Homestays and other cases for experiential tourism
Did god create the beautiful land first and then peopled it with a tribe to match? Or did He do it the other way around? A niggling question when you are in Nagaland. My initiation to the charm took place outside Kohima – with yummy-ripe pineapples and a sleepy smile by the roadside. I was miles away from the capital city where I was headed to for the Hornbill Festival.
We stopped by one of the numerous wayside stalls mounted with seasonal pineapples and began checking out the yellow-golden fruits like knowledgeable farmers. A full ten minutes later a little girl in an oversized red sweater emerged from the house flanking the display, licking her fingers.“I was having breakfast,” she said, more information than explanation.
“Hey, no problem. We were only making plans to run away with the best of the lot.” I told her.
“I know you won’t do that.” She said poking the fruits gently near the crown for riper of the lot.
“How can you be so sure?”
“You are going for Hornbill, yeah? Those who come for Hornbill are nice people.” A little lacking in credibility if it was to be crystallised into theory. However, this ‘being-nice-for-no-particular-reason’ was a way of life in Nagaland as I found out over the next seven days.
Mr Kezo has a big house near the bazaarI met Mr Kezo on my visit for the festival the previous year; he picked up a pen I had accidentally dropped during the melee of the inaugural day, and returned it to me. The cheery notes from the houtho, the high energy from the morung and of course, the lifting wafts from the rice beer all had made me a true affable gem. If my mom had told me not to speak to strangers, here I was, falling in love with them. I was truly floored that an old local would do such a thing as return a dropped pen. I didn’t have any reservation as all the hotels were full. Mr Kezo offered to take me in his house; he had a bedroom to spare as his son in Guwahati wouldn’t be attending this year’s instalment. I was visibly thrilled.
“Okay, when you are done come to my home and we will have dinner together.” Mr Kezo said almost dotage-like walking away.
“But how do I find your place?” I was a bit perplexed.
“Just ask for Mr Kezo’s house near the Kohima Bazaar,” he said getting into his son’s minivan. “It is the biggest house in the bazaar and everyone knows it.”
Please don’t mind the pigs and the kids and the chopping
The house was on a concrete mesa and an allee with flowing slippery dross led to the door. But once you entered, the image took on a contrasting hue and atmosphere. A double storey building, painted flaking stucco green, the house was decked with flowering plants on every available sill. Creepers spread a verdant curtain over pergolas encompassing a cosy little courtyard which announced giggling kids. As I arrived later that night, most of the family scouted out to meet me, all freshly bathed, smelling good and soigné enough to make me look like a miser on the wallaby.Giving me company at a level further down was a suicidal pig; each morning exactly at 3 a.m. it would suddenly remember some promise of hara-kiri and ram into the sty walls or some other holding palisade. Fumbling about for some time screaming a clouded brain off, it would time for an encore. There is no abnegating such inconveniences. Yawning like a wonk and debating how to impugn the swine episode, came the knock at the door. Two pretty little girls with my breakfast – scrambled eggs and toast with homemade butter and jam. There was also a kettle full of steaming coffee.
“If you want more, please ask,” laboured the bigger of the two. After a while she bought in two Snowcem buckets like hanging turbaries full of hot water with flecks of peat still floating on it.
“Hey, I got something for you.” I told her and fumbled about my backpack for my hidden away emergency rations of Snickers bars. I had forgotten completely about the sorry swine and was deeply moved by the little kid’s sincere eagerness in making me – a adult, a stranger – feel at home.
Over the next few days, the courtyard was to come alive at 5 a.m. with sounds of chopping – Mr Kezo’s son Neikho and his buddies were setting up momo stalls at the Night Bazaar. I missed out only on the first day; second day onwards I pitched in with the chopping. In return for a plate of divinely succulent pork momos swimming in glistening rufous fat at night. I even manned the stall for a while when Nick retired to a billet in the dark alley for some quality time with his franion who was visiting after two months. In gratis, I was served some souse preparation of pig feet, a throwback to the Cajuns. Irresistible.
Moon Travel Guides define experiential tourism as ‘where travellers go beyond mere sightseeing and engage with local communities in a meaningful way’. In India there are some organisations doing some decent work in the field.Grassroutes from Maharashtra offers some unique experiences to travellers from participation in rice cultivation to watching fireflies, depending on the time of the year. Ecosphere Spiti is high altitude rural tourism including treks to Buddhist monasteries, yak safaris and of course, staying in village homes. There are also the established players like Village Ways who have expanded to include parts of Ethiopia and the government-run Explore Rural India. In Cuba, there is a whole concept ‘Casa Particular’ which revolves around homestays – and you get to know that there is more to Cuba than Castro, cigar and rum – the delightful people.
This, definitely, is the case for India. Or anywhere else in the world for that matter. Holing up in star hotels, you have continental breakfast and temperature –controlled pools. You have properly trained English-speaking staff, ever-helpful, serving your every whim. The polite reception which wakes you apologetically at any given ungodly hour.
But what you miss here is the bog-brained hog.