I arrived in Mumbai late in the evening. My flight with Jet Airways was short, pleasant and a little bit boozy as I had no shame taking advantage of the unlimited champagne offered in Premium class. Next to me, the only other passenger in the two seats arrangement, sat a charismatic older gentlemen in a really good suede shoes brushed to perfection.
He took zero interest in my presence until I engaged the Jet Airways crew in every Instagram star’s favourite routine: stories, selfies and the endless production of photographs from a particular angle no one else seems to recognize beside you. As a result the crew delivered even more champagne and very personalized service, which other travellers confused with being mega famous and invited me for dinners with their wives. Luckily we landed and with no time left to respond I rushed out.
Mumbai International Airport greeted me with the shine and sparkle of a fully completed renovation to its interiors and services. For the first fifteen minutes I was absolutely alone in a giant endless corridor with panoramic windows to the runway on the right and cheerful wall art with a puppet theatre feel to them on the left. A very friendly passport control officer stamped my passport in less than two minutes and wished me a pleasant stay. Bless him!
My destination tonight was Taj Mahal. Yep, that’s right. Mumbai, or Bombay as the older generation proudly calls it, is a home to a palace of a hotel. Taj Mahal was built in 1903 in response to demand for a luxury hotel open for everyone who can afford it without prejudice. Originally the main entrance was not the one facing the Gateway of India and the sea, but the residential district from where horse drawn carriages brought in the wealthy and famous. The Taj at that time was only two floors tall and had no Tower. Later the entrance was relocated to the opposite side and a very charming pool surrounded by a lush garden built instead.
Right from it’s opening, Taj represented the symbol of Indian wealth and prosperity by becoming a landmark and pushing ahead of its time by setting quite a few records: complete electrification, first elevators imported from Germany, first Turkish baths, English butlers, first licensed bar, a discotheque (ou est la discotheque!) and a restaurant open through the day. Taj Mahal was converted into hospital during the First World War. The Tower was added in 70s and the Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces was born. So you can imagine my excitement smooshing my nose on the Taj limo’s windows, peering curiously into the darkness on the way to the palace. The Taj limo was equipped with cold towels, Himalayan mineral water, mints and complimentary WiFi immediately won my heart. The feeling of serene “Tajness” surrounded me like a fluffy cloud bringing in security, comfort and peace.
To be frank there was a separate significant reason behind my impatience. Back in 2008 I left Taj Mahal just a few nights before the terrorist attack, responding to my friend’s request to help her shop for diamonds, Chanel and gold in Dubai. I felt terrified watching my beloved home in Mumbai on the fire thinking of all the friends I made over there during the years and visualising its majestic interiors with closed eyes. The relief when it was all over turned into an obsession to revisit Taj in its full glory followed a major renovation in 2009. Half an hour drive from the International Airport and there we were about to enter through the new gate and pass luggage screening.
The first glance put a huge smile in my face. Taj looked majestically beautiful in the dazzling streetlights as if the fall of 2008 had never happened. I witnessed a very familiar scene, tall men in turbans efficiently guiding guests and traffic, happy kids carelessly running between parents, local dollies shining with diamonds and lip-gloss and wrapped in glamorous saris rushing to a party and so on and so forth. I missed you Taj Mahal!
To be continued…