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The Taj Mahal Hotel - Bombay’s ‘back-side’ beauty

The Taj Mahal Palace hotel on Bombay’s harbour front is almost as iconic as the adjacent Gateway of India, the grand ceremonial entrance built by the British Raj to receive international VIPs arriving by sea.  Interesting then that the Gateway was only completed in 1924, a whole 21 years after the hotel so for many years the first thing those VIPs saw was a ‘native Indian’ edifice, not an imperial British one. And the rear, or the ‘backside’ as they say in India, of it at that.

Some suggest that the contractor misread the architects’ plans and he built the hotel the wrong way round, but in reality it was deliberately built facing inland for ease of access by carriages and cars arriving from the city not the sea. The old front was only closed off in the 1970’s and guests now enter from the harbour ‘backside’. Whichever way you look at it, this old-world luxury hotel is full of charm and character and is a welcome oasis of calm I love returning to when staying in the city.

When I arrived in the wee hours for my latest sojourn at the hotel, for the first time in many years of travel, I couldn’t find the key to the padlock securing my luggage. And no amount of jiggling or poking would open the lock.

Too embarrassed to call anyone I knew to help me, I determined to haul my bag through the streets of Bombay in 38’ heat looking for someone to hack off the lock. There’s a little man on every street corner who can do such things, or polish your shoes, stitch your handbag back together, clean out your ears or type up a legal note, but the thing is knowing exactly which street corner to go to. Not a plan to relish. I called the floor attendant and shared my predicament.

15 minutes later a man in sharply pressed overalls arrived, panting, with box of tricks in hand. He explained it had taken him all this time to reach me from his maintenance hideout on the other side of the building. I could well believe it. This gorgeous heritage hotel has grand sweeping staircases that wind forever upwards towards an Italianate dome and quite possibly miles of pillared verandas, marble floored corridors lined by  carved wooden balustrades, decorated with stunning paintings and fabulous antiques, all flooded with natural light from above.  No time at all, I thought, considering.

I don’t know what he did but 30seconds later and my worldly goods were free – the bag was open. I haven’t bothered locking it since.

Posted by: Andrea Hulme

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