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.
“Bari village,” 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, Bari, 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.
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.
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 Bari Village and very limited electricity connection. Hrushi is mostly unreachable when he is home at Bari. People like Hrushi travel to the nearest town Bhandardara daily to make calls.
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.
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!
Hrushi’s phone was out of reach when we touched the soil of Bari 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.
Under the watchful eyes of the gargantuan mount Kalsubai, Hotel Krushnvati, the residence of Hrushi, appeared humble.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Our discussion with the family delved deep from life in Bari village, to life in Mumbai, food in Kolkata, how to build a website and so on.
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 experiential 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.
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 for a trip to Bari village –
Contact Information of Hrushi Bharmal – +91 9146295095 , firstname.lastname@example.org .
How to reach Bari 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 Bari 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 Bari 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 Bari 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.
What to do in Bari 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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