After the conclusion of an extremely hectic and utterly chaotic final semester of college, I just wanted to run away. Escape the city, its people and my people to explore something completely different in an environment that was calmer, quieter and happier. So, I traversed through the villages of the Konkan Coast in Maharashtra, dotted with swaying coconut trees and spellbinding untouched beaches. I met some of the friendliest people who hosted me at their houses where I experienced the village life in all its charm. Waking up early, going on long walks, assisting the village folk in various activities such as farming cooking, cashew cropping and hearing hundreds of stories about their mythology and folk. These tiny hamlets, along the Konkan Coast were always buzzing with activity. Boatmen returning to their overtly bright houses, children chasing tyres on the street, the cacophony of fisher women; so much was happening. Yet time stood still. Probably because nobody seemed to be chasing it. The slow paced life was refreshing and extremely stimulating.
While life is certainly not easy in the rural India, the people there make the most of their limited resources. Their genuineness and hospitality knows no bounds. Rural Tourism in India is slowly evolving and developing to suit two purposes - giving tourists an offbeat, local and a nostalgic experience and strengthening their own economy by generating employment and earning revenue through the tourism industry. Rural destinations in India are slowly opening up to offer experiences in terms of their culture, heritage, natural landscape and traditions, to satisfy the growing demand of offbeat, immersive and culturally rich travel experiences of tourists. Holding on to older ways of life and thinking is important to its character, which is combined with the scenic values and recreational opportunities of the countryside that attracts tourists from urban areas. These experiences are offered through the tourist’s involvement in community activities, home-stays, volunteer programs, interaction with locals etc. that provide people a taste of the old world life that they seldom miss in today’s fast, cut-throat world. Tourists these days, especially the urban youth, has moved beyond conventional tourism and is looking to experience something new in their travels and so we have combined a list of the most beautiful homestays around India to take you back to the good ol’ days.
I. Itmenaan Lodge: Punjabiyat
Where: Saidowal-Gunopur village, 75 km from Amritsar
If you’ve seen enough 90’s Bollywood films then this one just lives up to your fantasy. Imagine running through the lush green fields, riding on a tractor and eating delectable Punjabi food while you gaze away at the rural idyll. Situated miles away from the city life, amidst verdant fields, crisscrossed by long canals, Punjabiyat meaning ‘being Punjabi’ offers a truly rustic rural farm experience. The four gorgeous stand alone mud cottages nestled amidst the vast green expanse not only take you back to older ways of life but also offer a peaceful environment to relax and unwind. Here you can get involved in various village activities such as farming, milking of cows, tractor rides, visit the Gurudwaras and interact with the village folk to understand their culture and Punjabiyat. The culture takes its food seriously and at Punjabiyat, the food is emblematic of how Punjab welcomes you with its bounty. Devour into some tandoori cuisine & barbequed snacks and gulp them down with a big tall glass of thick lassi. Punjabiyat makes sure you reconnect with your roots and take back a slice of the country life from this enticing Punjab getaway .
Cost : Double Occupancy at INR 8,200 per room per night including breakfast.
II. Tora Eco Resort, Sunderbans
Where: Bali Island, Sunderbans
In the spectacular wilderness of Sunderbans, this unique homestay and life experience centre takes its guests beyond their comfort zone to make them experience and understand the struggle of existing adjacent to the near impenetrable mangrove forests against various adverse conditions where there is no proper water supply, electricity, roads, or cars. People live in homes built from mud and straw, and are constantly wary of attack from tigers. Surrounded by a few villages, lush green gardens and ponds overlooking the sanctuary on the bank of river Gumdi, Tora offers accommodation in 7 ethnic cottages made in local rural style of architecture. The resort has supply of electricity powered by solar energy, safe drinking water and hygienic food. You will be hosted by the friendly people of Bali village who will take you exploring the many hamlets and forest and through the narrow creeks on a country boat as they tell you the story of their lives in the amazing Sundarbans.
Cost: Varies with Season
III. Chhotaram Prajapat’s Homestay: Village Life Near Jodhpur
Where: Salawas village, 30 km from Jodhpur,
For anyone who believes that the soul of this country lies in its villages , Chotaram Prajapat’s Homestay is a must visit. Located in Salawas village, around a 40 minute drive from Jodhpur, this homestay provides a rustic dwelling with a family of weavers and gives a real experience of rural Rajasthan. It gives an insight into the fascinating lives of the Bishnoi people who live in complete harmony with the nature so much so that they bury their dead (instead of burn them like other Hindus) to preserve trees as wood is used in cremation. Here you can indulge in activities like folk dances, camel safaris, village trekking, attending the opium ceremony, and jeep safaris to Bishnoi village where you can go bird spotting by a beautiful lake; all while you revel in the overwhelming Rajasthani hospitality. Perhaps the best thing about this homestay is that it is an initiative to offer the unaltered and the real time panorama of their civilization. The homestay remains ‘unaffected from the drift in the tourism industry’ to delude the tourists who are unfamiliar with the cultural topography.
Cost: Double Occupancy at INR 2400 per room per night excluding breakfast.
IV. Bhoramdeo Jungle Retreat
Where: District Kabirdham, Chattisgarh
In the heart of India, lies the beautiful and comfortable Bhoramdeo Jungle Retreat that lets the visitors experience the rural and the wildlife alike. Nuzzled at the foothills of Maikal Hills, this jungle retreat is a three hour drive from Raipur, but a journey that takes you gently rolling back in time. The retreat with 5 beautiful rooms, each that opens to a verandah and has an itinerary that allows one to visit villages, inhabited by local tribes where you can interact with the Yadavs (cattle herders), the Baiga and the Gonds tribes. For them many aspects of life remain the same since hundreds of years. Along with long and short treks in the dark woods, the highlight of the stay here is the thrilling bicycle ride from Kanha National Park with an overnight camp en route. There is also an ancient 11th century, exquisitely carved Bhoramdeo temple complex which is just a 5 minute stroll away. Here, one can understand the traditions and religious beliefs of the village folk. Bhoramadeo Jungle Retreat is surrounded by lush forests that are full of mystery and it isn’t uncommon to sight barking deers, jackals and langur and the occasionally lurking tigers and leopards.
Cost : INR 5,000 rupees per person, per night including all meals, drinks, laundry and activities.
V. Atithi Parinay
Where: Kotawade, Ratnagiri; 380 kms from Mumbai
Tucked away in the tranquil environs of the vast stretching Konkan belt, Atithi Parinay is a sprawling pet-friendly, boutique homestay that provides an ethnic stay that is equipped with all mod cons. From tents to tree houses and huts enveloped by mango, banana and coconut plantations spreading across 2 acres of lush green land; Atithi Parinay is a perfect place to unwind in the lap of nature and experience the rural idyll in all its naturalness. It makes visitors experience the nuances of rural lifestyle by encouraging little things such as removing the footwear as one enters the house or sitting down for meal together etc. There is a gushing river just behind the property where one can interact with village women who come to fill their pots or enjoy a spectacular sunset over the virgin beaches of Kotwade just a few km away. Spend your evenings taking a walk through the village and visiting its many temples, plucking fruits from the trees, lazing away with a book on the hammock or playing with the adorable Maya, the owner’s friendly dog that will keep you good company. The food here is absolutely homely and sumptuous, cooked in the traditional Konkansta Brahman style. We personally recommend the thick mango shake prepared with fresh mangoes grown right on the property.
Cost: Starting at INR 4,300 per night for Non AC cottage
VI. Friends of Orchha Homestay, Ganj
Where : Ganj, Orchha; 18 km from Jhansi
Outside the historical city of Orchha, the former capital of Bundelkhand situated on the banks of the river Betwa; lies a tiny hamlet that goes by the name of Ganj where ‘Friends of Orccha’, a social enterprise creates assets for families below poverty line and provides a rich cultural experience both for visitors and hosts. This rustic Orchha home-stay links tourism and local development where visitors take the opportunity to discover the village lifestyle from within by staying with a family of small farmers, artisans and daily wage labourers, understanding their way of life and the history and the heritage of the village by taking part in act. The main house where the family lives is built in a style similar to the rest of the homes in the village, with a large, open inner courtyard surrounded by rooms. The guest room is typically a separate structure in the outer courtyard, which the family has built themselves with help from the NGO. Guests can enjoy their evenings by cooling off with a swim in the Betwa river or go for a bicycle ride around the city.
Through these projects, these host families that were below poverty line have tripled their incomes while acquiring a brand new room, bathing room and toilet. In addition, they now have friends from all over the world. Friends of Orchha also runs a teaching programme, a sanitation programme and a youth centre in Ganj and welcomes volunteers who wish to contribute their skills.
Cost : One night’s stay at INR 1,200 for two, meals are charged for separately.
VII. La Maison De Ananda
Where: Garamur, Majuli Island, Assam
Once you have undertaken an interesting journey through Assam’s fertile tea plantations, its lush countryside and boarded a ferry full of people and cattle to reach Majuli island located in the middle of the Brahmaputra; you will find the La Maison De Ananda, a pretty homestay nuzzled in one of its lanes. The rustic hut, run by a very hospitable tribal family blends perfectly with the island’s culture and heritage and provides an authentic experience of life in Majuli, a place where time seems to slow down. Here you can spend your time visiting the numerous Assamese monasteries, indulging in some old and unique traditional forms of art and dance, interact with a few locals to understand the prevalent Neo Vaishnavite culture or enjoy the locally brewed rice beer. You can also learn about the unique style of making masks at the Mask Making Centre at Majuli. The village has many beautiful walking trails where one can go to observe the sustainable lifestyle adopted by the locals.
Cost : Varies with Season
VIII. Nelpura Heritage Homestay, Kerala
Where: Edayady House Monkompu, Alappuzha
A beautiful, renovated 150-year-old ancestral home,showcasing the fine features of traditional Kerala architecture and woodcarving, Nelpura is located in Kerala’s Allapuzha district on a canal leading to the river Pampa. Ideal for writers and artists looking or a retreat, here time passes by at a sedated speed . The homestay provides a typical village stay experience by encouraging activities such as long village walks, cycling through the bylanes dotted with coconut trees, canoe cruise through the backwaters, or just sitting on the banks and angling. One can also visit the local church, the temple and coconut processing plant, enjoy a Kathakali performance or indulge in a discussions with the hotsts and the locals on culture, politics, food and ayurveda tradition of the village. Meals here are cooked in a traditional Kerala style. This place makes for unforgettable experience in communion with the rustic world of god’s own country.
Cost: INR 7,000 (inclusive of all meals).
Where: Village Tsogsti, Zanskar Road, 15 km from Leh
The cold and the desolate mountains of the trans Himalayas are known for their ethereal landscapes but the relatively lesser known experience in the valley is that of exploring its apricot trail. Situated amidst apple, walnut and apricot farms; the Apricot Village Homestay is a pretty little local homestay run entirely on Solar Energy in the village of Tsogsti. The homestay was opened as an initiative to promote livelihood among women in the village and gives you an essence of the local Ladkahi life. Here you can take part in daily activities such as farming, drying apricots and assist in making the delicious apricot jam and spending time with the villagers understanding how life thrives even in such harsh and forsaken environment. The nights here are blanketed with a million stars; something that cannot be enjoyed in the city–it is a sight not to be missed.
Cost : INR 1,731 per night
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