Anyone whos been following our travels knows that we believe there’s no better way to explore a place than staying in someone’s home. In 2016 we published a list of our favourite homestays in India. This year we’ve added five more.
Jambughoda Palace, Jambughoda, Gujarat
Named after the jamun trees that are abundant in the region, the 200-year-old Jambughoda Palace is marketed as a home for nature lovers, which it truly is. There are plenty of green spaces spread over 100 acres – farms in which to walk around, trees to climb and the nearby Jambughoda forest to visit. We’ve been there twice and had a wonderful time with the family, which is warm and unpretentious. The head of the family and maharana of the former princely state, Vikram Sinhji, is happy to chat with guests about the Raj and stories about his illustrious ancestors, who came to Gujarat from Madhya Pradesh 600 years ago, settled in Jambughoda and built a small, prosperous state.
The food, we were told, has been influenced over the years by the cuisine of the local Rathwa tribe and that of Madhya Pradesh. The vegetables and meat dishes are spicy and, in taste, quite unlike the Gujarati flavours with which we are familiar. The estate is almost self-sufficient as vegetables are grown in the two-acre organic garden. During our walk around the farm we spotted cauliflowers as large as adult human heads, juicy tomatoes, cabbage, fresh spinach, corn and lemons along with and mangoes, of which they grow a dozen varieties.
The main palace houses the family. The rest of the estate, including the royal kitchen, stables and staff quarters, has been converted into 19 guest suites and rooms. All the rooms, the doors to which are emblazoned with the Jambughoda crest, have antique furniture and modern amenities. The place is perfect for a couple of days during which you can also visit Champaner, the UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s a half-hour drive away.
Getting there Jambughoda Palace is located 70kms from Baroda. The homestay can book a taxi to pick you up from the airport or train station for Rs2,000.
One night’s stay From Rs 2,500 onwards for a double room, meals are charged for separately. Visit jambughoda.com.
Tip Don’t forget to pre-order the special vegetarian or non-vegetarian Durbari Thali (Rs2,000), which comprises 23 dishes served on a silver thal.
Friends of Orchha Homestay, Orchha, Madhya Pradesh
A couple kilometres outside magical Orchha, with its many spires, towers and domes, is the little village of Ganj. Here, local NGO Friends of Orchha works with the villagers in the areas of skill building and sanitation, and helps them supplement their income by renting out a room in their homes. We stayed in one such home, in a large spacious room built especially for guests, with comfortable beds and colourful curtains.
The family was as curious about us as we were about them, and we spent time learning about the history of the region and the difficult lives of the traditionally backward society. The residents of the village are largely engaged in agriculture. As a lower caste tribe, they face a fair amount of discrimination and the NGO is working with the wider community to change mind-sets. Though they are now used to travellers, they are still surprised that people from outside their community will eat with them in their homes. Friends of Orchha welcomes volunteers and those who want to help out in the village, either by teaching in the school or educating the villagers about sanitation, which is one of the main programmes of the NGO. They offer discounts for long-term stays.
The main house where the family lives is built in a style similar to the rest of the homes in the village, with a large, open inner courtyard surrounded by rooms. The guest room is typically a separate structure in the outer courtyard, which the family has built themselves with help from the NGO. Guests take their meals in the inner courtyard with the family in the evenings. The food is modest but tasty. A meal usually includes a dal, a local vegetable like yam, potato or cauliflower, and chicken made the Bundelkhandi way, with a thin, spicy gravy. The stunning historic town of Orchha, with its sixteenth-century palaces, fort and cenotaphs, is a couple of kilometres away (all downhill and easily walkable) and on the other side of Ganj is the Betwa river, which is perfect to cool off in with a swim during the day time. The NGO can even organise a riverside picnic.
Getting there Ganj is located a couple of kilometres outside Orchha, which is about 18kms from Jhansi, the nearest major railway station.
One night’s stay Rs1,200 for two, meals are charged for separately. Visit Orchha.org.
Tip Hire a bicycle from the NGO to explore Orchha and the Orchha Sanctuary across the Betwa river.
Salban is a great alternative to the growing trend of overpriced luxury safari holidays that are dominating the jungle tourism scene, and the Mookerjees are happy to take you on walks in the surrounding areas if a safari is not on your agenda. Their homestay is also ideal for when you want to stay in and curl up with a book from the couple’s extensive collection or lie in the veranda gazing at the mahua trees and blue skies with their friendly dog for company. During the winter months, the evenings are spent around a bonfire, and you’re welcome to carry along your favourite brew.
Getting there Salban Homestay is located close to Kanha’s Mukki gate and is an approximately four-hour drive from Raipur or Jabalpur airport.
One night’s stay Rs,7000 for two, with all meals. Email email@example.com or contact them via the Facebook page.
Tip Book a safari through the homestay and have the extremely knowledgeable Jhampan accompany you as your guide. The safari is priced at Rs5,000 per jeep, which includes the cost of transport, guide services, entrance fee and a packed snack.
The Konyak Tea Retreat is a great spot to catch stunning sunsets and indulge in some amazing homemade Naga delicacies, including Naga pork curry with bamboo shoot; boiled squash; roasted fish; and a beef chutney that is common to the Konyak tribe. You can also visit other Konyak villages in the region and meet the last generation of tattooed head hunters, many of whom are over 90. Lungwa village, a couple of hours from the retreat, is right at the Indo-Myanmar border and an interesting place where you can learn about the lives of the tribal population. They’re largely unencumbered by the border. The chief’s house straddles the border and a popular rumour is that he eats in India and sleeps in Myanmar.
Getting there The Konyak Tea Retreat is located in Mon district in north Nagaland and is a five to six-hour drive from Dibrugarh airport in Assam.
One night’s stay Rs. 5,000 for two per night, with all meals. Visit konyaktearetreat.com.
Tip Phejin has spent the last few years documenting the history of her tribe and their unique tattoo art. Ask her for a sneak peek of her coffee table book, which is scheduled to be out in August 2017, to see some stunning photos of Konyak headhunters taken on her backpacking journeys around the region.
Mrs. Bhandari’s Guesthouse, Amritsar, Punjab
Thanks to such tourist attractions as the Golden Temple, the border ceremony at Wagah and of course authentic Punjabi food, Amritsar has no dearth of hotels and guest houses. There are reasonably priced ones around the old city and the fancier, unimaginative hotels in the newer parts. We strongly recommend heading to the tree-lined cantonment area to stay at Mrs. Bhandari’s guest house, a colonial-style bungalow with creepers growing on the stone walls, which are surrounded by clipped green lawns that will remind you of Enid Blyton novels.
Though the décor and furniture in the 12-room bungalow probably haven’t been changed in a few decades and there’s no television, the ambience is warm and friendly and the food is a great alternative to the heavy Punjabi fare in the city. While there is some Indian fare on offer, the cuisine is largely Continental. Here you can eat delicious baked fish and creamed spinach or sample their homemade soups in the covered dining area near the gardens. In winter, meals are served in the dining room inside the house. Ask for a tour of the house to see the antique wooden furniture, the family crockery that hangs in the sun-dappled breakfast room, and our personal favourite, the old-fashioned iron oven.
Getting there The guesthouse is located in Amritsar Cantonment, which is about 2.5kms from Amritsar railway station and 4kms from the Golden Temple.
One night’s stay Rs3,000 per night for an air-conditioned double room, meals are charged for separately. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tip You can camp with your own tent on the lovely lawns for only Rs250 per day.
A version of this story first appeared in The Daily Pao