The Taj Mahal Palace hotel is one of the most easily recognizable buildings in India. Located right next to the Gateway of India, this elegant and iconic structure is older than its more popular neighbour. It started operations in December 1903. Until construction on the Gateway of India was completed in 1924, the Taj Mahal Palace was the structure that dominated the skyline around Bombay’s harbour.
There is an enduring, but the probably apocryphal story around this hotel – Jamsetji Tata, the man who founded the Tata group, decided to build this hotel after he was refused entry to one of the city’s grand hotels of the time, which had a “whites only” policy. Others believe this was unlikely and that he really wanted to give Bombay a hotel that was “worthy of the city.” It was the first building in Bombay to be lit by electricity.
This property was known as the Taj Mahal hotel or Taj Palace hotel. Its clientele in those times were mainly Europeans, maharajas and the elites of India.
During World War I, the hotel was converted into a makeshift hospital with 600 beds.
You know a place is special when it has its own trademark. The Taj Mahal Palace hotel was assigned an image trademark in 2017, taking its famous facade into an elite club of iconic monuments that includes three others – the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower and Sydney’s Opera House.
It is said Jamsetji Tata, the man who founded the Tata group, decided to build this hotel after he was denied entry to one of Bombay’s fancy hotels at the time, The Watson, which claimed it had a “whites only” policy. This story has since been challenged and many believe Jhamshetji Tata was urged by the then editor of the Times of India to build a hotel that was “worthy of Bombay.”
When Jamshedji visited Paris around 1900, he saw for the first time pillars made of spun iron and ordered ten such pillars to be shipped for the construction of his grand hotel. Today, these long-standing pillars still hold the hotel’s ballroom.
The hotel advertised its grand opening with ‘moderately priced’ rooms at a sum of 6 rupees in 1903, which works out to between 4000 and 5000 rupees in today’s money.
The Taj Mahal Palace hotel came under international focus during the 2008 attacks. It was attacked specifically for being a “symbol of Indian wealth and progress.” The hotel was subsequently renovated and it hosted US president Barack Obama in November 2010, who said the Taj has been the symbol of the strength and the resilience of the Indian people.
The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel is unmistakably Indo-Saracenic in style but it also has Voctorian-Gothic and Romanesque elements and Edwardian flourishes on the roof – all combining into one very elegant, timeless design.
The hotel was initially designed by architects Sitaram Khanderao Vaidya and D. N. Mirza. This design was later completed by a British engineer WA Chambers. The actual builder of the hotel was another Parsi, Khansaheb Sorabji Ruttonji Contractor, who designed the unique floating staircase that one can see in the hotel.
This hotel is remembered for being a pioneering effort in India. It was the first building in Bombay to be lit with electricity. Other firsts included Turkish Baths, German Elevators, American Fans as well as English Butlers. It cost £250,000 to construct and decorate in the 1900s. That’s around £29 million in modern currency or 265 crore rupees.
The hotel now has two wings, the older Taj Mahal Palace and the newer Taj Mahal Tower constructed in 1973.