Photographer Andri Tambunan was checking his email at an Internet cafe across from Leopold's when the attacks began.
Text and photographs © Andri Tambunan
I arrived in Mumbai several days before the terrorist attacks. I was excited about being here because it's the "New York" of India. Moreover, I wanted a change of pace since I had missed the city life. I had been dying for a real coffee and going to a western restaurants and bars. Also, I had been reading the novel Shantaram, whose story takes place in Mumbai, and I wanted to explore the city and hopefully encounter the same exciting adventure. The first place I visited upon my arrival was Café Leopold located in the heart of Colaba, a tourist district. It gained international recognition when Gregory Roberts wrote about it in his novel. Though he described it as a watering hole where gangsters, gunrunners, drug dealers, tourists, and locals mingled during the early years, it is now a city landmark attracting tourists and backpackers from all over the world.
On November 26, I went to a bar to have drinks with some friends. We decided to go to a local bar rather than Café Leopold because the beer was significantly cheaper. Around 9 PM I went to check my email at an Internet café across the street from Café Leopold. Minutes later I heard loud bangs, which I thought were firecrackers. However, more bangs followed, and they were louder and closer. My instinct was telling me something bad is happening outside. I knew then they weren't firecrackers but gunshots, and my heart was racing. My first thought was that it was a gunfight between gangs. I peeked through the window, and I saw people scrambling and hiding in dark alleys. The owner of the Internet café immediately locked the door and turned off the light. He told everyone to go to another room and close the door. People were huddling in the corner overwhelmed with terror.
More sounds of the gunshots filled the air, and our hearts with fear. I could hear the owner calling the cops and requesting help. I was listening closely for police sirens to drown out the sounds of gunshots. I was hoping that I would hear them soon. But they never came and help never arrived. I worried about my friends, and I hoped that they didn't go outside. Through the window I saw a woman being carried by two men--she had been shot in the leg. On the other side of the Internet café, a man was lying face down on the ground, covered in blood. He was not moving, but I could see he was barely breathing. I tried to remain calm and wait patiently for help to arrive.
I saw the two killers walk calmly and confidently past our hideout. Each of them carried a machine gun and a backpack. They weren't in a hurry, and they didn't wear a mask to hide their faces. I wanted to get out and help the man that was shot, but I was not sure if there were more gunmen. I couldn't believe that the cops were nowhere to be found because the police station was across the street from Café Leopold. Then I saw a car stop next to the wounded man, and the driver and the passenger put him inside. I also saw a truck next to Café Leopold putting injured victims in the back. I knew then that it was safe to get out. I told the owner to unlock the door, and despite his protest he let me out. I ran towards Café Leopold and discovered the place had been torn apart by bullets. People were still ducking under tables, helpless. The workers of Café Leopold stepped outside with their hands up in their air. They didn't want people to think they were gunmen. I was worried that the gunmen would return and open fire at us. It was chaos and confusion, and I couldn't believe that it was happening. I took my point and shoot camera and started taking photos.
I saw a crowd carrying a man outside. He was drenched in blood. The crowd carried each one of his limbs. He was helpless and torn like ragged doll. His face was indistinguishable and covered in pieces of his own brain. They were no ambulance, so the crowd commandeered a taxi and put him in the back seat. A second victim with a similar fate was brought outside and put in another taxi. Inside the café, chairs and tables were turned over from the commotion. Unfinished food, beer bottles, bags, and sunglasses were left on tables or scattered on the ground. Puddles of fresh blood covered the floor. Bullet shells and shoes also littered the ground. After about 13 minutes when the first gunshots were fired, the police finally arrived. Once I was sure that all the injured were taken away my next instinct was to grab my pro cameras. I immediately ran to my hostel several blocks away. I told my roommates that many people had been shot and that they should stay inside. I grabbed my cameras and headed back outside despite their protests.
Back at Café Leopold, no cops were around to secure the parameter. It was utter confusion. People were walking all over the crime scene stepping on blood and bullet shells. I saw a bullet amongst the shells on the ground, empty cartridges left by the gunmen next to an alley, and puddles of blood of many victims. I later overheard that the gunmen had entered the Taj Palace Hotel several blocks away.
I ran towards the Taj Palace Hotel. As I get closer to the back of the hotel several policemen stopped me and told me to take cover. I could hear more gunshots coming the hotel. The terrorists were throwing hand grenades inside and outside the hotel.
Hundreds of local TV journalists and photographers had also arrived to the Gateway of India. We took our position away from the line of fire. The last explosion had caused a fire, and the flames were raging out of control. Mumbai Fire Brigade tried to douse the flames before they spread throughout the building. Many of the guests trapped inside the hotel were yelling for help and banging at their windows. A man tried frantically to break the window of his room on the second floor with a chair.
As the hostages were rescued and brought back to
the ground, reporters and photographers immediately attacked them. I
was truly sickened by the sight and the police didn't try to
was dangerous because they were still in the line of fire and those
hostages should have been put in an ambulance after experiencing such
Ten hours after the first shot was fired, NSG commandos, India's elite force arrived in Mumbai and after about 60 hours all the terrorists were killed. Only one was captured alive. His photo has been shown all over the world inside the CST train station during the killing spree.
I had been following the terrorist attacks since they began. The streets were empty for several days, and many shops were closed. But now everything is open and almost back to normal.
I admire the strength of the people of Mumbai. I respect those who have put their lives at risk to free the hostages and kill the terrorists, and I honor the victims of this terrorist attack and those who were killed doing their duty.
Andri Tambunan was born in Jakarta, Indonesia on October 12, 1981. He moved to the United States with his mother at age 10. During his junior year in high school, he took beginning photography to meet his graduation requirement. Immediately he fell in love with photography, which he then studied at Cosumnes River College. In 2001, he embarked on his first backpacking journey and traveled back to his native country, which was a turning point for him. After several months of soul searching abroad, he returned with a fresh perspective. In 2005, he transferred to Sacramento State University and graduated with a bachelor's degree in photography. He continued to travel, visiting India, Cambodia, Thailand, and Peru. In 2008, Andri made a huge leap by quitting his job to travel the world and pursue photography.