There are hotels in this world that are true legends in their field. I am traveling in India and can experience two of these icons here, in which maharajas and kings once descended. The most prestigious hotel group in India is Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces. The Indian Hotels Company above it currently operates 216 hotels (around 90 under the Taj brand). The Pierre in New York, for example, is also a Taj. The entire hotel group belongs to the Indian Tata Group.
I stay at the Taj Mahal New Delhi, the state guest house and one of the symbols of the capital. The grand hotel is located in the heart of the government and business district; the presidential palace, the ministries and embassies are within sight. The world was and is a guest here: Indira Ghandhi, the Dalai Lama, King Charles when he was still a prince, Barack Obama, Angela Merkel (three times during her tenure alone) and many more.
Puneet Chhatwal is the Managing Director and CEO of Indian Hotels Company. He lived in Europe for 30 years and was the first hotelier with Indian roots to be the CEO of the German Steigenberger Hotels, which he led back to the top from their slumber. Last but not least, I learned to appreciate him in his role as a member of the board of trustees of the 101 best hotels.
Puneet Chhatwal achieved the unexpected at Steigenberger
Traveling with him, I notice how popular Puneet is with its employees. Everyone knows him, the constant relaxed exchange with his people is noticeably important to him.
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Puneet Chhatwal already achieved the unexpected with Steigenberger, and he is now continuing this with Taj. In focus: the combination of service excellence, visionary investments in the product and a significant return for the shareholders.
My room is perfectly equipped: Frette bed linen, (quiet) air conditioning and what I love very much: a master switch by the bed, which immediately darkens everything perfectly. I fall asleep content and instantly – at a very fair price: the room costs 250 euros per night.
The next morning I sit outside at breakfast. The birds are chirping and I’m enjoying the Indian weather. October to March is the best time to travel, after that it gets very hot and humid. As a European, I don’t miss anything at breakfast. The only thing I miss is German wholemeal bread. Otherwise, the buffet is more than opulent, generous and diverse. I find various things from China, sushimi from Japan and sausage/cheese from Europe. I particularly enjoy the huge selection of fruit.
In the evening I eat in the “House of Ming”, the Chinese restaurant in the Taj. It has been a staple of India’s capital for more than four decades. The dim sum is excellent. The flavor cuisines of Sichuan, Canton and Hunan flow together here. It is bliss. At the end of the dinner there is tea from the famous Taj-Tea Brewing Cart. I think Indian tea is the most aromatic and actually the best in the world.
During Covid the Taj was also closed here in the capital. But the Tata group did not lay off a single employee, spending a lot of money and using the time to renovate. And that bears fruit. The interior is immaculate. Tradition meets contemporary flair. I really like the newly designed decor in the house: elegant and chic, the ambience alludes to the famous Ming Dynasty.
It’s very difficult for me to find anything negative here. An excellent establishment with impeccable service.
I’m flying to Mumbai to explore sister hotel Taj Mahal Palace. It is strategically located in Mumbai’s most important historical and commercial center. It is the best hotel in India if not in all of Asia. Built in 1903, it is a symbol of the city’s history and architecture.
The hotel is located at the Gateway of India, the view of the sea and the Mumbai skyline is breathtaking. The Taj is not only rich in tradition, but also has great stories to tell – albeit sad ones. It all began around 1900 when the founder of Tata, which today owns companies such as Air India, Jaguar, Range Rover and huge steel conglomerates, wanted to have tea at the Watson, the leading hotel at the time.
The Taj in Mumbai wins award after award
Upon entering, Jamshedji Tata came across a large sign: “No dogs, no Indians!”. He was rejected and then decided to build a hotel in the immediate vicinity that would not only be the best in Mumbai but in all of India. So fate took its course. Today the Watson Hotel is in ruins and starving while neighbor Taj wins award after award.
The Taj Mumbai has great historical significance: The legendary Maharajas abdicated here in 1947 in the Princess Room. The independence of India and the establishment of the republic followed. Another fateful date: in the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in November 2008, the Taj Mahal Palace also became a target of the terrorists. Several dozen hostages were held by Pakistani Islamists in the hotel. 36 were murdered by them, 28 people were injured. The general manager, who happened to be out and about outside the hotel, also lost his family.
But the Taj, the “soul of Mumbai”, promised Ratan Tata, the founder’s great-nephew, the day after the attacks, should rise again. That’s exactly what happened. In August 2010, the Taj Mahal Mumbai was reopened. A large plaque commemorates the attack. The safety precautions in the hotel, it is striking, have been significantly strengthened since then.
I live in the Ravi Shankar suite where the music maestro taught Beatle George Harrison to play the sitar. The instrument is on display in the suite. I listen to some Beatles songs. So India is somehow related to the development of European music.
I experience a journey through time, a leap into the past, every little detail here in the house is exceptionally well made. The colors match, the design convinces me, the service is first class. It’s kind of like what I imagine a luxurious palace in India to be like.
Incidentally, the Taj Mahal Palace was the first hotel in the country to employ women, the first hotel with electricity and the first Indian hotel with a nightclub. And it was the first hotel in Mumbai to have a licensed bar, back in 1933. Today there are nine restaurants here. I highly recommend the authentic Indian cuisine at Masala Kraft and the sophisticated Japanese dishes at Wasabi by Morimoto.
For one of the most legendary hotels in the world, the Taj Mahal Palace is probably one of the most affordable cult hotels in the world with moderate room prices starting at around 200 euros.
During these days in India I felt the potential for growth and quality, the power behind Taj. The hotel group was good company for many years, but it was overshadowed by the Oberoi hotels. Today it is among the top 10 best hotel companies in the world since Puneet Chhatwal has been CEO. It’s only a matter of time before there will be a Taj Hotel in Germany. Perhaps a chance for Frankfurt to finally get an excellent grand hotel again.
Rath’s travel rating for both hotels (current rating in bold)
1. Explicit Travel Warning
2. Better than under the bridge
3. So-so, not oh, là, là
4. Complaining at a high level
5. If only it were always like this
6. Very big – fairytale – cinema
Sightseeing: The Akshardham Temple in Delhi is the largest Hindu temple in the world and a once in a lifetime experience. Around 3,000 volunteers and 7,000 artisans worked 300 million hours (!) on the completion over five years. A marble temple like out of a fairy tale, with the most beautiful figures I have ever seen. Photography is prohibited in the temple, visitors should see what is special about this place with their own eyes. For me, Akshardham Temple is the most impressive religious building I have ever seen.
Memorial: The striking India Gate in New Delhi is the city’s most recognizable landmark. The 42 meter high gate, also known as the “All India War Memorial”, was built in honor of the Indian soldiers who died in the First World War.
Monument: The historic Gateway of India, nicknamed “Mumbai’s Taj Mahal”. Imposing architecture with Indian, Arabic and Western influences. The basalt arch of the gate served as an entrance and exit to India before independence.
Sightseeing tour: The so-called Five Senses Tour in Mumbai is a special city tour. Different experiences that offer an incomparable perspective. A historic walk through Mumbai’s colonial district, the famous Spice Market and impromptu dances to Bollywood music at a dance studio.
About the author: As a former grand hotelier and operator of the Travelgrand.ch travel platform, Carsten K. Rath is a professional globetrotter. He travels to all the hotels he writes about for the Handelsblatt on his own account. Rath is the brain behind the ranking “The 101 best hotels in Germany”, whose partners include the Handelsblatt. Rath is also the author of the book on the ranking, co-authored by Michael Raschke (Handelsblatt).
Carsten K. Rath, Michael Raschke: The 101 best hotels in Germany 2022/23.
Institute for Service and Leadership Excellence AG/Handelsblatt
More: This is what makes the 101 best hotels in Germany so successful.