Welcome to India, where according to the Hindu-Buddhist philosophy of atithi devo bhava, guests are regarded as gods. Experience this proud hospitality tradition first-hand at a family homestay, where you’ll get a taste of authentic Indian life. Enjoy home-cooked meals with your hosts and unique activities, be it temple visits, tea plantation tours or cooking classes. Here are some of the best homestays in India, from restored farmhouses in the Udaipur hills to Jaipur heritage havelis and a farm in the Keralan backwaters.
Dera Mandawa, Jaipur
Step through an archway just 500 yards from Jaipur’s old gate to enter Dera Mandawa, a traditional haveli with nine guest suites. The property has been in Thakur Durga Singh’s family for five generations and comes complete with tranquil courtyards, gardens and even cows. Aside from the Rajasthani architecture and peaceful ambiance, the highlight at Dera Mandawa is meeting Thakur, a colourful character known for his sense of humour.
Don’t miss the cooking class, where you’ll get to visit the local vegetable and spice market to shop for ingredients. Thakur and his wife Usha will teach you how to make Rajasthani meals in their courtyard kitchen and you’ll spend the evening chatting and feasting with family. Thakur will show-off his solar cooker and biogas plant that runs on cow patties; you’ll also be invited to kite flying sessions and temple ceremonies.
Ranjit Svaasa, Amritsar
Ranjit Svaasa has stood in the heart of Amritsar for over 250 years. It’s the family home of Abhimanyu Mehra, whose great grandfather built the lavish haveli, designed with soaring arches, Art Deco flooring and a rooftop garden. In typical haveli style, rooms look out over an internal courtyard and have been refurbished by Abhimanyu’s mother with clawfoot tubs and private terraces. You’ll even find a spa in the converted horse stables.
The family are happy to talk about their legacy in Amritsar and will show you a time corridor of photos that traces the history of the property and its renovation. The real beauty of Ranjit Svaasa is that although you’re in the centre of Amritsar, you’d never know it – the gated property is filled with vegetable gardens, mango and mulberry trees that attract birds and butterflies. It’s the perfect setting to dine on Punjabi dishes and meet family friends, like a Sikh energy healer.
Colonel’s Retreat, Delhi
When passing through Delhi on a Golden Triangle itinerary, there’s no better home-from-home than the Colonel’s Retreat. This four-storey townhouse lies in a leafy part of the city, home to Arun and Suman Khanna. Arun’s father is the colonel, a 97-year-old British Indian Army veteran and star cricketer who opened the house to guests 20 years ago. Rooms feature hand-drawn art and there are no numbers on the doors, so it truly feels like a family home. Arun loves nothing more than meeting guests; many come from the UK to trace their grandparents’ military history in India.
You’ll spend much of your time on the roof terrace, which offers both sunrise and sunset views over Delhi – by night, huge fruit bats glide overhead. It’s here that you’ll enjoy meals with the family and fellow guests. Try the home-made seven grain bread with Akuri (Indian-style scrambled eggs) for breakfast and traditional street food for dinner. After a day of sightseeing in Delhi, relax on the terrace with afternoon tea, complete with a slice of the retreat’s famous banana bread.
Philipkutty’s Farm, Kumarakom
While touring enchanting Kerala, take a break with the Matthew family on their 45-acre farm in Kumarakom village. You’ll be greeted by Philip, whose father worked with a Swiss architect to rebuild a traditional Keralan house on this family plot. Philipkutty’s Farm now hosts guests in six east-facing villas, which offer dreamy sunrise views over Vembanad Lake from their porches.
Meet the family’s pet beagle Sugar and herd of rare Vechur cows as you wander through coconut and banana plantations, nutmeg groves and vegetable gardens. You can cruise the Keralan backwaters directly from Philipkutty’s, head out early with a guide for bird spotting or enjoy sunset views on the lake. You’ll love Grandma’s home-cooked meals, which include treats like red fish curry; ask her for a cooking lesson and then gather with the entire family for dinner.
Take a rest from exploring Udaipur’s palaces and lakes for a homestay with the Singh family. Bhupendra, who hails from the royal family of Bassi in Chittorgarh, spent 10 years lovingly restoring this 50-year-old farmhouse where he lives with his wife and son, opening eight rooms to guests. Relish the calm of this quiet escape, which showcases views of the Aravalli Hills and is surrounded by flower-filled gardens and a pool.
Premkunj is a true family affair; you’ll be invited on treks with Bhupendra to watch the sunrise from a hilltop and on trips to the nearby hamlet Badi, where villagers will often ask you in for tea. At Premkunj, you’ll be served home-cooked Rajasthani dishes made with locally-grown ingredients and spend evenings chatting around the campfire. Bhupendra’s aim is that you’ll come as a guest and leave as a friend, making Premkunj a welcome taste of home on your Rajasthan itinerary.
Jungle Lodge, Shimla
Travelling the western Himalayan region of India? Then you’ll have the pleasure of exploring Shimla, a pine-scented former hill station and bastion of Raj-era history. Stay at Jungle Lodge, in a fairytale cottage located in the forested hills. The property is steeped in history, dating back to the 19th century, and has been owned by the Singh family since 1941.
Jungle Lodge has been meticulously renovated to preserve the original features and guests love its peaceful atmosphere. Enjoy views of the Himalayan peaks and wildflower meadows from the large bay windows in your room. Sit by the firepit in the garden and enjoy sundowners under the stars and don’t leave without sampling the afternoon tea, complete with freshly-baked scones, sandwiches, Indian savouries and a selection of teas and coffee.
Ikaki Niwas, Jaipur
Stay with Jaideo Rathore at Ikaki Niwas, the haveli where he lives with his parents, wife and two children. Living up to its name – Ikaki means one and only and Niwas means home in Hindi – the property has a warm family feel, with traditional décor, a library, pool and chance to interact with your hosts. The 14 guest rooms have windows that look out onto a park in the centre of Jaipur where parrots and sparrows roost in the trees.
Meals are served on the rooftop terrace, home-made with ingredients from Jaideo’s organic farm project on the outskirts of the city. Jaideo can arrange a visit to the farm, on which he grows everything from mustard seeds for oil to papayas and guavas; the trip includes a stop at the local village and school, where you’ll meet members of the community. Back at the haveli, learn to cook specialities like gourd curry with Jaideo’s wife and then dine with the whole family.
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