Staying at Castle Bera
Not quite sure what I envisioned for a home-stay. Perhaps something rustic like the small Hmong village I stayed at in northern Vietnam. I certainly didn’t picture a beautiful white castle with a marble-floored suite, replete with antique wood furniture, photos of maharanas (kings), and a chieftain to dine with. When my driver dropped me off, I thought we had just entered another walled city – it was actually the grounds of Castle Bera!
India Someday has exposed to me to an array of accommodations, all quite clean, architecturally interesting and filled with character and characters! I haven’t researched any of them beforehand, leaving myself open to surprise in each locale. From tastefully restored Havelis (private mansions) to hotels with exquisite rooftop views, I have been blessed with safe, comfortable and generally pleasant stays (I do wish the WIFI would work better though – getting these blogs up is sometimes a challenge!) Some of my favorite accommodations have been the home-stays.
At Castle Bera, in Jawai, I was greeted by Thakur Baljeet Singh and it took me a while to grasp the nature of the place. We climbed the stairs and entered one of the many doors and sat in his personal living room, filled with family photos, plush furniture and with a well-lived in feel. We chatted for a bit about our late afternoon leopard safari, what time I wanted lunch and which part of the castle I wanted to stay in.
I had used the washroom in a large guestroom just off the living room – and there were other guest rooms to choose from just off the courtyard. His staff (I wish I could remember his name) walked me around a bit, pointed out the dining area where lunch would be served and we agreed on the beautiful guest room I would stay in. It’s arched-entry hallway, sitting area with nature magazines, king size bed, beautiful wooden antique furniture, changing room area, large bathroom, regal carpets and working fans and AC were all quite welcoming.
Curious and hungry, I went to the dining room as scheduled and was pleasantly surprised to see two place settings set up on the long dining table, an aspect of the homestay experience I quite appreciated. As I waited for the owner to join me, I enjoyed looking at the array of photos filling the walls, from family shots to royal visitors to leopard pictures taken by some of the most renowned wildlife photographers who have also stayed there.
It was a pleasant opportunity to get a better understanding of the rich history of the castle and his family, and to talk about contemporary life in India – our jobs, travels, work philosophies and more. I can’t lie, it was a bit awkward at first to make conversation and feel my way around the situation but it was exciting to get my first flavor of a homestay in India – and to be in a place where the proprietor opens up his home and shares experiences. After my bike ride through the area villages (accompanied by his friendly staff,) we embarked on our leopard safari. While it sadly didn’t turn up any leopards, it was a beautiful excursion. We returned to enjoy drinks, popcorn, and other snacks in the restorative garden, followed by yet another delicious Indian home cooked meal.
My next homestay was at the HEM Guesthouse in Jodhpur. The driver arranged for me by India Someday dropped me off just outside the clock tower area where I was met, on a motorbike, by one of the two exceptionally sweet brothers who carry on the legacy of their hospitable mother Hem who founded and ran the homestay before she passed away.
Greeted by an adorable two year boy old (who generously handed me a toy truck), colorfully decorated wood furniture (the brothers’ other business), bean bag style chairs and a cup of hot chai, I immediately felt the family feel of this operation. The five-year-old animated daughter came home from school in her endearing little school dress, and excitedly held up her plastic container, sharing with great enthusiasm that she hadn’t eaten her banana! Very sweet.
The Nepalese teen who works for Hem’s walked me up a couple flights of stairs, where we passed the family’s kitchen and on the next floor, the clean and small (only relative to the other places I’ve stayed) room and finally, the beautiful rooftop view of the fort. En suite bathroom, a small balcony and fun artwork on the walls made it a pleasant place to catch up on some sleep and take advantage of the WIFI for writing.
Eager to experience more delicious home-cooked food, I was a tad disappointed by the lunch and the very thin (runny) lassi I ordered. Similarly, perhaps I should have chosen Indian style for the morning breakfast, but I was getting used to the lavish western spreads at my first few accommodations and was let down here as well, only to later learn that Hem is very popular for it’s Indian cuisine.
I think my disappointment in the food could likely be attributed to the caliber I had been receiving at my other places – and it was probably a big dinner meal that could have wooed me at Hem’s but I never gave it a try. In fact, working hard on writing and resting, I could not connect nearly as much with this exceptionally warm and friendly family as I’d have liked and as it seems they’re open to. Most regretfully, I didn’t get to know the women of the house. Pregnant and radiant, they probably would have been amazing to speak with and learn from.
Chandelao, my other recent homestay offered a glorious, relaxing and restorative environment (the bright blue pool waters called my name loud and clear) coupled by a rich experience of personal connections. I entered the beautiful fort residence and again had to pinch myself that this is where I would be staying.
In the family for generations, the land was gifted to them for having fought for the Maharana centuries ago. I had the opportunity to visit the women’s empowerment and craft-making center serving the local village, and to meet three of the generations, each one warmer than the next. I enjoyed lunch with the mother/grandmother (pains me to not recall first names) of Chandelao. Though she didn’t eat, we enjoyed our conversation, despite some language challenges! She was excited that her daughter and grandson would be joining for dinner.
It was a joy to meet them as well, to talk about everything from women’s issues to the family history and Bollywood film! We will likely get together in Jaipur to go see one. Veer, her grandson, had an infectious laugh. As I laptopped away with giant grasshoppers and other insects accosting me, he chatted on the phone with a friend he would connect me with in Jaisalmer, laughing hysterically for the duration of the call. Always a great sound!
Personal connections, shared elaborate meals, interesting architecture, luscious pools and a sampling of real-life living (wherever it might fall on the social class spectrum) has been a true joy to experience here in India. Figuring out the norms of each place presents its own unique challenge but overall, I highly recommend breaking away from the backpacker hostels or 5-star conglomerates to give the home-stay a try.
Thank you India Someday for making sure I have some truly memorable home-stay experiences!