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Shivani Kagti

A home for the holidays

As any seasoned traveller will tell you, the best way to experience the indigenous flavour of a place is to live like a local. One way to do that is to choose a homestay over a hotel or resort. For one, you’ll become part of your host’s family for the duration of your stay. This means insight into how the locals live and a taste of traditional cuisine as opposed to the generic menus available at most hotels. While there are plenty of homestays operational across the Northeast, here are three that we have lived in and loved. From breath-taking views to warm hosts and amazing food – these homes make for an unforgettable holiday getaway.

Yangsum Heritage Farm, Sikkim

Picture this – snow-capped peaks of the Kangchenjunga set under pristine blue skies, green forest cover as far as the eye can see and a charming farmhouse in the centre of it all. This 44-acre property in west Sikkim set an altitude of 1500 metres belongs to Thendup Tashi and his wife, Pema. Originally built in 1833, the family-run farm is known for its organically-grown maize, millets, ginger, cardamom, seasonal vegetables and more. Much of this makes way to your plate along with gundruk (dried fermented greens), nettle soup, nakima (an edible flower) stir fry and buckwheat flatbread among other such specialties. With three wood-panelled rooms in one unit and three independent cottages, each with access to roomy verandahs, it’s easy to while away time gazing into the distance. But do make time for ambling walks across the property and adjoining villages where you can spot wild flowers, butterflies and birds as well as explore a local market. For the more adventurous, Thendup can arrange treks to the nearby mountains. At the right time of year, see amazing views of Kangchenjunga, the world’s third-highest peak.

Puroni Bheti Tea and Farm Retreat, Jorhat

Set in the midst of a verdant green tea plantation spanning over 500 acres, this heritage homestay in Assam is a great getaway for a number of reasons. Foremost among them is the family that owns and runs the retreat — the Khongiya Barooah family first ventured into the tea industry by acquiring the property from Stewart Hall, a Scottish Tea Company, in 1904. From sharing anecdotes around a bonfire to dishing out an array of eclectic home-cooked food, they’ll ensure there’s never a dull moment. A luxurious bungalow with four spacious bedrooms all done up with vintage furniture adds to the oldworld charm of the place. Whether you choose to go on a farm walk – there are over 200 varieties of plants including bamboo, native trees, herbs, medicinal plants, fruits and flowers on the property or spend a few hours fishing in the pukhuri or pond – there are varied activities suited to different temperaments. Off the property, one can plan day trips to the nearby Kaziranga National Park or Majuli – the world’s largest river island. You can also play a round of golf at the Jorhat gymkhana club but be sure to let your hosts know in advance.

Longchen Homestay, Dimapur

Just 1.5 kms from Dimapur airport, this cosy homestay is not just conveniently located but is also the perfect introduction to Naga hospitality. Owner Annie’s attention to detail is what makes a difference. The cheery yellow building, which houses four rooms on two levels, is done up with locally-sourced bamboo and cane furniture right from the beds to dining table and chairs. There’s also a reading corner where Annie has thoughtfully put together a collection of books including a few helpful ones on travelling in Nagaland. The nicest touch would have to be the spacious verandahs on both floors overlooking paddy fields, a small pond and the surrounding village of Aoyimti. The dining area also includes a small working kitchenette with access to a gas stove and fridge.

Ever since they opened their doors in 2015, Longchen has grown in popularity. While they started out with four rooms, they have built an independent cottage with its own verandah and two other rooms in another wing with access to a kitchenette where long-stay or budget travellers can cook their own food. While breakfast is complimentary, one can place orders for lunch or dinner in advance. Simple homestyle meals made with fresh vegetables harvested from their kitchen garden are a must try. Apart from the main kitchen where most meals are cooked, there’s an open Naga style kitchen where meats are smoked and one can watch the chef prepare local tribal style chutneys and pastes. Don’t miss the souvenir corner where one can buy handmade beeswax candles as well as bread baskets, cutlery and strainers made with locally-sourced bamboo.

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