Jamsetji Tata who used to be a globe-trot wanted to build a hotel that can match the best hotels in Europe in grandeur and service. There is a story that he wanted to give a slap to the Europeans by building an even bigger hotel as he was refused entry in Watson’s Hotel. (The entry was reserved for Europeans). However, many historians refute this claim. Writer Charles Allen says Tata took up the project at the urging of the editor of Times of India who wanted a hotel “worthy of Bombay” in the city. Therefore, the iconic hotel was Tata’s gift to the city he most liked.
In 1889, he bought the lease of 2.5 acres of reclaimed land near the Bombay Harbour. The construction began in 1900. He wanted to have the best facilities put in place in the hotel. He purchased two islands for leisure for guests who chose to put up in the hotel. On December 16, 1903, an ailing Jamsetji presided over the inauguration, though the construction was not complete. The first batch of guests had 17 people.
Shashank Shah, the chronicler of the Tata Group writes: Jamsetji “…went all over the world to shop for his dream hotel—the electrical machinery from Dusseldorf, chandeliers from Berlin, fans from the USA, and the first spun steel pillars from the Paris Exhibition, where the Eiffel Tower had been constructed only the previous decade. The architecture was of Moorish domes, Florentine Renaissance and Oriental and Rajput styles. The hotel was the first building in Bombay to be illuminated by the new wonder—electric lamps. A 15-tonne carbon dioxide ice-making plant provided refrigeration and helped cool the suites. These were among the very first in India.”
In the last 100 years, many people have chosen the hotel for their stay whenever they stayed in the city. Somerset Maugham, Mountbatten, Duke Ellington, Bill Clinton, etc., were some of the prominent personalities who enjoyed the hospitality of the Taj Mahal.
One of the targets Pakistani terror group Lashkar-e-Tayyeba chose was the hotel. The reason: They wanted to strike “a blow against a symbol of Indian wealth and progress”.
The total cost of the construction exceeded Rs 20 lakh, which Jamsetji spent from his personal resources and not from Tata and Sons. “He had no desire to own the place. He wanted Taj to attract people to India. That is exactly what it did,” writes Shah.