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From grandeur to complete destruction

india Updated: Nov 29, 2008 16:20 IST
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The Taj Mahal hotel, known for its super luxurious interiors with vaulted alabaster ceilings, beautiful archways and the dramatic cantilever stairways, now stands completely shattered by blood-stained floors, soot- marred ceilings, burnt windows and of course the stench of bodies strewn across it.

What greets you as go you near the lobby are broken glass panes, gun-toting commandos looking at you menacingly for closing in rather than the regular smiling bell boys 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, making many parts of the hotel difficult to move in after evening," said an NSG commando who had taken part in the operation to flush out terrorists responsible for the bloodiest siege situation in the country.

The ballroom, which hosted innumerable number of wedding receptions, books' release, product launches and parties, stands burnt completely with bullet marks which are still visible and water flooding the floors, as pointed out by a Mumbai Fire Brigade personnel.

The much-sought after restaurants, patronised by the who's who from the country's corporate world to 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.

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 their food."

The finely-built stairways that once greeted anyone who entered the hotel now bear the signs of the fierce encounter with "three bodies of the guests" lying there.

The super luxury brand shops, which operated from inside the hotel, once a favourite hunting ground for Mumbai's socialites, too stands 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 hotel guests who could sit on the 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 to be lit by electricity, seems to have borne the maximum brunt of the terror attack that has left the entire world in complete shock.

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

Even the hundreds of pigeons, which can be seen sitting along the windows of the hotel or just near the entrance and on the roof top on any given day, now prefer to sit calmly on the road besides the hotel, probably because even they realised that its not the same anymore.

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

The iconic building, an architectural marvel and amalgamation of Moorish, Oriental and Florentine styles, constructed in 1903 at a cost of about Rs 25 lakh was commissioned by 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 that 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 USA and the first spun-steel pillars from the Paris Exhibition, which even after hundred years later, hold the ceiling of the Banquet Hall.

The grandeur of the Taj had attracted many from across the globe to even world leaders and most of names of the rooms has an history attached to them.

Initially, the maharajas become 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 that the hotel boasts of includes rock star Mick Jagger, former French President Jacques Chirac, Britain's Prince Charles, The Beatles, former US President Bill Clinton and the rock and roll star Elvis Presley among others.

"We must stand together shoulder-to-shoulder and rebuild what has been destroyed. We must show that we cannot be disabled or destroyed, but that such heinous act will only make us stronger," Chairman of TATA Sons and Indian Hotels Company Ltd, Ratan N Tata, had said.