Living with locals

Ever since I discovered AIRBNB, I have fallen in love with it, its very different from what I had always tried, apart from having a home with a lot more space and facilities that hotels ever provide, there so many times is an opportunity to engage with a local. Not always have I had a host who is living hands on, however, many times I have had the chance through AIRBNB to actually stay with some locals and that I must tell you is where AIRBNB takes the cake in comparison to all other websites that aid travel. I must confess I have not really travelled to Backpacking hostels which are next on my list to visit and experience but till then AIRBNB is doing a wonderful job really.

I have to mention this now especially when I am back from Sri Lanka, where we visited not one but three different homes and hosts. Amongst them one experience was so wonderful it will stay with me for life.

I have to mention the wonderful stay we had with Domaine de Bellevue, a home hosted by Valerian a Sri Lankan and Laure his wife who comes from Switzerland. As much as I regret that I could not meet Valerian’s wife or kids who were holidaying whilst we were there, I think that gave us more of Valerian’s time and interacting with the guy was a wonderful thing to do. The guy has travelled extensively all around the world doing all sorts of jobs, speaks 7 languages and now seems to have settled on this little mountain he bought, yes, you read that correct, he bought a mountain with a view and then he built his house. The location is so superb that sitting on his porch in Wattegama we can actually see & determine what weather is in Kandy(18kms away), Colombo(153kms away) & Nuwara Eliya (91kms away). To actually reach his house you have to climb around 400 meters inside his property from where the vehicles stops!! I told you, the guy bought a part of a mountain!

What we learnt from him was most Sri Lankans are involved in making their own houses, unlike us who basically hire people to do stuff. Very proudly Valerian would tell us that the tiles on the porch we were sitting on were actually done by his own hands! How amazing is that?! The man would go for his job, cook breakfast and dinner for us, do gardening, most of his food came from his own garden, would clean and do the dishes, feed his dogs, cats and birds, regale us with his chats, arrange transport for us and all that single handedly! I mean how industrious and resourceful is that, honestly I have come back with a big complex from there!

The other benefit is that it offers so much insight when you have a local who is ready to talk and converse with all the time, so many of your questions have suddenly got some answers, there is ready information to feed all your curiosity about the place.

Another amazing thing was, when at night we would sleep or when we would go out all we did was just close the magnet locked net of the door, the door would be otherwise open for anyone wanting to enter. That is how safe it was around there! Imagine doing that in a foreign country?

I actually joined him in the kitchen, he even made me love eating a pumpkin, I tasted several new fruits in his garden, Katu Anoda juice being new for me and one that fast became a favourite with the meals. We even made a wood fired pizza with me helping him a teeny weeny bit of garnishing. The pizza again was made from dough, that he prepared, most of the ingredients for the toppings came from his own garden, was wood fired, yes he had a wood fire oven made for this specially!

Infact one night he had some other guests who were a french couple who wanted to eat french food and Valerian made a complete french dinner and even asked us what sort of wine we would like to drink alongside! We had a wonderful dinner that night with some awesome classical music collection that Valerian has, the conversation during that dinner was enriching, I love interacting with people from different countries and cultures.

I wonder if hotels can ever provide such experiences? Atleast I have never had any of such in Hotels, its with homestays, which have locals living alongside that such pleasant benefits exist.

Apart from giving so many wonderful moments as far as the stay facilities are concerned the houses have so much more character than hotels, so much more space than a hotel room and actually a lot more privacy than hotels plus this wonderful insight into local life. Isn’t that what most travellers look for when they set out to travel???

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When we reached a little late in the noon to his place and claimed we were hungry, he made us this wonderful salad and Katu Anoda juice. The orange thing in the salad is actually Pumpkin boiled in just nutmeg water and salt and tasted wonderfully with pepper! I never knew I would say I loved eating Pumpkin you know!

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For really wonderful photos of the place you have to visit its page on FB on the link I shared above.

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We spent a lot of time here lazing with a book and sipping tea or just admiring the view.

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The view of Kandy city from our HOME in Wattegama! 😀

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Lest I forget, the place is a treasure trove for birds, we spotted many many birds of whom I have to identify many yet! Here is a Scarlet Minivet we spotted from our hammock!

 

I just can go on and on about the benefits of staying with locals or staying in homes instead of hotels, not taking anything away from hotels, I use them as much, however, for the sheer varied experiences you get from a home and living with someone it just cannot match up.

 

So have you ever stayed in a homestay or with locals?? If not don’t wait, give it a try!

 

 

Munsiari wala ghar

Ever since my first visit to a homestay in Tirthan valley  I have fallen for them, I prefer them to hotels or resorts. They are so much more personal, equally or sometimes even more comfortable than hotels, have loads of character and above all that give you a chance to stay with the locals and maybe even indulge in food with them. Sharing recipe with them or talking about a custom they have. Just so much more insight, chatting away with them is in itself a pretty rewarding thing for me and my wife who anyways are chatter boxes.

 

In Munsiari, we in Shakhadhura side of Sarmoli Village with a lady called Basanti Rawat, from the first phone conversation with her there was a sort of a friendliness that came through. We reached her home and they have made two cottages with huge windows that open to the Panchachuli Peaks, they offer a small kichen as well in the cottage and a few books to read. Life in this village in Sarmoli was very calm and peaceful, about a 10-15 min walk from the road you are cut off from all sorts of noises that traffic could cause.

 

I and my wife both remarked many times whenever we stopped in our talks geez its so quiet, no noise, maybe some birds sometimes would chirp or an occasional goat braying.

 

Basantiji’s house was a pretty simple abode with comfortable chairs and beds and a pretty neat and clean washroom as well. Still work in progress it is, but, then all you need to spend time in the hills is just a base right!?

 

She would tirelessly keep asking us for tea, in the evenings she would make us Pakoda’s which she served with Bhaang Ki Chutney and the Pakoda’s were heavenly delicious! Always adorning a smile and insisting that we were not eating enough, we were trekking about and according to her you need the energy to walk!

 

The subzi of Lingdi found its way through one day, local daals, eggs made as per our request or her own version of kheema which we loved to bits. Home cooked food has its own beauty and eating local food whilst you are travelling even more so!

 

Her husband who had left army was known by the name of Raju Pradhan was a pretty interesting person to talk to, he was keen to tell us all about the surroundings, the people & Munsiyari. Equally keen to get info from us, chatty, and that suited us well. He even told us about Yarsa Gumbo, which I learnt for the first time, can you imagine there is a parasite that grows in a living larva, kills it and that piece of larva and the parasite when matures sells for Rs. 10lakh a kg!! Yes, it does, and I did wiki about it reading and the fact is true. Infact a lot of people locally are engaged in searching for Yarsagumba as it is called on the tall peaks. According to Rajuji in a month many people who go camping and looking for Yarsagumba come back with atleast enough bounty to get them 1-2 lakhs. Apparently a lot of people are even chucking their jobs here and switching to this!

 

Those are the perks of living with locals, apart from the Yarsagumba there were so many tales that were recounted and shared with each other.

 

If you ever go to Munsiyari, ensure you stay in the Himalayan Ark Homestay’s which are run by local women under the guidance of Mallikaji. Its an absolute no brainer. Here are a couple of pics, unfortunately I don’t think I took one with the cottage and view together, yea we used to sit and talk that much and walk as much too! 🙂

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Thats the place where we had our breakfast every morning! With our junior’s favourite people in Munsiyari! 🙂

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The view from the homestay’s balcony

 

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During our stay in Munsiyari, Basanti Rawat was our host, ensuring everything was comfortable for us and cooking some delicious meals galore!

 

Junior falls in love too!!

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Remember exactly a year back, I had posted about the start of a new love affair. I had promised myself I will surely visit the place again, I did, this time with my son.

We were skeptical for a bit whether our son will like the place as much as we did, he suffers from the modern kid syndrome, plus he is hyper active so he is always like what next to do. Raju’s Guest house has a lot of activity to do if you choose to, but then on most of those activities your 10 year old will need some monitoring and plus no TV was a sort of a challenge we wondered how will the kid take.

To tell you the least, when we left Raju, the kid was quietly sitting in the back of the car. After a while I just turned back to see what was he upto, the kid was weeping, I stopped the car and I had to ask why!?

In the three days we spent there, the kid loved the place so much he was utmost sad to leave the place, he almost kept at crying for more than half an hour quietly weeping and remembering the place. The air of the place is such that we just can’t help but mingle with the other guests, he got extremely attached to two other guests in their 60’s who were staying there, we even took them with us for a trek which they gamely tried for a while then decided to sit and wait till we exhaust our lungs and come back, afternoons would be spent playing pick up sticks with uncle and aunty sipping on Rhododendron juice and evenings after dinner would be relished playing UNO with the lip smacking ‘Sevaiyaan’ cooked up by Raju’s wife.

Sometimes when all the adults had ate too much and wanted to sleep, the kid would happily spend his time plucking cherries or spotting a different bird or simply patting the four lovely dogs that Raju has! We were amazed that a kid that was petrified of dogs before this trip was all of a sudden hugging them! He would chase the cats, which were shy and kept distance. On on dinner occasion he infact didn’t sit with us for dinner and sat with his favourite Uncle & Aunty and actually gobbled up three roti’s!

Most of the time we had difficulty getting him to finish one and half. To say that he loved the place would be the understatement of the century. Like me when I returned back from Raju with a promise of surely returning again, this kid has probably made his own promise to himself!

I say, our family has all but fallen for this beautiful haven!! The hospitality of Raju Guest House is stuff of legends, I can never thank Karan and Varun enough for the wonderful job they do.