Sunday, April 30, 2017

Common Myths About Homestays

As a traveller and a travel consultant I always try to make choices that are environment friendly. For instance, rather than buying plastic mineral water bottle every time I am thirsty, I prefer carrying my steel water bottle and refill it and encourage other people to do the same; I always snack on bhutta, nariyal pani, dry fruits etc that are natural and do not come in plastic packing and on group trips, I always prefer organizing our stays in homestays that are run by local people and are ecofriendly.

But at times I come across people who do not want to stay in homestays. Here's a list of the reasons they give, most of which I feel are misconceptions.







Homestays are difficult to access; It's tiresome, not relaxing

Many homestays are located in remote areas away from the crowd, reaching there can be tiresome but living there away from the crowd will surely be relaxing - spending a few days disconnected from technology, embracing the genuine warmth of hosts and eating food from farm to table can take away all the tiredness of the city life.
Also, not all homestays are far located. You can check beforehand if there is a proper road till the homestay or you will have to walk to reach the homestay and chose according to your preference.


Homestays are not safe for travelers

Safety can be an issue anywhere if you are not cautious so taking a few precautions will ensure your safety:
Before booking a homestay ask the owner if it is a government approved homestay and ask for their license number. In Kerala, Himachal and many other states there are strict rules to get a license. The owner has to obtain police clearance from multiple channels before a license to run the homestay is obtained. These clearance and licensing rules are introduced to ensure the safety and security for the tourists.  Alternatively, book it through a reference, a known person or a trusted platform like Homestays Of India.
On the contrary to this myth, many also feel it's much safer living in a homestay as the host can tell you which areas to avoid or go out with you to places where you might not be safe if you go on your own. They can be a sounding board for any issues you face and help you learn how to navigate a new location.

Homestays may not be hygienic and have our choice of food

Being in the industry I have checked kitchens in both, hotels and homestays, and can vouch for the cleanliness and hygiene of homestays especially if we compere from the kitchens of most of the hotel restaurants. Moreover food served in homestays is mostly prepared from homegrown vegetables and is cooked in the same kitchen in which they cook their own food, so you can expect the best.
Also, there is good variety of food in homestays. As per the availability of non-vegetarian food, you must check with the host before booking if they serve non vegetarian or not and chose as per your preferences.

Homestays are cheaper alternative to Hotels

It is the most common myth that if it's a homestay it will be cheaper than the hotels. No doubt you can chose to stay in low budget homestays if you are on a budget trip but thinking that homestays are always a cheaper alternative to hotel is wrong.
The fact is homestays are available in all ranges as is a hotel depending on the location, area and the facilities they provide. I have stayed in a homestay that charged me 2500 per night for bed and breakfast. And I think it's totaly worth it. The tastefully done interiors, the comfortable stay, the personal attention, the hospitality, the cleanliness and most importantly the fresh tasty organic food made from the produce of the kitchen garden and meticulously cooked by the host was all worth the money I paid. Which hotel could have given me this experience even in 5000/-... I wonder.
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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Pushkar Holi - Festival of Colors in True Sense

It's HOLI the next day and the holy little town is full of festivities. In all major chawks people are lighting fire for the ceremony called Holika Dahan, and rituals are being performed by the locals. People from around the world in their Indian traditional attire are gathered here to witness it. Celebration, fun, laughter and music is in the air. While purohit is busy performing rituals, people are busy clicking and recording to capture the moment. Ceremony ends and atmosphere gets filled with music and sound of dhol. I found myself dancing surrounded by people from all over the world connected by the sense of celebration.



And the big day is here. We all dressed in our best whites start towards the market.
 The first one we met on the street is a sweet English lady who with a broad smile and red color packet in her hand, wishes us. We are going global :).
Little farther we meet some kids who playfully apply color to us all. And that's how meeting unknown people from varied backgrounds and countries we reach warah ghat where everyone has gathered.


The atmosphere is full of colors. Everyone is wishing each other, applying colors and dancing to the tunes of music playing in the background. In the streets, I see local kids smeared in colors and playing with whosoever happens to cross them. Mithai wali gali is open and people are enjoying kachori and malpuas.





And hey wait a minute, what is this that I see!? Some shirts in the air, and many more on the floor. Yes someone did tell me that it's kapdaphad holi were all guys are stripped off their shirts. Some sight it was... everyone was very respectfully wishing holi to the female while stripping the male counterparts. After a point no one was allowed to go with their shirts on.

Kapda phad Holi - It was fun!                                 Picture by Vinod Verma
The streets are full of people, it is estimated that more than 20,000 people visited Puskar on the day of Holi. It was a mega event that left me overwhelmed with joy and happiness.


I had read some articles where it was mentioned girls need to be very careful and that it is not meant for them. I was a bit skeptical in the beginning but believe me not even a single time did I feel unsafe. So ladies feel free and go out celebrate the day that is meant for celebration.
Picture by Vinod Verma

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Thursday, April 6, 2017

A Simple Girl From The Mountains

The phone beeps early morning and it flashes -

 "On this beautiful day just a few years back a very special person was born with a magical wand which could persuade people to roam around the world freely and understand the love for nature... she is one of the wonder woman in today's world... and I wish this wonder woman a very very happy birthday!"

Another message says "Happiieee happiieee bday to a person who is inspiration to many..."

What a wonderful start to my big day... !
A simple girl from the mountains have made it big... I thought.

Making it big for me is not earning a bomb and having a lot of possessions, but to spread happiness and making a mark on people around you. If you are able to inspire and help people in any way to live better and meaningful life... I think you have made it big.



In the mountains, there was this tiny place called Lohna, Palampur. There lived this shy little girl who was mostly lost in her own world of thoughts. Tea gardens were her second home and pine forest her playground... birds were her friends and air breeze her companion. She grew up eating wild berries (of course not just that) from the forest behind her house.
She was a mediocre student who could manage to secure decent marks and was very fond of participating in activities related to art... rangoli making, henna applying, flower arrangements... These were the things she thoroughly enjoyed. Debates, quizzes and all were not her cup of tea.

After completing her college in agriculture university with flying colors she was offered scholarship for MSc. But she had larger things on mind.... She wanted to see the world, experience life outside the hills, so she made her decision to move out to a bigger city and do a vocational course. She started by staying in a paying guest accommodation but she would not fit in the crowd there. She felt all the talks meaningless and all the actions thoughtless, so she decided to go independent which did not go very well with the relatives. But who cared... her close family was fine with it and that's all that mattered.  And going independent was not just restricted to accommodation, she started doing part time jobs.

By the time she completed her studies she had good experience in sales. She did a direct sales job that again did not go very well with the relatives, but who cares. The sales job taught her good life skills and opened up a whole new world to her. She was very happy with her progress in the city, she started with a language institute inlingua and eventually got job in Google India that is a dream company for almost everyone. Everything was going great, but something was missing somewhere. Again she felt meaningless and empty.

This time she wanted to explore beyond her native place and her city. The hunger to explore more was increasing. So she started her own travel group ChaloLetsGo to connect people like her who want to be with nature and explore as much as possible. It's been more than 5 years now and she is doing great with many more dreams waiting to be fulfilled...!
                                                                                                                 

"Continue blasting your way through life!" another message said.
Yesss... I will keep rocking and enjoying the beauty around till I am there on this beautiful earth. I thought.


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