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Friday, October 3, 2014, Ashwin 18, 1421, Zilhajj 7, 1435 Hijr

Cover Story
Hotel InterContinental : Memories abound as Inter Continental returns to Bangladesh
Anis Ahmed
Publish Date : 2014-10-03,  Publish Time : 00:00,  View Count : 24
In a way history is being recreated in part with the return of InterContinental Hotel to Bangladesh - by winning back its Dhaka historic site where it started 48 years ago in 1966 but later handed over its management to another international hotel chain Sheraton. Since 2012 the Sheraton Hotel has been renamed as Ruposhi Bangla (beautiful Bangladesh) Hotel.
Despite frequent change of brands and managements, the hotel has not changed its iconic structure though the interior has been remodelled, updated and suited to the taste of time. Yet, it never lost the gloss and glory of the InterContinental Hotel that has been deeply embedded in the history of Bangladesh.
For those who lived before and during Liberation War of 1971, InterContinental has a different memory of it. The hotel - then the best in Dhaka - stands witness to the horrors of 1971 during and before the war, perpetrated by the Pakistani occupation army and their local collaborators Jamaat-e-Islami, Razakar and Al-Badr militants carrying out a genocide in the then East Pakistan, home to 7.5 million Bengalis.
Many would find the return of InterContinental Hotel like a "drop of dew on their moistened memories." For who had not seen the horrors of the war, the InterContinental would bring along a bit of history and make their minds revolve around our glorious, bloody past.
From windows of the hotel, guests might have often witnessed with awe bodies of Bengalis killed by the Pakistani army and their collaborators being buried in mass graves in the bush or under trees at the lush green Ramna Park. The bodies were later exhumed and removed after the war was over.
The hotel management went to the Sheraton in 1983 and then to Ruposhi Bangla. Again, the InterContinental is returning to Bangladesh. Nicely located beside the Ramna Park, the hotel was strategically close to what was before 1971 the President's House (known as "Ganobhaban" and "Sugandha" state guest house in early post-independence years, and now Foreign Office Training Academy).
The InterContinental on the eve of , during and in the immediate aftermath of the 1971 war was not just a hotel - it became a part of the history by sheltering those who penned down every minute change of events and reached them to the world at large - setting the perfect mode of the war across the globe till East Pakistan emerged as independent Bangladesh at the cost of millions of lives.
The hotel had seen particularly hectic media overtures on March 24, the day before the Pakistani army laucnhed one of history's worst crackdowns on the then provincial capital Dhaka. The military authorities ordered a ban on anyone staying in the InterContinental not to leave the hotel. The exited and also afraid guests however saw the army's attack on the office of the Daily People, a popular English newspaper, on a building across the street, close to the hotel. Through the windows of their rooms, nearly 50 journalists from the international media watched the horrors of March 25 night. Very early next morning, the military herded all the journalists into an Air Force bus, drove them to the airport and put them on a plane out of Dhaka.
But, a Daily Telegraph reporter Simon Dring and a photographer of American news agency AP managed to stay put by hiding under their beds. It is also said that Simon later dressed like a kitchen staff in the hotel and kept sending reports to his newspaper in London.
Meanwhile, in the evening before the crackdown, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutoo, who temporarily sheltered in the InterContinental after talks between him, Yahya Khan and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman broke down - had also feft Dhaka quickly after Yahya Khan. East Pakistan was in flames while Mujib's followers fanned out across the country preparing to challenge the occupation army.
On reaching Karachi, a relieved Bhutto had reportedly said "Thank God, Pakistan has been saved."  Simon Dring - almost at the same time -- dispatched his first report, saying "Pakistan has been finished."
During the war of liberation, the InterContinental Hotel was the "safe home" for local and foreign dignitaries - diplomats and journalists especially - who stayed, operated and parleyed in there. Even Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had once met West Pakistan  leader and head of Pakistan People's  Party (PPP) M Z A Bhutto in the InterContinental Hotel before the Pakistani military launched history's most fearsome and heinous attack on the unarmed people of East Pakistan on the midnight of March 25, 1971, that finally led to the emergence of independent Bangladesh.
Bhutto and the then Pakistan military ruler General Yahya Khan conspired to deny Bangabandhu's Awami League power despite AL had massively won election in 1970 - winning majority of seats in Pakistan federal parliament.
After the bloody crackdown by Pakistani occupation army, InterContinental Hotel then turned into temporary operational headquarters of the United Nations in Dhaka and housed all international media including BBC, Reuters, AP and AFP as well as diplomats as it was declared a "safe zone" in the war torn country. It was spared from Pakistani military brutality as per international agreement.
News reporters from every corner of the globe coming to cover the war resided in the IntrerContinental, like BBC's Mark Tally whose name has been part of memory of this hotel and of the liberation war.
They, along with many others, kept the world updated with latest news of the war round the clock and exposed the unprecedented brutality and genocide perpetrated by the Pakistani military on the Bengalis.
At that time this hotel was the centre of reliable information on the war especially from the battle fronts. While prominent officials gathered at the hotel lobby for sharing information, ordinary people braving the Pakistani army cordon and security net, used to gather on the pavements across the roads overlooking InterContinental waiting for news from the war fields.
InterContinental Hotel remained as an iconic safe site since March 25, 1971, when the barbaric attacks on Bengalis started and stayed so till the war won on December 16 that year - and Bangladesh became an independent sovereign country.
The nine months bloody war of liberation led at the call of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman came to an end when the Pakistan occupation army surrendered on the 16th December at the Suhrawardy Uddyan, also close to the InterContinental Hotel.
Now, the hotel's owner BSL (Bangladesh Services Limited), a government venture, has reached an agreement with the InterContinental chain again for returning the management of Ruposhi Bangla Hotel to them around middle of 2015.
The hotel has already been shut since September 1 for extensive renovation and modernization works.
BSL said as per approval of the government, it has signed a management agreement with InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) to operate the hotel for 30 years.
The hotel will be rebranded as InterContinental Dhaka upon completion of renovation. While renovating, BSL says there is no plan to demolish the existing building that stands as a witness to our history.
The key elements of the major renovation works include: - remodelled luxurious 40 square meters guest rooms (currently 26 square meters) with all modern amenities; relocation of all day dining with creation of show kitchen, and access to outside view and day light, construction of specialty and theme restaurants, renovation of all banquet halls and construction of some additional meeting rooms with state of the art décor and facilities.
The swimming pool will be relocated on the upper level with health club and spa and there are many other features to be added to the remodelled designs.
Return of the InterContinental to Bangladesh is a nostalgic happy news for many who cherish history. BSL says with all these changes, InterContinental Dhaka will have competitive edge over other hotels of the country and this will place the hotel firmly within the 21st Century rivalling 5 Star Hotels across the Sub-Continent and South East Asia.

Editor : Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury
Published by the Editor on behalf of the Observer Ltd. from Globe Printers, 24/A, New Eskaton Road, Ramna, Dhaka. Editorial, News and Commercial Offices : Aziz Bhaban (2nd floor), 93, Motijheel C/A, Dhaka-1000. Phone :9586651-58. Fax: 9586659-60, Advertisemnet: 9513663, E-mail: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]