HOSTS EVEN IN RE­MOTE AR­EAS CAN EARN RS 75,000 TO RS 3 LAKH A MONTH, SAYS TEJAS PARULKAR, CO­FOUNDER OF SAFFRONSTAYS

Hindustan Times (Delhi) - - Front Page -

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

Sou­vik Mon­dol.

“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

Ra­jput bravado.

“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.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION: SUDHIR SHETTY

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.

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