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A home away from home

March 25, 2009
Want to stay in a fort in Rajasthan? Or would you rather stay in a coffee plantation in Coorg? Want to experience Ladakhi culture on your trek to the Himalayas? Or get a taste of local life in Kerala? Whether you are travelling alone or with family/ friends, if you don't mind staying with another family, consider opting for a homestay. It is a great way to experience the local way of life and learn about the culture first hand.

So, what is a homestay? It is an ordinary house, a farmhouse or a heritage house converted to accommodate guests and offers a relaxing atmosphere with the chance to interact/ mingle with the host family. It also offers a better insight into the local culture, including the tradition the family follows and the culture and history of the region.

Different types of homestays

The basic concept of homestay remains the same -- staying with the host family. However, there are different activities each homestay has to offer depending on the location and facilities available. Here are a few activities that makes opting for a homestay worthwhile:

~ Amidst tea or coffee plantation you have the opportunity to see the labourers at work.
~ Staying in a rubber plantation gives you the chance to see rubber tapping and the latex processing.
~ Backwater homestay allows you to take a cruise in country boats or houseboats while enjoying the serene surroundings and indulge in fishing or bird watching.
~ A village stay gives you the chance to experience a bullock-cart ride, mingle with locals and learn more about local trade.
~ You also get the opportunity to learn more and be a part of the local festivals and cultural programmes.
Other activities include treks in the wild or through plantations, yoga and meditation classes and even traditional cooking classes for those interested!

Not convinced? Here are some more reasons why you should opt for a homestay:

Personal care of a family: When you stay in a homestay you live with the host and his/ her family. You will be deprived of loneliness. The number of rooms in a homestay is limited which gives the hosts an opportunity to give their guests individual attention. Suman Kaveriappa, who runs Naladi Holidays (http://www.coorgnaladiholidays.com) in Coorg, says “Hospitality could be focused on the guests as a good homestay does not have more than five rooms as per the recent guidelines from the tourism department.”

Interaction with the host family: The host family, in most cases allows you to participate in their everyday activities. For instance, you can learn to cook traditional cuisine, learn about the method of cultivation etc. Kaveriappa, for instance, lets his guests have an insight into a planter's life or be a part of his daily activities like milking a cow.

Learn and understand the culture: Travel writer Beth Whitman, author of For Women Travelling to India and the publisher of www.WanderlustAndLipstick.com says, "When you do a homestay, you have the opportunity to see how the locals live. You also have access to people who are living there who can answer your questions about the culture."

Unwind with two families: A homestay allows you to unwind with two families -- your's and your host family. "The homestay is a universe in itself, with lots of opportunities to unwind. For an architect, I enjoyed the decor, there was so much attention to detail in putting the place together," reminisces Shwetha Hombaiah, Atlanta, Georgia who spent her holiday in Chikmagalur, Karnataka.

Luxury in a homely comfort: Luxury means different things to different people. But for those who hardly get time to spend time with family, homestays are the best place to bond. "We were able to rent the entire place for our family at a fraction of the cost and still had a quality vacation. In the midst of huge coffee estates at an elevation with scenic views, we spent our evenings watching the sun go down and days playing in the huge lawns. The nights were spent chatting by the fireplace," says Swetha. She feels there is no other hotel that would offer such luxury.

Finding a homestay

Homestays are now gaining popularity across India. More and more homeowners are opening their doors to strangers and joining the homestay concept.

They are most popular in Kerala, where you can find numerous options across districts in and around hill stations, beaches, wildlife sanctuaries, backwaters and even in the cities. So, are they in Coorg.

A search in the web results in a number of homestays across several places like Rajasthan, Goa and Himachal Pradesh and even in Ladakh!

Mahindra Holidays and Resorts India Limited offers homestays in Kerala, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Jammu & Kashmir and Goa.

According to Beth Whitman, Servas is a great place to start searching for a homestay because both the hosts and the travellers are pre-screened. Couchsurfing and GlobalFreeloaders both have members in India who are willing to host travellers. The advantage, Whitman points out is, whenever you search for a potential homestay through these two online sites, it is best to do some research and see what past guests have said about their hosts. This, she says, will give you a good idea as to what to expect.

It is always best to find out about the facilities available in advance.

Also, make sure you ask your hosts about house rules and dos and don'ts they expect you to follow. "Travellers should remember this is somebody's home, in many cases their ancestral home. So respecting their property is paramount," opines Shwetha Hombaiah.

Some helpful links:
www.exploreruralindia.org
www.homestaykodagu.com
www.homestaykerala.com
www.cultureaangan.com
www.heritagestay.com
www.indianhomestay.com
www.keralahomestaysonline.com
www.comforthomestay.com
www.gocoorg.com

Text: Resmi Jaimon | Illustration: Dominic Xavier

Also see: Travelogue: My first trek up Nagalapuram Hills
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