Baari Village, Maharashtra: Experiencing the three ‘H’- Hut, Hospitality and Homestay

In 2016 the husband went on his life’s first trek. It was Kalsubai, the highest point in Maharashtra, India. When he showed me the humble photos clicked on his cellphone, the first thing I remember asking him was the name of the base village.

“Baari, ” he replied.

He went on a ‘pre-arranged group trek’ with a gang of around 40 trekkers. The downside of going on group tours is that you miss out on the one-to-one conversations with locals. Locals rarely approach a large group of travellers for casual chat without any self interest. Things are different when you are vulnerable.

So on August 2017, me and the husband went on the same trek on our own, just the two of us. On August 2017, at the base village of this trek, Baari, we had our first experience of ‘living in a true blue homestay’. In a village with no network coverage and very limited electricity connection, we encountered rural India.

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Trail of Kalsubai from Baari village

Research

The clickety clack of my laptop continued. I am a wonder woman when it comes to online research. Only if someone appreciated the many of my talents! Sigh.

Google maps showed me two pinned ‘hotels’ at Baari village. I wasted no time and dialled one of them. The pin read ‘Hotel Krushnvati’.

“Hello,” someone on the other end answered.
He recited the list of services they offer: food (both vegetarian and non vegetarian), accommodation and guide services.
My only concern was security. The innocent voice re-assured me that security is the last thing that I need to be worried about.

I had interacted with villagers of Himalayas and West Bengal previously and experience had taught me they were anything but criminals. Curious? Yes. Harmful? No.
But at the same time, it is true that I was always travelling in groups or with extended family. I had the luxury of security.

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Hotel Krushnvati, Baari village

This time it was different –  I would be travelling to a remote corner with just my husband. Out of the two of us, I am the more experienced one. So I felt like a responsible wise owl.

Soon enough I received a message in Whatsapp with the detailed information, pictures and price list. It was forwarded to me by Hrushi Bharmal, the person with whom I spoke over phone. The person associated with Hotel Krushnvati.

Now don’t let all the tech talk of Google maps and Whatsapp deceive you. The truth is that there is almost no network coverage in Baari Village and very limited electricity connection. Hrushi is mostly unreachable when he is home at Baari. People like Hrushi travel to the nearest town Bhandardara daily to make calls.

Journey

We boarded a CST-Kasara bound local train from Thane railway station in Mumbai. Good that we got ourselves first class tickets because the second class compartments were full. From Kasara we squeezed ourselves in a 10 seater shuttle car. The 18 people already sitting inside shifted uncomfortably, pushing each other to make space for us. This is how locals travel here. It’s a good thing that neither of us is fat.

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In crammed shuttle car of Kasara

The 45 minutes ride from Kasara was through a mess of green. Every time we thought “can green be greener?”, the Maharshtrian countryside yelled a big YES to us!

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Maharashtrian countryside in monsoon – Location: Igatpuri
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Maharashtrian countryside in Monsoon

Hrushi’s phone was out of reach when we touched the soil of Baari for the first time. A child with white teeth smiling so hard, that his eyes almost got reduced to a squint came running towards us. He was Adikesh, Hrushi’s younger brother. He took us to their home – Hotel Krushnvati.

It looked exactly like the Whatsapp pictures which Hrushi had previously sent to us.

The Hut

Under the watchful eyes of the gargantuan mount Kalsubai, Hotel Krushnvati, the residence of Hrushi, appeared humble.

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Hotel Krushnvati, our homestay, Hrushi Bharmal’s residence

The waterfalls were in full swing, but from the hut, they appeared as a thin white thread. The summit of mount Kalsubai was covered in clouds. The village road ran in front of the hut.

The walls of the hut was made of bricks, the ceiling was of asbestos sheets. A small clearing in front of the hut served as the veranda. A place where some plastic chairs and a table were put out so that guests can enjoy food outdoors.

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Hotel Krushnvati, the mountain at its back is Mount Kalsubai

Inside the hut, there were three compartments. The front door opened into the largest compartment. The window openings here had metal grille but lacked a window. Plastic sheets were used to cover the window openings. The bricks on the wall inside of the room were painted in shades of red and green. Pair of cots, a single bed made of wrought iron and a drum was the only occupants in the spacious compartment. The solitary bulb was put on exclusively for us. Through this portion of the hut, the kitchen was reachable.

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The entry hall of the homestay
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The entry hall of the homestay
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The entry hall of the homestay (at night)
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The entry hall of the homestay (in evening)

Surprisingly, the kitchen had a huge range of utensils, jars and kitchen stock. Clearly, the Bharmal family loves feeding their guests! The gas stove with LPG cylinder was mounted on a kitchen counter table. The only tube light of the hut was in the kitchen.

Adjacent to the kitchen was the other compartment. There were two window openings without the windows. Instead of grille, the openings were covered with metal nets. Plastic sheets served the role of windows once again. The walls were smooth and plastered with cement but it wasn’t coloured. The room was tiny but enough for the single bed, a chest of drawers, a cupboard and a trunk. An electricity board with two plug points dangled from the walls. It was the only electricity board in the hut. But there was no bulb, LED or tubelight to light up the compartment after sunset.
This was the only compartment in the hut with privacy, and this was where we had our good night’s sleep!

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Our bedroom for two nights at the homestay
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Our bedroom for two nights at the homestay
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Window of our temporary bedroom
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Our bedroom for two nights at the homestay
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Window of our bedroom

The compartments were separated from each other by walls, but those walls were not roof-to-ceiling walls. Buddy, the house cat, often chose to walk over those walls.

The floor of the hut was cemented but without any fancy designs or colours.

The ‘backdoor’ of the hut opened through the kitchen. Adjacent to the backdoor, another small compartment with bricked wall served as the ‘outhouse’. This portion of the hut was used for stocking up wood and cooking on an earthen chulha.

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The outhouse with earthen chulha
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The outhouse
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Buddy, the house cat

What struck both of us was the immaculate cleanliness of the hut.

Across the village road, two toilets were newly constructed. These belonged to the Bharmal family’s neighbours. Guests staying at Krushnvati are given access to it against a fee. Both the toilets were Indian and really tiny. A jaali window allowed natural light to flow in during daytime. At night, it is pitch dark inside, so carrying a torch is mandatory. Inside the toilet there was no water supply. Bharmal family members fetched a bucket of water for us whenever we went to the loo.

From what we gathered, the toilets were exclusively used by the tourists. Since we were the only tourists at that point of time, the toilets were only as clean as we kept it.

Hospitality

Please trust us when we say we missed NONE of the luxuries of our daily life during our stay with the Bharmal family. The warmth, care and friendliness of the family were enough to make up for all the lacking luxurious amenities.

We still remember the innocent smile of Adikesh, Hrushi’s little brother. He was like a 24×7 smiling machine. After the initial round of introduction, he hanged around with us with a childish curiosity and a continuous call of ‘didi didi’. He blushed when we gave him a packet of chips on our return journey from Kalsubai. On a rainy, dark night, he deftly took us to the village temple. We were also surprised to see how much he helped with household work.

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Adikesh, Hrushi Bharmal’s brother at the temple of Baari
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Temple at Baari village

Hrushi’s mother can only speak and understand Marathi. Due to the lack of a common tongue, our conversation with her was limited. But she speaks through her food. A sumptuous meal of rice, lentil soup, dry potato curry, chapatti (Indian bread), papad and pickles were served to us at our first dinner. On the following day, chapatti was replaced by bhakri- a kind of Indian bread made of rice; it is a speciality of Maharashtra. Hrushi visited the nearest town Bhandardara to buy us Shrikhand (a kind of desert) – so much thoughtfulness for a dessert.

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Food prepared at the homestay by Hrushi’s mom
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Sayan and Tania enjoying food.

I (Tania) joined Hrushi’s mother in the chapatti making process and mine were nothing close to hers. All of us had a hearty laugh at my naivety.

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Hrushi’s mom and me in the kitchen of the homestay
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Tania(me!) trying to make chapati!

We took 11 hours to complete the Kalsubai trek which normally takes 4-5 hours. It is not our unfitness but the constant handling of our precious DSLR camera in the rain and mud that took most of our time. When we returned to the hut, Hrushi’s father, Rajaram Bharmal, had already set out to search for us. The family was worried about our safety.

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Bharmal family and us (Sayan and Tania)

Hrushi shared with us his stories as a guide in Kalsubai. We don’t know how a mere 18 year old manages in juggling among all his responsibilities: diploma course, making contacts and doing PR for hotel Khushnvati, serving guests when they arrive and being the guide for mount Kalsubai. Hrushi may not have any degree from a fancy school or college, but he is blessed with a calm and composed mind. Even under extreme pressure he is never at a loss for a solution.

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Bharmal Family (from left)-Hrushi, Hrushi’s mom, Hrushi’s dad (Rajaram), Hrushi’s brother (Adikesh)

Our discussion with the family delved deep from life in Baari village, to life in Mumbai, food in Kolkata, how to build a website and so on.

Hospitality

We have been to hotels which sell themselves as ‘homestays’. We have seen how loosely the word ‘homestay’ is used in the modern hospitality jargon. As the demography of experimental travellers is rising, the abuse of the word ‘homestay’ is multiplying. Well, the truth is, the term ‘homestay’ still remains widely unknown and unused by people actually providing the service in the remote corners of the country.

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Pooja ghar (Prayer room) at Bharmal’s residence

When arriving at the village, we were unsure of what to expect from these people. We were completely aware of the consequences if things go awry. Thankfully, in moments like this, we rely on our gut feeling. We came as strangers but left as family. When you invite a homestay host for having lunch at your residence without any business deals in mind, you know that is called bonding for life.

And that’s how our first homestay experience in a network-less village of India turned out!

Practical Information –

Contact Information of Hrushi Bharmal – +91 9146295095 , hrushibharmal@gmail.com .

How to reach Baari village:

Local trains from CST and Thane ply till Kasara. If you plan to board the train from any non-originating station then get a first class ticket. From Kasara station, shuttle services can take you to Baari village. The normal rate is INR 100 to INR 120 but tourists with backpacks and suitcases are generally charged more. The shuttle vehicles carry 20-25 people.

Food in Baari village:

There are a few shops in the village selling grocery items, tea and bottled water. Almost every villager provides food to tourists on request.

Toilets in Baari village:

Very few huts have built-in toilets, though the picture is changing rapidly with construction of proper provisions.

What to pack for a trip to Baari village:

  1. Mosquito and insect repellent creams.
    2. Hand sanitiser.
    3. Tissue papers.
    4. Extra battery for cameras.
    5. Power bank.
    6. Extra pair of clothes.
    7. Poncho and umbrellas, if travelling in rainy season.
    8. Essential medicines.
    9. Torch.

What to do in Baari village:

1.Observe village life and visit the village temple.
2.Trek to the highest point in Maharashtra, mount Kalsubai.
3. Head to Bhandardara and relax in front of Arthur lake, the heart of Bhandardara.

Have you ever stayed at a homestay? Do you prefer hotels or homestays? Have you ever experienced staying at a villager’s hut? Comment below and let’s get talking!

*****

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56 thoughts on “Baari Village, Maharashtra: Experiencing the three ‘H’- Hut, Hospitality and Homestay

    1. I think people who live away from Mumbai don’t know that there are so many places around Mumbai which becomes magical in and after monsoon. This was my first monsoon in Maharashtra and I took full advantage of it! 🙂

      Like

  1. Such a beautiful place and even more beautiful people. They sure know how to treat guests. I liked reading about your experience. And every once in a while we should all try this out. Makes you more humble…no?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What an incredible experience and a truly authentic one as well. The house reminded me a lot of the huts when I was living in Fiji. I love how the walls on the inside have been painted such bright colours! I think cooking together and learning to make chapati would have been a wonderful bonding experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What an interesting idea to return as just the two of you to ensure the opportunity of really connecting with and experiencing the local culture! Thank you for sharing this experience in great detail so that others may follow in your footsteps! I especially appreciate your notes on the timing the hike can take in different weather ie rainy weather and depending on what you are carrying. Cheers for a good read!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Erin for reading the post. Yes, I thought the trek time can be very tricky to calculate. It not just depends on a person’s fitness but also the liabilities he is carrying with him (our camera was one) !

      Like

  4. I am in awe of the Bharmal family’s generosity and care- what a special group of people. Though I’ve never done a homestay, I can imagine what a memorable trip this was for you. Such a unique way to experience a travel destination.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is certainly the road less travelled. It is always exciting to experience something that not many other tourists have experienced. I love how green everything is and how sincere the hospitality is.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow, this is a very rural area. It’s so nice that you had such a good stay, and the family were so welcoming. Sometimes luxury doesn’t replace kindness and good hospitality!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What an experience for you guys! We have stayed in homestays in Maharashtra and can agree with you about cleanliness. Sahyadris are so beautiful during monsoon that everything is emerald with streaks of white of the water falling.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve only experienced a homestay once in Hokkaido, Japan and it was amazing. Your homestay looked awesome and so happy to hear how friendly and accommodating the hosts were. I’m so impressed with the 18-year-old who handles so much responsibility. Kudos to him!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve done several homestays in my travels and I always feel like I have some of the best experiences at them. This sounds like a great one to experience! I’m glad you left the contact info! That’ll only help them out in the future. Thanks for so many great details!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the whole idea of leaving the contact details was so that they find more guests. Guests with proper expectation. They use the term ‘hotel’ when referring to their homestay, as they don’t know what a homestay is. This wrong usage can cause expectation mismatch.

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  10. After doing the popular Sapa homestay experience in Vietnam I am a HUGE fan of homestays! This looks right up our alley! I would love to experience this! Thanks for putting this on my radar!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Well-written Tania! I hope you do more rural posts in the future as they give us a glimpse into the unknown corners of our country. I am particularly interested in hearing people’s stories! Good job.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was debating whether or not should I do people’s stories. I am thinking of having a whole section dedicated to it. I know many interesting people so it would be excellent to document them! I have 5-6 posts on semi urban stories in the pipe. Let’s see when I get to visit a village once again!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Very nice article. I have never stayed in homestays but it’s high time, I guess, to add it on my bucketlist. It’s a very different / unique experience and good to have this on my blog too 😉

    Did they not charge you anything ?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! It’s very hard to ‘plan’ for such an experience because people like these are hardly found online! We were fortunate to get one though! If you go in this season you can enjoy the camping experience too, I am not sure how it works, but they told me they arrange for camps in winter months! And yes ofcourse we were charged for our food and stay! If I remember correctly our total of 2 nights and 2 days including vegetarian food and all were INR 1700. It’s good to give generous tips too, because they literally live on this. People don’t generally stay there overnight. They come with organised tours, eat there, completes trek and goes back the same day! The organisers don’t pay them well.

      Liked by 1 person

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