Delhi's new B&B are home away from home

Delhi's new B&B are home away from home

From the kitchen wafts a blended mix of delicate teas and pungent herbs.
Compared to the blaring mass of humanity outside, which eats, kisses, shouts and sometimes sleeps on the roads of the capital, Delhi homes — especially those of wealthier residents — have a well-deserved reputation as havens of peace and tranquillity.

So much so that, in 2006, the Indian government allowed homeowners to register their abodes as bed-and-breakfasts. Prospective guesthouses were first vetted by the government and then given a rank depending on the size and number of rooms offered.

Delhi tourism authorities also make surprise inspections twice a year to make sure the homes are up to scratch. One of the first to make a ‘home away from home’ was logistics manager Ajay Anand, who opened his ancestral property, Eleven Nizamuddin, to strangers.

“I think a lot of people first come to Delhi and get intimidated. It’s so big and crowded. We try to put people at ease,” says Ajay Anand over green tea served in the courtyard.

The sprawling white-walled home is a reflection of both new and old India. It was built to be one very large house, serving the needs of the traditional joint family. As the nuclear family became the norm in Indian cities, the house was split by sons into two homes, with separate entrances.

Ajay inherited his sizeable plot after his parents died. Separated from his wife, Ajay did not want to wander around an ‘big empty home,’ but was a self-confessed novice to the hospitality business.

He has learned fast. Since they opened their home in the upmarket Nizamuddin colony, Ajay and his 14-year-old daughter live upstairs, while downstairs sees a constant flow of tourists and company executives.

The rooms, which start at Rs 3,750 a night including breakfast, come with private bathrooms, air conditioning and Wi-Fi. All have marble floors and there’s fresh bedding and towels every day. Less than 100 metres away from the front door lies the red stone grandeur of the tomb of Abdul Rahim Khan-e-Khana, a Mughal poet.
During my stay, Ajay’s guests included a family from Holland, an Australian and two Brits working for an engineering company. What has drawn them to Ajay’s home is not the silver star awarded by Delhi’s tourism authorities but the recommendations posted on travel sites.

“The internet has made a big difference. We got a good ranking on a travel site and really most of our guests come after reading that,” said Ajay. “Once people see the rooms, they come back again and again.”

Helping the trade is the fact that Delhi is woefully short of decent, affordable hotel rooms — a situation that will become more acute when thousands of tourists arrive for next year’s Commonwealth Games. “Delhi hotel rooms are too expensive. A room in a five star near here will cost Rs 16,000 a night. So it makes sense to have homes as hotels,” says Ajay.

Despite this, he says there is one thing that he can do little about: Delhi’s weather. “It’s not the heat; tourists are prepared for that. It’s the winter cold. I think people don’t realise our homes are not built to keep in heat. So when it’s cold, people have to wrap up warm in Delhi. They are still shocked by that. I always get requests for extra heaters in December.”

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