MUMBAI // Holding balloons and flowers, employees pledged today to re-dedicate themselves to Mumbai's Taj Mahal hotel when it reopens at the weekend after the 2008 militant attacks in which guests and staff members died. The hotel, which suffered extensive damage from a siege laid by four heavily armed gunmen, was one of several Mumbai landmarks attacked by Pakistan-based militants. The November strikes, which lasted over 60 hours, killed 166 people. Standing on the grand cantilever stairway, staff members cheered and tossed rose petals in the air after chairman Ratan Tata garlanded a bust of the founder of the Tata Group, India's oldest conglomerate, which also owns the luxury Taj hotels.
"This flagship property, this venerable Old Lady, is going to reopen in the same glory, the same splendour of more than 100 years," Mr Tata said, his voice cracking, ahead of the hotel's scheduled reopening on Sunday, also India's independence day. Mr Tata had vowed to "rebuild every inch" of the iconic hotel, founded in 1903, and which has played host to maharajas, heads of state, chief executives, movie stars and entertainers alike.
Architects, designers and restoration experts from India and around the world spent more than 21 months assessing the damage, then restoring the hotel, said Raymond Bickson, managing director of Taj Hotels, a unit of Indian Hotels. "It was a cast of thousands that undertook the extensive restoration and sensitive restoration of the hotel, staying true to the original design and spirit," he said. Founder Jamsetji Tata had originally shopped for the hotel in London, Dusseldorf, Berlin and Paris, ordering 10 spun iron pillars that he saw at the Eiffel Tower opening exhibition for the hotel's large ballroom, now redone in tonnes of gold.
The hotel, which combines Oriental, Florentine and Moorish architectural styles in its vaulted alabaster ceilings, graceful archways and marble floors, houses fine examples of modern and contemporary Indian art, and now, modern security systems, too. The palace wing, built on reclaimed land overlooking the Arabian Sea, is a prime example of Indo-Sarcenic architecture, with cupolas and a dominant dome, which during the 60-hour siege was engulfed in flames and thick smoke from grenades.
The company spent some 1.8 billion rupees (Dh140m) on repair and restoration, Mr Bickson said, and lost more than that in the time that the hotel was shut for business. But it has received several inquiries, including from guests who were present during the attack, he said. The luxury Oberoi Hotel a few hundred metres away, which was also attacked, reopened earlier this year. While the Taj has retained its priceless Belgian chandeliers, antique chests and sacred icons, it has completely refurbished its luxurious suites, including the Ravi Shankar suite, where maestro Shankar taught Beatle George Harrison to play the sitar.