This 50-YO Mud Homestay Amid Apple Orchards Is the Manali Experience You’ve Been Dreaming Of
Looking for the best homestay in Manali? Inspired from her grandmother's mud home, Heena Mahant's Afsana Homestay promises a authentic Himachali experience to its guests.
A serene and magical white blanket now envelops our beloved winter vacation spot—Manali. The snow, which is now knee-deep in most parts of the city, offers the winter delight we have all been eagerly anticipating.
Although a little later than usual, the city now adorns a pristine white winter glow, perfect for enticing you for a weekend getaway. Just a short walk from the famous Hadimba Temple lies a property that will become your home away from home.
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Afsana Homestay, a 50-year-old mud home, takes the ‘home’ part very seriously. Inspired by traditional Himachali homes and the culture they embody, this homestay offers much more than just accommodation.
Heena Mahant, the founder of the homestay, told The Better India, “The homestay is more than just a place to stay. It’s an experience I wanted to share with everyone—the experience of living in a genuine Himachali home, secluded from the bustling city while being nestled between a forest and an apple orchard.”
Born and raised in Kullu, Heena remembers visiting her grandma’s home as her child. Back then, she was not aware that that home would one day become her inspiration.
Like most kids, Heena grew out of her simple pahadi life and moved to Chandigarh. “After completing my graduation and MBA, I started to live in the city and worked for nearly 12 years working as a digital marketer,” she says.
However, while she loved her career, Heena’s heart belonged back home. In 2020, she fell ill and decided to return home. “I had put in a lot of hard work for a decade and wanted to focus on my health for a while,” she says.
Returning home, she realised that she wanted to create something of her own in Manali.
“A lot of my friends owned homestays and I was freelancing and helping them market their homestay. It was the first time the idea of owning my homestay came to me,” she says.
“However, it was my grandmother’s warm and cosy home that became my inspiration,” she adds.
Being in Manali brought back memories of Heena’s sweet childhood, and she yearned to recreate something similar. “My grandmother’s home was so authentic, so cosy, and immersed in nature. It offered an experience that was truly unique. I wanted to recreate that magic,” she says.
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With a clear direction in mind, Heena needed a solid plan. “I decided to continue freelancing while simultaneously searching for properties and travelling to find the perfect home,” she says. It took a year of searching before Heena finally found the perfect property.
When Heena laid eyes on the 50-year-old home that would become Afsana Homestay, it was love at first sight. “It was as if all my visions for the homestay came to life. The house, half a century old, was constructed with natural materials like wood, mud, and stone. All renovations were carried out using the same materials,” she says.
Nestled amidst an apple orchard and dense forest, the house was secluded and embraced by nature. “It was perfect in every sense,” she adds.
Heena decided to purchase the home and make it her passion project. “No one in my family had ever been in this business,” she adds.
Recalling her parents’ initial reaction to her decision to start a homestay, she says, “I still remember my dad’s scepticism. There was always pressure to get married and settle down when I was in Chandigarh, but upon returning, it intensified even more. I don’t blame them; I’m nearing 32, an age society expects you to get married and “settle down”, not start a passion project.”
“But soon enough, my family realised that I had different plans. My dad showed immense support once he understood my vision for the homestay and my future,” shares Heena.
Armed with her savings and support from her family, Heena began work on her homestay in April 2022. “Within one and a half months, we were ready to welcome our first guests,” she says with a smile.
Since Afsana Homestay opened its doors, they have served over 300 guests.
Creating her grandma’s magic
Talking about the homestay, she says, “We have three categories of rooms at the property. We avoid taking guests who have kids below 8 years because the walk up to the homestay might be too much for the little ones.”
The property has private rooms with attached washrooms. The prices range between Rs 2,000 to 3,000, depending on the season. “We also have private rooms with a shared washroom. The prices range from Rs 1,000 to 2,000,” she says.
Afsana also has a room perfect for backpackers and travellers on a budget. “These shared rooms provide an economical option at 600 rupees per bed. Washrooms are shared among guests in this category,” she says.
Talking about the experiences she provides in her homestay, she says, “We provide a purely simple Himachali food experience at our homestay. Our caretaker and old cook from back home joined me with the operations of the homestay and cooked these delicious meals. We use our mother’s recipes for making the traditional dish, Siddu, served to our guests.”
All the raw materials are usually sourced from her home farm. “The walnuts for the siddu, the ghee for the food, the veggies and milk are all sourced from my own farm,” she says.
As for the activities, she says, “We offer four to five activities as part of our package. Guests can enjoy a guided tour of the forest park, included in the package, during the morning or evening. We also take them to a secluded, hidden viewpoint with breathtaking views. Here, guests can indulge in a picnic, savour tea, and soak in the remarkable scenery.”
She also has three hikes that the people can experience. She says, “We offer three additional hiking options: Lion King Rock, a one-hour hike; Lamadugh, a four-hour trek; and Rani Sui Lake, a full-day hike. Guests can enjoy these excursions at an additional cost.”
During these treks, Heena makes sure there is no plastic waste discarded by her guests. “It is our duty to maintain the sanctity of the hills. On my way back, we also collect the garbage we find on the path to keep the surroundings clean and green,” she says.
Umang Thebaria, who visited Afsana Homestay, has some wonderful things to share about his stay. “One word that sums up my experience — home. It was so cosy and home-like that we decided to miss our bus only to stay a few more hours on the balcony and soak in the silence. The delicious meals that Ludramani Bhai Ji made for us were so simple yet delicious,” he says.
Solitude is something that helps you find yourself and that is exactly what I felt in the property. I can not go to Manali without visiting Afsana now,” she says.
Besides, Heena says that the serenity around the homestay makes her guests forget all worries of the world.
“It is very quiet and serene around the homestay. All the guests keep coming back to get a taste of the silence again,” she says.
Heena personally takes care of her guests and stays near the property. “I want to create a bond with my guests. The name Afsana means making stories and that is precisely what I want to do with my guests, make sweet and memorable memories,” she says.
(Edited by Padmashree Pande; All photos credit: Heena)
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