Hilary Lopez (pictured below, third from right) from Global Travel UK recently had the opportunity to visit some of our homestays as part of of a familiarisation trip. We were keen to find out what she thought about her homestay experience.
What is the most significant difference between homestays and regular hotel? Why is a homestay better than a hotel?
It’s India up close and personal. There is contact and interaction with your hosts, who personally welcome you into their household and treat you as a valued guest. Hosts are accessible without being intrusive, attentive to your every need and often great characters and lots of fun. Homestays offer a much more experiential way of travelling than ever possible when staying in a hotel.
In a hotel you feel like a tourist at a homestay you are treated as a friend.
What was your favourite meal in a homestay? Is the food all homecooked?
So difficult to select one meal as the food in every homestay was absolutely delicious. Without exception all the hosts were incredible cooks. The meals were always freshly prepared and cooked on the premises, generally from produce grown on their own plantation or spice garden or from local markets and at a time to suit their guests.
Food was beautifully presented, sometimes Keralan style, served on a banana leaf. It was a real challenge trying to eat local style using just fingers, a skill I have yet to perfect! I loved the payasams, sambars, appam, fresh soups and succulent fish. Keralan food uses so many wonderful spice mixtures and is so versatile.
Eating freshly cooked lobster, straight from the lake at the bottom of Vembanad House after a night fishing expedition, beautifully prepared for us by our host in her own spice mixture must surely be hard to beat.
How would you describe the atmosphere you experienced in the homestays?
Wonderful, warm and welcoming.
How did the facilities in the Homestays compare against your expectations?
Far exceeded expectations, each property was unique and special in some way. Historical connections, traditional architecture, spectacular location, plantation home etc. Some were more like a boutique hotel than bed and breakfast and all were well equipped, comfortable and spotlessly clean.
What sort of information did your hosts provide?
They were a mine of local information, from Indian customs, way of life, religious practices, local cuisine and recipes, how to haggle at the shops,places to visit etc.
We had guided tours of the plantation at 2 of the homestays, where we learned to recognise all the various spices and fruits grown there and the ecological cultivation methods used.
At two of the homestays the hosts helped some of the group put on their recently purchased saris to much amusement. It was like having our own masterclass!
Why use Mahindra Homestays and not go off on your own?
Absolute peace of mind. With Mahindra Homestays you can rely totally on the quality and standard of your accommodation as all homes are regularly visited and inspected to ensure that they meet travellers’ expectations. All their hosts are able to help you make the most of your visit. They are knowledgeable about their locality and will help organise the special trips and activities available in their area should you wish.
The excellent Mahindra team is only a call away and will efficiently and swiftly deal with any queries you might have during your stay.The back up support is superb.
What were the highlights of the trip?
- Flying into Cochin, more greens than I’ve ever seen and then the scent of cardamom in the air when we landed.
- A white knuckle ride along an unmade road up to the highest tea estate in the world in a jeep bedecked with garlands and Bollywood music blaring on the radio. Oceans of green tea bushes fitting together like jigsaw pieces as far as the eye can see on the mountainsides with mist swirling down from the Western Ghats
- Being welcomed with deliciously scented jasmine garlands on arrival at the homestays
- Delhi traffic …has to be experienced to be believed!
- The sound of crickets in a cardamom plantation at night
- Sleeping in the ‘hugest’ bed in the world at Akkarakalam Memoirs homestay on the backwaters at Alleppy
- The totally impromptu visits arranged for us by Mahindra Homestays to a Hindu Temple en-route to Munnar and, one morning after breakfast, to a local School across the road from our homestay. These were both wonderful, unforgettable experiences that we would never have experienced travelling independently.
- Being caught in a Monsoon downpour and totally drenched within moments.
- Above all the kindness and friendliness of the Indian people.
Did you get to take part any local activities?
In Thekkady we visited an elephant sanctuary where we were able to ride feed and bathe the elephants At Periyar we took a boat trip on the lake and observed the wildlife along the shore, some of us then trekked in the tiger reserve.
In Alleppy we went night fishing on Lake Vembanad, had an amazing afternoon cruise on the lake and the backwaters on a kettuvallam, had an Ayurvedic massage at a local clinic and on our last night we were entertained at the homestay by local traditional musicians.
At Munnar we visited a tea factory high in the hills and then explored the local shops on the way back, trying out our haggling skills to buy tea, spices and saris.
What’s your tip for a trip to India?
Go with an open mind, soak in all the sights and sounds, expect the unexpected and prepare to be constantly amazed and delighted by the kindness and generosity of the Indian people. Oh and maybe take a hairdryer!
Find out about the homestay experience and don't forget to check out our ideas on things to do in India or browse our India homestays.