City Hangout – Meraj Guest House, Ballimaran
An extraordinary lodging.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The staircase is ordinary. So is the ensuing corridor. Ditto the tiny reception. The best room is basic, a double bed with white sheets. No AC.
Even so, this is one of the most unusual guesthouses in the entire Delhi region. No, it has to be among the most unique guesthouses in the whole world. Thanks to the way it shares an entrance with the residence of great poet Mirza Ghalib, here in Old Delhi’s Ballimaran.
The story of Ghalib’s house that he had taken up on rent (2.5 anas per month) has become the stuff of legends. The poet spent the concluding stage of his life here, before dying in 1869. In our own time, this place of literary pilgrimage had a coal-cum-wood storehouse (called “taal”) and a tin workshop operating out of it. Finally some years ago, a part of whatever survived of the original mansion was turned into a charming small museum. It has Ghalib’s bust, replicas of objects that composed his daily life, quotations from his poetry, editions of his works, a beautiful chandelier, plus a polite attendant.
The museum opens into a dimly lit lobby. Towards the right is an exhibition room containing the poet’s bust. The door ahead leads to a courtyard, which is the part more extensively furnished with detailing from Ghalib’s era.
Much of this might be familiar to you. But there’s one thing that hasn’t been told to you until now. The arched doorway to the courtyard is huge, and only the left half goes into the courtyard. The other half leads to a side-staircase, that goes up to a… guest house! (See photo).
To be sure, there are many enchanting hotels, lodges and homestays in our city. One fancy Airbnb in tony Hazrat Nizamuddin East looks to a stunning view of Humayun’s Tomb. A third-floor Airbnb in Hauz Khas Village has a large glass wall overlooking Feroze Shah Tukhlaq’s tomb—the view is so beautiful that it is difficult to sleep in moony nights. Then there is the iconic Haji Hotel in Purani Dilli whose long balcony faces the grand Jama Masjid; singer Begum Akhtar would sit there for hours—silently watching the Walled City birds wheel about the mosque’s southern tower.
But there is no place like this Ballimaran guesthouse. Here you get to sleep and dream in virtually the very place where a debt-ridden Ghalib lived, wrote, struggled, grieved (for his dead children), and died. To Ghalibians, spending a night here will be the equivalent of a Tagore devotee sleeping in the Calcutta house where Rabindranath Tagore lived.
The charge for a single-day stay at Meraj (the guesthouse’s name) is 600 rupees. It is true that the room shown to this reporter had no window. But kya fark penda! if you check into this guesthouse, and pass the night curled up with a Ghalib paperback, far wider vistas shall open up than the world’s widest window.
A place in poetry