Easily the most recognizable remnant of the British Raj, the Gateway was designed by George Wittet (also responsible for the Prince of Wales Museum). The Gujarati-inspired yellow basalt structure was supposed to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary, who arrived in 1911 to find a fake cardboard structure instead; the Gateway was eventually completed in 1924 and was the final departure point for the British when they left Indian soil in 1947. It is the most obvious starting point for any tour of Mumbai (and is where the boats to Elephanta are launched), and to this end it draws large numbers of visitors as well as hordes of locals keen to take money off unsuspecting foreigners. The area makes for a quick-fix introduction to Mumbai tout dynamics; expect to be offered everything from photographs of yourself posing here to hashish to young girls. Opposite the Gateway is an equestrian statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji, the Maratha hero who gives his name to several renamed Mumbai institutions.
More impressive -- in beauty and size -- is the hotel behind the Gateway, which in many ways symbolizes Mumbaikars' determined and enterprising attitudes. Inspired by its namesake in Agra, the Taj Mahal Palace was built just over a century ago by an ambitious industrialist named Jamshedji Tata -- according to legend, because he wanted to avenge the whites-only policy of Watson's, then the city's poshest hotel. Designed by a European architect who mailed the plans to India, it has been said that the hotel was mistakenly constructed back-to-front, so what was meant to be a fantastic sea-facing facade actually overlooks a side street. Of course that modern myth is patently untrue: The hotel was designed to receive guests arriving by land and was built to shelter the entrance from offshore winds. So, although the original front facade now faces the swimming pool, it was certainly never intended to face the sea. What cannot be refuted is how much it dominates Colaba's waterfront, its six-story domed structure best viewed from an offshore boat. (We cannot, however, account for the unwieldy, terribly vulgar modern tower wing attached to the original "palace.") In fact, it is the hotel's image as a symbol of the city's prestige (and popular hangout for Western visitors and businessmen) that made it a target during the awful attacks that rocked Mumbai in 2008. Here, along with other sites around the city, armed gunmen besieged guests and staff and many long hours of gruesome battle transpired, leaving among others, the family of the general manager dead. It was a serious blow at the very heart of the city, but as countenance of Mumbai's indomitable spirit, the hotel reopened on December 21, 2008, albeit not in its entirety, and with intense new security procedures that have left the building looking cordoned off to the outside world.
Don't let the security cordon prevent you from taking a look inside the Taj Mahal Palace, however. The best way to experience both the Taj and the Gateway is to head inside the hotel and make for the Sea Lounge for high tea; you'll enjoy sublime views of the Gateway while getting a taste of one of the city's foremost social institutions, not to mention inhabiting a space that's played host to a veritable who's who of international politics and celebrity (everyone, from Gandhi to Nehru to Mick Jagger to Madonna, has stayed here).