Guests check in, terror-struck Taj, Trident hotels reopen (Roundup)

December 21st, 2008 - 8:14 pm ICT by IANS  

Mumbai, Dec 21 (IANS) With prayers on their lips and resolve to fight terrorism in their hearts, guests and staff flocked to two sea-facing hotels in India’s commercial capital that reopened Sunday, barely three weeks after terrorists ravaged the properties in one of the worst attacks on the country’s soil that left nearly 170 dead.Guests started checking in early at the Trident hotel, owned by the Delhi-based Oberoi group, after which an all-religion prayer meeting was organised by the management, attended, among others, by Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan.

The 103-year-old Taj Mahal hotel also threw its doors open to a part of its property soon after, with its chairman Ratan Tata saying the reopening, within a month of the attacks Nov 26, sent out a strong message to terrorists that their nefarious designs will be defeated.

At the Trident, the staff, guests and invitees alike, including who’s who of Mumbai, congregated at the reception area as the leaders of Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Buddhist, Jain, Zoroastrian and Christian faiths held the commemoration service.

“People do not need to worry about security. The state administration and the police would put in all efforts to prevent terror attacks in future,” Chavan said. “The hotel managements have been asked to tighten security.”

The guests at the reopening said they were determined to fight terrorism and to show its perpetrators that the grit of Mumbaikars cannot be broken even by such ghastly incidents.

“The terrorists failed and Mumbaikars won,” said Rick McElrea of Canada, who was among the first to check-in into the Trident, which also reopened some of its popular restaurants like India Jones, Firangipani, Opium Den and Verandah.

“I don’t feel any fear. I feel hope,” said McElrea, as guests were seen giving flowers to the staff, seen welcoming guests with wide smiles and folded hands.

The security was, indeed, tight, as private security guards manned all the entry points, exits and the lobbies, as sniffer dogs and armed policemen stood behind sand bunkers at the entrance of the waterfront property.

All the bags of guests were passed through metal detectors and X-ray machines, while security personnel checked the identity cards and verified the bona fides of all guests as part of the tightened security drill never witnessed before.

According to Trident president Rattan Keswani, guests will find all restaurants at the Trident in “pristine condition” as it was earlier. “Our guests should not find a single trace that would bring back memories,” he said.

“We believe the time has come to look forward to the future. Now, the fears of travellers and governments that have issued travel advisories must be allayed so people will return to Mumbai.”

In the nearby Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel, another property damaged during the attacks, some 1,000 guests and visitors were invited for the re-opening of as many as 268 rooms, including nine suites, as also seven restaurants.

“By reopening the hotel, we have sent a strong message to the terrorists. Taj is the symbol of our tenacity,” said Ratan Tata, the chairman of the $62.5 billion Tata group, India’s largest industrial house that manages the hotel.

“Of the 268 rooms in the tower block, 150 have been booke,” said R.K. Krishna Kumar, vice-president of Indian Hotels, the corporate owners the Taj Mahal Palace and Towers, while expecting booking to pick up from New Year.

But the heritage wing of the century-old Taj property, facing the Gateway of India, is likely to take at least a few months to reopen, as will be the case with the Oberoi hotel adjacent to Trident, the managements said.

The Oberoi and the heritage building of the Taj were badly affected and experts in structural engineering and architects feel it may take between six-eight months to recommence operations in these wings.

The Oberoi-Trident and the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotels were among more than 10 locations that had been targeted by terrorists Nov 26, leading to nearly 60 hours of mayhem that killed nearly 170 people in the city.

Even at Leopold Cafe, another popular sites targeted Nov 26, it was business as usual for the management and gue4sts alike, even though its walls still bore the bullet marks left behind by the terrorists.

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