Why a homestay might be a better way to discover the North East
By Shweta Vepa Vyas
The charms of the North East—with its rugged landscapes, meandering rivers and raw wilderness—are hard to resist. Steeped in natural beauty and vibrant cultural traditions, this mystical land, nestled in the lap of the Himalayas, is a hidden gem. A visit will certainly quench your thirst for adventure—and if you are planning a trip anytime soon, here’s why a homestay is an apt choice.
A personal encounter
A place is only as good as its people. The north eastern region, spanning 8 states is home to a population with a rich cultural diversity. Imagine, spending a couple of days with the Apatani tribe, indigenous to the Ziro region in Arunachal Pradesh; or parking yourself at a cosy traditional bamboo cottage at any of the homestays in the Majuli region, located along the mighty Brahmaputra in Assam. By opting for a homestay, you can partake in the local way of life and also enjoy a highly personalised experience—something that even the most luxurious hotel cannot offer.
Get a taste of the land by immersing yourself in local foods and flavours. The little known delicacies of this vast reason are bound to take your taste buds by surprise. By staying with a local, you can sample some authentic dishes—and no, we don’t only mean momos and noodles. For instance, traditional Assamese cuisine is dominated by rice and meat (predominantly duck meat and fish). One of the popular dishes to try here is Khar, a preparation made with raw papaya, pulses and meat or fish and deliciously tempered with local spices. Manipur is also a fish lover’s paradise and while here, you can try a variety of fish curries, dry fish and also fermented fish. In Tripura, you can feast on the king of fish—Hilsa, which is traditionally prepared with a thick mustard curry. The cuisines of Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim feature a lot of influences from the border areas, so here is where you can satiate your cravings for momos and noodles! On offer are also dishes like laksa curry, and stir fried meats and vegetables. Contrary to popular perception, North Eastern cuisine isn’t limited to non vegetarian fare—owing to the fertile soil and climate, you can enjoy fresh produce like jackfruit, tomatoes, broccoli, beetroot and a variety of fresh, leafy greens. The region is also home to flavourful herbs and spices including the highly potent bhut jolokia or ghost pepper—notoriously known as the spiciest chilli on the planet!
A culture trail
Staying with the locals will give you a deep insight into the culture and the people’s daily way of life. You can learn the language and further hone your skills by conversing with the locals. The region is home to more than 200 tribes and each has its own culture, food, arts and crafts. Festivals are inherent to their way of life and some of the major festivals you can plan your trip around are the Bihu festival in Assam, the Hornbill festival in Nagaland or the Dree festival in Arunachal Pradesh. Characterised by folk dance and music, these celebrations are your window into the cultural landscape of the region. Another valuable aspect of a homestay is that your hosts can act as the best guides and suggest ‘non-touristy’ places and things to do, so that you can plan your days, off the beaten path.
A greener way to travel
By opting for a home stay over other options, you’re also doing your bit to help the community. Many of the home stays in the region are independent set ups by families and communities and tourism helps boost the economic development. In many of the areas, large numbers of the population depend solely on tourism for sustenance. You’re also likely to purchase local handicrafts—essential for their preservation as well as for the livelihood of the native artisans making them.
A budget-friendly option
A homestay is definitely more bang for your buck—that’s not to say it’s at the cost of amenities; many of them are even equipped with wifi! So, swap the air conditioner for the crisp mountain air—it’ll prevent you from burning a hole in your pocket, but more importantly, you’ll come back richer in travel tales and experiences!
A home stay will serve you well—whether you're a foodie who loves sampling local flavours and delicacies or you love to explore offbeat places or you simply want to enjoy some quiet contemplation away from the humdrum of the so-called ‘tourist’ areas. Highly personalised and authentic, it is indeed your ticket to an unadulterated experience of North East India.
Picture Credits: Booking.com