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'There was blood splattered all over the entrance'
November 28, 2008 21:23 IST
I reached the hotel at 8:45 pm with my fiance, her sister, my to-be in-laws and an American guest. We all proceeded to the Golden Dragon restaurant on the ground floor and at around 9:15 pm, after drinks and a few starters, I stepped out for a cigarette, near the porch (front entrance) of the hotel.
Barely a few minutes after I re-entered the restaurant, we heard the sound of gunshots from the lobby. The thought of an attack was so far from our minds that at first we thought they were firecrackers -- there was a wedding reception underway at the hotel -- and amused ourselves wondering how the hotel had allowed crackers indoors.
The intensity of the sounds increased, and the restaurant manager, probably informed of what had happened or simply sensing something amiss, had the doors of the Golden Dragon bolted and requested all guests to lie flat on the floor. We were worried now, but assumed that some sort of gang war must be underway in the lobby, or like it so often happens abroad, that a deranged gunman had barged in and started firing randomly. Who would think that terrorists would attack a hotel?
As fifteen minutes passed with all of us on the floor, the gravity of the situation dawned on us -- in that brief timespan, we heard no less than 50 to 60 shots. The management then decided to evacuate the restaurant. Since it shares a kitchen with the Harbour Bar, also on the ground floor, they thought it would be safer to shift us there. When we filed through the kitchen, however, we found the side-doors to the bar were bolted from the other side.
The staff then decided to move us to Wasabi, a restaurant on the first level of the hotel. We took the stairs and joined about 100 other guests inside the eatery, where we were provided with water and prevailed upon to remain calm while the hotel management assessed the situation. We waited here for awhile and it was then decided that the best option was to move all of us through the service area to Chambers, the business lounge of the Taj -- it is at the mezzanine level and has only two entry points. Since elevators were non-functional, that left only one entrance open, which the hotel staff were guarding.
Accordingly, 200 to 300 of us were soon assembled here. The business lounge has a television and upon switching on the news, we were terrified to see dead bodies being carried out of the hotel from below -- the sounds of gunfire so far had been unnerving enough. In order to maintain calm, the staff switched off the television and I must comment here upon their absolute professionalism and efficiency. They did everything in their power to keep us comfortable, supplying us with food, beverages, distributing blankets and manning an entrance without being armed themselves.
At a time when they could have just fled for their lives and left guests to their own devices, they were efficient, organised and dedicated to getting each and every person to safety.
At about 3:30 am my father called on my cellphone and informed me that evacuation procedures had been initiated at the hotel -- he had seen it on the news. We confirmed this with the management and at 4 am, they started leading us all in batches of 15 to 20 people down the steps and out of the back entrance. When ours, the sixth or seventh batch reached here, however, gunfire rained down on us from upstairs -- the terrorists had seen us escaping. Pandemonium reigned, in which half the people behind us turned and fled back upstairs to the relative safety of the business lounge. We were one of the last few to be evacuated till later that next morning.
Thankfully, all six of us ran and took timely refuge behind the police cars milling around -- everyone emerged unhurt. We were then directed to walk to the Regal theatre nearby, from where bus services were picking up people and dropping them home. Here, we stood in a parking lot, still intimidated by the sound of gunfire and feeling unsafe in the open till my father arrived a few minutes later, along with a friend to drive us all safely home.
We heard later on -- and there is no way I can confirm this -- that the terrorists tried to enter Chambers at 8 o'clock the following morning, but were unable to get through thanks to the vigility of the staff, many of who lost their lives trying to hold them off. A man who we befriended in the lounge informed us that when he was rescued later that day, there was blood splattered all over the entrance corridor. My heart goes out to all those brave employees who risked their lives to save ours.
As told to Sanaya Dalal
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