10 years later, the Taj in Mumbai

It’s been 10 years since my last stay at the Taj Mahal in Mumbai (read part 1 here). I left a few days earlier than planned to help my friends deal with a glamorous shopping spree in Dubai.

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Taj Mahal, view from the pool, 2008

At that time Taj ran at full occupancy, hosting party after a party and guests from all over the world. The hecticness, however, wasn’t obvious to anyone’s eye except the staff, and  all my free time was passed at the swimming pool, guarded by statuesque lions and ever hungry crows.

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Taj Mahal Mumbai, the pool, 2008

10 years later the lions were still on duty.

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Taj Mahal Mumbai, the pool, 2018

When not in the water, I used to enjoy lazying in vintage like chaise longues, starring at the grey stone majestic facade.

Ten years later the facade was the same. The most drastic transformation was a change in the “open sky” policy for cheeky city birds, limiting their access to all day long “bed and breakfast”. But don’t you worry: birds still sneak in, showing a complete ignorance to etiquette. The garden has greatly expanded to the mezzanine floor, and new palm trees popped up here and there. I noticed chaise longues no longer featured sun shades. Instead, the traditional Rajasthani umbrellas were installed, adding a touch of cultural and heritage to the pool area. Believe it or not, but this used to be the front entrance back in 1903. Do you agree that the pool is a better idea?

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Taj Mahal Mumbai, view from the pool, 2018

Happy to see that the Taj’ exteriors stayed true to their 2008 look, I did noticed a change in interior design. Damaged after the fire and destruction, all ground level restaurants were completely refurbished and highly unrecognizable. The number of open entrances to the hotel was reduced to one, where strict security has been introduced. I could no longer run in and out without passing through a metal detector. On the brighter side, the iconic floating staircases look exactly the same if not a little prettier.

The rooms featured the same white marble in the bathrooms, giving them a rather royal feel. Additionally the new wooden flooring, brighter paint and furniture appeared in the living spaces and all sort of life hacks in the form of buttons, cables and devices were introduced to add technical luxury to the stay. The view stayed the same.

To be continued…

Find out more about the Taj Mahal of Mumbai here.

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Déjà vu, Taj Mahal Mumbai

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.

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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.

image3Mumbai 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!

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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.  P3270387.JPG

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.

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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…

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#AZtory: Gold, spices and textiles, part 3

Like Alice in Wonderland, who ran after the White Rabbit to escape the boredom of her world, I followed the lady in the black abaya, worrying how easy it would be to loose her in a crowd of other ladies… Read Part 1 #AZtory and Part 2 Old Dubai 

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Despite hostile summer weather conditions, noisy traffic and a nagging companion (me), Zainab never looked back pushing us towards the wilderness of the old souks. “Keep up with me, Anna. The “City of Gold” lies on the other side of this bridge. I bet you’ve never seen anything like it.”

Zainab’s alluring voice triggered my ever conscious curiosity. Following Zainab was a challenge. One moment she walked right in front, the next – she vanished from my radar caught in a circle of similarly dressed people. Plus it took me a while to realize Zainab valued a good photo opportunity higher than a chitchat (even with a super famous blogger like me).

Third stop: Gold market

For half a century Dubai was referred to as the “City of Gold” by those who praised its fantastic development from a little peaceful harbour to a busy futuristic hub where everything unimaginable turned possible.  Zainab intended to amaze me with the materialization of the literal meaning, showing me streets and corners shining with the precious metal.

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“Watch out,” a deep voice suddenly interrupted my random philosophical thoughts mixed with walking and texting. “Young generation!” added the same voice annoyingly, but to me it sounded like a wonderful compliment. I happily rushed away leaving my Generation X status in the air.

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When we successfully crossed the street, gold was everywhere! It happily rested in the rays of the midday sun, smiled with a million rainbows through the panoramic windows of miniature stores, winked at me reflected in street mirrors, and sweetly whispered from every corner: “Take me home, Anna. I’m your precious.” Swirled with temptations I backed away, allowing Asian tourists and Zainab to produce quality photo memories.

When Zainab found me hiding from my inner spontaneous shopper, I was ready to leave. Empty-handed fortunately for my budget. A big fan of glamorous jewellery, Zainab looked a wee bit disappointed with my sudden meltdown, but my promise to be a lot more engaging at the textiles market seemed to reassure her and we continued (spoiler, I lied).

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Forth stop: Textiles and garments

Obsessed with online shopping and luxury retail, my feelings towards fashion from the streets of Deira were rather skeptical and in full contrast with Zainab’s excitement. I noticed a dominancy of natural fabrics made of cotton, silk and cashmere topped with a generous choice of bright attractive colours. Pretending to be interested I looked for the first opportunity to escape. The weather however made me reconsider. Surprisingly, all the tiny stores on all sides of the souk turned out to be air-conditioned and blasting a desirable chilled air in all directions. To Zainab’s delight, I happily followed her inside (however for a different reason) and practiced the competitive art of bargaining. With a bit of experience I’ve discovered that a simple Arabic phrase “Mafi fulus” (I’m broken) would gain me a so desired space in the busiest market even in peak hours. So I didn’t hesitate to use it again and again to Zainab’s amusement.

When we were leaving, Zainab’s hands were no longer empty. With numerous little gifts for family and friends she portrayed a very kind social person, especially when compared to me, who believed that my IG posts were the best presents imaginable. I told her so and she laughed. “Anna, let’s catch a boat to the other shore of the Creek. I want to see if the fragrant smell of Iranian saffron inspires you to cook for friends tonight.” It was my turn to laugh, but the word “Iranian” caught my attention.

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Prior to embarking we stopped to admire the courage of traditional dhows crews (cargo ships) traveling around the Gulf and further. The legend says they sail all the way to Iran carrying the wonders of Persia aboard, but perhaps it was just a modern take of “One Thousand and One Nights” tales 🙂

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We walked to the docks, joined a group of people waiting to cross, and comfortably nested on wide the benches of the traditional wooden boats, abras. The cost of our trip sounded surreal as there was practically nothing one could purchase with 1 Dirham in the UAE (soft ice-cream at McDonald’s was raised to 2 Dirhams). Thoughts of the fresh sea breeze, an adventurous ride and beautiful aqua blue waters occupied our happy minds. For the first time I no longer wanted to run away.

Fifth stop: Spice souk

The Spice Souk greeted us with a variety of colours, textures, smells and shoppers: locals, expats, tourists and residents rushing from one side of the market to another.

“Careful, Anna,” Zainab warned me when I stopped to stare at a curiously looking thing. “Not all you see are spices. The blue balls are dye used to magically turn your casual white pants into jeans”. I was speechless!

I demanded a further explanation and we stopped at Nasser Ali’s for a deep insight in the world of spice, dye and everything fragrant.

When the time came to say good-bye I didn’t want to. Instead I tricked Zainab into promising to see me again to continue our endeavors discovering the secrets of Zainab’s motherland.

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P.S. I am wearing a beautiful silk scarf by Wyilda, “Spring Roar”. Get yours here

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