Taj Mahal Hotel has history, great staff, and Mumbai's best bookstore
The world-renowned Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, India, was hit in a wave of coordinated terror attacks orchestrated by a previously-unknown Islamic militant group. Charlie Smith photo.
The Taj Mahal Hotel is the jewel of South Bombay.
In the late 19th century, famed Bombay Parsi businessman Jamsetji Tata set out to create one of the world's finest hotels because he was a victim of racism.
The idea came after he wasn't allowed into the Apollo Hotel in Bombay to meet with European investors. Tata, one of the world's greatest industrialists, couldn't enter the place because he wasn't white.
In those days of the British Raj, you had to be British to enter the finest hotels.
So Tata decided to build an even greater hotel, which would be open to Indians. He didn't live to see its grand opening in 1904.
Situated a stone's throw from the Gateway of India, the hotel has since hosted Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Sophia Lauren, John & Yoko, Prince Charles, and scores of other celebrated guests.
On my four trips to Mumbai, I've spent an inordinate amount of time and money in the Taj's outstanding Nalanda bookstore. I've eaten several meals in the Shamiana coffee shop, which has some of the nicest old waiters you'll ever meet.
Up in the second-floor Sea Lounge, you can see Marwari and Gujurati couples meet for the first time as part of the elaborate ritual of creating arranged marriages.
Behind the front desk is a brilliant M.F. Hussain painting, likely worth more than $10 million.
For wealthy guests, there's the Golden Dragon Chinese restaurant, a Louis Vuitton store, Ravissant, and much more. This is the type of place where there are attendants in the washroom who will turn on the faucet for you before you wash your hands.
The hotel is still controlled by the Tata Group, which is headed by the relatively modest Ratan Tata. The Tata family has distinguished itself with its philanthropic endeavours, and I've never heard a negative word about the Tatas from any of the staff.
The hotel is not only a source of pride for Mumbai residents, it's a source of pride for the entire country. And that's precisely why it was targeted by terrorists, likely obsessed over India's continued control over Kashmir.
Today, I'm left thinking about those pleasant old men who work at Shamiana and the erudite staff in Nalanda, where I've bought so many memorable books. I hope to see them on my next trip to Mumbai.
These terrorists aren't going to keep me away from visiting the Taj in the future.