A lot has been written about the sheer beauty of Munsiyari which is nestled between the snow-clad mountain peaks of the Panchachuli and Rajrambha. Maati Sangathan started its Home Stay program in 2004 where the locals rented out extra rooms in houses to tourists / paying guests.
The Home Stay initiative started with existing homes, but gradually extra rooms and separate toilets were built in several houses.
Starting at Rs. 1350 per person per night, inclusive of food (local cuisine) and shelter, the ‘Maati home-stays’ are not for the low budget travelers. They are undeniably for a particular niche in the market – the ever growing Indian urban middle class seeking experience beyond the concrete walls of resorts and hotels.
If you want to experience village life, these home-stays offer the perfect opportunity. We stayed in Sarmoli Home-stay for little about 11 days.
Our host family was very affectionate and welcoming and it felt as if we were part of their family. Our home-stay experience was so heartwarming that my daughter cried her heart out when we had to leave the place.
7 Things Nobody Tells You About Sarmoli Home-Stay!
Before we left for Sarmoli we had read and re-read all about the beautiful village, the places we could trek, the places we should visit and about the entrepreneur ladies of Maati Sanghthan who were running Home-stays.
However, it turns out that there are 7 things no one tells you about Sarmoli Home-Stay. I am highlighting these points so that a visitor knows what’s in store in this off-beat destination.
1. Cramped Public Conveyance:
If you are driving down to Sarmoli then God’s be with you to deal with the treacherous turns and appalling traffic. However, if you are not in your own vehicle but decide to travel in a shared cab, just the way we did, Be Warned!
Travelers and SUVs run on these roads and one can either book the entire SUV or pay per person basis (the more economical way of course) and if you belong to the latter category be prepared to be cooped inside like chickens in pen. With limited leg space, you need to sit with your legs folded with chin on it looking like a Praying Mantis!
If you happen to be sitting on the chair which opens up, you also get to involuntarily play the Driver’s helper. You need to open the seat, step out and let people get in or get out. Then you need to hop back in after everyone and close the seat.
2. It’s a Serpentine Road to Sarmoli:
As tongue twister as it may sound, the truth be told, people with motion sickness be aware! A word of warning to even those who do not have motion sickness. The winding and twisting road can test one’s limits! Every second vehicle that passes by, will tell tales of projectile vomit.
“I get very sick on the roads to Sarmoli,” said Chandra didi our Home-stay host in Sarmoli.
“So why don’t you take Avomine or some other medicine”.
“If I take medicine, I will doze off, then how will I watch the beautiful scenery,” she smiled with twinkling eyes.
Chandra didi is a Sarmoli resident, she belongs to this place and yet cannot let the opportunity of soaking in the scenic route go by, such is the beauty of this place.
But if you have young ones or older ones with a tendency to feel nausea, my sincere advice would be to take a medicine whose active ingredient is promethazine which blocks receptors in an area of the brain called the vomiting center.
3. Bloodsuckers on the Way!
“Eeyew, eeyew, eeyew . . . I have got something ugly on my legs!” reported our 11-year-old.
“That’s a Leech, it sucks blood!” I uttered nonchalantly.
Her eyes big in horror, my daughter spurted, “Whaa…? Get it off me”.
As I flicked off the slimy little hitchhiker’s head with my long nails we noticed another one on my husband’s foot. Having had it’s full, the leech just rolled off his foot as if stumbling out of a bar. We dabbed the open wound with a clean tissue and applied a little antiseptic (always in the bag when you have little kids).
Be it a long trek to Milam Glacier, or a shorter one to Khalia Bugyal or a short climb to Mesar Kund you need to wade through typical Himalayan temperate forests which especially in the Wet Season are full of wild and enthralling animals. One of those habitants with a bad reputation are leeches, lurching in the moist and dark undergrowth, waiting for warm blood like count Dracula.
Whenever we would venture out, Saraswati didi, one of the Home-stay entrepreneurs would always remind us, “namak rakha ya nahin?”. Turns out, if the blood-sucking worms happen to attach themselves to you, sprinkle salt over it and VOILA the leech will leave you.
4. Be prepared to clean your room and wash your dishes
We trek, we travel and we have been to few other home-stays before. But this was the first time when we were venturing into a “long-stay-at-one-place” kind of thing. We were in Sarmoli for little less than two weeks. We were not aware that we would be expected to do our chores ourselves. So though it came as a shocker at first, we gradually got used to the routine.
If you happen to stay for more than 3 days in the Sarmoli Home-stays then be ready to do the chores yourself. The home-stay Program rules are very clear that for the safety of both the host and the guest, the host will not enter the room which has been rented out to the guests. Which means they can not make your bed nor clean your room.
A fresh bed sheet is given to you to change after every third day and if you wish you can clean the room as well. Sarmoli houses do not collect much of dust around but if you are traveling with kids, you might end up sweeping the floors (like we did).
The food is prepared by the hosts and served to you. All utensils used by you are expected to be washed by you. My husband and I took turns to wash the utensils whilst the kids washed the glasses. It does get a little frustrating at night as the water in the tap is considerably cold. And did I mention you need to wash your clothes with your own hands (no washing machine)!? It took us a day or two to get used to the routine and then it was an easy sail.
Before you commit yourselves to a longer stay (more than 3 days) consider your comfort zone in doing these chores during vacations.
5. Know your weather
We were in Sarmoli in End April and Early may and we found Sarmoli being notorious for being rainy even in the brightest days of summer. One minute it’s pleasant sunshine, you are so confident that you wash a bucket full of clothes, hang them to dry and trot away around the village. Next minute, bam! The clouds come over, the sky turns gray and the worst part – the clothes you put for drying are about to get wet! Very wet!
If you are not around, the hosts will keep the clothes in shade but if it continues to rain, the clothes don’t dry inside the rooms.
If you are planning on spending time in Munsiyari around this time it would be wise to pack your raincoat or a small umbrella to come handy on a rainy day!
6. There are frequent power cuts
With rain comes the lightning and thunder and, more likely than not, also brings with it the occasional power outage. The worst thing is when the power goes out at night due to bad weather. This means that people who are supposed to fix the problem may themselves be seeking shelter and so it may take a considerable time for the lights to be on again. Did I mention that in all likelihood the internet access would be erratic too?
Don’t only make hay when the sun shines but also charge your Solar Lamps. Solar Lamps are provided by the host family. Keep your cell phones/ laptops, power banks or any other gadget charged whenever the power is available.
How Solar Lamp helped me catch my husband sleeping with someone!!
During one such power cut one night, my husband went off to sleep whilst I sat at the dining table jabbing at my Mac Book trying to write something in the light of the Solar Lamp. After having finished my work, I entered our room with the solar lamp in one hand.
As I was about to climb the bed I noticed two eyes glaring back at me. There was a cat sleeping with authority on what was supposed to have been my duvet. I muffled my scream afraid the cat might jump on my husband who was sound asleep. But I Guess, with a lamp in one hand on a dark thundering night, I must have scared the cat more than it had scared me.
and as I was about to run out of the room deserting my husband in the cat’s company, the cat ran out of the room past my legs.
And this is how a well charged Solar Lamp saved me from sleeping on a cat! My personal tip for parents would be to be well stalked with books, board games, UNO cards and craft material to keep your little ones entertained and amused during a power outage on a rainy day.
7. Distances are measured in syllables
It does sound like a Shahrukh Khan song but that is how distances and directions are communicated in hills. Everything is “buss pass mein hi hai”, and that near distance is ever so far!
But there was a particular thing I observed in Sarmoli. The distances are communicated via stress on the syllables.
“Where is Khali top?”
“Woh doooooooor wahan.” Looooooonger the stress, faaaaaarther is the distance.
“How tall is it?”
“Bohot oooooooooncha hai.” Wel, we got the idea it was pretty tall.
So when it was time to say goodbye, we told our warm host, we will miss you a loooooooooooot!!
Don’t’ mistake the Sarmoli Home-stays for luxurious home-stays. These are humble dwellings which help in connecting with the people while staying with them in the same living condition as theirs, eating the same food they eat every day and understanding their culture, their struggles, their beliefs and their love for nature.
Have you been to any such home-stay? Do share your experience with us by leaving a comment below!