Want to peep into rustic life, tribal culture, ethnic homes or taste Pahari cuisine? Or want to climb a hill, take a flock of sheep and goats for grazing or dig up potatoes?
Come to the mountain state of Himachal Pradesh, where luxury holidays are a passé now with folks opening doors of their tradition to the world.
All thanks to the tourism department that launched the ‘Home Stay’ scheme in 2008 to push the rural economy by taking tourism to the doorstep of villagers.
The scheme offered the locals in HP to update facilities in their houses and get registered with the government for ‘Home Stay’ tourism with certain norms to follow.
This followed regular trainings of folks to handle hospitality, including measures on safety. Himachal Pradesh annually receives more tourists than its population, including foreigners.
“The concept has worked out well. While hill folks have shown interest in updating skills in tourism, the tourists are happily availing it,” Joint Director, Tourism, Manoj Sharma toldThe Statesman.
In nine years, the state saw over 850 'Home Stays' coming up across the state, with most of them doing quite well, especially in places like Kullu valley, Dharamshala, tribal Kinnaur and Shimla district.
The home stays in serene climes of Naggar (near Manali) on the left bank of river Beas and those in the Tirthan valley in Kullu, some of which are done up in cottage farms, have outdone the luxurious hotels as they attract bookings in off season as well.
The 'Home Stays' are a hit in the picturesque Sangla valley of Kinnaur as well, where the tribals picked up the new idea for promotion through a local Sustainable Development Society initially.
Led by a former mountaineering instructor, Vidya Karan Negi, the Society involved the local community and got around 65 'Home Stays' registered in Sangla and surrounding villages. “We helped tribals build capacity to receive tourists with warmth and make their stay unforgettable by offering them a complete feel of their tradition and food at reasonable rates,” Negi said.
The society was backed by Himalayan Research Group (HRG) in the effort to showcase traditional food and culture for promotion of tribal household tourism through festivals.
Both domestic and foreign tourists avail the Home Stays as tribals innovatively link and package their stay with farm visits, cooking in fields or facilitate them move with shepherds or take cattle for grazing, as per willingness.
A tourist from Madhya Pradesh, Tarun Srivastava shared the feeling, “My stay at a home at Chitkul ahead of Sangla is unforgettable. The tribal hosts welcomed me and my wife with garlands of chilgoza and Apricot kernels like personal guests. We mingled with them, tasted traditional millets Ogla and Phaphra and went out for trekking with them.
Tourism is the mainstay of HP economy as the state receives more tourists than its population every year, including good number of foreigners.