VILLAGE HOMESTAY HOLIDAY (Eastern Himalayas)
If you have ever wanted to live like, work and support an Indian village - here is your chance.
In the green midranges of the Himalayas - with a stunning backdrop of towering snow capped peaks - lies the village of Samthar, tucked in a remote part of the mountains. The village stretches across 12 kms, with scattered homesteads loosely grouped into hamlets, adjacent to terraced farmland. The valley then plunges down steeply to the Samthar Khola (river).
The people who live in Samthar are a blend of ethnic groups - Lepchas, Sherpas and Nepali. The ethnic groups are fused. They have adopted Nepali as a link language, yet maintained their diverse cultural identity.
After 15 years in rural tourism based from his home in Samthar, retired General Jimmy Singh is working with Insider Tours to support village homestay holidays. Guests live in homestays within the village, learning with the local craftsmen - who in turn get a direct income from their trades. The wider project includes educational support for school children and vocational training.
During your stay in the village, you'll be able to join in village activities such as ploughing, sowing, harvesting, collection of firewood and fodder, cow herding, goat care, cooking, mat and basket making, and blacksmithing.
You can explore the countryside, join in the cricket and football matches, play cards with the village elders, or relax in peace in your homestay (a separate self contained home).
Sample village homestay holiday, Eastern Himalaya: 12 days/11 nights. Bagdogra, Kalimpong, Samthar, Hi Barmoik, Darap village (near Pelling) with two nights extention, either Darjeeling or Gangtok.
Cost for Indian Himalaya village holiday, excluding international flights: £1366 for a couple. All our tours are private - you won't be part of a group.
The price quoted is for pick up from the local airport (or train station), full board, local English guides. There are additional charges for activities - ranging from around £30 for cooking for two people, to £3 for learning a local craft skill.
This is a sample Eastern Himalayan village holiday. We can mix and match according to the dates and places you would like to visit. Note that we don't arrange air flights.
Day one and two
Is your arrival at Bagdogra Airport. We will meet you at the airport and take you to Kalimpong - four and half hours drive (or we can pick you up from the train at Nee Jalpaiguri). In either case, the journey through the Himalayan foot hills is beautiful - river valleys and forests. Dinner and overnight stay: Gurudongma House, hosted by General Jimmy Singh.
Day three, four and five
We'll make our way to Samthar - four hours drive with a picnic lunch and we’ll get you settled with the Lepcha homestay host for two nights and one night with the Nepali homestay. During your stay with your host family on day three and four the host family will take you to visit the Lepcha hamlets. Here you can choose the programs mentioned below and pay directly to the host family. On day five we’ll take you on a guided Samthar Valley walking exploration. The guided day exploration is included in the cost. General Jimmy Singh will help you coordinate with your host families.
- - Sunrise watching: the panorama includes the Khangchenganga group of peaks - Simvo, Siniolchu, Lama Anden, Chomoyomo and Paunhari - and the passes of Chola, Natula, and Jalepla, leading into Tibet
- - Guided and non guided walks through the village to meet people in their homes and fields - Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist. You can hear more about their work, beliefs and customs.
- - Visit the homes of local artisans and craftsmen and watch (or join) them working with traditional skills, such as blacksmithing, basketmaking, and mat weaving
- - Learn Indian cooking (including pickle making) - and cooking with a solar cooker
- - Watch housewives show how they extract mustard oil using a press made of wood, bamboo and stone; husking of paddy using hand and foot pounding tool; and grinding of corn using stone grinder
- - Learn cutting and stitching of Indian dresses. You can visit the village tailors for made to measure clothes for yourself
- - Learn about traditional methods of bee keeping using hollow tree trunks and how to prepare Chang (millet beer)
- - Participation in village chores - ploughing, sowing, harvesting, collection of firewood and fodder, care of the family livestock (cow and goat milking and herding)
- - Learn about traditional frame and thatch houses and watch their construction
- - Learn about the institution of Bomthang and Jhakri - nature doctors, shamans, and faith healers. A chance to meet these men and watch demonstrations
- - Enjoy several day treks - walk amidst nature, with good views and opportunity for more interaction with village folks of the surrounding areas
Day six and seven
From the Nepali homestay we’ll make our way to Samthar Farm house for two nights. During your stay at the farm house we’ll visit the school General Jimmy Singh has set up and go on a day trek to the Lepcha Valley.
Day eight and nine
We’ll trek down to Teesta Valley Ropeway with guide and porter, then by car to Hi Barmoik Village in West Sikkim. On day nine we’ll go on a half a day exploration of the Sikkimese village.
Day ten and eleven
From Hi Barmoik village we’ll make our way to Gurung Home stay at Pamayangtse. Over the next two days we’ll explore the local village and take part in the activities at Gurung home stay.
We’ll make our way to Bagdogra for your return journey back home.
We recommend optional extensions - either two nights in Darjeeling, or two nights in Gangtok. Please ask us for these schedules.
GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT
You have the option of being hosted by Nepali or a Lepcha family. The two families are based in different hamlets:
- Gaire Gaon host hamlet
Gaire Gaon - meaning village in deep valley is reached by a 10 minute steep "tumble down" trail from the Samthar Farm House located at the road head. Once there you will see a cluster of 36 homes creeping down to the lower valley through a series of fairly wide and flat terraces. It is a sunny location with cool breezes during the summers, and a full view of the snow ranges.
You will be hosted by Krishna Kumar Bhujel, aged 61, the head of the family. His wife Pavitra Bhujel is 50 years old. They own 6 acres of farm land and grow a mixed crop of paddy, millet, maize, ginger, pulses and vegetables. They own oxen, cows, goats, pigs and poultry. Pavitra has brought up a family of 9 children. Of these two are still dependent on the parents.
Three of the elder daughters are married outside the village. Tara Bhujel, the elder unmarried daughter, is 28 years old. She has been working at the Samthar Farm House as a chef for the last 8 years. Pushpa the younger daughter studies at the Samthar High School in the 9th class. She is a gifted singer and a good dancer. Tilak, 19 years old is a school drop out and now works as a carpenter's apprentice. The youngest son, Deepak is 13 years old and studies in the 6th class.
The elder son of the family 35 years old Hik Bahadur, lives in a separate house close by, with his 36 years old wife, Krishna. They farm their own two acre plot. They have two boys - Anil (20) and Deo Kumar (12) - both are studying at school. Anita the only daughter is 15 years old and is also in school.
The guest room is on the first floor. It is build of natural stone and bricks, with wooden floor and ceiling. The bed room is spacious with attached tiled toilet and bath. The toilet is a western style. The bed room opens to a 6 feet wide verandah with direct view of the snow ranges. The room is fully furnished and comfortable. A secluded garden with lawn is being developed by the host family
- West Kabi Host hamlet
The West Kabi host hamlet is spread on a large terraced spur extending from the top of the valley, steeply down towards the lower valley overlooking the Samthar Khola. Its upper end rests on the main road as it enters the Samthar area. It is a sunny location, with its 48 homes spreading down to the lower valley. The people are primarily Lepcha -Christian and Buddhist. Also there are 19 Nepali Bhujel Hindu Houses.
You will be hosted by 26 years old Charles Lepcha and his 20 years old wife, Judith, in their newly built home. Charles works as a local guide with Jimmy Singh, helps his father with farming chores, and works occasionally for social organizations. Charles parents Mangal Lepcha ( 64) and Helen Lepcha (59) live close by.
The guest room is on the first floor. It is build of natural stone and bricks, with wooden floor and ceiling. The bed room is spacious. There is a tiled toilet and bath. The toilet is a western style WC. The bed room opens into a verandah with direct view of the snow ranges. The room is fully furnished and equipped for comfortable living. A secluded garden with lawn is being developed by the host family.
- Chhettri Family Homestay at Hi Barmoik Hi - Barmoik are two villages lying at the foot of the Vershay Rhododendron Sanctuary at an elevation of 1400 m. The village stands on a series of ledges continuing up hill to 2400 m, with a massive spur of the Vershay Ridge rearing its head in the backgroud. Covered with lush vegitation, terraced cultivation, and homesteads.
Dhongey House the family home of the Cheetri family is a large refurbished family homestead surrounded by terraced fields, and homes of extended family members. The family has converted two rooms into guest rooms with modern toilets, and refurnished a lounge and a "chang " (Local beer made out of millet grain and yeast) bar. Interiors are decorated to showcase heritage household articles used by the family for generations. The Family kitchen retains its heritage roots with old style wood burning mud plastered stove, and provides both table and floor seating arrangements. Guests are offered home cooked simple Nepali meals served in family heirloom brass utensils. The house retains its farming roots - cow shed, goat house, herb garden, and hollow tree trunk honey comb.
You will be hosted by Ran Bahadur Chhetri and his beautiful wife Deo Maya. You will meet the spritly 84 years old Purna Bahadur, the eldest member of the family. English speaking son Ganesh and daughter Jamuna will be there to enable conversation with the elders and interpretation of customs, rituals, food and drink.
Gurung Home Stay - Dara Gaon Village RetreatEight km (Ten minute drive) away from ‘Pelling’ towards Yuksam - Khecheperi road, lies Daragaon Village Retreat. Shiva Gurung, is a civil servant and his wife Radha Gurung, owns the Daragaon Village Retreat. Radha Gurung cooks the most delicious local food. Nesang (daughter) Prabal (Son), the two school going tots liven up the home atmosphere and one sister who helps to run the homestay complete the family picture at Daragaon Village Retreat. There are six rooms in two traditional huts and annex sister homestay for accommodation and have all modern facilities. Here you can go for village walks, join the host family in cooking, high and low altitude treks with guides and go fishing.
Duration: The duration is flexible. However it should be a minimum of 10 days
Number of guests: Ideally a couple or a family group. We are happy to host individuals, at a higher fee. Languages spoken: Nepali is the main language of the people. Large sections speak Lepcha and Tibetan. In the towns most people can communicate in English. All of our local guides and us are English speaking When: Available year round. To select your time of visit see the seasonal cycle below:
SEASONAL CALENDAR IN SMATHAR
June and July
Life in the community revolves around the monsoons and the sowing of the paddy crop. The monsoons start during early June and continue till mid October. The heavy down pour is used for flooding the terraced paddy fields. Seedlings are transplanted in June-July. Sowing is a big occasion - entire families participate on a cooperative basis.
August and September
Weeding of paddy and Kodo crop (black millet to make Chang beer), a back breaking job. The maize crop is harvested.
October and November
By the end of October the monsoons will have stopped and the dry season begins. The weather is mellow, with some showers. It is a Hindu festival season. Dashain (Durga puja) is fifteen days of celebration during the lunar fortnight ending on the day of the full moon. Goddess Durga in all her manifestations is worshiped with innumerable pujas, abundant offerings and animal sacrifices.
In preparation every home is cleaned and decorated as an invitation to Godess Durga and Laxmi, so that they may visit and bless the house with good fortune. Family members come together, with gifts of new clothes, temple offering for the gods, and food for the feasts. Sheep, goats, ducks, chicken and even water buffalo are prepared for the sacrifice.
Tihar (Diwali) - also called Laxmi Puja - is the five day festival of lights and one of the most dazzling Hindu festivals. In this festival Goddess Laxmi, the Goddess of wealth, is worshipped. During the festival, houses are lit with traditional oil lamps. Goddess Laxmi was formed from the ocean and has the wealth of the seas. She sits on a full-grown lotus and her steed is the owl. On the third day of the festival at the stroke of midnight it is believed that Goddess Laxmi will fly around on her owl to see how she is being worshipped.
In October the mustard crop and potatoes are planted. In November the paddy and Kodo millet is harvested.
December and January
This is the cold spell, with clear blue skies, and the occasional periods of fog. Christmas is celebrated by the Lepcha Christian community with the usual rituals and festivities.
In December, Lepcha New Year, called Namsong, is celebrated by the Lepchas. It is a day of prayers, feasting, and archery competitions. Potatoes, spinach and some other vegetables are planted. People go out on picnics and outings, and it is time to collect firewood for the year.
February and March
Winter still lingers on. The weather is clear but visibility remains a bit hazy due to dust from the plains. Snow fall in the higher regions brings cold spells in its wake. There are occasional short spells of rain and hail. In February, the Buddhist New year, called Losar, is celebrated by Buddhist Lepchas and Bhutias with prayers, song and dance and feasting. The mustard and potato crop is harvested.
By March, spring flowers start blooming and the forest trees get new leaves. Water springs start drying up and there is an acute shortage of water. Maize and ginger is planted.
April and May
In pre-monsoon time - thunder showers occur in the evenings with lightning lighting up the skies. The weeding of maize and ginger takes place.
Preparations for planting paddy starts in May, when the days are warm, followed by short bursts of evening rain. Paddy fields are rebuilt by refilling soil and repairing water dykes and channels. The farmers and oxen toil hard in the hot sun and pray for timely rain.
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