The Macmillan Dictionary describes homestay as a visit in which you pay to stay in someone’s house rather than in a hotel, hence however and whatever we want to elaborate, the meaning is sharing the house with the host. We must also understand that the kitchen under such circumstances is common and the same food is usually being cooked for the host family is shared. In the past, visitors considered this where there were no hotels or lodges in remote areas or in cities where hotels were packed and there used to be a high demand for accommodation.
The Homestay concept has undergone a great change. Today visitors seeking for Homestay bookings look forward to authentic local experiences. Forest dwellers living in the small hamlets within reserve forest areas in Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling districts have joined hands to initiate community based tourism to improve their socio-economic conditions. Hence, the qualities of homestays are also diverse infrastructure wise, but all of them confirm strong local experience. Even where there are hotels, resorts and lodges, a homestay with 01 or 02 rooms are always in demand for a particular category of tourists who look forward to the feel of the place and the people.
‘Homestay Lodge’ is a little beyond the Homestays, where the host due to continuous pressure of tourists, looks forward to the privacy for the family and hence because of need creates an infrastructure adjoining to the residence, managed and run by the family from home. The kitchen and dining here is dedicated for the visitors only but joined by the host. The number of rooms are usually between 03 to 06, but sometimes extends to 08. Though the size is that of a lodge, but being run by the adjoining home, the authentic local encounters are still retained.
The Homestays are easy to maintain, uses mostly local resources and are not affected to a big extend for bad seasons as the overheads are extremely low. This is also a pride for the host, as he can host his own family guests with a good standard. The Homestay also helps to upgrade the hygiene and living standard of the host family, giving better opportunities to the younger generation towards global exposure. The appreciation of the visitors for the local natural and cultural phenomenon gives a sense of pride to the host community.
What Homestays Offer
There are 220 forest villages in north Bengal, out of which 20 villages have been identified, considering idyllic locations, where tourists can start visiting.
Around six lakh people reside in these villages. Tourists can stay in the guest houses of the forest villagers and enjoy the local cuisine and culture at close quarters. The beauty of this is that a tourist during his stay in a place among the local communities becomes a part of their lives. He can immerse himself in day to day lives of the local and indigenous people while helping them to preserve their environment and cultural heritage and thus get to know the locals at grass root level. Added to this, excursions to the forest, mountain and historical ruins can be arranged for them.
In the hills the selected hamlets include Mungpoo made famous by Tagore who visited the place for four consecutive times. There is an abundance of orange and cincona plantations. Located very close to it is Sitong, another hamlet famous for orange orchards.
In the Dooars, selected local villages like Buxa Sardar, Lepchakha, Lataguri and Kodalbasti have started their community based tourism. People can say in the local homes while enjoying wildlife nature at Gorumara National Park, and other Sanctuaries. Buxa has attractions like Tiger Reseve, Buxa Fort, Rupam Vally, Lepchakha, Drukpa village where tourist enjoy traditional sports like archery.
Here is what visitors have to say:
"I am sure one once had enjoyed the hospitality there, would prefer the place over a five star hotel." - Subhendu Roy