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Once royal, today old world

india Updated: Sep 08, 2011 10:00 IST
Sidhartha Roy

Sitting right opposite a makeshift dump yard and flanked by grimy wholesale shops selling car tyres, it’s pretty hard to believe that this nondescript budget hotel is a witness to the many ups and downs of the Capital’s 100-year-old history.

The Maharajah hotel, near Shyama Prasad Mukherji Marg and behind the now defunct Novelty Cinema, wasn’t named so just on a whim of its owners. The three-storey tall building traces its origin to the 1911 Delhi Durbar, where British Emperor George V proclaimed Delhi as the new capital of British India.

The hotel now caters to small-time businessmen from even smaller towns of north India arriving at the Old Delhi Railway Station. It was, however, built to accommodate princes and their retinue of native states visiting the new Capital in the early 20th century.

“The Maharajah Hotel and Coronation Hotel came up in 1911 as there was a need for suitable accommodation for princes visiting Delhi for the durbar,” said Pradeep Kuckreja (65), son of Prithvi Nath Kuckreja, who started Hotel Maharajah. While the Maharajah still stands, even after the Kuckrejas sold it in 2000, there are no traces left of the Coronation hotel.

“SP Mukherjee Marg was then called the Queen’s Road and a canal, Nehar Sadat Khan, used to flow near it,” Kuckreja said. “Our family came from Sialkot in 1890, and by the 1930s, owned five hotels in this area.” The area, in fact, became New Delhi’s hospitality district. The new Capital wore a deserted look till the 1940s and apart from the Imperial, there were almost no hotels in the area. Some hotels of this era, like the Regal and Royal, still stand their ground in refurbished glory.

Ravi Kuckreja, Pradeep’s cousin, still manages the 1936-built Regal Hotel. “There were older hotels like Maidens and Cecil, but those were very expensive. Many Indian royals and wealthy businessmen preferred our hotels for their homely hospitality,” he said.

“Even after the new Capital was inaugurated in 1931, this was the real Delhi for many years,” Ravi said. “Delhi ended at Daryaganj. People didn’t travel beyond it at night fearing robbers.”

Pradeep Kuckreja, who works for an MNC but is better known as a television and film actor (Hum Log, Pinjar, Mrityudand), still cherishes the letters of appreciation written to his father by the hotel’s esteemed guests.

“We had separate rooms for the princes, their families and ministers and quarters for servants,” he said. “The tariff ranged from Rs 6 to Rs 25 depending on the room even till the 1960s.”

“Delhi was very different then. You could see the Qutub Minar from where AIIMS now stands,” Pradeep said. “I especially remember the scorching summers when our coolers were khas strips doused in water. Hamams were created in the house by mixing cold water with boiling hot water,” he said.

After the grandeur of the 1920s, the hotel witnessed the turbulence of Partition. “I went to Gandhiji’s cremation sitting on my father’s shoulders. My family moved into the hotel due to the tension in the city,” he said.

The hotels started losing their prominence along with the Old Delhi Railway Station after the New Delhi Railway Station came up.