Mumbai’s Taj – from icon of grace to symbol of terror


Mumbai : The iconic Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel in Mumbai, that had over the decades hosted world leaders and royalty and was feted for its heritage building, Thursday became the symbol of a nation under attack as armed terrorists laid siege to it.

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“We will rebuild every inch that has been damaged in this attack and bring back the Taj to its full glory,” the Taj group of hotels said on its website as news came in of the hotel’s two buildings, which have 565 rooms, being extensively damaged in the attack.

Built in 1903, the hotel was a treasure trove of valuable paintings and works of art. It was decorated with Belgian crystal chandeliers, hand-woven silk carpets and antique furniture – many of which are believed to have been destroyed in the terror attack.

“The old wing, especially the sixth and seventh floors, has suffered severe damage. The famous presidential suite is on the sixth floor. The central and western domes of the building have also been badly burned,” a Taj hotel official told IANS.

The old wing of the hotel has borne the brunt of the attack by terrorists Wednesday night. A blast was heard inside the building and it was seen being engulfed by fire and thick smoke. This portion of the hotel houses the ballroom as well as other banquet halls like the Crystal Room, Golden Room and the Princess Room. A speciality Indian cuisine restaurant called Masala Craft is also in the old wing.

Three of Mumbai’s best known police officers – Hemant Karkare, Ashok Kamte and Vijay Salaskar – were killed in the hotel while leading from the front in the battle against the terrorists.

Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) MP N.N. Krishnadas, who was dining at the Taj hotel when terrorists struck, recalled being trapped during the night of horror, which saw 101 people being killed as terrorists struck at over seven places in south Mumbai.

“I was having dinner with some of my colleagues when two masked militants barged into the restaurant. They fired indiscriminately, I saw three people being shot. The terrorists left the room soon after that,” Krishnadas said.

“The hotel staff rushed us into another room after the terrorists moved out of the restaurant. We stayed there through the night. In the morning, commandos rescued us,” he added.

While Krishnadas and some others were rescued Thursday morning, many guests continued to be trapped inside the hotel till afternoon. They were freed after security forces battled with terrorists.

“Besides the guests, most hotels staff were stuck inside the building. All the people who were working till late Wednesday night at the Oxford House, which is a Taj Hotels group office complex behind the old portion of the Taj hotel, were stuck there,” the hotel official said.

The office of the hotel’s managing director as well as the corporate sales and marketing departments are located in the new tower of the hotel, which suffered lesser damage than the old wing.