Here we have it, the newest spectacle, a light show that could do justice to any Cirque de Soleil performance. Every night since January 24th, 2014 the Gateway of India is illuminated in a constantly-changing colour scheme – and the best viewing point is at the luxury Taj Mahal Palace just a few yards away (the gal says these photos were taken from the divine Wasabi by Marimoto on the mezzanine floor, up scarlet steps from the bar below). What would the builders of the Gateway of India have thought, back in 1914, when it was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary when they visited Mumbai (then Bombay) and landed here, at Apollo Bunder, in 1911?
The Gateway of India is therefore celebrating a centenary. Designed by George Wittet, it was authorised in 1914 but, being India (and like the UK, with its forever-delayed Heathrow airport expansion-or-not), it took some time and it was finally unveiled December 4th, 1924. A few facts and figures: it is 85 ft tall and 49 ft in diameter, and designed in Indo-Saracenic style. It cost 2.1 million rupees, and is owned today by the Archaeological Survey of India. Its immediate area can host up to 5,000, as at the annual Elephanta Festival of Music and Dance, which moved here in 2012. Every day, and especially at weekends, thousands mill around, as its immediate area is pedestrian-only. Even the horses and their gloriously-decorated silver-tin carriages, that tourists love, have to stick to the perimeter of the surrounding area.
By day, the view of the Gateway of India from the Taj Mahal Palace opposite is short on colour. As you can see, this is home to ferries and private vehicles – one of its five jetties is exclusive to the Royal Bombay Yacht Club. By night the Gateway is pure entertainment. Philips has come in as main sponsor of the all-night colour show – for one year, I am told. As of January 2015, Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, which paid for basic illumination before, takes full responsibility for the ongoing lighting but, says hotel boss Gaurav Pokhriyal, new halogen lights cut the electricity cost substantially.
I looked down at the Gateway from the hotel’s 130 sq m Rajput Suite, a favourite in the past of Ravi Shanker, and John Lennon and Yoko Ono (that pair had taste – I am reminded of their love-in at Fairmont Queen Elizabeth in Montreal). This is not the biggest suite in town but it is arguably one of the most beautiful when it comes to sheer artistic proportions. I am greeted inside its heritage-wood-and-metal front door by a splendid display of marigolds. There are flowers everywhere, including about 60 white rosebuds in military order on the dining table, which has six carved chairs around (who did John and Yoko entertain here – the other Beatles, and one other mate?).
There are exquisite wall paintings, as here in the main salon. All the rooms, dining room, dedicated office, salon and bedroom, look out at the water below, and there is a narrow terrace, just big enough for me to sit on, outside the salon. Wire netting prevents the black birds, ubiquitous in India, from getting in. The bathroom has a solid oval bathtub, and I can just look from it through to the bedroom to light outside. Everywhere I have reading material, which includes every possible health and fitness magazine (does Mr Pokriyal think I need encouragement to exercise more? I have a yoga mat here, and the excellent Technogym, down from the beautiful rear garden of the hotel, is 24/7).
I get some of the exercise I need, at this luxury hotel, by merely walking up the grand staircase, 76 carpeted steps from the main floor, with its exclusive Palace reception, to the third floor. And at the end of all this, I can swing gently back and forth on the swing in my office, dreaming happily and looking up at the office’s silver ceiling. Memo to everyone: every great hotel should install swings for adults. Let us start a campaign. There is one in a suite at Taj Lake Palace at Udaipur – the ship-like hotel in the middle of the lake – and there is one in the garden at Schloss Leopoldskron in Salzburg. Where else? Please let me know.