Targeted Mumbai hotels open with tighter security

MUMBAI, India -- The blood has been mopped up, the grenade-scarred marble replaced, the bullet holes covered over.

But the reopening Sunday of parts of the iconic Taj Mahal hotel - less than a month after militants stormed the building, spraying staff and guests with gunfire and grenades - comes with more than just a new plaster and paint job. There are new security measures and officials promise a new type of luxury hotel: an "invisible fortress" that can protect guests as well as pamper them.

"We can be hurt, but we will never fall," a defiant Ratan Tata, chairman of Taj owner Tata Group, said as guests checked into Taj tower for the first time since the Nov. 26 attacks.

The Trident portion of the Oberoi hotel complex also reopened on Sunday, though the main areas of both luxury hotels are expected to stay closed for months. But with the holidays approaching, the two landmarks rushed to woo guests back.

Police manned barricades outside the Taj Sunday night while armed, undercover guards kept watch inside. Everyone walking into the lobby was asked for proof of their hotel reservation. Visitors handed their bags over for inspection and walked through metal detectors as their luggage was scanned through X-ray screening machines.

Among those checking in was a Californian who survived the attacks. During the siege, Deepak Dutta, 50, said he spent 24 hours locked in his room - praying - before being rescued.

Dutta said he checked into the very same room Sunday "to show the terrorists that our spirit cannot be shaken."

"The Taj is like a second home to me and the staff members are like my family," he said. "I'm happy that the Taj is back in action."

The majestic Taj Mahal - an icon of Indian pride and a playground for the global elite for over a century - and the sleek, sea-front Oberoi were among 10 sites targeted in the rampage. At the end of the militants' 60-hour standoff with police, 164 people and nine gunmen were dead, including dozens of guests and staff members from the two hotels.

At the Oberoi complex's Trident hotel, a Hindu priest chanted prayers and a Muslim cleric read from the Quran on Sunday. Hotel staff in ivory saris greeted guests with flowers.

At the Taj Mahal, a pianist played in the lobby, as guests were welcomed with traditional marigold garlands. The tower's five restaurants were fully booked, with waiting lists.

But beyond the cosmetic renovations, R.K. Krishna Kumar said he and his colleagues have set out to reconstruct a hotel for a new age - one capable of withstanding another militant attack while still indulging guests.

"A world-class hotel needs to be an invisible fortress," said Kumar, vice chairman of Indian Hotels Co. Ltd., a subsidiary of Tata Group, the Taj's owner. "There is a new phase as far as the hotel industry is concerned."


Associated Press photographer Gautam Singh contributed to this report.

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