I have been a member of the Taj Innercircle programme (http://tap.tajhotels.com/reward-programmes/taj-advantage-plus/taplogin.html) since the past decade and every year, Laveena and I make it a point to cash in with our free night stay coupon…as it makes the already rich and rewarding programme, even more worth it. Indeed it helps being a travel writer and knowing some high up people at the hotel, as the networking results in room upgrades and with the upgrade comes the palace lounge access available to all Taj club and suite guests.
Last weekend, Laveena and I returned to our favourite city hotel, the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai. It was the long weekend and while many of our friends darted off to some exotic overseas location, we decided to skip the drive to the airport, the check in, the wait for our flight and the flying itself and instead chose to have a luxury holiday in our home city. Since I had an Amex Platinum Taj reward voucher, we booked for two nights and were upgraded to a fabulous suite for the weekend by Genevieve D’Cunha, who heads the Innercircle programme and is a very dear friend.
The first evening, Laveena and I visited the Palace lounge for cocktails. After interacting with a few guests and engaging in pleasant conversation, we headed to Wasabi and treated ourselves to Chef Morimoto’s signature dishes, the finest Chilean Sea Bass and our favourite Black Cod. At 10 pm, we walked to the lounge for cognac and chocolates and met with a couple from North Carolina who shared with us stories of their experience in our crazily chaotic yet fascinating maximum city of Mumbai. Ed and Ellena had done the ‘Slum Dog Millionaire’ tour, earlier in the day and they said that they absolutely loved it. They said they were mesmerised by the vibrant colours, the cacophony of strange sounds (we guessed that these would have to be the blaring car horns) and the mystical smells of Mumbai, home to over 20 million people.
The next morning, breakfast at the Sea lounge was fantastic. The restaurant manager Pradeep, recommended we skip the orange juice and instead settle for a beetroot, carrot, lime and ginger mix to help revitalise our bodies. He also recommended we try the kheema (minced mutton) with soft pau (bread lightly fried in a buttered pan), with green chillies and onions. Not a conventional breakfast, but with the Gateway of India serving as a backdrop and the bobbing sails of boats in the harbour, we relished and savoured every bite of our breakfast which was accompanied with freshly brewed medium roast whole bean coffee. When returning to our room, we found ourselves in the elevator with Maestro Zubin Mehta and his lovely wife Nancy. He had just checked in and we decided not to bother him for a photograph. We wished him a happy 80th birthday and said that we looked forward to his concert on Wednesday. Later that day we had a couples aroma massage at the Jiva spa. After a swim and a hot shower, we were treated to a 90 minute massage, the expert hands of our therapists, kneading away at our fatigued muscles with just the right amount of tender pressure; their hands softened with the fragrance of oils which smelled of lavender and jasmine.
I couldn’t help but think how special it felt to admire the city we were born in, through the eyes of a tourist. So many facts we take for granted, we begin to marvel at when we role play and pretend to be visitors in Mumbai. The Taj history tour we did at 5, was a fascinating walk through the corridors of the past. We were told that the seven islands that came to constitute Mumbai, for centuries were home to communities of fishing colonies. Mumbai was ceded to the Portuguese and subsequently to the British East India Company when in 1661 King Charles II married Catherine of Braganza. Catherine was born into the House of Braganza, the most senior noble house of Portugal, which became Portugal’s royal house after Catherine’s father, John, 8th Duke of Braganza, was proclaimed King John IV after deposing the House of Habsburg in 1640. As part of Catherine’s dowry, Charles received the ports of Tangier and seven islands of Bombay. During the mid-18th century, Bombay was reshaped by the Hornby Vellard project, which undertook reclamation of the area between the seven islands from the sea. Along with construction of major roads and railways, the reclamation project, completed in 1845, transformed Bombay into a major seaport on the Arabian Sea.
The Taj Mahal palace hotel was a project dreamed up by Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata. J. N. Tata assigned two architects Sitaram Khanderao Vaidya and D. N. Mirza to design the original plans for the Taj Palace. But due to the untimely death of Vaidya the project was assigned to and completed by W. A. Chambers, the man who had designed the Watson Hotel in Mumbai. These architects had worked with F. W. Steven who had designed the Victoria Terminus station, today known as Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus. Similarities are visible as the station architecture is said to have influenced their work. The hotel first opened its doors to guests on 16 December 1903. We were told on the tour that it was a common misconception that the layout of the Taj Mahal Palace was reversed erroneously by the architect and as a result of this blunder, he committed suicide. However this is not true, as The Taj was deliberately designed in such a way that most of the rooms enjoyed a sea view and a well maintained garden was placed at the entrance. It was also logical to make the entry and exit gates to the hotel within the city so that it could be easily accessible. The entrance was then reversed to the front side due to growing traffic problems. Originally, the area where the horse carriages parked to drop off guests, is now converted into a swimming pool.
Lunch the next afternoon was at the Golden Dragon. Sous Chef Swapnil Vankar cooked up our favourite stir fried prawns with ginger and scallions, sliced lamb in black bean chilli, dry cooked haricot beans with a touch of soya and the stir fried burnt garlic and chicken rice. Mr. Shrenik Shah, a reader of my blog was also at lunch and walked up to our table and introduced himself. He said, he enjoyed our travels and recognised us from our pictures. Since travel writing is a hobby, it is always encouraging to receive comments from those who follow my blog. I promised Mr. Shah that I would be writing again soon.
Laveena and I returned to our room and briefly napped in the afternoon. Before indulging in the hi-tea at the palace lounge, we spent some time on the swing in the foyer by the pool, admiring the stunning architecture of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel. There is so much we take for granted at this hotel, so many of us know so well. While on the swing we noticed the mustard coloured ceiling with intricate white art like design panels within a rectangular border. Fans with leaf like arms and pretty brass and glass lamps with candle lights decorated the ceiling. The foyer was surprisingly empty and we enjoyed this moment of quiet and solitude, in a hotel we have both grown to love so much. With a wide choice of restaurants, Mumbai’s 1st licensed bar (The Harbour Bar) and views which will leave you spell bound, a weekend at the Taj Mahal Palace is an absolute must do and it comes with the highest 5 star recommendation from us.