Homestay A home away from home.

With tourists wanting an authentic travel experience of the places visited, the novel concept of Homestays allows them to soak in a local culture like never before. Here is more on it

While traveling to tourist destinations in Uttarakhand, as elsewhere, it was common to see signboards of guesthouses and lodgings with the very inviting tagline, ‘A Home Away From Home’. By then the concept of ‘Homestay’ had not taken off, and so even if the owner lived in the same building, the portion to be given out was completely segregated, so that the privacy of both the ‘guest’ as well as the ‘host’ has not encroached.

However, now homestays have blurred this dividing line as the owner lets the tourists get the feel of the place and surroundings by not just spending time with them at home, but also doubling as a guide to ensure that they ‘live’ the local culture all through the duration of their stay. It follows then that new bonds and new friendships are forged.

“I’ve been having a lot of repeat visitors ever since I ventured into this homestay business. Moreover, a sizeable chunk of my clients are foreigners who are always excited to find out more about the place,” shares Imran Khan, whose cottage lies enticingly close to Corbett Park, Ramnagar.

Friendly banter during meals.

Incidentally, his homestay was among the first in the state to be registered with the Department of Tourism.

“A homestay can only be successful if there is personalized hospitality. Our visitors from abroad are always curious to know more about Indian food. I love sharing with them my experiences over meals,” he adds, not failing to hint at his thorough knowledge of the wild.

Promote local culture and cuisine

At the same time, to think that only those from other countries have this discovery passion would be wrong.

Prashant Tewari who runs a homestay at Nainital says, “The visitors from South want to get the maximum out of their stay. A few months back we had two families from Karnataka who liked the local cuisine so much that they even tried their hands at paharikhana in our kitchen.”

Homestays do promote local culture and cuisine. Also, the concept, as envisaged by the government, has been successful in curbing migration (Palawan) from remote hills.

“The Home Stay Policy Scheme of the government provides subsidy for converting houses to homestays. While for hills the maximum limit has been fixed at `10 lakh, for plains it is `7.5 lakh. Moreover, it becomes the responsibility of the local administration to develop infrastructure facilities in villages where there are more than six homestays,” informs Pradeep Singh Negi, publicity officer at Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board (UTDB), Dehradun.

It’s a win-win proposition for both the owner and the traveler. But there are strict conditions to be fulfilled before the property can be registered with the Department of Tourism.

“After renovating your property as per requirement, the District Tourist Development Officer or someone from the TDB pays a visit. Also, the rates have to be in sync with the tariff charged by the Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN) for their Tourist Rest Houses (TRHs),” cautions GirishKholiya, the owner of two homestays at Almora.

Despite some obvious constraints, homestays are flourishing in the state proving that travel is more than the seeing of sights. It is getting immersed in an experience.

After all, there is nothing like discovering your destination with the help of your host family at wallet-friendly prices.

So, are you game for it?

By Vijai Pant