India is a veritable street circus of swerving cars and rickshaws; roaming monkeys, elephants, cattle, and more; belligerent beggars and touts hawking fare – a “ballet of chaos” as my beau took to describing it during our recent one-month stint there. For wide-eyed Westerners like us looking for a haven amidst the chaos, India delivers some wonderfully affordable homestay options that allow travelers to dip out of the mayhem, curtail the sterile hotel stay, and bunk down in area homes helmed by hospitable locals instead.
Reasonable rates get you more than just a bed, but a culturally immersive experience littered with local flavor, from personal anecdotes illustrating the lives of locals to savory home-cooked meals. These three family-owned and -operated Indian homestays come thoroughly vetted and highly recommended, with families who opened up not just their homes, but their hearts; we came as guests and left as friends.
The Destination: Mythical Varanasi is anchored on the ghat-lined Ganges, a sacred site revered by Indians as a center for spiritual salvation, and seeped in age-old traditions. Expect open-air cremation rituals, ceremonial bathing, and evening aarti ceremonies, which are best observed via a sunrise or sunset boat ride.
The Digs: The Aashray opened two years ago in a quiet residential enclave away from the harrying hubbub of the city center, yet just a 10-minute rickshaw ride to the main ghats. Two clean, modern, and tastefully decorated rooms come outfitted with tea/coffeemakers, en-suite bathrooms, and complimentary Wi-Fi; book the ground-floor “Heritage” unit for atmospheric antique furnishings. Memorable, generously portioned vegetarian Indian dishes were amongst the best we sampled in India.
The Hosts: The Kapurs were left with room to spare when their three kids grew up and flew the coop, and have rebirthed their home into a homestay setup that has proved an enjoyable pet project for them. Kamal, a lifelong Varanasi resident, is eager to share insight into Indian history and local culture, while his wife, Manju, adds further warmth to the household with her maternal doting and culinary wizardry.
The Cost: Priced on the high side for Indian homestays, from $63/night, the high-end Aashray delivers a corresponding level of luxury. Room rates include daily breakfast, Wi-Fi access, and purified drinking water; lunch and dinner, sightseeing tours, and other services are available at an additional cost.
The Destination: Agra’s Taj Mahal requires little introduction, commanding top billing on any Indian tourist circuit. The iconic 17th-century mausoleum – a king’s tribute to his beloved queen – doesn’t disappoint, delivering white-marbled symmetry and intricate design on a grand scale. Also worthwhile is the 16th-century red-sandstone Agra Fort, one of the finest Mughal forts in the country.
The Digs: Tucked away in an upscale residential neighborhood, the N. Home Stay opened last summer within a 15-minute walk of the Taj Mahal. The multistory home is equipped with six basic, yet clean and spacious, rooms offering reliable hot water and AC – our unit also came with a seating area and private balcony with a swing-chair.
The Hosts: Shiron Haider is thorough, responsive, and knowledgeable about Agra sightseeing and helped us make seamless and reasonably priced travel arrangements, while affable mum Naghma Haider doles out breakfast and motherly compliments to feed bellies and egos alike.
The Cost: Rates of $29/night include Wi-Fi and breakfast; transfers, sightseeing, meals, and more can be easily arranged at competitive rates.
The Destination: On the Rajasthani circuit, Jodhpur’s old city center – with its massive fort looming above – is marked by a maze of medieval lanes and busy bazaars, all drenched in a light blue tint that earned its moniker the “Blue City.”
The Digs: Nine vividly colored and well-decorated rooms (some with balcony access) recalling traditional Rajasthani decor with modern touches (like TV and AC), speak more to a trendy boutique hotel than private homestay. The roof terrace offers a menu of reasonably priced meals and beverages, and touts stunning views of the fort and blue-hued city.
The Hosts: Run by a practicing Jain family who are aptly named the Jains, a stay with this clan offers a glimpse into India’s cultural and religious diversity (we were invited to celebrate their traditional Jain puja ceremony during our stay, which coincided with the country’s Diwali festival). Busy mom Nisha is the clear captain of the ship running all of the front-end operations, while dad Vinod works behind-the-scenes on administrative efforts; their two adolescent kids (son Mrinal and daughter Mitali) proved polite and bright.
The Cost: Rates run from $11 to $29/night including Wi-Fi and pick-up from the train and bus stations. Sightseeing tours, ground transfers, evening folk music entertainment, and more can also be arranged.
Incurable travel addict, longtime travel scribe, and mindful money-saver Elissa Richard is currently indulging her insatiable wanderlust on an epic 14-month journey around the globe – intent on making it every step of the way without busting her modest budget. Follow her along the way as she reports back with budget-savvy travel tips from the mountains of Transylvania to the wilds of Tasmania, and from the little-trodden temples of Burma to the bustling bars and clubs of Buenos Aires. A vagabond in search of value, just for ShermansTravel!