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WHEN THE TAJ REOPENS, I'M THERE
By Joe Brancatelli
December 4, 2008 -- Among the file folders in my "write about" stack, there's a thick, red one stuffed with hotel notes. It's got my scribbles from the last year about the international hotels that I've stayed at and liked enough to recommend to you.

Ironically, the first hotel on my list is the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower in Mumbai--and I'll be damned if I'm going to let a bunch of thugs and killers convince me to ignore it now. I loved this hotel when I spent a few days there and I can't wait for it to reopen. When it does, I'll go to Mumbai even if I don't have any business to do. I'll plop myself in a room at the Taj specifically because that is what the terrorists don't want me to do.

I'm no hero, you understand, nor am I particularly brave. And I understand if you think that I'm nuts. But I am a New Yorker. Some bastards tried to destroy my city, too. Mumbai didn't deserve what happened to it last month. I'll go and I'll happily stay at the Taj again because it is the best way to show my support. It's also a great way to thumb my nose at the creeps who think they can get what they want by killing innocent people.

The Taj Mahal Palace and Tower was--and I assume will be again--an amazing place. How can you not love a hotel that overlooks Mumbai Harbor and the Arabian Sea and is across the street from the Gateway of India, one of the country's best-known icons? The imposing and graceful historic wing (that's the one you saw on television with the domes, cupolas and white trim) is startling. The public areas are full of quirky twists and turns and delightful little corners and levels. The courtyard in the back is dominated by a marvelous outdoor pool--and I didn't notice it for two days. That's how overwhelmingly grand the place is. It really seems like a Palace.

Guestrooms in the heritage wing are redolent of the Raj, odd considering it was built by the patriarch of India's now-sprawling Tata empire after he was kept out of a British-only establishment. And even though the hotel was first opened in 1903, the rooms have all of what current-day Brits would call the "mod cons" (modern conveniences). The high-speed WiFi works just fine and the in-room safe is sized to accommodate a laptop. The television has a cornucopia of global news and business channels. The modern Tower wing, at least from the outside, looks like it would be comfortable in the skyline of any major international city.

The Taj staff is generous and welcoming and genuinely friendly. Chris Barnett wrote a terrific column last year about the beyond-the-call-of-duty assistance he received from them. I'm not surprised to hear of their acts of heroism during last month's terrorist attacks.

The hotel's restaurants--and I tried several of them--are stupendous. Masala Kraft is a contemporary Indian dining room. There is also a "fine dining" place; a Mediterranean dining room; a casual all-day joint; and Japanese and Chinese restaurants, too. The Harbour Bar claims to be Mumbai's oldest and it is as clubby as you could wish it to be. And I could eat the Taj's sambar (a sort of stew of pigeon peas flavored with tamarind) and idli (savory rice and lentil cakes) every morning for the rest of my life.

The Taj Mahal's services are endless: airport transfers (a real plus in the chaos and crowds at Mumbai airport); business center; health club; bookshops; hair salons; and, of course, a shopping arcade filled with world-class clothing and jewelry boutiques. The fact sheet I was given claims the Taj also has an astrologer on call.

This column is beginning to sound silly, I know. Here I am raving about the minutia of a hotel that has just been the scene of a brutal human tragedy and has undergone extensive damage. It really is surreal.

But business travelers live surreal lives. We jet around the world and move in a bubble. What we do is far too often divorced from real life. The craziness of it all is what draws us to great places like the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower from Texas or Tucson or, in my case, Avenue T in Brooklyn. And it is what draws terrorists to attack places like the Taj.

We've just spent almost a week staring at the video images of the Taj, watching flames lick out from its windows, hearing gunshots ring out, seeing military types barricaded on the streets around the building. But I refuse to look at the Taj Majal Palace and Tower like that anymore.

I'm a business traveler and the Taj was--is--a great hotel. When it reopens, I'll go back because it is a great place to do business.

And I'll go back because I don't want thugs telling me where I can go or what I can do.
ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.

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This column is Copyright 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.