By Tim Johnson

Just the word – Taj – conjures up a whole constellation of images, scenes of exotic luxury – of emperor Shah Jahan’s famous Taj Mahal and its white marble and flowing fountains and lovely open spaces. And while the world’s most famous mausoleum is a place to rest in peace, Taj hotels are simply the best place to sleep – and spa, and play – in India. While the Taj empire now includes scores of properties spread across 12 countries (and includes seven palaces and six private islands), the brand is most identified with the subcontinent, where it owns and operates dozens of properties. Here are two of the best, along with some information on the fascinating cities that they call home.

Taj Lands End, Mumbai

Although New York City carries a well-earned reputation as the City That Never Sleeps, the reality is that it’s no match for Mumbai. In fact, it’s not even close. With an astounding population density of 29,000 people per square kilometre, streets teeming with more than 40,000 black taxis – who share the road with hordes of buzzing auto-rickshaws, lazy bulls and cows, and masses of humanity, people who also pack the city’s trains to overflowing (literally – men hang out the open doors and ride on the roof) and course through Mumbai’s train stations (more than 2.5 million at just the main terminus). Open-air markets, selling everything from fresh produce to fine jewelry, are pure chaos – and a ton of fun to visit. A steady stream of boats takes visitors out to Elephanta Island in Mumbai Harbour, home to a series of caves housing fascinating Hindu carvings. And even its beaches are busy, with joggers and revelers from Chowpatty to Juhu. Nobody knows exactly how many people live in Mumbai’s sprawling metro area, but estimates peg it at up to 25 million – not including the tourists.
But at the Taj Lands End, the weary traveller can find respite in the eye of the storm. Located on the tip of the Bandra Peninsula, set right on the Arabian Sea, this property – located roughly halfway between the airport and northern suburbs and the main tourist districts in south Mumabi – is close to everything, but in a nice, quiet spot. And you’ll probably want to spend some time just knocking around Bandra, a lovely, leafy neighbourhood filled with restored bungalows, independent coffee shops and the homes of Bollywood stars (Bandra is the Beverley Hills of B-Town).
Masala BayTaj Hotels Resorts and Palaces
But you may just want to spend some time hanging at the hotel, which sits in a dramatic location overlooking the massive, impressive Sea Link Bridge (many rooms have views of this engineering wonder). The hotel is equipped with a full-service spa (including sauna, whirlpools and steam room), a tropical pool (complete with reclining chairs, tumbling waterfall and some excellent restaurants, the best of which is Masala Bay, a contemporary Indian eatery where guests interact directly with the chefs and some of the breads are prepared tableside at a mobile station. This plus a great glass of wine – the perfect end to a busy day in the City That Never Sleeps.

Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi

Although Delhi rivals Mumbai in size, that’s where the similarities end. India’s expansive capital is as green as Mumbai is grey, more Green Acres than Gotham – a city of vast open spaces, flourishing trees, parks, even sweeping vistas. And you’ll never want for something to do – Delhi, both old and new, is jam-packed with great places to visit and sights to see.
Many of Delhi’s main attractions are rather grand in scale, and none more so than Humayun’s Tomb, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in 1570, this was the first Mughal garden tomb on the subcontinent, a site that would later inspire the Taj Mahal. It’s a well-preserved place, with the tomb itself situated under a beautiful white dome, which looms over the manicured lawns and other structures that surround it. Across town, in Old Delhi, the Red Fort also impresses. Built in the 16th century out of stunning red sandstone, this former palace (also a UNESCO World Heritage site) is huge, rambling and fascinating, both for its history and its architecture. Visit here, then amble down the road to visit some of the old city’s most interesting bazaars.

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And when you’re touring Delhi, base yourself at the Taj Mahal Hotel, a bastion of elegance close to all the attractions. Upon entry to the hotel, the luxury is immediately evident in the plush, ornately decorated lobby, an experience that extends to the guest rooms. There’s also a full-service spa, a lovely pool, 24-hour gym, complimentary yoga sessions, sauna, Jacuzzi, steam baths, plus six restaurants, including the exotic Machan, a safari-themed restaurant complete with paintings of Indian game and tiger-striped carpet.