City Landmark – Hotel Taj Mahal, Church Mission Road
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A well-kept secret.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The exterior of Hotel Taj Mahal, close to old Delhi railway station, is as stately as the old wing of Bombay’s Taj. Its carved columns, coloured glass windows, and curvy balustrade expresses the same genteel dignity. But this Taj is a well-kept secret. Even though travel glossies have featured it and Bollywood films have been shot in it, most Delhiites are unaware of its existence.
It could be because this Taj Mahal is a no-star hotel. There is no parking area, no doorman, no uniformed bellboys, no air-conditioners, no restaurant.
You reach the lobby by climbing a flight of ill-lit stairs. The atrium has a classic sepia-washed look. There is one sofa, two low-hanging ceiling fans, four tables, and seven chairs. The floor is clothed with geometric Minton tiles. The walls are paneled with art nouveau Majolica glazes. The front office desk has a giant-sized antique radio that does not play. Next to it sits Mr Manish Sharma, the hotel manager since 1982.
Mr Sharma’s entire day is spent in this hall. Here, it is always dark and quiet, no matter how blindingly white it might be out in the lovely terrace overlooking the old city chaos.
If the lobby is hush-hush, the guests, rarely sighted during the day, look like characters of Satyajit Ray’s mystery novels. In fact, the ambiance is very Kolkata-esque. It has that City of Joy’s dignity-in-decay feel that lingers on into the rooms. There are 29 on three floors.
Most patrons are small-time traders from UP, Punjab and Rajasthan who need a hotel close enough to their place of business — Chandni Chowk, Kashmere Gate, Khadi Bawli and Sadar Bazaar. While the room rates are inexpensive, the hotel does not accept local guests. “Why would you want to check in if you already have a home in Delhi?” Mr Sharma asked.
He could not tell how old the property was. A register entry dates back to 1956. It was sold to its present owner, a business family in Shahdara, in 1982. “This hotel must have come up during the British rule,” he said.
The room in which Dev.D, a Bollywood flick on a love-struck drug addict, was shot is on the second floor. It had a large mural painted on its wall. Outside on the roof, you could see clothes drying on the line.
If you look down into the lobby from the top floor, it looks quite secretive — just the place for a clandestine affair. But of course, you won’t get a room. You are a local, a Delhiwalla.
Where 747, Church Mission Road, Fatehpuri Ph 23964055
Up the stairs
The radio that doesn’t sing
First floor, another angle
Dev. D‘s room