Nov 30, 2008

India - Taj;Heritage building stands ravaged

Mumbai: The Taj Mahal Hotel here, known for its super luxurious interiors with vaulted alabaster ceilings, beautiful archways and dramatic cantilever stairways, now stands completely shattered, scarred by a 60-hour gun battle with blood-stained floors, soot-marred ceilings, burnt windows and, of course, the stench of bodies strewn across it.

What greets you at the lobby are broken glass panes and gun-toting commandos looking at you menacingly rather than the smiling bellboys who were quick to welcome you with a greeting.

“The interior is completely destroyed. It smells awful as bodies have been lying there since the day everything began. The terrorists had shot at many of the lights, rendering many parts of the hotel difficult to move about after evening,” said an NSG commando who had taken part in the operation to flush out terrorists.

The ballroom, which hosted innumerable wedding receptions, book release functions, product launches and parties, stands burnt completely with bullet marks which are still visible and water flooding the floors, as pointed out by a fire-fighter. The much sought-after restaurants, patronised by the who’s who from the country’s corporate world to the film industry and the political class, are now haunted by an eerie silence, waiting to tell the horrific story of what actually happened inside for 60 hours from Wednesday night.

According to a few of the ambulance boys, who were rushed inside the hotel at regular intervals to bring out the injured security personnel and bodies of terrorists, “most of the guests, whose bodies are still lying inside, seem to have been killed while having food.”

The finely-built stairways bear the signs of the fierce encounter, with “three bodies of the guests” lying there.

The super luxury brand shops inside the hotel, once a favourite hunting ground for Mumbai’s socialites, stand a mute spectator to the mindless bloodshed.

No news came about the Taj Chambers, the room which had an envious collection of books exclusively for the guests who could sit in plush leather chairs and read a book while sipping fine scotch or smoking a cigar.

The first floor and the terrace of the heritage hotel, Bombay’s first public building lit by electricity, seem to have borne the brunt of the terror attack, which has left the entire world in shock.

Smoke continues to billow out from the first floor even after the fire brigade has doused the flames.

Except for the smoke, from a distance the hotel looks exactly like the way it was before terrorists stormed it, giving no clue to the horror that unfolded inside.

Architectural marvel

The iconic building, an architectural marvel and amalgamation of the Moorish, Oriental and Florentine styles, constructed in 1903 at a cost of about Rs.25 lakh, was commissioned by the Steel Man of India, Jamshedji Tata, after, according to folklore, he was denied entry into one of the grandest hotels of its time — Watson’s Hotel meant for ‘Whites only.’

Tata was personally involved in the construction of the hotel, which, before the Gateway of India was built, offered the first view of the city to ships sailing into the harbour.

It is said he himself went to order the electrical equipment from Dusseldorf and chandeliers from Berlin. The hotel also had an in-house soda bottling plant, an electric laundry, fans from the U.S. and the first spun-steel pillars from the Paris Exhibition, which even after 100 years, hold the ceiling of the Banquet Hall.

The grandeur of the Taj attracted many from across the globe to even world leaders and most of names of the rooms have a history.

Initially, the maharajas became its great patrons. The Chamber of Princes was to meet there regularly every January, hence the Princes Room at the southern end of the Taj. The business maharajas were to follow next.

The distinguished list of guests includes rock star Mick Jagger, the former French President Jacques Chirac, Britain’s Prince Charles, The Beatles, the former U.S. President Bill Clinton and rock and roll star Elvis Presley. — PTI

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