It was the Christmas weekend in Scotland. A group of friends and I decided to do a road trip in the ‘as-close-to-heaven-as-you-can-get’ Scottish highlands. But it was the last minute (as usual), and most of the commercial hotels or upmarket accommodations were either maxed out or too expensive.
Luckily, UK had an amazing network of B&Bs, yeah even in the pre Airbnb era, and we booked one run by an old Scottish couple at Inverness. Staying with them proved amazing, with each of us even waking up to socks stuffed with sweets that they hung outside our doors. The couple even treated us to traditional Scottish dinner on Christmas and shared many of the Scottish legends around the day. Given their delightful sense of humour we were laughing right through our meal.
Staying with locals through all my travels since then have given me some great experiences in Europe, including a special pass to the Eurovision gig , participating in amazing local beer fests or eating delicious farm-fresh food.
Local homestays in India, though, were another ball game altogether till until recently.
A couple of years back, while on a scuba diving holiday in Tarkarli, a beach-town on Goa-Maharashtra border, we had decided to stay with a local Malvani family. While they served us amazing sea food the rooms had serious hygiene issues. However, this soon turned into a one-off story. With a little bit of research, you could get an amazing slice of the country’s diversity pie by ditching regular hotels.
Ask Soumya Kundu. In his early thirties, Soumya was an IT engineer before his love for travel prompted him to ditch the cushy job and launch an experiential travel co – Zig Zag India. He specializes in offering unique travel experiences with a blend of local customs for the urban desi traveller.
He bats fervently for local stays: “How about sitting in a verandah sipping chee (Sikkimese local millet beer) surrounded by orange trees which grow wild? Not a sound of the cars will reach you because the house would be on a hillside, some 50 ft down from the metaled road. At night, you can stay in the homestay or in a tent just by the side of the river.”
With a wide variety or regional customs and experiences to choose from, local stays can sure be fun and interesting. We caught up with Prasad NP aka his more famous moniker @desiTraveler on Twitter. Prasad is a popular travel blogger and has several stories to share on staying in offbeat places and experiencing the local culture.
“Once in a little village in Rajasthan, we visited the family of our tour guide. His home surrounded by their lush green fields and orchards was stuff Bollywood romances are made of.
“His wife cooked fresh Sarson ka Saag and subzi for us. It was an experience to watch her: dexterously cutting fresh plants from the field, chopping vegetables in a cutter, and cooking all of it before us while covered in a veil.” Prasad said on his experiences in Rajasthan.
The obvious questions you then ask on local stay is whether it is safe?
Mridula Dwivedi (@mridulablog) who works with several groups as a travel consultant brings up the safety aspect even while speaking firmly for local homestays. “Naturally, I would not just trust any place, particularly if I am traveling alone.” Mridula nevertheless adds happy stories of her home-stays. “My most unique experience was staying at Asha’s homestay in at Dhankarin Spiti. I first stayed there in 2007 when we went trekking there. Then I went back to Dhankar in 2015 and visited Asha again. Yes, if your home-stay is good you will have the offbeat traveller keep coming back to it.”
With a number of startups including an aggressive Airbnb betting heavily on the Indian market and OYO Rooms looking to brand B&B’s the experiential travel market in India is heating up. Startups like the Mumbai-based homestay.in are also trying to organize the highly fragmented homestay market.
Do your research right, ask other travellers for references, and you would not go wrong with a homestay. Besides, it could be worth trading off a little discomfort with the roti and local subzee cooked lovingly on the sigri or being treated to local folklore by a bonfire. As Prasad signs off: “Staying with locals lets me taste food that people eat beyond the standard Dal-Makhni types you get no matter where you are in India.”