HOSTS EVEN IN REMOTE AREAS CAN EARN RS 75,000 TO RS 3 LAKH A MONTH, SAYS TEJAS PARULKAR, COFOUNDER OF SAFFRONSTAYS
stays, Airbnb and couch-surfing websites are finding that, through the mutual kindness of strangers that drives such platforms, they are able to celebrate differences, learn and explore new cultures in their own homes.
Singh, for instance, formed a daily ritual with a Slovakian traveller of chatting over sandwiches he made for her when she came home from work every day. And everything from the ingredients (a different recipe every day) to the movies they picked to watch while they chatted and snacked turned out to be a revelation.
A rather strange radish sandwich got them talking about their respective cuisines — the sparseness of his against the relative over-the-topness of ours. “He said he could never understand why Indians were so obsessed with adding coriander to every dish!”
In his 11 days in her home, they also managed to watch a few Bollywood films together. He especially wanted to see 3 Idiots, which he had heard about even before coming to India.
“I would explain how India’s traditions and customs made up the theme of many of the movies we were watching, and give him a little background about their origins,” Singh says.
“He had heard about the song and dance routines in Indian movies and said he was glad he had someone to guide him through the rest of it all.”
Never has it been easier, or safer, to have a stranger in your home.
Many couch-surfing platforms, for instance, let you open up your home only to members of your existing social networks — so, Facebook friends, friends of friends, etc. This means that when the person arrives at the door, you already have a connection.
“This is encouraging urban middleclass and upper-middle-class people to join the pool of hosts,” says sociologist
“So, homestays are no longer limited to small cities and hill stations. And in the cities, often more than the money, the hosts are looking to experience an exchange of culture and information, looking to learn more about countries they may have been to or place on their bucket list, or just countries they grew up reading about.”
The money, let it be said, is not bad. “Hosts even in remote areas can earn anything between Rs 75,000 and Rs 3 lakh a month in association with us,” says Tejas Parulkar, co-founder of the homestay aggregator website SaffronStays.
“Ease of transaction has played a huge role in making homeowners comfortable with opening up their homes to strangers,” Parulkar adds.
There’s cultural exchange happening domestically, too — Gujaratis moving in with an Uttarakhand family for a week; a Rajasthani living with a Delhiite, and then, when the latter was lost, inviting him to use the family’s haveli in Pali.
“We as a country are getting more mobile and the Indian traveller is ready to be more adventurous. Solo low-budget trips are extremely popular and people are open to experimenting with food as well and staying with locals gives you a mix of all that,” says travel writer Mangal Dalal.
“Also, social interaction has become an interesting and necessary part of the travel experience as a whole. The idea of inhabiting someone else’s shoes is seen as exciting. In a time when part of the purpose of travel is to be able to post lots of interesting stories when you return, couch-surfing is becoming a soughtafter element.”
Delhi-based entrepreneur Rahul Ahuja, 31, started couch-surfing almost ten years ago. “I remember staying at a women’s engineering hostel for a night, in Beijing, where the girls snuck me in,” he recalls. “Sometimes, all I got was a yoga mat.”
During a one-night stopover in Bangkok, Ahuja couch-surfed with his dad, who loved the concept so much that he came home and convinced Ahuja’s mother to open up their study to strangers.
One of their first guests was a Spanishorigin English teacher from Switzerland named Martina Weber.
“On day one, my mother walked into her room at 8 am with tea and piping hot aloo parathas, and Martina was shocked. That’s not really how couch-surfing works in most places; it’s meant to be basic,” Ahuja says, laughing.
Weber ended up extending her stay by a week because she loved being part of the big, happy Punjabi family.
She put on 3 kg; wrote down recipes so she could recreate her favourite Indian dishes back home.
The best surprise, however, was when she did a Facebook Live two years ago from her classroom in Switzerland, because she was giving a lecture that day on Indian culture.
“She told her students that my parents were her Indian parents and talk about how she had felt so much at home here, a When Swayam Tiwari, 45, a marketing professionalturned travel blogger, found himself lost in the outskirts of Pali in Rajasthan, he promptly called up a Rajasthani guest he had once hosted in Delhi through Airbnb.
“He gave me directions to his ancestral house nearby. I went there expecting a small standalone house. It turned out to be a traditional Rajput haveli!” Tiwari says. “Just like in the Bollywood movies, there were paintings of the ancestors on hunting expeditions, interspersed with antiques that included a taxidermy tiger called Henry!”
Like any royal guest, Tiwari’s arrival was met with a sumptuous Rajasthani spread; as he ate he was told tales of
“My stay ended with a drink of fresh camel milk straight from the shed. The experience was so overwhelming, because almost every member of the family rallied around me to ensure I was comfortable, something you don’t really see in the cities.”
FROM MUMBAI, FORMED A DAILY RITUAL WITH A SLOVAKIAN TRAVELLER OF CHATTING OVER SANDWICHES HE MADE FOR HER (A DIFFERENT RECIPE EVERY DAY) AS THEY DISCUSSED THEIR RESPECTIVE CUISINES OR WATCHED BOLLYWOOD MOVIES SO SHE COULD EXPLAIN INDIAN TRADITIONS AND CUSTOMS
When he invited a Polish chef from Amsterdam, Andrzej Jarzabkiewicz, into his home, Delhi-based entrepreneur Rahul Ahuja could never have imagined how his involvement would shape his young guest’s life.
“He was recommended to me by a friend, Manali Shah. They had met on a backpacking trip in 2011, in Mumbai,” Ahuja says.
“Because he was staying with me, they ended up spending a lot of time together and friendship turned to love.”
In typically Bollywood style, tragedy struck when Shah’s parents stepped in, saying they were opposed to their daughter dating a foreigner.
“Desperate, Jarzabkiewicz extended his stay and spent three months with me, trying to learn about Indian culture and even experimenting with Indian recipes, all to try and woo the in-laws-to-be.”
Shah explained basic Indian etiquette, teaching him to say ‘Namaste’ to her parents when they met. He learnt to cook spicy paneer and chhole masala. “He used to joke that he could whip up a pasta with the right Indian spices to please the folks, if all else failed,” Ahuja says.
Jarzabkiewicz eventually had to leave before his visa expired, but eight months later he was back at Ahuja’s pad, spent five days mustering the courage, and then proposed to Manali at her house.
“Her parents were quite impressed by his persuasion skills,” says Shah, laughing.
They were married in a small ceremony in India, and another in Poland. “I was so glad to be part of this beautiful love story,” Ahuja says.
Aditi Sahadev with her parents at their homestay in Uttarakhand. Hosting people from across the country has opened their eyes to just how untrue community stereotypes can be, she says.