There are few sensational views that stay forever as a result of overnighting in a luxury hotel. In New York, the gal loves looking down at the southern end of Central Park, say from The Pierre – a Taj hotel. Come to think of it, Taj does have some pretty stunning views – Boston Common in Boston, and, of course, 360-degree rainforest mountains from Vivanta by Taj, Madikeri, Coorg. Now, back at that iconic all-time favourite, Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai, the best view of the Gateway of India is from ‘room’ 651, the Tata Suite. There, from any of the rooms that make up this 5,100 sq ft space, you look down at the gate, day-long a hive of locals and visitors from all over the country.
Arrive at this amazing hotel, which has seen so much in its 110-year history, and you are greeted by one of the doormen. Inside the main lobby, it is a-buzz with business, foreign tourists, and local society here for meetings and greetings and meals and wanting to be part of what is going on. The team glides as if on skates, but no swinging of skaters’ arms. It is not so much that the 1,700 employees (for a mere 565 bedrooms) stand poker-upright. They do hold themselves well but their body language is welcoming.
People lucky enough to stay in the Palace, the old part of the hotel (rather than the 1973 tower block) have their own, smaller, reception area, near the main entrance to the lovely ogee-shaped outdoor pool. As you are greeted, a vermilion bindi is put on your forehead, for health and prosperity. A garland of fresh flowers is put around your neck. Just in case you have arrived with a retinue, extra garlands stand ready. Led by the hotel’s big boss, Gaurav Pokhriyal, they are ready for anything here – only last night they had one of the weddings of the century, with a thousand of India’s best-dressed and best-connected gathering to celebrate the union of a happy couple.
The Palace was built for Jamshedji Nusserwanji Tata, 1839-1904, a Zoroastrian, and there is a statue of him at first-floor level in the main stairwell. As you arrive, look up to the top of the seven-floor open space, which is 138 carpeted stairs top to bottom. Tata commissioned architects Sitaram Khanderao Vaidya and W. Chambers to build this palace and, using strong grey basalt, girders, rolled steel joists and masses of passion, the stairwell alone took five years to build. Nearly everyone today, of course, uses speedy elevators but for the fit, it is jolly good exercise walking up (memories of that saying attributed to the late Queen Mother, that every step up adds three seconds to your life).
And up on the sixth floor, walk along to 651, to be greeted at the door by two stone elephants with marigold wreaths around their neck. The butler opens the door, but realises you do not need him so he glides away. You do not have time, sadly, even to inspect the main drawing room, or the eight-seat dining room. Zigzagging around right-angled corridors, you find the office, with the desk set so that you can look down at the Gateway of India as you write. A few more right-angles and you get to the master bedroom, with a private gym leading off it. Most of the ceilings, all white, are loft-like, many covered with silver-leaf floral patterns, which adds to the overall charm.
Fortunately there was time to head to the wedding and then for dinner, tonight in Wasabi by Marimoto. This bijou restaurant, up a few bright scarlet stairs – or by glass-sided elevator – is so interactive the chef comes and asks you want you want. A non-stop succession of nibbles, from sashimi and sushi via tempura, foie gras and finally black miso cod, is eaten off thick wooden blocks, with chopsticks of course. I am here, dining in this luxury hotel, with two close girlfriends. We have a bottle of Chardonnay from Rafael Père & Fils, and we close our eyes and toast our mutual friend and mentor, legendary hotelier Georg Rafael, who, with his son Mark, made this lovely wine.