Taj heritage wing reopens on I-Day

Red rose petals, cheers & applause heralded the full reopening of Mumbai`s Taj Mahal hotel.

Zeenews Bureau

Mumbai: A cascade of red rose petals, cheers and loud applause on Thursday heralded the full reopening this weekend of Mumbai`s Taj Mahal Palace hotel, over 18 months after it was stormed by Islamist militants.

The 107-year-old heritage wing of the luxury seafront hotel will receive guests from Sunday -- Independence Day -- for the first time since it was badly damaged by fire, smoke and explosions in the deadly 60-hour siege.

"When we open the heritage wing (this Sunday), we also
send a strong message that resonates among all of us that we
can be hurt but cannot be knocked down," Ratan Tata said addressing
the hotel staff, guests and hundreds of mediapersons.

As he spoke about the spirit of the staff and the Indian
people, a wave of cheers and applause filled the red carpeted
stair-case area that leads to all the six floors of the hotel
under the red dome.

The heritage wing of Taj Palace and Towers, owned by the
Tata Group`s Indian Hotels and Company Ltd (IHCL), has 285
rooms and has been refurbished at an estimated cost of over Rs 300 crore, a hotel official told PTI.

A total of 1.75 billion rupees has been spent repairing, restoring and upgrading the wing, Anil Goel, executive director of finance at the Indian Hotels Company, which owns the Taj, told a news conference.

All rooms, including those which were severely damaged in
the attacks, will adorn a new look. Each of them has been
renovated at a cost of Rs one crore. However, 2-3 exotic rooms
are still under renovation and will be opened later, the
official said. The work has been partly paid for through a 1.8-billion-rupee insurance payout for damage to property and loss of business, he added.

Ratan, head of the Tata Group parent company, posed with staff on the grand cantilever staircase under the hotel`s iconic red dome, which dramatically caught fire in the battle between gunmen and security forces.

"This is a very special occasion," he told employees looking over the wrought-iron balustrades.

"This company and this flagship property, this honourable old lady, is going to reopen in the splendour it has enjoyed for over a century."

On the fateful evening of November 26, 2008, four of the
10 terrorists from Pakistan, sneaked into the Taj Mahal Palace
and planted on the fifth floor, below the central dome, a 10
kg RDX-laden IED, that exploded causing severe damage to the
building. They also fired indiscriminately at guests.

While a total of 36 guests, including nine foreign
nationals and children, lost their lives in the attack, NSG
commando Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan and a State Reserve Police
Force Jawan Rahul Shinde also laid their lives during the
combat operation with the terrorists.

The presidential suites such as Tata, Rajput and Dutch
suites, which have arched balconies facing the Arabian Sea and
the Gateway of India, will have some exclusive features and
additional offerings, said IHCL Managing Director, Raymond

Tata Suite would be the largest in any Indian hotel and
the only one of its kind in the IHCL portfolio. It has been
designed to celebrate the Tata`s legend and is all done with
white makrana marble, he said.

The average room rate will be Rs 20,000-22,000 per night
and the hotel expects an occupancy rate of 72 per cent on the
first day of the opening, Bickson said.

The modern Tower wing of the Taj and the Trident hotel reopened within a month of the attacks, while the Oberoi hotel, which was reduced to a shell in the siege, reopened in April this year.

Raymond Bickson, the Indian Hotels Company managing director and chief executive, told reporters that a "cast of thousands" had been working around the clock to get the wing and its 285 rooms ready for reopening.

A team of 20 consultants from Britain, Italy, Singapore, the United States and India has helped restore artwork and antique furniture damaged in the attacks, as well as redesign and upgrade fixtures and fittings, he added.

Additions include the new Ravi Shankar Suite, where the classical Indian musician taught The Beatles` guitarist George Harrison how to play the sitar for the group`s 1967 album "Sgt Pepper`s Lonely Hearts Club Band", Bickson said.

Legend has it that the Taj Mahal Palace was commissioned by Tata Group founder Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata after he was refused entry to the now-defunct Apollo Hotel, which had a strict Europeans-only policy.

It has since become a symbol of national pride for Indians and the epitome of cosmopolitan sophistication, playing host to monarchs, world leaders and famous figures.

-Agencies inputs