Everything You Need to Know About Homestays.


By Elita Almeida

You’re telling me that you didn’t stay in a hotel but lived in someone’s house? Did you know those people?

That is a response I often receive from friends and colleagues who hear about my travels. That was probably me a while ago too. I had been enamoured by the idea of homestays for a while, but hadn’t a clue how they worked. The first opportunity I had was when I travelled with a group to Ladakh, and lived with a couple of families in their homes. It didn’t feel alien one bit.


WHAT IS A HOMESTAY?

My homestay in Velas.

A homestay, like the word suggests, is an intimate experience of staying with a local family in their home, while exploring a new destination or revisiting an old haunt. It is an intimate experience because of the warm welcome that is guaranteed throughout the length of your stay, in what is otherwise an unknown place. Think of trips to your native place during the school summer holidays, and that’s exactly what a homestay experience leaves you with: pampered, well-fed (maybe overfed is the word I’m looking for) and well taken care of.

Though Ladakh was my first, I’ve gone on to stay in homestays every time I’ve planned my travels thereafter, whether to Wayanad, Coorg, Kutch or Velas (famed for commemorating the Olive Ridley Turtle hatchling season between the months of February and April every year in Maharashtra).


HOW TO FIND A SUITABLE HOMESTAY?

Local produce being utilized at one of my homestays.

It always begins with a Google search. The credibility (think: “How would I know they’re trustworthy / clean?”) is assured through the reviews and recommendations that fellow travellers have taken the time to share with the online community. Niche travel organizations like India Untravelled, review websites like Tripadvisor, travel blogs, and social networks are all great avenues to find experiential homestays in the region you're travelling to.

Take the time to assess whether you'll feel comfortable at your homestay during your trip. Ask questions, and attune yourself to the idea of the place you're going to. If you don't feel ready for a certain kind of experience (like a remote village home without any urban comforts to speak of), it is better to find an alternative rather than make your hosts uncomfortable about how you like the experience.


WHAT TO EXPECT FROM YOUR HOSTS

Hosts Pradeep and Shubha at India Untravelled's homestay in Peora.

In my experience thus far, homestay hosts have been the friendliest people I’ve interacted with – there’s nothing business-like in their demeanor. Whether it’s in their tone when you first call them or when they reply to your incessant emails or texts from wanting to know everything about ‘How to get there?’ to ‘What’s for food?’ or ‘Would there be hot water to take a bath?’, they are always courteous and easy going. 

Think of them as your own extended family, but remember that interaction with your hosts is a two way process; if you are respectful and appreciating of their way of life, they will go all out to make you feel at home. Take the time to have conversations with them, show interest in their part of the world, and you'll return with stories (and friendships) that no guidebook tells you about.

When I’m travelling solo, I’ve had my hosts immediately assure me that my safety and security would be their responsibility – this even without me necessarily broaching the topic.


LIVING LIKE THE LOCALS

Local food at India Untravelled's homestay in coastal Karnataka.

Home-staying is an easy way to embrace the local food and culture of the place you're travelling to, and learn about its better kept secrets.

There may be no menu (just like there won't be one in your own home), but most homestays serve authentic, home-cooked food. I’ve understood so much about locally available produce and the regional cuisine through my homestay experiences. This translated into yummy seafood in Velas and local curries in Kutch. Of course, it does take shedding of preconceived notions to be able to soak in the environment and open up your mind to new cuisines. I’d urge anyone wanting to undertake this experience to resist the temptation to want to replicate your urban existence at your homestay; indulge your taste buds in new adventures just like you do your mind.

My homestays have also been super-informative about local history and customs. These in turn, have helped me decide on the places I should really visit. Places that don’t make it to Lonely Planet’s “must see” list. Think local temples, marketplaces and unheard ruins that tell a greater story about the destination.


COSTS

Traditional, made with local materials, and cost effective. A homestay in Rajasthan.
Did I mention that homestays often work out to be a more cost-effective way of planning your travel experience? Not only are you guaranteed a local yet authentic experience, but you’re also signing yourself up for some savings, depending on the kind of homestay you choose. Whether an indulgent heritage homestay, or a basic local home in a village, homestays offer experiences that no drab hotel rooms can replicate.

Almost all the homes I’ve lived at have been space-wise indulgent, not just from within but also around them, making them locations for long walks, treks, quite time to unwind and perhaps read, write, compose or paint.


LASTING EXPERIENCES

Farm to table - a food concept offered at many organic farm homestays.

Finally, I’d add that over the course of time, experiencing homestays has made me more sensitive and appreciating of the families I’ve stayed with, and better informed about local communities and their way of life. I've learnt to travel with humility and respect, and found myself building close relationships with hosts, who literally overnight, transform from being strangers to extended family for me.

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Have you ever stayed in a homestay? Share your experiences.

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AUTHOR BIO: Nondescript. Nonchalant. Observer. Witty. Sarcastic. Skinny. Nomadic Thunker. Square Peg. Sporadic Blogger. Solo Traveller. Blogs at nomadicthunker.blogspot.inskinnygenus.blogspot.comTweets @ellelogical.

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Visit www.indiauntravelled.com for experiential (and responsible) homestays in offbeat destinations in India, and join India Untravelled on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest. To contribute guest posts / photo essays to this blog, please see our contribution guidelines and send your story ideas to blog@indiauntravelled.com

5 Inspirational Indian Travellers Tell Us Why They Travel

Compiled by Shivya Nath.

A young new generation of Indian travellers are taking on the country - and the world - unearthing one best-kept secret at a time. They walk, they climb, they row, they go on adventures. They sample the food, the culture, the music, and dig out stories in places that no guidebooks venture into. They travel, not just as a holiday, but as a way of life, as an extension of themselves. And they inspire. 

We went out and asked 5 inspirational Indian travellers, how, where and why they travel. And their answers will inspire your own wanderlust.


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1) SOLITUDE SEEKER: PRATHAP NAIR

Prathap Nair, Indian travellers
On a birding trip, Prathap Nair.
"I like the heady mix of experiences my travels allow me - the unpredictability of the journeys, the strangers I meet and the friendships I make, the smattering of languages (or dialects) I pick up, the cuisines I explore and everything else. Travels let me contemplate, open my eyes to different realms of landscape and people, enrich my knowledge and learn and appreciate things that are otherwise inaccessible."
Mostly travels in: India
Interested in: Nature, local culture, cuisine and people
Funds travels through: Full-time job, freelance writing
Follow his travels on: His blog, The Sunlit Window  

2) ADVENTURE TRAVELLER: NEELIMA VALLANGI


Neelima Vallangi, Indian travellers
Adventure seeker, Neelima Vallangi.
"I can't put the feeling in words but I like how it makes me feel. I like the freedom and the adrenaline rush that comes from climbing a mountain or getting lost somewhere remote and knowing that I can get through these (mis)adventures. I guess one of the biggest change travel has brought in me is the realization that happiness isn't in acquiring things but in acquiring experiences."
Mostly travels in: India
Interested in: Offbeat and adventure travel
Funds travels through: Full-time job, freelance writing / photography
Follow her travels on: Her blog, The Wandering Soul's Wander Tales 

3) HIMALAYAN EXPLORER: DHEERAJ SHARMA


Dheeraj Sharma, Indian travellers
Taking on the Himalayas, Dheeraj Sharma.

"For me, travel is a reason to believe, learn, connect and feel alive. Down, out, alone and almost surrendered to the most difficult phase of my life, I suddenly thought of pursuing my passion of driving and traveling to give life another chance. I went out into the wild to find answers to many disturbing questions which haunted me. The answer lay in my transformation as a person; travelling has taught me to look at life beautifully, cherishing each moment without considering the days gone by or those that lie ahead. My travels have made me undergo a kind of metamorphosis, it's a journey I'm still on within."
Mostly travels in: The Himalayas
Interested in: Trekking, hiking, riding, driving
Funds travels through: Full-time job
Follow his travels on: His blog, Devil on Wheels 

4) SOLO TRAVELLER: SHIKHA TRIPATHI


Shikha tripathi, Indian travel writers
Going solo, Shikha Tripathi.
" I travel because it fulfills me like nothing else. It's an extension of who I am, and not simply a 'hobby'. Travelling and exploring, especially India, has instilled pride and patriotism in me like no anthem ever has. Across the world, meeting incredible people has instilled humility in me. More than anything, these very people are my inspiration to travel and seek more. I'm a sucker for natural beauty too. Mountains, lakes and forests inspire me to 'keep walking' and digging out more treasures."
Mostly travels in: Asia
Interested in: Offbeat and adventure travel
Funds travels through: Freelancing
Follow her travels on: Her blog, The Green Diary 

5) CULTURE SEEKER: ABHINAV CHANDEL


Abhinav chandel, Indian travellers
Seeking stories, Abhinav Chandel.
"I travel to find stories, experience different cultures, gain new perspectives. Plus, just for the love of exploring new lands, and setting foot on different routes. Travelling has helped me grow as a person, open up to strangers. It has helped me gain a sense of peace; I'm happier and more confident on the road.

Travelling has inspired me to observe lives closely and help them in any way I can. I've learnt to travel not just for myself, but for people around me, to share stories, with the ones back home but also the stories from back home with my new friends, thus trying to bring different cultures together, even in a minuscule manner. It has taught me the need to keep our environment clean, and think long term about the effects of my travelling on the region's natural beauty."
Mostly travels in: India
Interested in: Offbeat and cultural experiences
Funds travels through: Freelancing
Follow his travels on: Twitter @abhiandnow

WHAT ABOUT YOU, WHY DO YOU TRAVEL?

If you know of inspirational Indian travellers we should feature in our upcoming traveller spotlights, please send us a note at blog@indiauntravelled.com.

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Visit www.indiauntravelled.com for responsible travel ideas on offbeat destinations in India, or join India Untravelled on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest. To contribute guest posts / photo essays to this blog, please see our contribution guidelines and send your story ideas to blog@indiauntravelled.com

The Man With The Turban and an Unexpected Life Lesson.

By Shraddha Panicker. 

Somewhere below a pointless flyover in one of Punjab’s haphazardly growing cities, two girls with backpacks were doing something that anyone hardened by years of big city life is adept at. They were trying to hail an auto-rickshaw. Unfazed by a few who quoted inflated fares, they stood their ground until an old man driving one of those white-coloured, share-autos nodded, and told them to hop in.

You never know what an auto ride in India can turn into. Photo by Abhishek Shirali.


We resumed the non-stop conversation we’d been having since the previous day. This morning, intense urban design discussions had given way to deliberating upon the complex history of the place we were in. We picked up the thread about Operation Bluestar and the ‘84 riots that we’d been dissecting at breakfast and launched into it anew, only to be interrupted by a traffic cop a few metres ahead. This king-of-the-road-jungle was abruptly waving the oncoming traffic to take a U-turn in the opposite direction. If you’ve grown up in India, you pretty much get used to arbitrary road diversions and one-ways that crop up overnight or (seemingly in this case) right in front of you. Like every Indian, you will typically, also make a last ditch effort at some jugaad to make your way around impossible situations.

The auto driver looked at us in the rear view mirror and said, “Try telling him that you’ve come from a really faraway place to visit? Maybe he’ll let us pass then.” In response, the cop gave us a deadpan look and waved us away distractedly like particularly annoying flies. The whole functioning chaos of the situation riled me up immensely that morning for some reason, and I fumed in sudden anger. That’s when the auto driver turned his turbaned head around and held up his hand to tell us reassuringly, that he knew an alternate, albeit longer route. That’s also the first time I noticed his fingers. Or the lack of them. “The ’84 riots”, he said calmly, in response to our shocked silence. “That’s when I lost my fingers.”

I felt the air around me shift perceptibly, quickly evaporating any hint of that sudden anger two seconds ago.  With barely three half-fingers and two thumbs to account for his two hands, we watched as he took that U-turn with ease and navigated through the maze of animals, cycle rickshaws, cars and motorbikes. “So.. you’re not from around here?” I ask hesitantly. He’d spent his childhood and youth in Delhi, he said, before being forced to flee in the aftermath of the riots. Opening up a little on his own accord, he recounted a few graphic and disturbing scenes of how he had managed to hide for days and survive the ordeal. “It’s difficult to talk about it too much,” he says finally, with a slight faraway look. “Even as I speak of it, some of those scenes flash before my eyes, hauntingly. They never really leave.”
 Village life in Punjab. Photo by Neha Mungekar.
You would think that someone who has survived so much trauma would hold a severely bitter and bleak outlook about humanity. But this was one of those times when you’re glad to be proved wrong. As we stopped to have chai in the sprawling campus which had pioneered the green revolution in the country, Bedi paaji spoke about life, family-bonds and the wonder of serendipity. A little wrong timing here and there, with or without the traffic cop’s intervention, and we could have missed having this long conversation we’re having now, he said happily.

Unperturbed by the ‘storm’ raging in television studios a few days ago in response to the much hyped (but dud) “biggest interview of 2014,” he shrugged when I asked him about his political views. “You can’t expect this leader to do what essentially, the previous ones should have done,” he said. But what about justice, I pressed on. “What about it? I’ve already lost what I did. It’s done. Nothing can get it back.” he said simply. Although he hadn’t returned to Delhi ever since, he said he had moved on, and didn’t hold on to any bitterness.
Sometimes, the best conversations about life, love and meaning take place with complete strangers. Somewhere along the way, engrossed in talk, we had become the sole passengers in what was meant to be a shared auto-rickshaw. For the remainder of the day, Bedi paaji drove us around town with keen interest, pointing out the sights and the many new malls springing up.
If you’re waiting for a twist, there’s none in this tale. He didn’t take us for a ride or trick us. Instead, he smiled while the two girls trooped through a green field peppered with yellow or stood below uncertainly while they clambered up on a war tank to take a picture. Having turned around what was supposed to have been just another faceless, 10-minute auto ride, he had also somehow managed to embody things that no diabetic “inspirational” quote could ever encapsulate.

Immersing in the colors of Punjab. Photo by Neha Mungekar.

As evening came, the time to move onward on our journey arrived and we were dropped off safely, without a hitch. Plain and simple. Just before he bid goodbye though, he wrote down his name and number, with his not-so-perfect hands and not-so-perfect handwriting and handed it to us to wrap around quite a perfect day. Sometimes, ordinary love is the best kind. Come to think of it, it’s pretty darn extraordinary that it still exists.

Ever had such an unexpected encounter on your travels? 

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AUTHOR BIO: When she's not obsessing over words or working as a Grammar Nazi, Shraddha says she feels the most alive while travelling. You can follow her blog My Indelible Ink or her newfound love for doodling on Instagram. She tweets at @paniconthefloor.


PHOTOGRAPHER BIO: Neha Mungekar is an urban designer and architect as well as an avid traveller and photographer. Her passion for observing cities and people has driven her to offbeat paths, from capturing the -30*C Siberian winter in Russia to crawling through the Nighoj potholes in Maharashtra just to get the feel of a dry, summer river bed.  Join her on Facebook page, or tweet her @neeeyaa 

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Visit www.indiauntravelled.com for responsible travel ideas on offbeat destinations in India, or join India Untravelled on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest. To contribute guest posts / photo essays to this blog, please see our contribution guidelines and send your story ideas to blog@indiauntravelled.com

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Spiti Valley: 9 Things to Know Before You Go.

By Shivya Nath.

Dhankar lake Spiti, spiti, Spiti valley

Ladakh's lesser-known neighbor, the cold mountain desert of Spiti, is for travellers who dare to drift from the tourist trails. Spiti's postcard villages remain remotely tucked away in the lap of the mighty, barren Himalayas of Himachal Pradesh, and it is here that you can hike along Snow Leopard and Himalayan Wolf habitats, visit monasteries dating back over a 1000 years, sample a fascinating culture and cuisine different from the rest of India, and meet the kindest of people who live the harshest of lives. This is a world within a world, as Rudyard Kipling once described it. 


14 (Rare) Travel Quotes That Will Inspire You to Travel.

better to see something once quote, best travel quotes, travel quote picturesWith Google, the world is smaller than it used to be. You can climb the Himalayas and feel the serenity of Kerala's backwaters in a single day, without even getting out of bed. So this post is for all you armchair travellers. 

Hold on tight, because we are going to attempt to get you out of your bed, or your office cubicle, or wherever it is that your comfort zone lies, and compel you to see the world in flesh and blood. To feel the sun on your back as you swim in the deep seas, to feel your aching feet as you take the last steps to that peak, to feel the sheer joy of being on the road.

Kuldhara: The Village That was Abandoned Overnight.

Abandoned village in Rajasthan near Jaisalmer, Kuldhara
By Ekta Bhatnagar.

Kuldhara, a village in Rajasthan, is believed to have been abandoned in a single night by the locals. People now believe it is haunted. The story behind the village is intriguing. We heard that a long time back, the village was full of Paliwal Brahmins. Their community can now be found in the entire state of Rajasthan. But around 500 years ago, no one knew where they vanished.


Delhi Untravelled: The Three Musketeers.


By Sandana Mullai.

It is rarely that you meet a group of three women of different generations, travelling together. Sandana travelled on India Untravelled's Untravel Delhi trail with her mother and daughter, and reports back on how the trip surprised her. Her experiences might surprise you too.

Homestay in the Himalayas of Uttarakhand.

Smetaceks Colonial Home stay, Bhimtal, Uttarakhand

by Monica Kochar.

Monica travelled solo to Bhimtal with India Untravelled, in January 2014. Staying at the Smetaceks' Colonial Homestay, she experienced a slice of the bygone era, and witnessed the Himalayas in all their majesty. This is her story.




The Blog Post Your Boss Should Never See.

By Alap Parikh.

If you're a traveller, this post is for you. Regardless of whether you started out happy, indifferent or dreading the year 2014, it is about to change for the better. We've listed all major long weekends in 2014, so you can start planning out your leaves and make this a year of travel!


To Bamboo Village, With Love.

Paddy fields in Bamboo Village, Wayanad, Kerala


By Alan Mawer.

Alan and his wife travelled with India Untravelled to Bamboo Village, spending their time getting to know the local community, sampling the food, soaking in the natural beauty, and exploring the region's secrets. He sent us this heartwarming letter at the end of their travels!