One year since Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Palace and Tower fully reopened on 12 Aug, 2010, and two and a half since the terrorist attacks that set this famed hotel ablaze, all 560 of its rooms are booked out. Demand has never been so high – this monument to a city’s ambition has become a focus for discreet defiance.
At 5pm each day, a tour takes guests
through highlights of the Palace Wing’s restoration; one that set out to
reintroduce much of the grandeur for which the Taj became known when it first
opened in 1903. It was remarkable for being the first hotel in India with
electricity, and offered such luxuries as hot water, its own laundry and
machines for creating ice. It went on to become the first hotel in Mumbai to be
equipped with a lift, and the first in India with an air-conditioned dining
“Here, maharajas would have been
entertained. Just imagine the clothes the diners would have worn,” says today’s
guide, Nikhila Palat. She points to a small watercolour from the 1930s that
inspired the renovation of the dining room. In keeping with the opulence of
those times, many thousands of sheets of gold leaf again adorn the steel
pillars, lit by vast chandeliers created by glass blowers from Delhi.
Our tour takes in the Rajput Suite, for
which craftsmen were brought from Udaipur in Rajasthan to restore the ornate
inlaid marble flooring. John Lennon and Yoko Ono once locked themselves away in
these rooms for five days, asking not to be disturbed.
We also pass through the Presidential
Suite: an interconnecting maze of rooms including a boardroom, gym and spa,
served by a team of butlers – 13 members of the Taj’s total staff of 1,700.
Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev, France’s Nicolas Sarkozy and the USA’s Barack Obama
have all visited this suite in the year since the reopening. “No photos,
please,” says Nikhila. “We like to maintain an air of mystery.”
Behind the lobby, a sculpture of a tree of
life, recovered from the hotel’s wreckage, forms part of a memorial to those
who lost their lives here. Nearby, the guestbook lies open at Obama’s message: “Thank
you for your extraordinary hospitality. Your staff is a symbol of graciousness
We head to the Harbour Bar to view a
collection of paintings cleaned of the smoke damage left by the actions of the
terrorists. Over a drink, Nikhila tells a tale recounted by survivors of the
attacks – one of service to the last. In the Sea Lounge, above where we sit, a
door was barricaded as chaos reigned outside. The guests hid beneath tables
until one emerged to look for the bar’s finest bottle of champagne. He went to
pour it into tumblers when the barman leapt up, saying: “I cannot allow you to
do that!” “Not even at a time like this?” asked the guest. “Sir”, said the
barman, “allow me to fetch the correct glasses.”
Peter Grunert is Editor of Lonely Planet
This article was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.