The British era left many legacies during India’s history as a British colony. Some of the hotels built during that era were magnificent and strong and have stood the test of time. Let us check out some of them, revisit their history and walk down memory lane.
The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai
The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai was born out of Jamsetji N Tata’s dream. He believed that Bombay (now Mumbai), the commercial capital of India, required a grand hotel, one that would enhance its reputation amongst the great cities of the world.
Built at a cost of 500, 000 pound sterling with no expense spared, this labour of love opened its doors to its first 17 guests on December 16, 1903 (INR 11 million in 1903). The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai opened with 30 private suites-cum- apartments, 350 double and single rooms, electric lights, fans, bells and clocks and 4 electric passenger lifts – true luxury at the turn of the 20th century.
In its quest to provide the very best in luxury, the hotel even had its own power plant with electricity, a CO2 gas ice-machine plant that provided refrigeration and helped cool the suites. The imposing edifice of the hotel is an amalgam of styles that range from Moorish domes and Florentine Renaissance, to Oriental and Rajput. The official “engineer and architect” was a radical Englishman, W. A. Chambers who completed the project, originally initiated by two Indian architects – Sitaram Khanderao Vaidya and D. N. Mirza.
Unknown to most, The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai preceded the famous Gateway of India by over 20 years. Until then, the hotel was the first sight for ships calling at the Bombay Port.
From Mumbai’s first ever licensed bar – the Harbour Bar (Bar License No. 1) to India’s first all-day-dining restaurant and the country’s first international discotheque – it all happened at the Taj.
History too, has played its role in the life of The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai. World War I saw the hotel being converted into a 600-bed hospital. During World War II, most of the rooms and suites in the Taj were set up as dormitories for army personnel.
Just as the Maharajas considered the Taj as a ‘second home’, the hotel was as much a part of the Indian Freedom Movement. Luminaries like Mohamed Ali Jinnah; the originator of the idea of partition and later the first head of the State of Pakistan and Sarojini Naidu; a President of the Indian National Congress, both held court in suites at the Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai. Visitors included a long list of the who’s who of the movement, from M. K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru to foreign visitors like Aldous Huxley and Somerset Maugham who were supportive of the movement.
Did you know?
• The massive 240-feet high central dome to this day serves as an official daytime triangulation point for ships of the Indian Navy and which fix their positions by taking bearings on Middle Ground (the old naval battery sited on a tiny island opposite the Taj) and the dome of the Taj.
• The magnificent central stairwell was inspired by F. W. Stevens’ design for his central dome in the Victoria Terminus.
• The pillars in the Ballroom are made from the same steel as the Eiffel Tower. Jamsetji Tata attended a symposium in Paris and was so taken in by the technology that he ordered 10 pillars for the hotel.
• The crystal chandeliers that hang in the Crystal Room are from Petit Mansion – Rattanbai (Ruttie) Petit, wife of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, gifted them to the hotel.
• In 1947, the year the country gained its independence, Independent India’s first speech to industry was made at the hotel.
WelcomHotel The Savoy, Mussoorie
Built in English Gothic style of architecture, The Savoy Hotel of Mussoorie is epitome of old-world charm. After the railway reached Dehradun in 1900, Mussoorie became more popular, and was the chief summer resort for European residents of the British Raj, from the plains of the United Provinces.
Since it opened to guests in 1902, high-ranking officers of the British Raj, many renowned Raja-Maharajas, politicians, writers, and famous persons, including India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru have been guests at this heritage hotel. Envisioned by Irish Barrister, Cecil D. Lincoln, The Savoy Hotel was built to be a retreat for pleasure at Mussoorie, the upcoming hub of the British Raj. Cecil acquired the estate of “Rev. Maddock’s Mussoorie School” around 1895. He built the Savoy during the next five years, after razing the school to ground. As the road up from Dehradun wasn’t ready yet, massive amount of Edwardian furniture, grand Steinway pianos, billiard-tables, barrels of cider, crates of champagne and other materials were all carried uphill by bullock cart, this also included the oak pieces that were later joined to make its dining hall floor that is renowned for its size.
In March 1906, the Princess of Wales (later Queen Mary) stayed here and attended a garden party on the Savoy grounds, the place is known as the Beer Garden. Its bar, known as the ‘Writer’s Bar’ remained famous for many decades after the independence of India in 1947. The hotel was bought by the ITC Hotels in 2009.
The LaLiT Great Eastern, Kolkata
Since its opening in 1840 as Wilsons Hotel by David Wilson, an Englishman, who ran a very successful bakery called Wilsons Bakery at the same place, the hotel changed its name several times – from the Auckland Hotel to Wilsons Hotel, then The Great Eastern Hotel, the Grand Great Eastern Hotel until finally it was rechristened as The LaLiT Great Eastern.
The LaLiT Great Eastern Kolkata is the longest continuously operating luxury hotel in Asia with 165 years of operation until its renovation in 2006, according to a CRISIL Report. The architecture of this hotel is a combination of Victorian, Edwardian and contemporary styles.
Once, merely a rendezvous venue for the East India Company’s officers, LaLit has developed into a renowned luxury hotel. It was often referred to as “the Jewel of the East” in its yesteryears.
Having undergone many renovations, the presently existing hotel is a distinct blend of Victorian, Edwardian and Contemporary architecture and décor. The hotel even today has the old baking oven on its premises and the area has been converted into a Private Dining Room.
Referred to as the “Jewel of the East” and the “Best Hotel East of the Suez” by Mark Twain, it has been one of the top hotels in Kolkata for nearly 165 years.
The Imperial Hotel, New Delhi
The Imperial Hotel is where Lord Mountbatten, Pandit Nehru, Muhammad Ali Jinah and Mahatma Gandhi would meet in the 1930’s to discuss the partition of India and creation of Pakistan. Blomfield, an associate of Sir Edwin Lutyens, conceptualised this iconic hotel and Lord Willingdon, the then Viceroy and Governor-General of India, inaugurated it in 1936.
A majestic combination of Victorian, Art Deco and Old Colonial architecture, stately royal palms, planted by Lady Willingdon herself, line the driveway to the porch where liveried attendants stand smiling to welcome you into the art-lined lobby. The hotel is a delight for art-lovers who can spot original Daniells and Frasers.
Exquisite Burma teak furniture, Italian marble floors, tableware brought all the way from London, and silver tea service will take you back to the glory days of the Raj. Every corner of the hotel has some significant memento such as a mirror gifted by King George V and Queen Mary adorning the 1911 Bar Atrium.
Maidens Hotel, New Delhi
Tucked away, far from the chaos of Delhi is The Maidens Hotel, built in 1903 to host the dignitaries who were attending the Coronation Durbar of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra as Emperor and Empress of India of the British Raj.
The muted elegance of the hotel, its majestic architecture, meticulously manicured gardens, and peacocks strutting about all hark back to grander times. Walking through the wide white corridors of the Maidens, one cannot help but wish to teleport to 1903 when royalty big and small descended here to witness the grand event.
Windamere Hotel, Darjeeling
Ada Villa now Windamere Hotel, was the oldest and most traditional English Boarding House of its kind in Darjeeling. The “lady of the house” looked after all of the needs of Raj types coming up from what was called ‘Calcutta’ in those days. Kings, Queens, Aristocrats, top Raj diplomats and lastly, Tea Planters, all stayed here and were waited on hand and foot.
In 1939, a group of local businessmen decided to acquire Ada Villa and turn it into a Private Limited Company hotel. One of the shareholders was a Gertrude Bearpark, who hailed from Windermere in the NW region of England, called ‘The Lake District’. There was a Windermere Hotel there, set in Windermere Village, by Lake Windermere. Her associates loved the name, but she protested that using it would make it all very complicated, so refused to go along. Then, the “er” was taken out of “Windermere” and was replaced by an “a”. Windamere Hotel was born!
Later the owners acquired The Snuggery in 1958. It was right next door and previously owned by HH The Maharajah of Cooch Behar. The only old building is the bungalow, which was also built in 1841.
Finally, Windamere sits on what is a very holy hill, going right back to the days when the whole region was in Sikkim. A lama called ‘Dorje Rinzing’ found the hill to be sacred and laid his shrine there.