A homestay offers the chance to experience a side of India that’s only possible by staying with a family. It’s a concept that originated in Kerala and an opportunity not to be missed.
Banish all thoughts of what it’s like to stay with your in-laws, homestay families are incredibly hospitable and genuinely happy to be looking after their guests. The hosts are often among the most respected families in the community and many will offer to show you round their town or village, farm or estate sharing their local knowledge and providing a fascinating insight into everyday life that you couldn’t find any other way.
Without exception they will be pleased to make recommendations of great things to do and may even use their influence to give you access to special events or places otherwise closed to visitors. From his ancestral home, Kandath Tharavad, businessman turned homestay host Mr Bhagwaldas, or Bugs to his new friends, will take guests on a morning visit to the corner tea shop, a hidden temple and perhaps an evening walk through the village interpreting traditions and local culture, all the while greeted by smiling children keen to practice their English.
In Kerala your homestay could be a modern family house or ancient pile handed down through the generations and it may be situated in the centre of a town, village fringe or hidden deep in the countryside. At some you’ll find just one or two guest rooms in the family house, but as not everyone enjoys that level of intimacy, we can suggest other homely places to stay with a private annex or detached cottages for a smidgeon more independence.
One of our favourites is Tranquil located in the unspoilt hills of Northern Kerala, a stunning property set in a 400 acre coffee and vanilla plantation, a home stay experience like none other with eight rooms – plus two luxury tree houses and a swimming pool. There’s no better way to get a taste of the planter's life by staying here as the personal guests of the Dey family who will greet you like old friends – and indeed many guests have become just that.
Rooms at homestays are usually fairly simple but homely, with en-suite shower rooms and come decorated in a variety of styles. It's rare these days not to find that the candlewick bedspreads and antimacassars have been removed and the knick-knacks tidied away, but you might still find a television lurking beneath a lace-trimmed cover in the family sitting room.
Your hosts invariably know when to grab you for a chat or leave you to your own devices, but meal times are almost always taken together and are a social occasion to relish. Over pre-dinner drinks you’ll find out more about the family, enjoy the local gossip, or perhaps bandy words about politics (It’s hard to beat a stay with the Tharakans at Olavipe for the latter – Anthony was once head of security in Rajiv Gandhi’s government). Food is definitely one of the highlights of staying at a homestay and a lavish dinner of authentic home cooked local dishes is the norm. Don’t miss out on the chance of a cookery lesson either - this is Indian cuisine at its absolute best.