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Why in Delhi's green residential areas it's home sweet home

South Delhi guesthouse review with a look at some boutique beds and homestays plus one characterful haveli escape in teeming Old Delhi.

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written and photographed by Vijay Verghese

April 2024

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Delhi guest house reviews and a look at neighbourhoods

Lodhi Garden is a delight with its green walks and brooding Sultanate tombs (far left); Defence Colony Market wall mural with bright tiurbanned gents; Khan Market kurtas and dresses (right)/ photos: Vijay Verghese

TRAVELLERS to New Delhi are often surprised by the rates at five-star hotels. This should not be surprising. Service standards — all homegrown — at an average Indian hotel far exceed that on offer at tony establishments around the world. But there is also an abundance of choice for homey picks that won’t break the wallet.

New Delhi boutique hotels and guesthouses (or homestays) are mushrooming. Here’s a fast trawl of a few South Delhi picks in leafy residential areas — and one in the heart of Old Delhi near the Jama Masjid. Think traditional textures, an assault of colour, elbow room and, by and large, pretty decent food. Most are within the Rs6,000-Rs8,000 range depending on season with higher pricing in cooler months late October to mid-April.

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B nineteen (bnineteen.com/) has a commanding corner location at B19 Nizamuddin East, with a tall bank of trees across the road guarding the perfect dome of Humayun’s Tomb, always tantalisingly within reach. The trees have grown over the years since this boutique hotel’s launch in 2006 and sightings are more elusive now. Still, from an informal rooftop perch in the right season or from a private upper floor balcony (try the spacious Suite No.5, Humayun), the location is engaging. This property marked the big move back to India by US-based couple Janis McClinch and Rajive Chaudhry and the personal touches are evident. Windows sport bright blue eyeliner.

South Delhi homestays and Nizamuddin - b nineteen

Humanyun's tomb regally surveys a lush manicured garden in Nizamuddin (far left); homey B nineteen room decor; Entrance to B nineteen in a secluded corner of the neighbourhood/ photos: Vijay Verghese

B nineteen offers six rooms on two floors with private balconies on the upper floor where breakfast can be served or in-room. Black and ochre-tile rooms offer king-size beds, rocking chairs, and walls daubed in parrot green, blue and orange with colourful curtains and patterned bedspreads. There’s a small flat screen TV. Lazy mosquito nets dangle atop the beds. Cabinets, small desks, luggage rack and traditional furniture are made of dark wood. You’ll feel your pulse slowing down. The ground floor units have a little veranda and Suite No.1 (Bageecha) opens onto the small front lawn. Rooms are private, bathrooms are modern with bathtubs and showers (hairdryers on request). There is no big communal dining area though the rooftop can serve as a sitting deck.

At first approach, service is polite if curt, and to the point. This is more a private space rather than one for mingling. Nizamuddin is a favoured residential area with easy access to Lodhi Gardens, Khan Market, and Connaught Place.

The modern wood-strip façade Bungalow 99 (www.bungalow99.com/) is a somewhat younger offering in the very central Defence Colony neighbourhood, not far from the market. Set in a secluded lane in C Block, it is a popular choice for many. This ‘bungalow homestay’ (as the group describes itself) is similar architecturally to the newer developer homes in the area but with a more contemporary flair and nice clean lines that set it apart.

It is not a walk-in place. I rang the doorbell several times. No one answered. I walked around and tried the side entrance, knocking on doors. A ‘kabadi-wallah’ collecting the rubbish took me back to the front entrance and pointed out another doorbell. We tried it a few times. I dropped in on a few other occasions (on other visits to Delhi) and had a similar experience. No one out front. At length someone turned up, heard me out, and beckoned me in.

Bungalow 99 Defence Colony review - best Delhi guesthouses

Bungalow 99 is aesthetically pleasing but the lack of welcome is jarring in a city known for its hospitality; Common living rooms (centre left) are bright; Dining (centre right) is in the basement/photos: Vijay Verghese

There were no cheery smiles or any interest in a passing visitor’s curiosity. I took a small lift up to tour one floor. The gentleman with me was polite but uninterested. Clearly the one staffer on duty was a busy all-rounder and needed to head down to the basement dining area where late breakfast was being served.

The lack of cheery welcome was jarring given this is described as a homestay. It appears things here are automated, online, and impersonal. It may suit the younger set or those who wish for a more secluded experience. In April 2024, at least two neighbouring properties were being torn down and rebuilt (which means about a year or more of dust and noise). This is par for the course at many New Delhi residential ‘colonies’.

That said, the product is very attractive with straight clean lines sans clutter. Each floor offers a large living room with communal kitchenette, big sofa seating, bright carpets, books, and a nice balcony with greenery outside. It is not a convivial chatty space (the basement dining area is closer to that, with a blue guitar serving as a mood prop) but it is comfortable, clean, and easy on the eye. The three rooms per floor are well planned with a lot of natural light, window sitting ledges, bedside lamps, ample cupboard space, large flat-screen TV, and rustic carpets on gleaming cream stone floors. They will appeal to zen minimalists.

Toilets offer black standalone washbasins, large rain showers, hairdryers and bathrobes (a nice touch). Bungalow 99 is a good choice but lacks the overtly friendly vibes as at some other places and appears under-staffed. The group has a second offering a short stroll away, the wooden-floored and airy Bungalow 157 (also in C Block).

Colonel’s Retreat (www.colonelsretreat.com/), at D418 Defence Colony, across the ‘nala’ (now a somewhat littered but pleasant garden walk) is closer to the Lajpat Nagar Metro Station. It’s the place that back in 2009 pioneered the boutique guesthouse craze in this attractive residential neighbourhood.

Delhi guesthouse review - Colonels Retreat is a standout

Colonel's Retreat at D418 Defence Colony is a wonderful experience in a homey setting with breakfast on the terrace (in winters) and well appointed rooms with amenities and cupboard space; Defence Colony park for seniors (far right) / photo: Vijay Verghese

As you arrive, a Man Friday (on guard/concierge/gopher duty) rushes out beaming to usher guests in. He handles baggage, taxi calls, and odd jobs. He greets people and waves them goodbye. The place is humming with activity, if quietly so. Everywhere, in the shy smiles and head nods, there is a warm sense of welcome and family, and it is this that sets apart this boutique B&B from other homestays and guesthouses that strive to be more tech-savvy or hotel-like.

The key to this are the hugely knowledgeable but quietly unassuming Suman and Arun Khanna, your quintessential New Delhi hosts. Their network and insight never ceases to amaze. Whatever the guest’s needs — from dentists to shopping, sights, yoga, or recipes — there’s much sensible advice in store. Visiting their place — and it is very much their place — is like coming home and this is an intangible that is impossible to manufacture or clone.

Both can be regularly spotted at the stunning flower-festooned rooftop breakfasts (in cooler months when this luxury is possible) supervising staff serving ‘akhouri’ masala scrambled eggs, omelettes, mini-iddlis, dosas and vadas with sambhar and coconut chutney, homemade jams and signature banana bread. It’s all made from scratch and is finger-licking good. They make time to chat with everyone. This is the level of personalisation that makes Colonel’s Retreat a real treat.

Arun’s father, Colonel Anand Kanwar Khanna (fondly known as Nandi) is the cricket-loving gentleman that inspired the name. His elegant wife Meena holds cooking classes at times. It’s all about family here.

Delhi guesthouse and boutique stays - Colonels Retreat is our top pick in this review

Simple, airy dining area (each floor has one) at Colonel's Retreat (far left); Colonel's living area is adorned with art and assortred comfy seating; Its bright rooms (right) come in various sizes and colours/ photos: Vijay Verghese

Also running Amrapali, which retails Rajasthani jewellery at Khan Market and various Indian airports, Arun and Suman have invested a great deal of heart in detailing this home. There is a tiny lift that takes you up to the third floor (not the roof). Each level offers a generous living and dining space that replicates a Delhi home with large leather sofas, tasteful lamps, armchairs, rocking-chairs, balcony-facing glass-top dining tables, engaging books (novels and coffee table reads to dive into India), and bright patterned walls littered with bold, eye-catching art and photographs. Everywhere there is all manner of memorabilia. For anyone familiar with India, this will ring a chord. These spaces in mint, blue, and mustard encourage relaxed conversations and create a sense of community.

Bright, well-lit rooms on all floors (connected to the living room but set apart from each other), range from elephant-swinging spacious to modestly compact. They offer cool stone floors with twin, double or king-size beds (with pillow menu), nicely detailed roomy cupboards stacked with hangers, a small electric safe, a decent working desk, luggage rack, air purifiers, aircon, fridge, fast WiFi, bedside lamp, and a small Smart TV that will need guidance. There are ample three-pin and two-pin electric sockets to recharge appliances. Spot flower motifs and elegant purple horses on some walls depending on the colour code.

Marbled bathrooms are again wonderfully roomy. Expect a glass cubicle shower with a sensible grab-handle, wall-mounted hairdryer, vanity mirror, old fashioned potty with bidet hand-shower, and quality toiletries (including shampoo, body lotion, conditioner, and a bar of soap). Colonel’s Retreat is an excellent pick as a memorable New Delhi homestay, best enjoyed from the bougainvillea-draped roof over a lingering breakfast surrounded by birdsong.

Haveli Hauz Khas review - this is a good South Delhi homestay

The very residential style Haveli Hauz Khas is not far from the Qutub Minar and the artsy Hauz Khas village. It is set in an old home and offers traditional artefacts and bright rooms/ photos: haveli

A second, slightly more low key Colonel’s Retreat 2 is at D264 Defence Colony. This also serves up jaunty rooms and living areas daubed liberally in lavender, yellow and green. Both guesthouses enjoy a central location with easy access to South Extension Market (Defence Colony has a lively well stocked market too), Khan Market for inspired local designer wear and eats, Lodhi Gardens with its brooding tombs, Sundar Nagar Nursery, and Connaught Place or the Pragati Maidan convention area.

Haveli Hauz Khas (www.havelibnb.com/) in P Block a bit farther south is set on a semi-circular road ringing a park where I played cricket as a kid. The stately homes with gardens here have morphed into muscular three-storey chest-thumping cinderblocks that come right up to the road, swallowing up the strip gardens of yore.

Fortunately some green remains. The Haveli at P5 offers a recessed setting that is a throwback to the seventies and therein lies its charm. This is a true blue South Delhi homestay. There are six rooms in all. Think marbled flooring, contemporary toilets with rain showers, colourful walls and bright handwoven carpets in traditional weaves, electronic safes, WiFi, bottled water, and a small business centre (with computer and printer).

Rooms follow heritage themes like Banni, Hampi, and Ajanta, with vivid colours to match. A tight outdoor corkscrew staircase (for sturdy legs) leads up to a smaller unfussy studio overlooking the park with more attractive rates to make up for aching ligaments. Living areas are spread out with heavy wood-carved traditional furniture, bright cushions, chests, handicrafts, art, books, and photos. It is a composite of a Delhi residence crafted by former Indian civil servants, Neelu and Teji who decided to set up a bed-and-breakfast in their home. A great location for a dash to the artsy Hauz Khas Village or the Qutab Minar.

South Delhi guest house reviews - Ahuja's Sundar Nagar and Thikana

Colourful Thikana rooftop perch (far left photo: Thikana); .Ahuja Residence Sundar Nagar - living area and garden, premium room and pleasant outdoor corner for cooler winter months/ photos: Vijay Verghese

Ahuja Residences Sundar Nagar (ahujaresidences.com/) with several co-brands like ‘AR Stayz and Suites’ (and offshoots in Gurgaon or Gurugram as it is now known) is a popular choice with Pragati Maidan conventioneers as well as regular tourists. Its well-known and long running 193 Golf Links address was shut down during Covid and hasn’t stirred since. The Sundar Nagar guesthouse faces a busy thoroughfare but is partially shielded by a dividing wall.

With 25 rooms this is more hotel than guesthouse but the receptionists will dish out big smiles and extend a warm welcome. With a marbled lobby draped in oil paintings and a small front garden, the place exudes a homey feel, especially when you step into one of its wood-floored old-world Deluxe or Premier rooms with creaking wooden cabinets and yellow lampshades. Find a TV with news channels, an in-room safe, decent working desk, luggage rack, and a somewhat compact bathroom with rain shower and hairdryer.

Don’t expect views but there’s sufficient light. Two litres of bottled drinking water are provided each day. There are larger suites too on the two floors accessed by a lift. Upstairs are a pleasantly bright dining area and a corner alfresco terrace with comfy sink-in seating for whenever the weather permits.

Thikana Delhi (www.thikanadelhi.com/) is a bed and breakfast at A7 Gulmohur Park, close to the busy August Kranti Marg that runs from Hauz Khas to Defence Colony. It is a simple, uncomplicated friendly place with homey touches and generous lashings of colour and art. Atul and Sheetal Bhalla have been running the place since 2008, serving up local lore and insights along with cheery breakfasts with homemade jams. Gluten and lactose-free options are available.

Old Delhi Haveli Dharampura review - twee and pricey for romantics who don't mind noise

Eye-catching Thikana painting (photo: Thikana); Haveli Dharampura dining room arches and neighbouring Jama Masjid (photos: haveli); Sundar Nursery (right) photo: Vijay Verghese

There is a pleasant rooftop garden with potted plants for cooler months and evenings. Indoors, there are cosy common areas for lounging around (on each floor) with comfy seating, books by Indian authors, and a dining area. Unfussy air-conditioned rooms offer in-room safes and clean toilets. Good news for guests who crave a bit more is that the Bhalla’s can arrange use of Gulmohur Park Club for a fitness workout, a swim, or dining. Indian dishes are available at Thikana with advance notice. Tap into your hosts’ local knowledge for more tips on interesting things to do.

Gulmohur Park is a well-manicured residential haven but lacks fast access to markets or other activities. Hail a cab or autorickshaw to hop across to the Hauz Khas or Green Park markets, both quite lively with several dining options. Street noise does trickle in so ask for a high floor with windows facing away from the street.

The sole non-South Delhi establishment in this guesthouse review is the glorious back-in-time Haveli Dharampura (www.havelidharampura.com/) near the Jama Masjid. With its scalloped arches and serene colonnades, this is an immersive Old Delhi experience in a beautifully restored courtyard complex with inward facing rooms. Nibble on Mughlai food and kebabs with modern twists, or try your hand at pigeon flying or kite flying. Classical dances and performances crop up at regular intervals. It’s an opportunity to live like a nawab at anywhere from Rs12,000 to Rs18,000 a night.

Architecturally stunning, Haveli Dharampura lacks direct car access. It’s a walk from the nearest drop-off or a tangle through the narrow streets from the Chawri Bazaar Metro Station. Ask for someone to meet you at the drop off point. This niggle apart, the haveli is really for Instagrammers and those keen on exploring the Red Fort and Chandni Chowk (silver market) area.

While the restaurants at the haveli are certainly atmospheric, far better food choices abound around the corner in the Jama Masjid side streets at a fraction of the price. Try the ever-popular Karim’s, Paranthe Wali Gali, or Moti Mahal. Much of the entertainment, the period frolic and the food will border on the touristy (as in Rajasthan). It is all squarely aimed at foreign visitors and cautious palates. More Insta-posers will be found close by at the rooftop Gumbad Café.  Nevertheless, despite some wear and tear and campy feel, Haveli Dharampura is serious eye candy at the heart of Delhi’s historic Mughal quarter.

A second offering — the Golden Haveli — is a stone’s throw down the road. Both havelis have comfortable rooms where you’ll awake to the warbling incantation of the azan (the call to prayer), beautiful for early risers, challenging for late birds.

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