Mumbai's Taj hotel reopens Sunday after 2008 attacks

Thu Aug 12, 2010 7:26am EDT
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By Rina Chandran

MUMBAI (Reuters Life!) - Holding balloons and flowers, employees pledged on Thursday 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 splendor of more than 100 years," Tata said, his voice cracking, ahead of the hotel's scheduled reopening on Sunday, also India's independence day.

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 Co Ltd..

"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.   Continued...

<p>An employee of the Taj Palace Hotel works inside the heritage wing of the hotel in Mumbai August 11, 2010. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui</p>