It is another thing to have a fanciful stay at a five star hotel with international standards, and yet another to touch base with the ‘exotic and real’ by staying in a homestay. One offers you ‘standardized’ services with people smiling at you all the time – being a ‘standard’, however the other guarantees you real human reactions, so you have to follow some rules – the same as of living in a family, but the kind of love you discover in the end is beyond any service.
Now, this is not to say that staying in a five star hotel is a bad thing, but let’s face it – ‘pretence’ can be a big part of any five star experience anywhere in the world – exceptions are there. However, as far as homestays go, if you are out there for travel and not for tourism, ‘pretence’ is not something you want to waste your time upon – you want the real deal! There is so much of insider information that a homestay owner can share with you that no hotel will ever tell you, or for that matter even know it in the first place.
Talking of real deals, I want to talk about my recent stay at Costa Malabari, a homestay on the coast of Malabar in Kannur this New Year. The house was a traditional Malabar residence on a cliff and a nearly private beach waited for us down a small flight of stairs – a location nothing short of a beachfront five star hotel. When we arrived, our host Mr. Kurien, came to greet us on his moped, opened the house for us and introduced us to ‘Hari’ who would be with us in the house and take care of everything during our entire stay. Hari was a hotel management graduate and was putting in to practice his training, before he decided what to do with his hotel management degree.
Right from our first meal at Costa Malabari to our last, it was a riot of local flavors served fresh – home-cooked with great attention and care under Mr. Kurien’s or her longest in service house-maid’s supervision. The night we reached, we were told there is going to be a Theyyam the next morning. I was especially excited to hear it because Theyyam is an extra special cult possession ceremony that can only be witnessed in few villages around this part of Kerala – only during the months of December through February on selected dates; and there was one the next morning!! What else could one ask for!!
What we saw the next morning while it was still dark, in the courtyard of one of the village families is beyond words – no amount of words are enough for the beauty, divinity, authenticity and reality we saw and experienced that morning. The ceremony goes on through the day and we were there to soak it all in!! Now, a whole book can be written on Theyyam itself, but let’s leave that for people like Mr. Kurien who for instance, have dedicated their lives in researching all the temple dances of North Kerala and make them into a book “Festivals of Kerala”, that is displayed at Public Library in London as one of the greatest works in the service of preserving living heritage.
Few mornings, Mr. Kurien would himself make fresh juices for us – and while we were having breakfast, serve them as a sweet surprise like the father of the house. More often than not, at such moments, all of us at the house wanted him to sit and chat with us, because he had the most interesting stories to tell – right from the funny tales of local and tourist encounters that happened ever since he started running this homestay to the most legendary incidents that took place in this remote corner of Kerala, that shaped up Kerala and India Tourism.
In-spite of a myriad things we had planned for that one could see or do there and in the surrounding areas, we decided mostly to sit around, swim in the ocean and make friends while being at Costa Malabari, because the aura was such, that you couldn’t help but sit back and relax!
Point is, these are the kind of unexpected treasures that unfold themselves in front of your eyes and soul when you decide to stay in a homestay and leave the conventional ideas of comfort behind while on a holiday – that is when you understand the meaning of serendipity.
Note: Because they don’t offer you any less of an experience than a five star hotel, do not expect homestays to be the cheaper stay alternates. These are places born out of love and passion for the place and love welcoming people to it, hence are not just about money.
Unhotel Guest Blogger Roli Jain is a traveler at heart. She loves experiencing everything local wherever she goes.