Like any regular tour, a heritage walk of The Taj Mahal Palace starts at the entrance. However, it turns out the entrance we took to enter this spectacular ocean-facing property is not the original one. To see the old entrance, one has to go to the now-perceived backside of the hotel, which now happens to be its poolside. The tour guide produces sepia-tinted images of tongas parked in this part of the hotel, which earlier had a driveway and a garden. This busts the myth that the hotel’s plan was executed wrongly, putting the entrance at the back, leading to the suicide of its architect WA Stevens.
This Apollo Bunder property was built by Jamsetji N Tata nearly a century ago, after he realised that many of the city’s grand hotels were restricted to “whites only”. Work on this iconic property started around 1890 and the hotel finally opened its doors in 1903. The project cost was Rs 20 lakh. This announcement was made through advertisements that invited guests to check in for Rs 6 per day.
Viren D’Sa, the “experience manager” at the hotel, rattles off these facts and he produces corresponding images on his iPad once in a while to corroborate them. Such a tour of the hotel, once done exclusively for its guests, is open to public upon request. The hotel usually whets a request before giving its nod or selecting those who can be part of this heritage experience. The hotel, which has an enviable collection of artwork, has also started the walk to familiarise people with it. Works of artists such as Jehangir Sabavala, Lakshman Shreshtha, Ram Kumar, VS Gaitonde and Anjolie Ela Menon can be spotted at various locations within the hotel. Soon, it plans to introduce a tour of its kitchen garden, which has several herbs and other plants.
For those unfamiliar with the hotel, the tour serves as a nice introduction to interesting history attached to its various sections and corners. Palace Lounge is majestic while Harbour Bar, overlooking the Gateway of India, is charming with a very soothing view of the sea. Tucked in a corner of the hotel is a wooden structure that reminds the visitors of the Air India ticket counter that existed in the hotel once. There are also several rare and ancient collectables in its lounges.
The end of the 45-minute tour brings one to its Sea Lounge. Sharing attention with the buffet spread out for the afternoon, there is the famous “lucky couch”, where many successful matches were made. Whether that was a coincidence or a myth, is yet to be proven.