The first question that comes to our mind when we start planning a vacation is surely – “How different it would be from my last one?” Well, you have part of that question answered with the fact that you are headed to Delhi. India presents itself is a unique destination offering an abundance of sensory experiences, much different to any other country or city you may have visited before. Now I’m sure that over the years you would have stayed at all kinds of hotels, guesthouses and what not, but have you ever tried a homestay?
I have a decade long experience of successfully hosting guests from around the world as part of my family run homestay in Delhi. Here is my list of top seven reasons why you should stay at a homestay.
1) Homelike comfort
A homestay might not match up to the luxury of hotels, but what they lack in grandeur, they more than make up for in easy comfort. Since many homestays are just extra rooms converted into living space for the guests, the rooms will be almost similar to what your own bedroom looks like. Easy on the eyes and minimalistic in terms of furnishing, yet intelligently designed to fulfill your daily needs. You are already running through the city in a blur in order to check things off your itinerary. At least where you turn in for the night should give you a feeling of belongingness and relaxation – things you find in abundance at a homestay. While this may be reason enough for choosing to stay at someone’s home, that’s not the only one – specially if you are travelling to Delhi.
2) Visit a new culture, not just a new city
When you’re visiting a place, you are seldom able to strike a conversation with the local inhabitants that lasts for more than a couple of minutes extending itself beyond, “How much is that for?” or “How best to get there?”. Well, if you’ve never been to a homestay, I’m sure your answer would range between “Not more than once or twice” to “Are you crazy?”. Staying at a homestay gives you an unparalleled opportunity to get great insights into the way the locals lead their lives, their beliefs and their culture. Especially if you are visiting a multi-cultural country like India, with its myriad festivals each devoted to different Gods or seasons or familial relations, you just can’t miss the opportunity to get to know it better. You will be fascinated by how interesting these interactions and experiences can be rather than just getting back to your hotel room and poring over that novel.
3) Explore every nook and corner
The internet is blissfully full of travel portals, magazines and blogs going all out about the touristy things to do in a city. Sure they make up for filling your itineraries but very rarely will you find the absolute gems that only a local would know. These places might be difficult to find or reach and seldom written about but would sure be worth your while to visit them. These are the ones that no guide will tell you about. And guess what, these are free suggestions from your hosts curated per your personal interests! As an example, almost all guide books on Delhi would tell you to visit the Qutub Minar, a 13th century monument commissioned by Qutb-Ud-Din Aibak. But would they tell you that the government recently started allowing night tours inside the monument as well? The beautifully illuminated minaret is a magnificent sight to behold against the backdrop of a star laden night. Many of the guests at my homestay in Delhi choose to go for walking tours of Old Delhi with me. Still others accompany me to enjoy a day in Delhi with a local where I take them to different market areas!
4) Food is on your mind
One of the finest pleasures that travel provides is a chance to experience the local dishes and cuisines in their truest form. How many times has it been that you learn about a new dish from your travel frenzied friend who takes you out to try it in your home city and while you are still savoring it, he goes like – “Oh my god, this is nothing compared to what I had when I was travelling in India”? And whatever semblance of enjoyment you had up until that time, you lose it almost instantly. Well, staying at a homestay would actually bring you closer to the heart of the dish. I often share with the guests at my homestay in Delhi, the best places to have Indian curry around accommodation, along with my favorite dishes to order there. Most of my guests also enjoy fresh home cooked meals prepared by my mother or attend her cooking class and invariably go on to tell us how hugely different it is from the Indian food they have had in restaurants.
5) Meet other travelers from around the world
Rarely do you walk into your hotel restaurant and socialize with the occupants sitting at a neighboring table. But a homestay usually has a common dining area with a single large table you share with your fellow guests who, you will also find, are usually less reserved as compared to a hotel. You probably won’t even realize before you find yourselves in the midst of an invigorating dialogue about travel, politics, sports, history, culture etc. all in about a couple of breakfasts’ time. We have hosted guests coming separately, strangers at first, but ending up having a common itinerary and enjoying Delhi together! In some instances, they have gone on to visit their next travel destination in India also together. Funnily, guests from the same city who didn’t know each other, have met at our dinner table.
6) Personalized attention, friendly advice
Homestays have a knack of offering you a much more personal experience than any other form of accommodation. And how do they do it? The host family. A homestay host opens more than their house doors for you. They are welcoming you to be a part of their family. You would definitely feel a lot more relaxed and safe staying at a homestay run by a family than all by yourself in an unknown city. Of course, your privacy is fully considered and you can choose if or how much time, you wish to spend talking to them, asking all sorts of questions about the local culture, communication tips in the local language, best activities in the area etc. Not only can you ask them for tips to enjoy the city as a local, they will be able to help you with your not so common requests also – like how much should you be tipping at a restaurant or maybe a helping of comfort food like soup if you are unwell. If your stay there was memorable, you would also find yourselves at the end of your trip, befriending them on your social media channels and writing to them about the rest of your adventures. Each year, I have guests who join us for Diwali and Holi festival celebration in Delhi, and not as mere spectators, but as a part of the entire experience. I can proudly say that we now have friends on all inhabitable continents of the world, slowly trying to expand to all countries!
7) A safe and calm haven
A big crowded metropolitan city like Delhi, and India has many such cities, can get very exhausting and energy sapping. Visitors need a quiet place to return to – away from the bustling commercial areas – to relax and recoup before the next exciting day. Since homestays are usually in residential colonies, they provide the perfect oasis. Not only that, these residential areas can have many under-rated monuments, boutique shops, parks or eateries that are worth exploring, but which mostly go un-noticed in the face of seemingly more important tourist destinations.
The fabric of the Indian society is based on family and culture. Nothing comes before these values and building on these is the idea of “Atithi Devo Bhava” – Guest is God. Often also referred to as a bed and breakfast in India, a homestay becomes a living embodiment of an ancient culture.
How to know if the place you are looking to stay in Delhi or your next accommodation in India is an authentic homestay?
Ask the owners if they are duly approved by the relevant authorities. Many states in India have their own official Tourism departments that issue licenses to homestay owners. Only genuine accommodations will be able to get a license to run a homestay. By that I mean an accommodation where the host family is itself staying. They also need to meet a set of mandatory requirements to facilitate an adequately comfortable stay to the guest. Click here to check if your homestay in Delhi is on the list of approved homestays by the Department of Tourism, Govt. of NCT of Delhi.