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Mumbai hotels reopen doors

The Taj and Oberoi in India's finance capital resume business nearly a month after attacks, but only partially.

December 22, 2008|Peter Spiegel

MUMBAI, INDIA — With a mix of solemn prayers and Bollywood glitter, India's financial capital on Sunday took its most symbolic step yet toward a return to normalcy when both of the five-star hotels assaulted by terrorists last month reopened their doors to guests.

With senior government officials in attendance, hotel executives portrayed the quick repair of their facilities as a sign that the city too would quickly rebound. Gunmen attacked the hotels and other sites in Mumbai on Nov. 26, fighting off security forces for nearly three days. The violence left more than 170 people dead.

"I believe that the opening of this hotel will send a message that we can come alive again in a record period of time," said Ratan Tata, the high-profile chairman of the group that owns the stately Taj Mahal Palace & Tower hotel, whose famous red dome surrounded by flames has become the iconic image of the attacks. "We can be hurt, but we cannot be knocked down."

Nerves remained raw, however, particularly among hotel employees, and remnants of the attacks were hard to ignore.

The Taj was only accepting guests at its 1970s-era Taj Tower. As Tata spoke, he faced the boarded-up windows of the still-shuttered Victorian Palace wing, including the hotel restaurant where some of the most brutal fighting of the siege took place.

The palace wing is months from reopening, and it could take more than a year to completely repair, executives said.

The Taj marked the occasion with a grand party in its tower featuring Bollywood stars and other local celebrities, several of whom took to the podium to offer their own heartfelt homage to those who died in the attacks.

Rahul Bose, a prominent Indian film actor, implored his fellow Mumbaikars not to forget the victims who died in other locations, particularly the working-class commuters gunned down in the ornate train terminal.

Executives at the other hotel to reopen, the Oberoi, took a more subdued approach, holding an emotional afternoon service featuring religious leaders from eight denominations.

Dozens of Oberoi employees jammed the hotel lobby's grand stairways, many with their hands pressed together in the traditional Hindu mudra, as the clergymen -- including a black-turbaned Sikh, a Buddhist monk and a Muslim cleric -- offered prayers for the dead and expressed hope that peace would return to the city.

Like the Taj, only one of the two hotel buildings in the Oberoi complex was open to the public; the other suffered more extensive damage and is unlikely to reopen for two to three months.

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peter.spiegel@latimes.com

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