional attachment to the Taj.
The hotel is one of the iconic sights of Mumbai's southern Colaba district. It overlooks the harbour and the imposing Gateway of India arch, built to commemorate George V's visit and from where the last British regiment paraded off after Independence. Staff will point out with pride that the Taj was built in 1903 and predates the arch by 21 years.
In "Town", as locals call this part of the city, the hotel is easily accessible to most tourist sights, including the Prince of Wales Museum with its wealth of Indian artefacts and the magnificent colonial-era Chhatrapati Shivaji (Victoria) Terminus, sublime with its exterior carvings of peacocks, monkeys, lions and gargoyles.
The bible of services in your room offers everything from an in-house astrologer to a private jet or yacht. Club rooms and above include butler service and complimentary ironing, as well as cocktails during happy hour in the Starboard Bar and high tea in the Sea Lounge, where you can savour a refined take on Mumbai's celebrated street food.
From the selection of mobile-phone chargers, to a choice of nine pillows (including a meditation one made with Himalayan plants) and the compilation of news from your native country that arrives with the morning newspaper, the hotel aims to please.
The rooms in the Tower have spectacular views of the bay and are beautifully decorated in a bright, airy contemporary style. The more expensive Palace Wing offers the romantic opulence and elegance of a bygone era, with vaulted ceilings, onyx columns and crystal chandeliers.
The Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Apollo Bunder, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India (00 91 22 6665 3366; tajhotels.com)
A Superior City View room starts at Rs14,492 (£202), room only
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