Himachal Pradesh government’s rural home-stays scheme, which induces safety and introduces visitors to the State’s cuisine and culture, is picking up in popularity

Shubra Sharma was on the verge of a breakdown, thanks to her fast-paced life in Delhi. A friend suggested that she take a break in the hills. But where could she go, she wondered; not everyone can afford exorbitant hotel rates in the peak of summer and then there was also the question of security for a single woman.

“Why don’t you choose a home-stay in Himachal Pradesh?” the friend suggested and even booked her a room in one at Fagu in Shimla’s suburbs.

The peace and tranquillity of the place and clean, clear air was what she had been yearning for. But what Shubra never tires of recalling is the warm hospitality with which she was treated by the owners.

It was again warm hospitality that endeared a honeymooning couple from Mumbai to the owners of a home-stay in Jong Katrain in Kullu district where they spent some days. The personal touch, concern and care of the owners, the homely atmosphere in midst of an orchard — an experience, says Mayank, that he and his wife Riddhi can never forget.

The couple also stayed for a day in a room atop a tree, in the same home-stay. “It was an out-of-the-world experience,” Mayank says.

Tree-top cottages are now gaining popularity. The New Tree House Cottage was the first registered home-stay in Himachal Pradesh. The owners not only provide tourists with homemade food, the vegetables too are from the kitchen garden and the milk, curd and butter freshly acquired.

Himachal Pradesh government introduced a scheme on starting home-stay units in 2008. According to the State’s Additional Director (Tourism) Manoj Sharma, the trend of home-stays has been picking up fast in the last few years. Under the scheme, home-stay is defined as any private house located in the rural areas in good condition and easily accessible. The house has to fulfil the minimum requirement of at least one and maximum three rooms with attached toilet facility.

The objective of the scheme was not only to reduce congestion in popular tourist towns but also acquaint visitors to the culture and cuisine of the State and provide rural folks an extra income. Another aim was to take tourism to the interior areas. At present, there are 462 home-stays. Kullu has the highest number of 177 home-stays, followed by 65 in Shimla.

The government is providing incentives for the scheme which include exemption from luxury tax and sales tax for up to three rooms; only domestic rates are charged for water and electricity. The home-stay owners are also expected to maintain minimum standards of cleanliness, sanitation and quality food among others. They cannot charge more than the rates approved by the Tourism Department.

Also for reasons of security, the owner has to maintain a register on letting out the rooms which can be inspected by the concerned District Tourism Development officer. In case of overcharging, unhygienic conditions, misbehaviour, malpractices or failure to maintain the required standards, the registration of the home-stay unit can be cancelled.

To assist the home-stay owners in reservation and marketing, the Tourism Department lists them on its web site for free. The HPTDC also includes them in their online reservation system, on payment of commission as fixed from time-to-time.

For the tourists, not only are home-stays a cheaper option, they provide a homely atmosphere; they also get to know the local culture, traditions and cuisine. And most of all, gives them a place away from the madding crowd and the fast-paced city life.

More In: Delhi | Travel | Metroplus