A homestay or two during a tour of India is an experience we love to have and to share with others.
But explaining to our travellers what a homestay means is difficult. People are often deterred by the word homestay – they think of shared bathrooms, rooms in people’s houses and eating meals with a big family.
But it’s not like that at all. In India it can be a wonderful experience. It’s more unique, more immersive and a great way to form a deeper understanding and connection to a country. It can be a pathway to experiences you can’t find in mainstream India tour itineraries and certainly doesn’t come from staying at big hotels. Experiences such as witnessing a religious ceremony in a private family temple located on a family property, staying up late talking to a royal descendant in his lounge room, or learning the secrets to cooking food of little known communities.
We vet by visiting and meeting all the homestays we use for our clients travelling in India. What we really love is that it’s often the host themselves that is the reason to visit – they are charming, well-versed in English, well educated and with stories of their own to share and tell.
Recently, we visited one of the homestays we use in the backwaters of Kerala so that we could share that experience with you. And here’s what we noted about that visit.
Nelpura is a small property – which is great as it means it’s easier for you to interact with your host. There’s the main family house and a separate wooden bungalow that has three guest rooms. (The bungalow is in fact a beautiful, more than 100-year old wooden traditional house that’s been moved to the area and restored.) Each room has its own bathroom, beds and air conditioning. There’s a large verandah outside with plenty of space to sit, and daybeds that a perfect after a big lunch. The rooms and entire property are immaculate, and well kept and presented.
The property is set right beside the canal in the backwaters, so you reach it by boat. It has a pretty garden, with hammocks that are prefect for reading in – and then falling asleep. The home itself is in a small village, so it’s quiet and, as it’s in the backwaters, there are very few cars.
Each room has a list of the activities you can do while you are visiting. What’s great about homestays like this is that a lot of the activities you can do on your own. They have bikes you can use for free if you want to explore the village by bicycle, or you can explore the village by foot. They can arrange a boat ride through the small canals in the backwaters, there’s tuk tuk rides in the village, cooking classes at the homestay, the chance to fish in the canals and more. You can do all of it, or nothing.
We took bikes and spent some time riding through the village and loved it – cruising around and exploring at our own pace. We bought stamps at the local post office and had a lime soda at a small street stall to beat the heat. In the evening, we had the boatman come and rode through the small canals in the wooden boats used by locals. This allowed us to see and speak to the children swimming in the canals, watch the ladies doing laundry and see locals trying to fish for dinner. It was relaxing and gentle. We also had a small cooking class with the host. It all felt genuine, and easy experiences. There were no big sights to see or tick off a list, just the chance to witness some of the everyday life in this part of India.
Aside from the accommodation, the other point worth noting about homestays is that meals tend to be communal. So if there are other guests you all eat together at a shared table at the same time. Some homestay hosts join you, but most often you eat with other guests. Usually the host will sit and talk with you during or after the meal. The food is home cooked, freshly prepared for each meal and unique. And hosts are more often than not very generous with meals! Some of the best food we’ve ever eaten in India has been at homestays.
During our stay we chatted throughout the day to our hosts, and their staff, and they helped organize all the things we wanted to do. That’s also something worth noting about homestays – your hosts have more than likely lived in the area for generations so will know the places to go, what you can see and do, and where you can get things.
At a homestay you can do as little or as much as you like. How much you are involved and how much you experience is up to you. But the more you get involved, the more you get. And if you are there – you might as well, right?
We use homestays from big cities like Delhi to Kerala and locations in Rajasthan. Each of them varies – some have only a few rooms, while others have many rooms and pools. But the experiences you get at the places and the hosts you have the chance to meet will more than likely be highlights of you trip to India. We can add a homestay or two to your custom made journey of India.