Depending on how you want to keep score, Mumbai is the biggest city in the world. India’s largest western sea port, Mumbai spreads along a crescent-shaped peninsula wrapped around Mahim Bay. Certainly as the world’s most densely populated urban center, it’s home more than 13 million people and average 75,000 people per square mile.
Amidst all of that life, noise and contained chaos, the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel rises above the seaside as the city’s epicenter for luxury, sophistication and service. Owned by Tata, India’s largest corporation and the guys bringing you other beautiful human creations like the F-Type Jaguar and the Range Rover Sport SVR, the hotel dominates the sea front before another one of the country’s great national monuments, the Gateway to India.
Home to 560 rooms, more than 40 full suites, a full spa, private shopping mall, a full pool and multiple elite restaurants, the massive complex is a blend of modern design along with the architecture of the Raj and the country’s colonial period. It’s fair to say that Taj is the city’s primary venue for Mumbai’s western visitors of means — but its hallways and byways are a meeting place for cultures from around the world.
It’s also fair game for some critics to look at the impressive Taj Mahal Palace as a relic from India’s history under British rule. It opened in 1903 and survived this long because it offers a western take on luxury. It leaves the Eastern hotel experiences to other properties. Somehow, some critics find that offensive, spouting off some smug, slelf-enobelimg nonsense about the tragic influences of colonialism. Of course, they ignore the advantages such a word brought to them — like literacy and education. I expect such critics rummage through their days looking for something to complain about, choosing to disregard the achievements of civilization that venues like the Taj aspire to be.
The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel is as massive as it is immaculate. Its service is impeccable and proud as it is gentle and non-intrusive. It looks to cater to a world of preferences, traditions and expectations because it is the entire world that comes to its doors.
Sadly, that same world brought barbarism, hatred and violence to the hotel in 2008 when Islamic extremist terrorists attacked the hotel, killing 167 and causing significant structural damage throughout the property. The hotel survived and flourishes to this day, but the memory of the attack obviously lingers. A monument in the heart of the hotel honors the dead, while metal detectors and armed guards monitor everyone who enters.
Perhaps that’s one of the lessons the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel teaches. When cultures come together, they can blend in beauty, comfort and hospitality — making room for each other. Or, they can look on each other with intolerance, envy or hatred — lashing out in violence that achieves absolutely nothing of significance in the end. The former choice brings people together to share a peaceful breath together. The latter is a death spasm of a worldview that disappears like ashes.
This Taj Mahal Palace salutes what people can do when they come together. May it stand 100 years.
For a look inside India’s greatest and most famous hotel, you can wander through the gallery below.