Haveli Dharampura’s success will demonstrate the power of Old Delhi’s heritage and conservation, says Vijay Goel

Vijay Goel is a familiar name in Delhi circles. A two time Lok Sabha MP, currently a member from the Upper House, has recently leased his renovated property, ‘Haveli Dharampura’ to WelcomHeritage. Constructed in 1887, this sprawling haveli has been carefully restored by a painstaking effort that stretched for six long years. Vijay Goel talks about challenges in undertaking the delicate task and the future of Chandi Chowk in a candid interview. Excerpts: 

Vijay goel's

Why did you venture into Chandni Chowk?

You see, Chandni Chowk is not new for me and heritage is in my heart.  I was twice chosen as a Member of Parliament from here, so it is a well-known place to me. There is a book on this place called “the emperor city” written by me, as well. During the days when I represented the constituency, I had initiated a program called ‘chaudvin ka chaand’ which saw a participation of over five lakh people. Once, a great square has lost its glory. There is a lot of congestion, traffic, dirt, wires hanging from the electricity poles and unauthorized construction, besides constant destruction of havelies and other old-age architectural beauties.

So, the reason to choose this place was my passion for development of this area. It is important to preserve our heritage and our ganga-jamuni tradition of old Delhi for the coming generations. Sadly, much of its heritage is dying because of apathy.

How did you think of making it a hotel? It is an uncharacteristic location.

When we brought the property, we wanted to make it a museum. But people suggested that it was way too big to become a museum and maintaining it was going to be a huge task, too. So, we moved towards making it a self-sustaining project.

How was the challenge of renovating the property? It was a dilapidated structure, was not it? Why did you choose it in the first place?

222It was renovated not for the purpose of making a hotel, but simply for the sake of renovation. There were a number of reasons for choosing that particular haveli. First, it is situated in the heart of the Chandni Chowk. It is the centre of Kirani bazaar, Dariba, Nogra, Jama Masjid and Red Fort. Secondly, it is on the ‘hundred-foot’ road, yet it is in the lane. Third, and most importantly, it had all the features of a haveli like ‘chajaa’, ‘dodda’, arches, pillars and ‘jaali’. It had Red stone and Dhaulpur stone work. So, it had all the character of the haveli.

It is also a very big haveli. It is difficult to find much bigger havelis than this one in the area. So, all of these factors contributed in finalizing this property.

As far as challenges are concerned, there are many. Now days, there are only two types of people residing in havelis. One, who is either financially weak and cannot opt out, or those who have lived there for generations and do not want to leave their ancestral properties. Many of these are also occupied by tenants, who have little concern about the maintenance of the property.

This property had four tenants, too. Also, holding the structure and making sure that it did not crumble was a major challenge, as we wanted to be as original as possible in restoration. It was a difficult exercise. These projects need a lot of passion, time and money. Now we envision making this haveli a cultural centre for the city and the country.

Could you elaborate some challenges of restoration?

 Yes. It is a big effort. We needed carpenters capable of working on such wood. Jaalis and Jharokhas needed intricate detailing. Pillars need to be re-structured in the exact same way. Making lime plaster was a tedious process which needed mixing several ingredients. I and my son visited Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Moradabad, Firozabad and Aligarh to find things for this haveli. It took me six years of work. Almost a thousand trucks of debris were removed. It immediately lightened the structure. Earlier, they used to plaster mud to keep the structure air-conditioned.  Some pillars were repaired, other out rightly erected all over again.

HaveliHow many rooms does it have? Tell us more about the product.

When we purchased the structure, it had sixty rooms. But, after the revamp, there are twenty-three rooms. We did it purposely to make the space more open and light. Not only the haveli, but all the lanes surrounding the property have been made free from hanging wires and fuse-boxes. Interestingly, these are the only four lanes of Chandni-Chowk that have underground wiring. All the sewers have been repaired; roads leading to the main-road have been improved. We have installed dust-bins to keep the surroundings hygienic. So, it is for the various levels of administration to come and see the power of Chandni Chowk, only if it is restored to its former glory.

How can it be achieved? Is policy a bottleneck? 

Look, it is a fact that owners of those properties are not as well-off as their ancestors were. They find it difficult to maintain such sprawling structures. They have little support and government’s policy declares these properties as heritage structures. No alteration in the structure can be undertaken without the consent of the authority. It is shambolic because when the government is lending no support to these people, they should at least allow owners to do what they deem best for their properties. Any change or construction requires numerous clearances, making it difficult to navigate through its meandering lanes. There seems to be a lack of schemes that address these issues.

How has been the response to it so far?

It is being managed by The ITC Group. It is for the first time that a five-star chain has ventured deep into the by-lanes of Old Delhi. The hotel is being frequented by foreign tourists, who seek an authentic old-Delhi experience. Its Restaurant, Lakhori is winning admirers. We have already hosted a meet of female Ambassadors. We hope to host a presidential state visit someday.

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