Now, here's some good news: The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai - probably India's most famous hotel - has been reborn. On Sunday, Aug. 15, India's Independence Day, the hotel's gorgeous 1903 original wing, will officially reopen - 21 months after it was seriously damaged in a savage attack on the city by terrorists - Islamist irregulars - from Pakistan.
I was scheduled to stay in the hotel, and like millions around the world, looked on from afar in stunned disbelief at the three days of horror at the Taj, the Oberoi Hotel, the main rail station, a cafe and a Jewish community center in November 2008. In November 2009, I stayed in the modern tower wing of the hotel; the palace wing was still being worked on.
Even with limited access, it was apparent that the hotel was beautiful - and would be beautiful again. The main staircase, a grand entryway, gave evidence of that. Security was everywhere - understandably so, as it must be - but the mood was unfailingly polite. That staff and guests could be civil and secure under such threat is more impressive than any physical plant.
For all that, the restored 1903 wing is a gem. The pricetag for the Taj's restoration and renovation - guest rooms and suites, the famous Sea Lounge, ballrooms and even the hallways, have been redone - has not been released. But world-class designers from places as far-flung as Malaysia, Spain and Italy were brought to India's maximum metropolis to do the work.
The managing director and chief executive officer of Taj Hotels, Raymond Bickson, noted at a pre-opening press conference: "Today, we have fulfilled our promise of rebuilding the Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai to its former glory. The palace wing has been lovingly and painstakingly restored, and we will now offer our guests an even more customized experience.''
To mark its rebirth, the hotel is offering a Timeless Celebration offer - stay two nights, get one night free - in luxury grande rooms of the palace wing, and a Suite Celebrations offer - stay one night, get one night free - in a restored suite. Many perqs are included in the deals - not least, views of the Arabian Sea and the majestic Gateway of India monument. Details are posted at http://www.tajhotels.com/.
Here's a warm welcome back to one of the world's great hotels.