What do you look for when you are traveling in a new country? New cuisine, outdoor adventures, or new landscapes? Among all the good aspects of traveling, the local connection is something special and hard to achieve sometimes. It can be difficult to really get to know the culture as a foreigner. We need a catalyst that can connect us with the local customs. Now, more than ever, it’s becoming one of the most popular aspects of travel, all around the world.
That’s where Community Homestay in Nepal comes in. As they say, there is no better way to understand a place except by living like one of them. In a country like Nepal, where there’s a lot of religious and cultural subtlety, it’s not easy to just jump right into local people’s life. But with an open invitation from the communities in Nepal, we can be like them, even just for a day or two, and truly understand what Nepal is really like.
Initiated by Royal Mountain Travel in Nepal, CommunityHomestay.com is a community-based homestay network that connects travelers with the real faces of Nepal for a genuine local experience. It is a catalyst to explore the rich diversity of Nepalese communities for visitors. The homestay with a family gives everyone a chance to explore the community like one of them, learn native skills, and see their perspective on life. No need to go for a cooking class when you can learn how to cook from your host family!
The opportunity to experience the homestay came as a surprise. During our day trip around Panauti, our guide Ashok mentioned that we will have lunch with local families in the village. Our group divided into groups of two and went to different family houses. They welcomed us with flower necklace and Tilaka. We learned that applying Tilaka on the forehead is a cultural tradition of India and Nepal to welcome and honor guests. Norbert and I went with Biju and her two daughters, Nirusha and Aayusha. We were actually acquainted when I was searching for a toilet when we arrived Panauti in the morning. Finding toilet is always a part of the adventure in Nepal!
Biju’s house was in a side street of Panauti. We went through a small door and were led upstairs. There was a cozy bedroom for guests, simple and clean beds in a family home. I could see myself being part of the family in this bedroom. I already have a face like a Newari woman anyway! Ashok explained that the community put a lot of effort into the homestay project, learning more about tourism and a good standard of service. Each house is prepared with western style toilet, bottled water, and clean bedding, which can be challenging to find in cheap hostels in Nepal.
We went up three flights of stairs to the kitchen. Why on the top floor? A good question. In Nepal, the kitchen is located on the top floor to minimize the dust from the street. Also, it’s a custom to drink a water from your hand when entering a kitchen, to show that your hand is clean enough to cook and eat.
For lunch, our host mom Biju brought a plate of homemade dal bhat, a common food in Nepal, India, and Bangladesh made up with a selection of various dishes and dal soup. I had many dal bhat and thali while I was traveling around India for two months, but never in a private home. As you could easily guess, it was the most delicious one. Her fresh vegetable mix salad was nothing like dal bhat I had before! Typically Nepalese people eat with their hands. I had a bit of practice when I spent a lot of time in Malaysia, but I’m usually too lazy to use my hands. But this day, I enjoyed this delicious homemade dal bhat with my hands! The food here is meant to be eaten by hands.
After the delicious meal and a bit of homemade rice wine raksi (shhh…), we flipped through their thick guest book. Biju’s family has already received guests from all over the world, from Italy to Holland, Malaysia to Germany, but we were the first ones from Korea and Puerto Rico. Yay for us for being the first! We left a little note, promising to come back for an overnight on our next trip.
It was time for us to go, and Biju brought us parting gifts. Dhaka topi for Norbert and a small coin pouch for me. We each also received a banana, that symbolizes a journey home. We were really touched. From this short lunch session, we felt the strongest connection with this community and Nepal. Although short, I couldn’t have wished a better cultural immersion than this. Biju called Norbert as her Nepali babu (boy, son) and I was her Nepali chhori (daughter). We now have a Nepali host mom and two sisters. We hugged, said goodbyes, and promised to come back for more experiences. I wish to learn how to make dal bhat like her, participate in their daily routines, and hear more stories of their life stories. Next time.
Ashok said, the community here receives us as a guest but treats us like family. I can’t think of a better way to experience authentic Nepal. There will be many opportunities for travelers to get involved in local festivals, celebrations, and daily work through this program as we saw from Biju’s guest book. It’s an opportunity to enjoy a different way of life, far from the hectic city life that we are part of every day. Above all, I became a big supporter of the Community Homestay in Nepal was because of the aspect of women empowerment. Many hosts are women and housewives. One of the fundamental objectives of the homestay program is to inspire local and indigenous communities to interact with the rest of the world through the medium of tourism. It’s a platform for the local women of Nepal to generate sustainable economic opportunities as a part of responsible tourism.
Ashok’s house was the first house to start the homestay. Now his wife is the president of the whole program and 10 communities in Nepal are receiving guests and the number keeps growing. I’m proud of being part of their stories to bring more visitors to be babu and chhori of Nepali families. Be the part of the community at CommunityHomestay.com. It will be the best thing you can do in Nepal.