Taj Hotels: Accommodations fit for a maharaja

Travel Weekly's Michael Ardizzone traveled to India. Here is his report:

BOMBAY, India -- In 1902, Jamshetji Tata was refused lodging at an English-owned hotel in India because the establishment refused to serve Indians.

So Tata, figuring the best revenge would be to start a competing hotel, opened the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay.

From that beginning, Taj has become a chain of quality properties that today has 61 hotels in 34 destinations, including 11 outside India.

Taj has expressed an interest in reentering the U.S. market -- it sold its U.S. interests, including the Lexington Hotel in Manhattan in 1999 -- and plans to open a second tourist office in San Francisco.

To familiarize Americans with the quality of its product, Taj has conducted U.S. road shows over the past two years.

Operators who use Taj for their India tours include Abercrombie and Kent, Oak Brook, Ill.; Travcoa, Newport Beach, Calif.; Sita World Travel, Encino, Calif., and Cox & Kings, Tampa, Fla.

To Indians, anything run by the Tata Group, the parent company of Taj Hotels, has the stamp of efficiency.

Our group stayed overnight at five hotels and visited two others. They were all quality contemporary hotels with modern amenities throughout.

Some of the properties are opulent. The Rambagh Palace in Jaipur for instance, is a former maharaja's palace.

To address different market segments, Taj Hotels breaks its properties down into the following categories: Taj Luxury Hotels, Taj Business Hotels, Taj Leisure Hotels and Gateway Hotels and Getaway Resorts. The Luxury Hotels are members of the Leading Hotels of the World.

The chain has multiple hotels in key cities in India, including three in Delhi.

The Taj Club, available at six hotels, is an exclusive floor for business travelers. It offers a long list of complimentary amenities, including exclusive on-floor check-in and check-out and free airport transfers.

All hotels offer 24-hour room service, and I found the attention given to guests in the hotels I visited to be extraordinary.

Taj takes pride in its cuisine, which is drawn from countries throughout the world. In fact, it claims to have popularized foreign cuisines in India and raised the culinary standard in the country.

Quality food is important here, not only for enjoyment but for health concerns. Agents should recommend that their clients eat only in hotels to avoid problems with food or drink.

The following is a peek at some Taj properties:

  • Taj Mahal Hotel, Bombay. Not only the signature hotel of the chain but a cultural landmark, the property touts itself as the oldest luxury hotel in India and the country's first five-star. The property is adjacent to the India Gate and on the waterfront.
  • Among its noted guests were Mark Twain; Paul McCartney, who stayed in the presidential suite in January, and former President Bill Clinton, who visited last spring.

  • Taj Mahal, Delhi. Like the Taj Mumbai, this is a service-oriented hotel that can handle just about any request.
  • Taj Palace Hotel, Delhi. This hotel is notable for the Orient Express, a restaurant modeled after the cars of the famous train. Its menu is the same as that offered on the train.
  • Rambagh Palace, Jaipur. A former hunting palace of the maharaja, it features 47 acres of gardens. Rambagh is quiet and uncongested. Renovations this fall will give many of the rooms individual verandas.
  • Lake Palace, Udaipur. A white structure sitting in the middle of a lake, the hotel looks as though it sprang from a fairy tale.
  • Ferries take guests from the mainland to the hotel, which has 67 guest rooms and 17 suites.

    The James Bond film "Octopussy" was filmed at Lake Palace.

    The hotel made Conde Nast Traveler's Gold List for 2001 and received a perfect score for location.

  • Taj View Hotel, Agra. The hotel does, indeed, have impressive views of the Taj Mahal, which is less than a mile away. Facing rooms need to be reserved well in advance of a trip. The hotel has 100 rooms, including five executive suites.
  • Taj Hari Mahal, Jodhpur. This property was designed for maximum natural light. It was completed in December 2000, so it's still clean and fresh. Its 93 rooms and suites are spread out over six acres, and there are lots of public areas and an outdoor pool.
  • Comments
    JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI