WTM Preview The Taj Mumbai: 100-year legacy November 2003 340 Share The Taj Palace, Mumbai. AS they say, the best was reserved for the last. After a whistle-stop FAM trip that took us to some of the top Taj properties in India, came what is probably the pride of the leading Indian five-star hotel chain: The Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai. For those who are not familiar The Taj, as one of Mumbai’s most scintillating landmarks is better known, is in fact not one but two hotels — the Heritage Wing, the original building, and the more recent Tower Wing. Overlooking Mumbai’s other famous landmark, the majestic Gateway of India, it was built at a cost of 500,000 pound sterling by Sir Jamshetji N. Tata who wanted to erect a grand hotel that would consolidate Mumbai’s reputation among the great cities of the world. Popularly called the old lady of Apollo Bunder, the hotel has more than lived up to its founder’s dream and today it’s an intrinsic part of India’s history. I was lucky to have been there to enjoy its hospitality and bask in its grandeur more than 100 years after it threw open its opened its doors to its first 17 guests on December 16, 1903, with just 30 private suites-cum-apartments. To celebrate the Taj Centenary year, the name of the hotel is apparently being changed to Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, as it was originally called.Having played host to the rich and famous, overseen the birth of the Gateway of India and witnessed two world wars, The Taj has come to be regarded as much more than a hotel. And who can forget that it was one of pre-independent India’s first leading hotels to invite the natives when the British abruptly shut out Indians from theirs?Even though this was not the first time I had stayed there, it was certainly the most nostalgic one as I could feel one with the pride with which every member of the hotel staff associated himself with the landmark hotel as it completed its first century. Everywhere I looked, the hotel had a story to tell. For instance, as I peeped out of my room overlooking the poolside lounge I couldn’t hold back a chuckle as I recounted stories of the hotel had been constructed back-to-front. One of them goes that the architect of the hotel leapt off its main dome when he realised that the hotel original entrance and reception (where the pool stands today) had become the rear side of the hotel.A picturesque waterfront with colourful sailboats and a bustling Apollo Bunder with Victoria carriages added, in no small measure, to the hotel’s timeless charm. Not surprising then that even though I frequented the more modern Tower Wing, there was something about the Heritage Wing that kept drawing me back to my room - can’t say if it was to gaze at the wealth of paintings and sculptures that line its corridors or delight at the ornate corridors or simply to check out the artifacts in the suite. Whatever it is, the heritage building was the closest you could get to India’s rich culture - from the warmth of your room!There’s been a string of festivities to commemorate the hotel’s 100 years but it was The Taj of Apollo Bunder, a short film produced by Ravi Dubey, senior vice-president, corporate affairs, The Indian Hotels Company Ltd (IHCL), that has truly captured the spirit of the hotel during its centenary celebrations. Directed by Zafar Hai, the films lets the viewers into a hundred years of memories as the walls of the heritage building come alive and start telling their own stories through a narrative in the deep baritone of renowned actor Roshan Seth.From the likes of John Lennon and wife Yoko Ono to the English royalty to the who’s who of the entertainment world also pop up occasionally to remind the viewers of some of the illustrious faces to have graced the hotel over time. As Dubey puts it, “The film is really is an account of the sweep of history since 1903 right through till now.” Having viewed the film in the conference of the Tower Wing, I strained my ears against the wall as I wound my way back to the heritage building. I know for sure that there are still a lot interesting tales it has kept to itself!