Taj Opens Palace Wing 2 Years After Mumbai Attacks

Mumbai’s luxury Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, favored by royalty, rock stars and tycoons, is opening its century-old heritage rooms almost two years after terrorists attacked guests and staff and set fire to the hotel.

The Palace Wing opens on Aug. 15, India’s Independence Day, with guests offered free nights in suites costing as much as $1,450 a night, the hotel’s website says. The Taj, in India’s financial capital, closed after 10 terrorists killed 166 people in November 2008 in attacks that also hit Oberoi Hotels & Resorts, a railway station and a cafe.

“I would definitely come back to stay at the Taj,” said Singapore-based Samir Arora, founder of hedge fund Helios Capital Management Pte. “The best feature about the Taj was its lobby which was always bustling with activity and energy. Just for the fond memories I have of the place and out of respect I will come back.”

Arora, who was chief investment officer at Alliance Capital Management Holding LP’s Indian fund management unit from 1998 to 2003, said the firm held a party at the Taj to mark six years in India, attended by Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan.

The Taj has spent 1.75 billion rupees ($37 million) to restore the hotel, said Anil Goel, executive director of finance. The heritage wing, renamed the Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai, has been under renovation since gunmen armed with rifles and grenades stormed the 107-year-old hotel, taking hostages and burning rooms that once accommodated Mick Jagger, Jacqueline Onassis, Yehudi Menuhin and Prince Charles.

Beatles Help

A black-and-white photo on the website of the hotel’s owner, Tata Group, recalls the time the Beatles’ George Harrison checked in under an assumed name to study the sitar under Ravi Shankar. Shankar donated one of his sitars for a new duplex suite named after him, which will open later this year in the refurbished Palace wing.

The Taj, on the city’s Colaba waterfront, is aiming to win back customers with a complimentary night for every night spent in its suites and a third night free for every two nights at the Luxury Grande rooms in the restored wing.

A stay in the luxury suite includes 24-hour personalized butler service and airport transfers by Jaguars and Bentleys, says Ajoy Misra, senior vice president of sales and marketing. A complementary bottle of wine, cocktails and hors d’oeuvres at the Palace Lounge along with after-dinner chocolates and cognacs, are part of the offer, according to the hotel’s website.

Italian Marble

The renovation has added amenities such as ergonomic furniture, a home theater system and bathrooms with Italian marble and rain shower heads, the website shows.

The 5,000 square foot (465 square meter) Tata Suite, named after the owner Ratan Tata and the property’s most expensive, will reopen in September, said Raymond Bickson, managing director of Indian Hotels Co., which runs the Taj.

The 285-room Palace wing will include 42 suites of which 19 are themed, such as the Coral, Maratha, Dutch and Dolphin. Grand Luxury Suites are priced at 170,000 rupees a night, while the Luxury and Executive suites will cost 120,000 rupees and 95,000 rupees respectively, according to the website.

The Taj’s tower wing, built in the 1970s, and the Oberoi’s Trident Hotel resumed operations in Dec. 2008.

The Oberoi’s 868 square-foot Premier Suite with ocean views whose rack rate is 90,000 rupees is selling for 50,600 rupees a night and offers a separate living room and two 40 inch flat screen televisions, according to its website. The hotel’s Presidential suites are priced at 300,000 rupees a night.

Mumbai Landmark

The Taj has been a landmark of Indian freedom since before the last garrison of British troops lined up in front of the hotel prior to leaving the country after independence in 1947. Jamsetji Tata is said to have built the Taj Mahal after being refused entry to one of the city’s best hotels, Watson’s, which only allowed whites, the Times of India said in a 2005 article.

The hotel is favored for gatherings by Mumbai’s elite as much as by foreign tourists, hosting parties and events for local glitterati and Bollywood stars such as Yash and Avanti Birla, Parmeshwar Godrej and Aishwarya Rai.

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