“The best way to understand the ethos and culture of a region is to immerse oneself in it. And, what better way to stay than in a pahadi ghar homestay.” – Sriparna Saha
(Image – The village homestay at Ana village in Bageshwar district, Uttarakhand which underwent a detailed home renovation exercise. Sriparna Saha works as a himalayan homestay advisor, homestay architect and consultant.)
In the many trips that we have taken to the Himalayas, I and my family have stayed in pahadi ghar homestays (pahadi meaning belonging to the mountain / hill) more popularly known as pahadi ghar(s) with pahadi log on multiple occasions. Staying with the locals first hand and being a part of their day has enriched our understanding of the pahadi culture, customs and values.
What is a Pahadi Ghar?
A pahadi ghar is a traditional mountain house. The traditional pahadi ghar is built of stone, wood and mud for mortar. The term ‘pahadi ghar’ applies to himalayan mountain houses in the Himalayan region stretching from Himachal to Nepal through Uttarakhand.
The original Pahadi Ghar(s) are ones which are built of stone, wood and mud for mortar. These elements provide excellent insulation making the pahadi ghar amazingly cosy and comfortable. The mud mortar and the wooden elements makes the house more flexible and helps in being resilient to seismic shocks.
Though pahadi ghar(s) – made of stone, wood and mud – are quite prevalent in the Uttarakhand Himalayan region, ‘pahadi ghar’ is a more colloquial term especially in the Dhanaulti – Kanatal stretch. In a trending market, a few concrete constructions (non-pahadi ghars) have also branded themselves as Pahadi Ghar Kanatal, Pahadi House Rishikesh and so on.
An Ideal Pahadi Ghar – A Himalayan Homestay Architect’s Perspective
The clarity dawned on me that the best approach will not be to replace the pahadi homes into ultra modern structures which belong to the cosmopolitan lifestyles in the metros. Instead, the appropriate thing to do would be to go for a pahadi home redesign and home remodel keeping the context in mind. Also, thinking creatively to incorporate elements of the region’s culture, history, and scenes, to make it ethnic and unique. Not to forget, with the Himalayan weather swinging to the extremes, it is important that the home shields and adequately protects its occupants during these instances and provides for a comfortable and a cozy experience.
The realization has been that construction, land development needs to be minimal. Instead of cutting and leveling the contours, we need to work with them. In fact, this provides the opportunity for each pahadi home to have multiple levels inside that can make each one of them to be unique in nature. Each pahadi home inherits a unique setting which it can enhance further and thus provide for a unique experience.
With a bountiful nature, staying in a Himalayan (Pahadi ghar) homestay, in the midst of the mountains, rivers and valleys with clear snow views, mountain views, valley views is an awesome experience. The opportunity of living the life of a Himalayan Pahadi villager, participating in their daily chores, indulging in the Pahadi life and understanding the Pahadi perspective to life can be a unique soul-searching experience while connecting with nature.
A himalayan homestay or any homestay has to be much more than just building a concrete structure and putting up a board declaring it a homestay. This, in itself, does not make a hotel or a lodge a homestay. “Airbnb homestays” and “OYO homestays” are much more common and passé these days. A pahadi ghar homestay, in the true sense, means staying with the pahadi log in their pahadi homes, having pahadi food and taking it to a much higher level of involvement by participating in pahadi chores. That would truly be living pahadi way of life by experiencing it first-hand.
Role of a Homestay Architect
As a homestay architect, my approach is to preserve and retain the original structure to the maximum. All elements related to heritage, customs and traditions are identified. A vision to organise and present the pahadi ghar is formulated and multiple options are thought out. A workable plan is formulated as per the available budget.
The larger and important task is to identify the structural elements which need reinforcement. These are selectively reinforced with lime to serve as mortar.
Also, wooden members that need to be replaced are identified. These are then organically treated for longer life. Wood and mud help in providing seismic strength against earthquake shocks which are more common in the Uttarakhand Himalayan region.
Additionally, it also involves increasing the size of doors and windows and designing the old structure to accommodate these changes. A significant change is incorporation of washroom facilities (which can be accessed from inside) as a part of the structure in contrast to a toilet at a distance from the old pahadi ghar.
Overall, the basic idea is preserve the advantages of the old pahadi ghar while adding the modern must-haves for a comfortable stay. The approach is to retain the original structure to the maximum. The look and feel and hence, the soul of the old pahadi ghar needs to be intact and should be perceived to the full.
The Himalayan Setting – Nature At Its Very Best
In a Himalayan setting, it can be sunlight to start with and then cloudy and then rainy and then sunlight again. All in a matter of few hours. The Himalayas are definitely among the top most locations in the world, where it can be enthralling to watch the Nature God’s theatrics in action.
And not to miss out, nights are great to do sky-watching and star-gazing as the sky is clear of pollutions and clouds. The Himalayan region offers amongst the best locations in the world to watch the Northern sky. And also, listening to the awe-inspiring mythological tales about the the Saptarshi, the Dhruva-tara and so many more from an elderly pahadi seated amongst little children, around a small fire in a magical natural setting.
The Himalayan region provides for a salubrious climate with its many variations. With air, water and soil completely untouched by pollution, one can go for long walks and treks and rejuvenate oneself. For those who have not been keeping well, it is common to hear relations advising to go to the Himalayas for a month or two to rediscover one’s health and cheer. No wonder, the Himalayan region is dotted with many sanatoriums – Bhowali, Pithoragarh and many more. Over the ages, the Himalayas have welcomed many into their embrace, to nurse them back and return them back to their tougher pursuits in the plains.
The Himalayas – A Favoured Destination Since Time Immemorial
The Himalayas have always been a destination for writers, thinkers, philosophers – like Shankaracharya, Tagore, Swami Vivekananda, Netaji Subhash, Pt. Nehru, Gandhiji and many others looking for inspiration – helping them with their soul searching seeking answers to confounding problems. The British used to go to the Himalayas for different reasons, trying to get some respite from what they called the hot and dusty plains. The cool, salubrious climate of the Himalayas resembled closely with their homes in England.
The Himalayan Region – Replete with History, Heritage and Mythology
The Himalayan region is full of history, heritage, mythology – be it the Pandavas in their exile or the Ganges descending from Lord Shiva’s locks onto Rishi Bhagirathi before landing on to the earth. Villages in the Himalayan region enact scenes of the Mahabharata – like Draupadi chir haran or Abhimanyu’s badh in their own very unique and original style.
Or, it may be the Nanda Devi Jat Yatra or many melas that are organized in various places which revolve around many interesting mythological tales. The pious at heart religiously believe in these mythological tales and the temples built round them. These temples at Jageshwar, Madh Maheshwar, Baleshwar, Lakhamandal, Hanol and numerous others apart from the more famous ones at Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri andYamunotri.
The various dynasties of Katyuri, Chand Kings, Gorkhas, the Raja(s) of Tehri, Narendranagar and many others have deeply enriched this region with temples and their architecture.
The history of the Anglo-Gorkha war is replete with stories of heroism and valour not just by the men for whom fighting might have been a profession, but also the women and the children who fought to the last man (read, woman and children). The land has also harboured the Rajputs fleeing Aurangzeb’s oppression, who have now become a part of this region. Little known also, are the various settlers who have come in from lands as far as Karnataka and Bengal and have settled here since centuries to make the Himalayas their home. Also, with flourishing trade between the Silk route and the Himalayan region, another round of tales, buildings and monuments came into being.
It is this rich mixture of history, culture, heritage, architecture which have enriched this region time and time again with several layers superimposing the previous one.
Coupled with this, the homestay movement – helping pahadi log to remodel and renovate their pahadi homes – holds the promise of providing accommodation to the tourist interested in experiencing this rich concoction of heritage. What better way to experience than staying in a Himalayan homestay with the locals – pahadi log – having their food, understanding their needs and desires as they go about their daily chores.
Himalayan Homestays and Pahadi Ghar – Zones showing high growth
Some of the homestays in Dehradun, Mussoorie, Dhanaulti, Kanatal, Rishikesh, Haridwar, Auli, Joshimath, Nainital, Almora, Mukteshwar, and Munsiyari, Sarmoli in Uttarakhand are attracting a good number of tourists. Similarly, homestays in Shimla, Manali, Kufri and Mashobra in Himachal are also evincing good interest. Today, more and more tourists are interested in exploring the interiors for a more immersive experience.
In recent times, pahadi ghar and homestays in Dehradun-Mussoorie-Dhanaulti-Kanatal-Chamba stretch, in the Uttarakhand Himalayas, the Shimla-Kufri-Chail stretch in the Himachal Himalayas have caught the fancy of tourists. Homestays in Munsiyari-Sarmoli stretch have always had the first mover advantage in the Uttarakhand Himalayas.
Pahadi Ghar in Kanatal – Dhanaulti
Pahadi Ghars in Kanatal and Dhanaulti are coming up in good numbers. With a few successful examples around him, the potential homestay owner is able to foresee the future homestay potential of his old village home. The homestay owner is beginning to realise that his old village house is actually an asset. This with pahadi house remodeling and renovation can start generating a steady income without him needing to migrate to the city looking for work.
Himalayan homestays are popularly known are pahadi ghar in Kanatal-Dhanaulti stretch. These pahadi ghars earlier used to decay into oblivion with the village home owner creating a concrete home adjacent to his old village home. Every monsoon, the pahadi ghar would take a fresh beating with a gaping roof and no repair. Often in a cold winter night, a wooden member (with intricate carvings) from the pahadi home would serve as fuel for the fire to warm up the pahadi home owner’s family and even the domestic animals.
This pahadi ghar homestay renovation movement is helping the homestay owner to preserve his ancestral old home while generating income and livelihood at the same time.
Important Actionables for a Himalayan Homestay Advisor and Homestay Architect
My role as a himalayan homestay advisor starts off with understanding the future homestay potential of the old village house. This involves checking out the history and the heritage of the location. Also, the various activities that can take place around the location.
The homestay advisor can help build an effective ecosystem around the homestay. She can identify the skills that the villagers have and develop activities which can be synergistic to the homestay.
The homestay advisor needs to visualise the earnings potential of the pahadi ghar when fully developed. Also, the future homestay value to be able to advise the homestay owner appropriately. Working across several himalayan homestays, she can also connect the homestay owner to partners who can help this ecosystem in a sustainable way.
Depending upon the budget at hand, the first thing is to get the pahadi ghar livable, safe and secure. As a homestay architect, the task is to develop a phased plan for the homestay owner. The homestay renovation needs to be done in a way so that every small phase creates a substantial increase in income generation.
With not much construction work possible in the winter and the monsoon, the time window available needs to be planned and co-ordinated in conjunction with the budget.
Consider staying in a Himalayan Pahadi Ghar Homestay
The concept of homestays in Uttarakhand and Himachal Himalayas is a fast growing one and promises a truly enriching and memorable experience to the traveler. Consider coming over and staying in some of these homestays in Uttarakhand and Himachal and rolling in the lap of the Himalayas.
In the near future, I shall be writing on the following General Blog Topics: homestay near me – homestay design and architecture – homestay interior design – homestays in himachal – Kerala – Karnataka – homestays in India – Other homestay destinations in the world
And, also on the specific location topics: homestays in Uttarakhand – homestays in Dehradun – Rajpur Dehradun – Mussoorie – homestays in Dhanaulti – pahadi ghar Kanatal – Chamba Uttarakhand – homestays in Rishikesh – homestays in Haridwar – Auli – Joshimath – Chopta – Lansdowne – Nainital – Almora – Mukteshwar – homestays in Munsiyari -Sarmoli – Shimla – Manali – homestays in Kufri – Mashobra – Fagu
My Travel Blogs : My trips to the Himalayas – Chamoli-Joshimath-Uttarakhand Glacier burst – My earlier travel blogs ; My Landscape Architecture Blogs : The balancing roles of a Landscape Architect – The Science of Garden Design; Buransh (Rhododendron Arboreum) ; My Home Renovation Blog : A Case of Home Renovation and Remodeling
About Sriparna Saha
Sriparna Saha is an architect with a focus on architectural projects specific to the Himalayan region.
Affectionately called as the ‘homestay architect’ in interior Uttarakhand villages, Sriparna realized early-on that renovating pahadi homes into ethnic unique homestays holds the key to generate income in village households and thus, help the process of reverse migration in the Uttarakhand Himalayas.
A passionate believer in architecture to support local people issues, Sriparna has done numerous home renovation and remodeling projects to convert pahadi homes into homestays for tourism and promote the cause of heritage conservation in the Uttarakhand Himalayan region.
With a first hand and ‘on the ground’ experience with multiple homestays across Uttarakhand, Himachal, Sikkim and West Bengal, Sriparna is widely sought after as a homestay advisor and consultant to architect and design homestays and also setup ecosystems involving partners to support the homestay ecosystem.
Architect Sriparna Saha – Detailed Profile