For homestays like Thanedhar that are selling a curated experience to you, the villa comes at a price of Rs 16,000 plus taxes for one night.
In recent years, listing places like Airbnb have been offering villas and bungalows for homestays to their customers who prefer their travel to be a curated experience. Like Airbnb, OYO rooms, Saffron Stays, Vistas and Taj Hotel’s Ama Stays and even MakeMy Trip are offering homestays to people who prefer non-hotel accommodation and desire a space to themselves without being at the mercy of a hotel or its policies. A hotel room, any day, will be more luxurious with top-notch services. But, if you desire to spend quality time with friends and family, enjoy home-made nutritious food, cook together, sit by the fireplace or library and catch up on each other’s lives, homestays might be the right choice for you.
The rising popularity of homestays in India is because development and profitability of traditional hotels chains are marred by high real estate and financial costs. Homestays, on the other hand, are rooms that are either already in existence or are an addition to an existing property, which means the costs are minimal. Also, since most of these places have been built by the owners for their own use or have been inherited by owners who don’t live there any more, maintenance, and not revenue, is usually the objective behind turning them into homestays.
Most homestay seekers are from metropolitan cities, bogged down by stress and looking for an escape. And, homestays are anything but mechanical. Unlike hotels, you are not stuck within four walls with your mobile and TV. Also, homestays are ideal for people with specific dietary requirements and those who seek a personal touch to their outing.
Identifying this demand, players like indianhomestay.org , Saffronstays.com, MyIndianStay.com, Airbnb and OYO are using villas, bungalows, and other kinds of houses as homestays. In exotic places like Coorg, the economics lean towards homestays and that’s why players like SaffronStays have listed properties there. Some owners who have listed themselves with online players, like Airbnb and OYO, want to maximise their revenues and so they have no qualms about giving their houses to these companies. But then, there are some whom you have to chase for a long time because either they are too attached to their home or they don’t want strangers to come in and ruin the place.
Take, for example, Himachal Pradesh’s Thanedhar estate. It took SaffronStays three years to convince its owner, Damini Sinha, to allow homestays at the beautiful estate located near Narkanda, about 60 km from Shimla. The villa is located in the middle of an apple orchard with 1,500 trees, and offers travellers a unique and curated experience of plucking an apple from an orchard and eating it.
The prices for homestays keep on varying and rise as peak season approaches. For homestays like Thanedhar that are selling a curated experience to you, the villa comes at a price of Rs 16,000 plus taxes for one night. Meals are charged extra and services like laundry are outsourced.
It took some convincing for Sinha, (who is an orchadist and comes to Thanedhar every year during the apple harvesting season), to share her house with strangers and give them the experience of not only living in a home filled with rich history and character, but also let them unlearn their urban lives for a while.
“Since it is a 100-year-old family home, I was initially reluctant to let strangers come in. I couldn’t let yuppies come here as they may misuse the environment and property,” says Sinha, who later changed her mind.
Sinha’s fears are shared by SaffronStays as well and that’s why they decided to filter out people, with their pricing. And then there is the vetting that involves questions about a traveller’s origin and profession. Sinha said she was assured that the property would not be abused or harmed and this changed her mind. “I thought why be selfish and not share this experience with other people who can appreciate it and that’s why I threw open my home,” she says. Before confusion prevails, know that SaffronStays is not a listing platform and the start-up selects homes that they want on their network — homes which have history and character. In the past four or five months, SaffronStays has linked up 135 homes in various parts of India, but has rejected proposals from owners of 50 homes. Potential property owners often contact the company to indicate interest in listing with them, following which SaffronStays sends people to check out their homes. If they find that the property is not up to the standards set by Saffron Stays, it is rejected.
“We don’t want to cater to ordinary homes. We have 135 homes around India and each one of them has some uniqueness and character to it, “ says Mishal Shah, north India business head, SaffronStays.
Homestays are all about customised experiences for choicest memories. My most memorable experience in the homestay in Thanedhar was plucking apples and eating them, and meeting Sinha’s cousin — the granddaughter of Samuel Evans Stokes aka Satyananda Stokes. I learnt about how he made his journey to India and introduced apple cultivation to Himachal Pradesh, and furthermore ensured that the coming generations of farmers get a livelihood.
At Thanedhar, apart from the apple plucking, I also enjoyed soaking in the breathtaking views from the porch, learning about the history of the place through Sinha and her manager, and going trekking.