Six months ago, Kousik Bhattacharya skipped the standard touristy places and chose the Chikmagalur forest as his holiday destination. He stayed with a villager inside the jungle and the host gave him an insight into the place, its culture, traditions and food.
“What is the fun in going to a seen and talked out (read blogged about) destination with a tourist guide,” says Bhattacharya, 29, a Bengaluru-based entrepreneur. “Happiness means exploring the unseen with a local companion, who can give you right recommendations and insider’s tips. While visiting a historical monument, who would you rather have as a companion—a historian or a regular travel escort?”
During the trip, when Bhattacharya’s mother fell ill, the hosts quickly arranged medication and stayed up the whole night taking care of her. “We were in the middle of the jungle and I can't imagine what would have happened if we were not staying with this family,” says Bhattacharya. “You can't expect this kind of heart-warming hospitality from a hotel staff.”
For new India, happiness lies in taking short but frequent holidays without any travel itinerary, experiencing the place first-hand with the local people. A local resident could take you through secret coves and homespun cafes, cook authentic delicacies for you and give nuggets of local information which a travel guide cannot provide.
“The well-earning and adventure-seeking Indian realises that more holidays mean more happiness,” says Narendra Singh, a Rajasthan-based travel agent, who specialises in organising homestays. “So, instead of waiting the whole year to go on a vacation, they have increased the frequency and reduced the duration by shelling out a few extra bucks.”
While paucity of time has boosted the weekend holidays trend, the need to enjoy an economical holiday that is high on adventure and comfort has made homestays a hit, he explains.
“Living with the locals and following their routine is the best way to understand a place, its culture, culinary practices and social dynamics,” says Shailza Sood Dasgupta, who runs the travel company Chalo Letz Go.
While hotels or travel agents have vested interests, local people are generally guided by the Atithi Devo Bhava (Guest is God) philosophy. “They are innocent and genuinely interested in keeping the guest comfortable and giving him authentic information about the place,” says Dasgupta.
Recently, while taking a group of tourists through Hikkim, a small village in Himachal Pradesh, Dasgupta was caught in a difficult situation. The road was under construction and the group got stuck there. “With the help of some labourers and neighbours, our hosts built a kuccha [temporary] road for us in about two hours,” says Dasgupta. “It is such hospitality that that makes you most happy.”
For most people, a vacation is all about not doing anything. For some, it is an opportunity to learn new things. So people are opting for homestays that offer a chance to live with families of artists and learn the art form. Stepping into traditional Kashmiri and royal Rajasthani kitchens to observe preparations of classic dishes is another option. Some young people visit weaving, dyeing and embroidery hubs like Varanasi, Jaipur and Lucknow, respectively, to gain first-hand knowledge about the craft.
Avni Singh of Delhi learnt fishing from a local fisherman during her trip to Goa. “We caught about ten big parrot fishes and I can't tell you how happy I was,” she says. “What is more, we cooked the catch and ate it, too.”