Homestay - A humble experience to get out of my comfort zone
I truly believe that any trip offers the opportunity for us to live outside our comfort zone - as soon as we step outside our house and experience the new and explore each opportunity for the first time we are being brave.
But visiting some places can really take these experiences to the next level, and this is what this experience meant to me.
Let me start by saying that my definition of "next level" can be different than someone else's...it all depends, right?
In my case, homestays in remote places are the most challenging and mind opening experiences I've had. Normally you don't have access to things that we take for granted such as: running water, few or no showers, little or no electricity, eating whatever you are served...and even sleeping inside a sleeping bag without a bed while you are burning with fever due to a bacterial infection that you don't even know how long you will survive...ha! At least this is the way I was feeling during this experience.
During my 30 day visit to Nepal, I was honored to be invited by my guide and friend Shree from Epic Adventures, to visit his family's rural village of Dhading, Fulkharka where he was born and raised, and where his family still lives.
I dreamed of an opportunity to do a homestay in rural Nepal. I didn't think twice before I accepted his kind invitation. I was eager to see how the real Nepal was outside the cities. My homestay in a rural Nepal village turned out to be an incredible and unforgettable experience.
The trip to the rural village...what a trip!
The trip was long and not easy - We left Kathmandu early in the morning after picking up Shree's family that had come to the city for a doctor consultation. The 8 hours driving from Kathmandu to the village, with 9 people inside the car was nerve-racking as the roads are dangerous. The pavement ends at the outskirts of Kathmandu. Nepalese almost don't have any traffic rules and suddenly you can see a truck driving towards you without thinking about hitting the brakes.
In addition, the mountainous terrain of Nepal and the lack of paved roads, getting around takes time - it is really "off-road". We crossed rivers (literally drove through rivers), drove around mountains, and even had to pave the roads manually with rocks on several occasions, so the car could continue. The roads/trails we followed ranged from packed dirt, to mud trails, to deep sand one-lane mountain passes. Several times we had to quite literally pass another truck with less than 2 inches of clearance. Our driver was VERY good! Shree and his family seemed pretty comfortable with all that activity, while I was thinking AGAIN and AGAIN - "Ok...this is the end of the road!"
Getting close to the village, we realized that the 4 x 4 truck could not cross the rice paddies of the farm, so we had to leave the truck and carry our things to the house, and it was already dark outside. This time it really was "the end of the road!"
Arriving at the rural village in Nepal
Perched upon the side of a mountain, the houses in the village are very simple and only have the essentials needed by families. Most of the families were farmers and lived off the land and animals that they owned.
The bathroom at our homestay was an outhouse, and thankfully without lights - the only time I tried to use my cell phone light I saw a big spider and I decided to just ignore it and turn the light off. (When nature calls...you must answer; spiders or no spiders!).
All the houses have a central courtyard where the family sits together to have their meal and talk.
My bedroom was very simple also, and it didn't really have a mattress. I had a wooden bed frame to lay on. I appreciated my sleeping bag, as I got used to sleeping in it during my 7-day hike to the Annapurna Base Camp.
Upon our arrival, the women cooked dal-baht (rice, lentils and curry vegetables) with fresh ingredients from the farm in a small room attached to the house. They lit a fire on the floor and cooked over the open flames while squatting. This was the real home-made traditional food of Nepal. This was the real-deal unpolished experience!
For me, they boiled water over the fire to purify it to drink - at this point, I already had the whole colony of bacteria having a party inside me.
I sat alongside Shree's 5-year-old nephew and we ate the delicious homemade dal-baht together. I used a spoon to eat and he ate with his hands like a true Nepali.
Life in a rural village in Nepal
Life as a Nepali villager is busy and they have some hard work in their daily routines.
The women take care of the house and the animals. The children prepare the food and also work on the farm. The men who didn't move to the cities for a job, or who are retired from trekking and porter jobs, also take care of the farm.
The villagers can also spend a long time talking about things going on in the village, such as who has the strongest water buffalo and when the next bullfight will be.
Each family member lives collaboratively, as it is typical in Nepal rural villages for men to have more than one wife. In the house where we stayed, Shree's father had 2 wives - while one cooks, the other washes the dishes. The beauty of teamwork!
Around 70% of the population work in agriculture and they make just enough to get by.
Shopping facilities are usually sparse though there are small "shops" in the villages selling the basic necessities. If the shop in your village doesn't have what you need, you have to head to the next village or hope that roaming tradespeople will bring what you need balanced on their heads and backs.
Even if a villager had money, they wouldn't have anywhere or anything to spend it on! No Amazon delivery in this area, sorry!
Rural villages are largely self-sustaining due to their remoteness and the poor infrastructure that connects them to urban areas. Because of this, subsistence farming – growing crops for personal consumption rather than for profit – is fundamental to the livelihoods of local people, and takes up a significant portion of the day.
How I entertained myself
For a girl from the city, who is constantly super busy and very active you can only imagine it was not an easy experience for me to not find much to do. Especially with the bacteria eating me alive (this is how I was feeling).
I walked around the village, talked to people who could and would love to practice their English. I played games in English with the kids and they were so excited to learn new words. I played soccer with the kids at sunset in the rice paddies.
I played with the animals around the farm, and they are so docile as they are treated as family members.
One of the main reasons I also decided to travel to the village of Fulkharka, was for the opportunity to visit one of the social work projects that Shree was involved in. This project was rebuilding the village school after the earthquake of 2015 where 27 people died and 95% of the houses in the village were destroyed.
The experience of learning how the local community helps each other, and together they rebuild - but also travelers can help with projects like this by working or donating. Volunteer tourism is a sustainable and critical opportunity to help rural villages in Nepal. Not only is the volunteer tourist rewarded with a truly unique and cultural experience, but the villages also benefit from the supplemental income and potential to improve the infrastructure for everyone's benefit.
Besides visiting locals and seeing the daily village life, I also blogged! A lot!
Everyone in the village treated me so well, and I felt so welcome during the whole time, even if we didn't speak the same language. They gave me the first plate of dal-baht, and the kids shared their toys with me.
When I was leaving, Shree mom's gave me a hand made necklace and said that now I was a friend, and I will always be welcomed to go back.
What not to love about homestay in Nepal!?
Travel is not always comfortable
As Anthony Bourdain has said so well:
"Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts; it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind."
I believe in TRANSFORMATIVE TRAVEL and this statement will continue to drive my destination and exploration to Pin the Planet in remote areas, where it allows me to get out of my comfort zone and continue to give and get back.
I learn from the experiences of each journey and from the people I connect with while traveling. They motivate me by sharing their homes, lives, families, kindness and delicious food. I have found that there is a shared connection, a common bond between all of us, no matter the background or the culture. I revel in the opportunity to meet someone from such a different life than I have known and learn from them. This is one of the best parts of travel, the people you meet and the knowledge and experience you gain because you met them. This is priceless!
Is homestay in Nepal a good fit for everyone? Absolutely not!
But the most important thing is to keep exploring; travel isn't always comfortable. But we always take something and also leave something good behind. Friends!