Story and photography by Barbara Penny Angelakis
Two Luxury Hotels in Mumbai
The Taj Mahal Palace
Mumbai – 400 001, India
For years I had salivated over pictures of the fabled Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai and read hungrily about its exquisitely designed halls filled with priceless antiques, suites fit for a Maharajah, and extravagant dining beyond compare. This grand dame of hotels was conceived in 1903 by Jamshetji N. Tata as a trendsetter that would position Mumbai, then known as Bombay, as one of the great cities of the world. And he succeeded! The Taj put Bombay on the map and over the years it has become one of the most recognized buildings around the globe, and a tribute to the Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces. So on November 26, 2008 when I, along with millions of others all over the world, watched in horror its eminent destruction, I was devastated not only by the unfolding scene of destruction and carnage, but the fear that I would never get to personally see this unique treasure.
Well, a little more then a year and a half later, the magnificent Taj Mahal Palace is once again fully restored and ready to welcome guests. And in February of 2011, I was thrilled to be one of those guests.
The Taj experience began at the airport as soon as we passed through customs and collected our baggage. A representative of the hotel greeted us and ushered us into a waiting limousine to be transported to the hotel in air-conditioned comfort … and, not just any limousine, but in my case a brand new custom-made Jaguar…while others in my group were escorted to a late model Bentley. Both luxury sedans were driven by white-gloved chauffeurs… a lovely salute to the elegance of yesteryear. The 40 minute drive took us past the notorious slums of Mumbai, across the river and over the modern Bandra-Worli Sea Link cable-stayed bridge, and up fashionable Marine Drive along the waterfront towards old Bombay. I strained to catch a glimpse of the iconic red Moorish domes of the Taj against the dark skyline. When we finally pulled up to the entrance we were greeted by a handsome white uniformed Sikh doorman wearing a silk turban with the top fanned out, who guided us through the ubiquitous security station making it as painless as possible.
Inside a sari draped attendant pressed the welcoming red bindi dot between our eyes, dropped a fragrant lei around our necks, and led us into the elegant Palace Lounge, the private reserve for guests of the famed Palace Wing. It’s inviting plush chairs, silk covered couches, crystal chandeliers, and hand knotted carpets, is the epitome of luxury and as I happily sank into one of the comfy couches, I was offered a flute of Champaign as a welcoming gesture to this extraordinary hotel.
The Palace Wing offers personalized “Palace Butler Service” and my pre-assigned butler patiently stood at the ready to guide me to my room, one of 285 restored rooms and suites in the Palace Wing. By the time we navigated the corridors – being distracted by the sometimes ancient, sometimes modern, but always distinctive artwork lining the halls – my luggage was being delivered to my room. It was late and the bed looked so inviting after the long flight that I soon fell into a deep and peaceful sleep.
Next morning, after a bountiful breakfast, we toured the hotel which was even more awesome then I had dreamed it would be. The art collection is so extensive that an “Art & Heritage Walk” is offered to guests interested in experiencing the museum-rich collection in detail… each personal butler is happy to arrange for this cultural journey. In the hallways, in the guest rooms or suites, or wherever my eye fell, it landed on an object of beauty. Every detail of furniture, fabrics, and artifacts, was exquisite, even the frequently changed lei’s decorating the elephant statues outside the Presidential Suite were fresh and fragrant. President Barack Obama stayed in that suite when the hotel was reopened in the summer of 2010 and his visit symbolized a continuing tradition for the Taj, which from the beginning played host to Maharajahs, Princes, Kings, Presidents, and Celebrities. One first floor corridor has an eye-catching wall covered with photographs as a testament to the dignitaries who enjoyed the renowned Taj hospitality over the years.
While the old-world charm of the Palace Wing appeals to art and history enthusiasts, it still provides every modern amenity, and for those guests that feel more comfortable in European surrounding - of course with Indian accents - there is the Tower Wing. Each of the themed Grand Luxury Suites in both buildings is distinctive and unique, with rooms offering views of the city and the courtyard pool or the Gateway of India and the Arabian Sea buzzing with activity.
The Taj Mahal Palace is truly one of the must-see hotels in the world and I am thrilled to be counted as one of its guests.
Oberoi Hotels & Resorts Nariman Point
Mumbai 400 021, India
From the historic romanticism of the Taj Mahal Palace located in one of the oldest sections of old Bombay, we moved to the modern elegance of the Oberoi Hotels & Resorts at Nariman Point, one of the newest sections of modern Mumbai. While the buildings date a century apart, the dedication to service and hospitality is identical. At 35 stories tall, the Oberoi is one of the tallest buildings in all of India and affords a striking view of Marine Drive with its famous Queens Necklace of lights that hugs the curve of the Arabian Sea.
The high-gloss polished marble and open spaces of the lobby, minimally furnished but with a dancing sculpture here and a ruby red piano there, speaks the language of luxury all its own. The rooms and suites are richly furnished with impeccable taste using regal dark wood, raw silk fabrics, and hand-loomed carpets. The floor to ceiling windows overlooking the sea and the necklace of lights draws you with its brilliance. The bed linens are the finest with a cool satin finish and the see-through wall to the well-appointed bathroom with its free-standing tub makes the bed/bathroom more expansive and yet privacy is insured by an electronically controlled blind and separate enclosed shower and commode rooms.
The welcoming amenity package of hand made chocolates and a bottle of Champaign hinted at the delectable dining options waiting for us at The Oberoi. Ziya, offering Indian specialties, is directed by two-Michelin starred Chef Vineet Bhatia. Chef Bhatia, with his innovative use of ingredients and outstanding presentations, is responsible for receiving the first Michelin star ever awarded for Indian food. There is Fenix, serving international cuisine in a relaxing venue, and at Vetro you can have authentic Italian cuisine. There is also the Eau Bar and The Champagne Lounge where you can enjoy afternoon tea or a range of Champagnes by the glass.
If your tastes invite pampering there is the Oberoi Spa and Fitness Centre opened 24 hours. There is also an outdoor pool in a lovely private setting. All these amenities have added to the Oberoi’s ranking as one of the top hotels in the world by Forbes Traveler 400, Institutional Investor, and Condé Nast Traveler, to name just a few. The Oberoi Mumbai opened in doors in 1986 and until being caught up in the terror attack of November 26, 2008 was heralded as a leading star in the Mumbai hotel high-rise heavens. Heavily damaged during the attack, the hotel closed for 18 months and after a complete renovation, reopened April 24, 2010.
Congratulations to these two courageous hotels that have survived unbelievable perfidy and have risen from the ashes stronger and more desirable then ever.
© May 2011 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.