Wide-eyed tourists, television crews and reporters throng the Taj hotel's vicinity under a sweltering November sun, days before the first anniversary of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, only to get a glimpse of the goings-on behind its stone walls.
The 106-year-old hotel wears a sombre look as a convoy of policemen and internal security staff cordon off the heritage building. However, a 1,000-strong army of labourers, consultants and Taj employees inside, working furiously to restore the building back to its old glory.
Indian Hotels Company Ltd (IHCL) -- owner of the hotel -- plans to reopen The Taj's heritage or Palace wing in phases by April 2010. The old wing was extensively damaged in November 2008 when rifle-toting terrorists took it under siege for nearly three days.
The 287-room Tower wing, which was reopened just 23 days after the attack, presently has an occupancy rate of 80 per cent and has been fully booked for November 26.
An international collaboration of designers like James Park Associates, Rockwell Group Design, Lissoni and BAMO are working to restore its architectural marvel, which brought together Moorish, Oriental and Florentine styles.
The 35-member IHCL team has followed restoration work of hotels like Peninsula in Hong Kong, Oriental in Bangkok, Raffles in Singapore and George V in Paris as a benchmark. Before the month ends, The Taj will reopen three of its world-renowned restaurants with new design elements and new menus.
"Golden Dragon, serving authentic Sichuan cuisine, Wasabi by Morimoto with its delectable Japanese cuisine and Harbor Bar, Mumbai's first licensed bar will open its doors for guests toward the end of the month," the hotel said in a statement.
The 565-room Taj Palace will reopen the rooms, the ballroom and all Grand Suites in a phased manner by the first half of 2010.
"Guests can request for rooms on the second, third and fourth floor of the hotel by mid-January 2010. The ballroom will be unveiled to guests by mid-March next year and the transformed and themed Grand Suites by the end of April 2010," the statement said.
Jamshetji Nusserwanji Tata had built the hotel, which boasts of contemporary Indian influences, brick-by-brick with its beautiful vaulted alabaster ceilings, onyx columns, graceful archways, hand-woven silk carpets, crystal chandeliers, a magnificent art collection, an eclectic collection of furniture and a dramatic cantilever stairway.
IHCL plans to have more pieces of the exquisite art work, furniture and crockery flown in from Europe and America to replace the