Situated in the heart of South Delhi, Mister and Arthouse is the first hotel in the country exclusively meant for gay and bisexual men. It was started by Sanjay Malhotra, the founder of Indjapink, a travel agency catering to the gay community.
“It’s an intimate space, very tastefully done up, where the staff and guests—both are gay. The moment you check in, you leave the entire pressure of society outside the door, you can be who you truly are. There’s no need to pretend, you can leave your fake persona and personality outside. It’s a very uplifting experience when there’s nobody to judge or stereotype you,” says the proud owner.
Situated in posh Greater Kailash, the hotel was started six years ago by Malhotra in order to offer a one-of-a-kind experience to foreign travellers in the city. The small luxury boutique hotel now caters to single gay men, groups of friends and couples who are seeking privacy and comfort in the midst of the city.
When Malhotra started this hotel, an extension of his travel agency, the cost was enormous, considering that property here sells for ₹ 36,306 per sq ft currently.
Explaining his business model, Malhotra says that all the people who choose to book travel packages with Indjapink stay at Mister and Arthouse when in Delhi. “It’s just like any other boutique luxury guest house. You get a good breakfast and free wi-fi. The only difference is that it’s for gay men,” he added.
Managed by two caretakers and a manager, the hotel is equipped with five beautiful guest rooms, a spa, a jacuzzi room, and a hot tub on the terrace. The many artefacts displayed in the Nirvana Lobby, one of the main attractions of the hotel, were acquired during Malhotra’s 25 years of travel across the world.
There are many paintings featuring gay erotica, some by artists who identify as gay. “I know what my clientele’s taste is, the decor they like, the kind of beds and mattresses they would prefer,” says Malhotra.
One of the paintings with a homo-erotic tint depicts Lord Krishna indulging in one of his innumerable pastimes with his sakhas (male friends). The lobby also has a 60- year-old sculpture of Lord Vishnu and his incarnations.
There’s a reason why it hardly looks like a hotel. “I don’t think gay men like to stay in five-star hotels with 500 rooms, where every room looks just the same,” says Malhotra.
In his opinion, “Gay men like to stay in boutique hotels as they are more intimate, more beautiful, with a more individualistic approach to each room; the service is more private.”
Talking about Indjapink, Malhotra says it’s a luxury travel company he started in 2006 with the aim of offering foreign nationals an inclusive, gay-friendly holiday.
From arranging hotels to gay-friendly drivers to guides, the company offers every service which makes a holiday in India a smooth ride for gay men. “Fifty per cent of our clientele comprises people from the US. The rest is from Europe, Canada and Australia,” says Malhotra.
The idea of starting this kind of business struck when he travelled in other countries—as a gay man—a friendly atmosphere was important to him. He started taking tour packages from travel agencies catering to gay men. “It’s just that you feel more comfortable and you also get to meet like-minded people. You don’t have to pretend to be straight,” adds Malhotra.
When he opened his travel company here, he was hopeful that it would be a successful venture because “there was nobody else doing at that time. India has everything that a gay traveller is looking for—from beaches and Himalayas to royal palaces, architecture and even wildlife.”
According to him, older gay Indian men are still apprehensive about booking a trip from a travel agency for gay men. “They know about it. But being aware and actually, availing of the service are two different things,” says Malhotra.
However, he says the new generation is more confident because of the change in society. But as of now, they don’t have the kind of disposable income required for luxury tours.
To book a tour package from Indjapink, the price tag is ₹ 17,000-21,000 per day, and this is for those on a limited budget. For people who want their holiday to be super luxurious, the cost goes up to ₹ 35,000 per day.
“The per day cost is for a single man or two gay friends,” says Malhotra. For foreign nationals, the company focuses heavily on operating tours in cities of Rajasthan, “because of the colours, architecture, the culture and the palaces.”
Other cities in which Indjapink plans holidays are Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Jodhpur and Varanasi. If one wants to see more of India, then packages for Mumbai, Goa and Kerala are also in place.
Guides and drivers for foreign nationals are drawn from the gay community in India. “We prefer to work with them—they need employment, they come from the community, and we promote them more. This also eliminates the need for a whole lot of sensitisation,” says Malhotra.
For first-time gay visitors to India, Malhotra says they are advised to keep the “social display of affection to the minimum” on sightseeing tours. The reason is simple: “If you see Indian men walking around, they are often holding hands, or have a hand on the other’s shoulder; they’re always so touchy-touchy, and we don’t bother to turn back and look. But the moment two white men do it, the whole world turns.”
Apart from looking after the hotel and the travel company, Malhotra also imparts a personal touch, hosting a party once a month in the hotel, wherein he invites his friends from the gay community in Delhi.
“The guests get to meet them, there’s good banter, the foreigners get to see us evolving as a community in India and we get to understand where we stand in comparison to other nationalities,” says Malhotra.
He says if someone finds love, lucky for them. Although gay marriage is not yet legal in India, the company tries to give foreigners ‘the Indian wedding experience.’ His company has arranged three weddings for couples in India.
“We can create the entire ambience, have a Hindu priest and get them married according to Hindu traditions,” says Malhotra.
Isn’t it difficult to get a Hindu priest to preside over a gay wedding? He says, “We brief them first. If one priest has a problem then we go and get another priest.”
The last wedding which Indjapink arranged was for a couple who completed 25 years of togetherness and wanted to exchange their vows again in Rajasthan.
Asked about new entrants like StayUncle which are LGBT-friendly, Malhotra points out, “If you stay at these hotels, and right next door there’s a family, the experience is already killed. A gay man will not feel very comfortable, and if they do, then maybe the other guests may not because of our social attitudes.”
Right now, in Mister and Arthouse is under renovation after a fire sparked by a short-circuit. They hope to be back in business by January.
This article was first published in Patriot.