April 2004

Diamond by the sea

The Taj Mahal Hotel was a landmark creation when it opened for business back in 1903. We mark the milestones in the journey of this monument to its present status as the jewel in the crown of India's hospitality industry.

  • The foundation of the Taj Mahal, laid in 1898, is 40 feet deep. The hotel was built at a cost of more than Rs4 crore. It was the first building in Bombay to be lit by electricity.
  • A suite of rooms, including full board, cost the princely sum of Rs30.
  • The Taj boasts a series of firsts in Indian hospitality: American fans, German elevators, Turkish baths and English butlers.
  • It preceded the famous Gateway of India by over 20 years. Until then the hotel was the first sight for ships calling at the Bombay port.
  • The imposing edifice of the hotel is an amalgam of styles that range from Moorish domes to Oriental and Rajput architecture.
  • An early report describes the horror of a receptionist looking up to see a monarch march in, followed by his pet tiger on a chain.
  • Jamsetji Tata had visited the famous Paris exhibition at the turn of the century (for which the Eiffel Tower was built). He saw there pillars of spun iron displayed for the first time, and ordered 10 to be shipped home for his new hotel. Today they seem indestructible as they continue to hold up the hotel's famous ballroom.
  • Something written in 1905 is worth repeating. A Mr GA Mathews says about the Taj in his Diary Of An Indian Tour: "The Taj Hotel is on such a scale of magnificence and luxury that at first it rather took one's breath away. There is no other hotel in India which will bear comparison with it, as it is in a rank of its own."
  • When it opened the Taj was perhaps the only place in the world where staunch Congressmen could debate with defenders of the British Empire, and where sailors on shore leave could flirt with Pompadour follies.
  • During World War I (1914 to 1918), the hotel was converted into a 600-bed hospital.
  • The Taj had Mumbai's first-ever licensed bar, the Harbour Bar (bar licence No 1), India's first all-day dining restaurant, and the country's first international discotheque, Blow Up.
  • Mohammed Ali Jinnah (the originator of the idea of partition and, later, the first head of state of Pakistan) and Sarojini Naidu (president of the Indian National Congress), both held court in suites at the Taj.
  • In 1947, independent India's first speech to industry was made at the hotel.
  • In 1973, a tower wing was conceived with 23 stories of arches and balconies, topped by a jagged diadem.
  • Today the Taj Group of Hotels has 53 hotels in 34 locations across India, and 12 international properties
  • In its centenary year, 2003, the Taj was rejuvenated. It has a new name — The Taj Mahal Palace and Towers — new restaurants, beautifully restored guest rooms and a charming new lobby lounge.
  • Two venerated restaurants were reopened in new avatars: 'Masala Kraft' for the erstwhile Tanjore and 'The Souk', earlier the Apollo Bar.
  • The new heritage lounge is replete with ornate entrances, ancient artefacts, original Gaitonde and Husain paintings and traditional Indian brassware. The lounge has on display interesting antiques unearthed from the Taj's own store of collectibles, including a chandelier made of crimson-coloured glass from a Turkish palace, and a large 150-year-old cabinet made of three-dimensional satin wood, with borders and dividers carved out of ebony.

Uploaded in August 2004