It’s 8 pm. The streets of Mahipalpur in south Delhi are lit up by an array of colourful billboards of hotels, bars and spas. In the distance, one can see aircraft making descent at the Indira Gandhi International Airport. Most cars on the roads are taxis stopping to pick and drop guests outside the hotels. Vinod Sherawat, a hotel owner, is sitting in his small office, watching CCTV images on a large monitor.
“Only Hauz Khas can match our village in urban splendour,” he says, pulling out his iPhone from his pocket. “Can you tell me which part of the city looks so vibrant?” Sherawat asks as he shows a five-month-old picture on the phone of the brightly lit highway and the hotels shimmering in the December mist.
“Ours is a village of hoteliers,” says Sherawat, who owns Hotel The R Blues.
Sherawat is not exaggerating. In the past decade, Mahipalpur has emerged as Delhi’s largest hotel hub after central Delhi’s Paharganj. The Jat-dominated village, which once had warehouses, factory outlets, and car workshops, today boasts of more than 150 hotels, half of them owned by villagers such as Vinod Sherawat, who proudly term themselves farmers-turned-hoteliers.
Situated on National Highway-8, the urban village was recently in the news after Supreme Court upheld a previous order prohibiting the sale of liquor within 500 metres of national and state highways across the country. The ban came into effect on April 1. Most hoteliers said that very few hotels had bars and they closed them immediately after the apex court’s order. “ No hotel is serving liquor after the Supreme Court order. Mahipalur is the city’s hottest hotel hub driving tourism in the city. I believe that liquor ban is not practical and will harm tourism in the city,” says Dinesh Khanna, president, Mahipalpur Hotel association .
Behind the incredible transformation of the village is its proximity to the airport. Rohtas Rathee, president of the local resident welfare association (RWA), says the fortunes of the village changed as flying became cheaper. “It created a lot of demand for hotels near the airport. Some villagers saw an opportunity and started hotels. Others followed suit,” says Rathee.
The names of many hotels are derived from themes related to aviation and the airport -- so you have hotel Aero View, Aerodome , Runway, Airport Inn, Aerofly, Aeroporto, etc.
But becoming a hotelier has been quite a journey for the villagers.
“ I grew up feeding cows and buffalos. Getting into the hotel business was particularly difficult for us Jats who are not known for polite language, which is very important in the hospitality industry. But I found a formula to this problem. The hotel business can make you a perfect gentleman,” laughs Ashok Sherawat, 40, who owns hotel Vishal Residency in Mahipalpur. A fitness freak, he spends three hours in the morning at the Radisson Hotel gym. “If you are a hotelier, you should look like one,” says Ashok, his gelled hair neatly pulled back.
Ashok’s hotel used to be a car workshop until a decade back before he modified the structure and converted it into a hotel. As we talk, we can hear the voices of a group of foreign backpackers in the hotel’s tastefully done lobby. “I learnt a lot of things from Google. My son is now studying management at a private university; unlike me he is fluent in English and would not have to face problems that I faced,” says Sherawat, a graduate.
His fellow villager, Vinod Sherawat, used to sell cement before he decided to start a hotel. He learnt his initial lessons from a relative who had already owned one. “The villagers have never looked at each other as competitors. Everyone shares their knowledge with each other. This can happen only in closely knit community like hours,” says Vinod who looks dapper in his brown polka dot shirt and khakhi trousers.
Most villagers who run hotels continue to live in the locality but with new lifestyles: there are many who have switched from motorcycle to Mercedes in a few years. “The houses of villagers increasingly mirror the interiors of their hotels. They are learning to live in style,” says Ashok.
Devender Singh, 49, who runs hotel LA Sapphire, says he dabbled in many businesses before deciding to turn a hotelier. He thought running a hotel will bring in good money without much hassle. “My father was in the transport business but I wanted to do something different. I did not know a thing about hotels. I visited several hotels, keenly observed their interior, did a Google search and hired a few knowledgeable staff,” he says. “What I have learnt is a good hotel is all about comfort and cleanness,” says Singh, as he guides us through his hotel.
Villagers who do not have hotels have built housing complexes to rent out. In fact, apart from hotels, Mahipalpur’s economy depends on rental income. Among the new residents of this highway village, located in south Delhi near Gurgaon, are youngsters working in Aerocity, the Delhi airport and Gurgaon. It is not unusual to see young men and women working with airlines walking in the streets of the village in uniform.
“The rents in Gurgaon and south Delhi are rising steeply, so a lot of youngsters working there seek accommodation here. The village is home to people from all parts of the country, and no one can complain of any discrimination and harassment. But people are a bit wary of the growing number of spas here. No villager wants to be seen near a spa,” says a young villager, not wishing to be named.
Mahipalpur is, in fact, becoming a hub of spas too. Perhaps no part of Delhi has more spas than Mahipalpur -- while some are with within hotels, most are independent. “No villager owns a spa here,” Vinod Sherawat is quick to point out.
Ironically, even though the village is dotted with hotels, it has no parking space, water pipeline and a sewerage system. It is dependent on DJB borewells and water tankers. Often, fights break out over water in summers. Last year, the village hit the headlines for fights among women over water. “We spend a large part of day arranging water for our tenants. We have been reduced to being the servants of our tenants,” says Arun Kumar Sherawat, a local resident who owns a housing complex.
Rathee says it is not easy to find a resolution to our issues from government agencies. “We are caught between the MCD, highway authority and airport authority, who often pass buck to each other on issues such as sewerage line,” he says.