To experience the local culture, flavours, sights and sounds, it’s hard to beat a homestay. Put these on your list next time you plan a holiday.
Rainforest Retreat At Mojo Plantation, Coorg
Located amid a densely forested valley, this naturalist’s paradise is a certified organic farm that combines ecotourism with sustainable agriculture and environmental education. The owners of the 20 acre property grow the world’s second hottest chilli, the Habanero, along with coffee, black pepper, vanilla, cardamom and kokam.
You are free to pick your own coffee, hand-pollinate flowers and enjoy the company of birds in this quaint farmstay. The environment-friendly accommodation runs on solar energy, while all your wholesome meals are prepared using bio gas from a gobar-gas plant. Blues lovers, rejoice — the owners possess a huge collection of blues music.
Oyster Opera, Kasaragod
Started by Gul Mohammad in the year 2007, this eco-friendly farm stay, solely devoted to oyster farming, is run by the local community. Gul Mohammad has received a a national award for his farming techniques and ever since, he has shared a wealth of knowledge with the locals and transformed the lives of many.
The property comprises stone cottages that are named after species such as the Oyster, Crab, Snail and Mussel, and you can indulge in oyster picking alongside other activities such as houseboat rides to the backwaters, canoeing and visits to other islets.
Smetacek’s Colonial Homestay, Bhimtal
This 1000-acre property is a family owned, 19th century colonial bungalow, nestled in the Kumaon Lake District of Uttarakhand, and is the perfect getaway for nature lovers, botanists, entomologists, bird watchers and the like. The property belonged to the late Frederick Smetacek, renowned as the ‘butterfly man’ and, if legend is to be believed, as the man who tried to kill Hitler thrice. After the third attempt, he managed to escape and travelled around the world before coming to India; the homestay is run by his descendant, Paddy Smetacek.
Also known as The Retreat, this homestay has served a number of international diplomats and is renowned for Frederick Smetacek’s extensive collection of butterflies, on every wall of the living room. Also, look out for his brother Peter Smetacek’s prominent butterfly museum, which is housed in a room right next to Fredy’s Bungalow, which is a must-visit destination for all enthusiasts.
Vembanad House, Allepey
If you want some peace and quiet in a place surrounded by water, the Vembanad House is the perfect getaway, located as it is on the banks of the Vembanad lake, along the backwaters of Kerala. This secluded old ancestral home provides you with the opportunity to go night fishing, where you can catch your own seafood, and you can also take special lessons on how to tie a saree or dhoti, Kerala style.
Other interesting activities involve learning how to cook some mouthwatering Kerala food, house boat trips on the backwaters and special tours where you can gain more knowledge about the coir industry.
Acres Wild, Coonoor
This property belongs to renowned filmmaker Mansoor Khan (of QSQT and Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar fame) and his wife Tina, who have set up a 22-acre farm to produce organic cheese, and where every meal is accompanied by some of the most exotic cheese that you’re likely to find. The duo also grow vegetables, fruit and herbs, and their three cottages are called Haloumi, Colby and Cheddar.
Guests can sign up for a two-day cheese-making course, during which they learn how to make cheddar, gruyere, gouda, romano, mozarella and other types of cheese. This chemical-free estate, located 20 km from Ooty, is an eco-friendly farm that also houses a variety of animals.
Homestays In Makaibari Tea Estate, Darjeeling
If you’re a tea lover, then you must visit the Makaibari Tea Estate, which holds the record for producing the most expensive tea in the country. Located in Kurseong district, the estate produces the finest quality organic tea, which is why travellers and tea experts flock to the location every year. To make it easier for visitors, most of the families of the tea pluckers have opened up their homes to guests, who can experience tea-tasting sessions and also see how their favourite beverage is produced in factories. Other interesting activities include wildlife spotting and birding.
Punjabiyat, Saidowal-Gunopur Village, Gurdaspur
In true Punjabi style, this unforgettable farm homestay comprises an enthralling vision of mustard fields and tractors and is located about an hour’s drive from Amritsar. If you’re looking for an opportunity to experience the tranquility of the countryside and farm life, then the simple, standalone cottages, which face the large expanse of farmland, will provide you with just that. The pathways are lit with hurricane lamps, while the plastered cottages comprise tasteful interiors and a private terrace to star gaze at nights.
The meals served comprise Punjabi delicacies with open air barbeques, and you can pass your time at this idyllic destination by milking cows and also learning about rural farming.
Olaulim Backyards, Goa
Located amid the Goa backwaters in Olaulim village, 30 minutes from the capital city of Panaji, this delightful and eco-friendly homestay is run by a Finnish-Indian couple. Named after local birds (you can spot the birds there as well), their two cottages, Hornbill and Golden Oriole, are special because a number of huge rocks are intrinsic elements of the cottage interiors, while the exteriors are enveloped by nature and vegetation. Their third cottage, known as Sunbird, is located at the edge of the paddy fields, next to the backwaters, and all the cottages provide you with semi-transparent roofs, for an abundance of natural light; their open air bathrooms are fitted with rain showers.
While the owners serve you Goan delicacies, you might want to taste their home- brewed Feni and spend some time with the resident pets, which include goats, dogs, cats and even a donkey, many of which have been rescued by the owners.