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I had spent the day walking and cycling around the dusty roads and lush green rice paddies of Barauli village with Jeevan Kumari, my hostess from the Barauli Community Homestay. Her English was excellent, even though she had grown up in the small town, and I enjoyed chatting and getting to know her throughout the day.
In the evening, it was time for my cooking class. Tara, another woman from the village, ushered me into her mud-floored kitchen. I was invited to sit on the floor. Several other women followed us in, but not to help prepare the food — just to watch me “perform.” Apparently, the sight of a foreigner attempting to cook Nepali food in a traditional kitchen can easily turn comical.
The first step was to cut the potatoes, onions and carrots using a curved knife held securely in place by my foot while I crouched on the floor. Two little black goats scampered in and out. Tara grabbed one of them by the back of its neck and shoved it beneath an upturned basket. The goat shivered a few times in the basket, then went still.
Cooking in a local kitchen, sharing food with a family, laughing across language barriers, seeing the inside of a traditional home, visiting a village school, painting henna designs on hands, learning to drape a sari — these are seemingly simple activities, but they can be the highlight of a trip to Nepal. Unfortunately, travelers who only stay in hotels and take the typical package tours often don’t know how to participate in these more intimate experiences.
Clients who want a human connection and who are interested in getting to know the local people and learning about the Nepali way of life will enjoy a couple of days at one or more of Nepal’s Community Homestay properties. What’s more, a stay at one or more of the homestays can easily be slotted into longer tours or personalized itineraries around Nepal.
Community Homestay accommodations — while very different from those found in a hotel — are cozy and clean, as the operators of the homestays are trained in catering to tourists’ needs and must meet stringent criteria in terms of facilities and cleanliness. The lodging and experiences available in each homestay is different and wonderfully idiosyncratic, as these are the homes of real people.
An initiative of Kathmandu, Nepal-based tour company Royal Mountain Travel, the project began in Panauti, a historic town about 25 miles outside of Kathmandu that is full of ancient temples and luminous farmland. After the success of the homestays in this town, others have been initiated at locations around Nepal. From Bardia in the west and historic Patan in the Kathmandu Valley to the tea-covered hills of Ilam in the east (and many places in between), homestays are located near points of interest for travelers, but are not touristy in the sense of being overdeveloped or overcrowded.
One aim of Community Homestay is to empower local women with their own sources of income, education and training. In a country where women are often dependent on their husbands, the effects of the project have been profound for many female hosts.
Gangaa Sainju of Panauti Community Homestay commented that “because of the Community Homestay project, I am able to send my children to a better school.”
The homestays also can affect the women’s sense of well-being.
“Before, I was shy in nature, but after getting involved in the homestay, I can now talk with anyone without hesitation,” said Laxmi Bastola of the Nagarkot Community Homestay. “I enjoy chatting with guests and getting to know about their culture and their lifestyles.”
Additionally, a proportion of profits are put back into homestays’ local communities, such as to sponsor children’s education or build community centers. So, the homestay project facilitates development and empowerment on many levels.
Community Homestay Locations:- Barauli (Chitwan National Park)- Bardia - Nagarkot- Nuwakot- Palpa/Tansen- Panauti- Patan (Kathmandu)- Patlekhet- Rasuwa- Sauraha (Tharu Community Homestay, Chitwan)
WHEN TO GO
The best and most popular times to visit Nepal are spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November), as the weather is generally clear and warm with little to no rain. While winters (December to February) can be cold, the weather is usually very clear at this time of year, with no rain, excellent mountain views in many places and fewer tourists.
Kathmandu is home to the only international airport in Nepal, so most travelers transit through the capital. The homestays are located throughout the country. CommunityHomestay.com/Royal Mountain Travel can arrange transfers to the homestays, which are mostly located in rural areas, or offer advice on how to reach them by private taxi or public transportation.