Spoilt for choice, if you want to stay in a family/community homestays in Nepal, then there are now more than 20 listed on the Community Homestay Network; with new ones joining all the time.
Mainly managed by women, they are given training and support from Royal Mountain Travel to be able to welcome guests into their homes in a sustainable and well-organised manner. CHN started its journey as a CSR project of Royal Mountain Travel. It started with the motive of Women Empowerment and responsible tourism in Panauti with one home.
The diversity in Nepal means that no homestay experience is the same. Scattered all over the country, there is a wide range of cultural heritage, traditions, scenery, things to do and cuisines!
I have had the opportunity to visit many of these communities in the early days. Obviously the priorities of guests – tourists who usually have little idea of life in these rural villages – is that most need access to clean, comfortable beds and good bathroom facilities.
While some home-stays in small villages tend to be more basic, generally those located in the Kathmandu Valley are well facilities and even quipped with modern amenities. Likewise, in towns such as Tansen tend to be more comfortable. However, even in the most rural and simple accommodation, outside toilets will not be far and everything is clean.
Depending on your time duration and how far you want to go, and perhaps the level of comfort, you have a wide choice. There are seven community homestays in and around Kathmandu, all within about two hours drive from Kathmandu.
There are a few new ones, added during the pandemic, that I have not yet had the opportunity to visit. But here I will describe my top 10 personal favourite community homestays in Nepal. These community homestays are the places where I have been and of which I have special memories.
The first and the flagship product, Panauti community homestay started out when the wife of an employee working for Royal Mountain Travel was encouraged to help organise a group of women to make available one or two rooms in their homes for guests to stay in. At the time, many of the women spoke very little English. They had to rely on their children to translate and help teach them the basic English. Panauti itself has much to offer visitors. About two hours from Kathmandu, this small historic town is home to the lush countryside of the Kathmandu Valley. Panauti is easy to reach and has lots of interest in its beautifully preserved old town centre. I first visited Panauti in 1994 on my first trip to Nepal. Apart from some changes in dress and perhaps the number of vehicles, not much has changed; it is still possible to see girls winnowing the rice in the streets.
Every time I return to Nepal, I always try to fit in a visit to Panauti. Just to say hello to old friends and to bring my friends here.
Not much further than Panauti, Patlekhet community homestay is a fascinating place to get an insight into a wide range of farming activities. Starting early in the morning, you can try your hand at milking a cow (I was useless at it!). You might find it interesting to follow my example and go up to the pickup point by the road, where the dairy company from Kathmandu measures the cream and milk each farmer sends to the city for selling. You can see the honey-making process, visit one of the dairy farmers, see an incredible variety of fruit and vegetables, and visit the community centre where all sorts of things going on. Surrounded by hills and paths, this is a lovely spot to hike from too. The homestays are comfortable, with indoor bathrooms. Badly damaged during the 2015 earthquake, many houses have been rebuilt to high earthquake-proof standards.
On the outside rim of the Kathmandu Valley, Nagarkot is the popular resort town where everyone heads to catch sight of the sunrise over the Himalayas and hopefully a glimpse of Mount Everest in the distance. However, instead of going a bit further to the crowded hotels, a better idea might be to stay at one of the community homestays in Nagarkot.
In this hamlet, just down from Nagarkot, you can stay in peace and quiet in comfortable homes where many of the families engage in small-scale farming. Devastated by the 2015 earthquake, most of the homes have been rebuilt and have rooms available for guests attached or close to the family home, equipped with a private bathroom with Western-style toilets, hot water, and clean towels.
The opposite direction from Kathmandu, but a similar distance, is the community homestay at Belkot, in Nuwakot. Another historic area, is not far from the old original capital of Nepal, with its Palais ruins. This little roadside village offers basic accommodation and a glimpse into typical village life.
Another favourite, Tansen Palpa Community Homestay offers comfortable homes located in a small town up in the hills. Tansen is a historic town situated between Pokhara and Lumbini. Mainly, you can stay with Newar families. Here there are many sights to see, guided by your local hosts and there is an incredible range of things to do; visit a coffee farm; walk-up Shrinagar Hill to admire the sunrise and sunset views across the Himalayas; visit the unique Ranighat Palace on the banks of the Kali Gandaki River, which can be easily reachable by a vehicle along a rough road; or simply go hiking.
Perhaps the second-ever community homestay project, Royal Mountain Travel worked with this community to set up a homestay with individually built cottages to accommodate guests. Barauli community homestay is one of the most popular community homestays in Nepal. The villagers felt that their homes were too basic for guests who might require a level of comfort. The rooms of Barauli Community Homestay are more luxurious than you’d expect in a village home. Each homestay is overseen by one of the village women and they welcome and take care of the guests just as they would if you were staying in their homes. Here, too, there is a central dining room where they prepare and serve local organic meals. The villagers take pride in performing their traditional dances. In fact, this has been portrayed as a valuable way to preserve local culture and to encourage youngsters to take pride in their heritage.
Close to Chitwan National Park, guests can enjoy a number of wildlife and nature-focused activities such as a canoe ride along the river or spotting rhinoceros, other animals and birds on a safari. Chitwan is just 4-5 hours by bus from Kathmandu.
As a big fan of Bardiya National Park, I often visit this region. Bardiya community homestay in Nepal is as authentic as they come. The accommodation is very rustic and basic. The houses are made in the traditional way using mud and wood. You will really feel like you’re having a rural adventure. Tucked beside the Bardiya national park, you can easily walk into the jungle and see wildlife. If you feel up to it, you can even spend a night in machhan (watchtower) in the forest. Inside Bardiya National Park, less crowded with visitors, you are more likely to spot, if not a tiger, (this is where I saw one), then wild elephants, rhinos, crocodiles and deer.
Heading as far west as you can go, you reach Sukla Phanta National Park. In Rana Tharu Community Homestay, the villagers have built one or two rooms close to their houses to provide guests with simple but comfortable accommodation. Though Tharu people inhabit the Terai which stretches from east to west across southern Nepal, there are differences and in particular you can see in the culture and cuisine. A big draw to this homestay, however, is the national park. Quite different from Bardiya or Chitwan, here, there are grasslands and it is home to swamp deer, barking deer, wild boar, tiger, leopard, rhino, elephant and more than 400 species of birds.
One of the most popular community homestays in Nepal is situated in Shree Antu. Perhaps home to the most stunning scenery, this village in the east of Nepal is in the lower foothills south of Kanchenchunga, the third-highest mountain in the world and in my opinion, most beautiful one. Here you will witness tea gardens and rolling hills with views down to India, just across the border a few kilometres away. Staying in comfortable homes, this village is full of energy, inhabited by Brahmin, Limbu, Tamang, Rai, Lepcha and Magar people. As well as trying the tea (similar to Darjeeling tea, grown just across the border), you can try your hand in picking some leaves, visit a tea factory (although not between November and May, when it is closed), take a horse trek, visit the Chiya Baari (tea estate) or admire the sunrise over Kanchenchunga from the Gufa Patal Viewpoint.
If you are heading east, Namje Community Homestay in Nepal is a very worthwhile detour to break your journey, as it is a little-visited but very beautiful part of Nepal. One of the major attractions is to go hiking up to a ridge overlooking the village and enjoy the incredible views. You can also go for a walk up to Thumki Hill, which the local Magar people call the ‘place of spirits’. There, they still practise animist traditions and villagers go to worship their ancestors. The village is attractive and the houses are simple but comfortable.
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