One hundred years of magnificence

Mumbai: More than a century back, before anyone had thought about tourism or the hospitality business in India, there was a visionary who conceptualised it — Jamsetji Tata. The father of modern Indian industry undertook the labour of love that resulted in the Taj Mahal Hotel, a landmark presence on Mumbai’s landscape and every bit the modern equivalent of its legendary namesake in Agra.

This grand institution, the flagship of the Indian hotel industry, is marking its birth centenary in 2003. And in the 100 years of its existence it has risen in stature to be worthy of comparison with the wonder in white marble that Emperor Shajahan built for his beloved wife, Mumtaz, at Agra in 1648. Mention ‘Taj’ these days and it evokes two regal /companies/companies_I/IndianHotels//companies/companies_I/IndianHotels//companies/companies_I/IndianHotels/images, and you will not be faulted if you mistake one for the other.

Tata, the founder of the Tata Group, was a frequent traveller abroad and he felt that India needed a modern hotel that would compare with the best in the world. His idea found shape and substance in Mumbai because he believed the city would blossom into the commercial core of India. Tata saw the hotel as an essential component of and an inevitable condition for the city’s advancement.

The first steps About 9,000 square metres of the Apollo Reclamation, as the borough was then called, were required to house the hotel. Tata acquired this land from the Port Trust of Bombay on a 99-year lease, with an option of renewal for a like term. In 1903 the comforts and luxuries of this new spectacle, acclaimed as “India’s first truly modern hotel”, were thrown open to visitors. The event was described by The Times (London), as “a resplendent debut”.

The imposing structure, with a large central dome and two wings crowned with smaller domes, stands on a foundation that is 40 feet deep. It cost Tata a staggering Rs 25 lakh to construct the princely marvel. His intention was that the hotel should be “second to none East of the Suez”. It had all the facilities one could imagine — and many one couldn’t — for a hotel of its time: power laundry, electric irons, Turkish baths, a chemist’s shop, post-office, and more.

Tata had toured many countries in Europe with the expansive plan for the hotel meticulously sketched in his mind. He visited London, Berlin, Paris and other cities to make many of the purchases, while his sons, Sir Dorab Tata and Sir Ratan Tata, put their hearts and heads into ensuring that the hotel’s interiors were moulded according to their father’s desire. Thus the premium hotel grew in stature and grandeur. By 1906, the Indian Hotels Company, the Taj’s proud owners, had a capital worth of Rs 30 lakh.