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Experience Kullu’s Unique Culture At This Farmer’s Century-Old Mud Homestay

Kundan Singh’s mud homestay in Kais village, Himachal Pradesh, provides a captivating experience, seamlessly blending simplicity with warm hospitality. Drawing visitors from across the globe, it offers a window into rural ‘pahadi’ life and cuisine, promoting cultural exchange.

Experience Kullu’s Unique Culture At This Farmer’s Century-Old Mud Homestay

Anyone who has lived in farmer Kundan Singh’s mud homestay in Kais village of Himachal Pradesh, is in awe of the piece of beauty that the homestay is. Simplicity defines the essence of this homestay. While at first glance, you may be perplexed at how the family navigates life with the bare necessities, in the days that follow, it will be evident that nature is all you need to feel complete.

Kundan has spent the better part of his life tending to his apple orchard, and so, every guest is treated to delicacies that feature that fruit. As he gives The Better India a rundown of the neighbourhood, he says entertaining guests is his favourite thing to do.

You’ll see this for yourself if you take a trip here.

The 30-minute bus ride from Kullu to the cosy homestay is bone-rattling with the unwelcome terrain playing spoilsport. But once you reach Kundan’s home, all discomfort is washed away by the warm soup, prepared and served by his wife Kala as a welcome drink.

The smiling couple — who are in their forties — will unleash their hospitality upon your arrival. They will waste no time in telling you that this is your home and you must make yourself feel at ease.

Come evening and Kundan will urge you to share stories of your culture, while he shares some of his own. Throughout your stay, the couple will encourage you to eat, feast, and eat some more!

Having lived off the produce of their farm for decades now, Kundan has an ardent respect for the two bighas of land. The vivid colours of brown (wheat), red (apples), and green (pulses), interspersed with blues, oranges, and yellows will compete for your attention.

Kundan Singh and his wife Kala with their guests at the Kundan Homestay
Kundan Singh and his wife Kala with their guests at the Kundan Homestay, Picture source: Kundan
Kundan Singh, a farmer in Himachal Pradesh, has started the Kundan Homestay in Kais village
Kundan Singh, a farmer in Himachal Pradesh, has started the Kundan Homestay in Kais village, Picture source: Kundan

But looking around can be done later, Kundan will tell you. First, you must settle down and rest.

What prompted the creation of this oasis? Kundan replies, “We would hardly leave the village. A part of me wanted to meet people of different places and cultures. I wanted to know about their lives and their stories. I wanted to see the world.” But exploring the world on a farming income was tough, as Kundan discovered.

So, if he couldn’t go around the world, he would bring the world to his village. Kundan Homestay is an attempt at doing this. A one-night stay here will cost you Rs 1000.

The pet-friendly homestay formally opened in 2016 with two additional guestrooms (that are equipped with modern amenities). But a beautiful story prequels this.

The Kais village of Himachal Pradesh has numerous temples and monasteries nearby for tourists to visit
The Kais village of Himachal Pradesh has numerous temples and monasteries nearby for tourists to visit, Picture source: Kundan
The homestay is a century old one that is made with wood and stone and can withstand earthquakes
The homestay is a century-old one that is made with wood and stone and can withstand earthquakes, Picture source: Kundan

A century-old pride

One day on his way home from the farm, Kundan saw an unusual sight. A group of eight tourists with their luggage was waiting near the bus stop. It was past six in the evening. “Buses in the village do not ply post six o’clock. I knew there was no way for the tourists to reach Kullu before morning,” Kundan explains.

A conversation later, Kundan was seen leading the group of tourists towards his home.

The latter enjoyed their stay in the mud home and one among the group coaxed Kundan to have his house registered on a travel website. “He helped me with everything. And once they left, I began getting requests from people across India who wanted to experience life in a mud homestay,” he shares.

In the time to come, Kundan built an additional room beside the homestay where travellers who were not comfortable with living in a mud property, could stay. By 2016, Kundan and his family had become pros at hosting guests not just from India but Australia, Germany, the Philippines and Italy, alike.

The first story that the farmer treats each of his guests to, is the design philosophy of the home. “It has been standing tall for over a century. Not an earthquake has been able to shift its foundation,” he notes. This remarkable fact is courtesy of the home’s architecture, which is built in a traditional style using wood and stone.

Kundan's wife Kala cooks a pahadi feast using the produce they grow on the land
Kundan’s wife Kala cooks a pahadi feast using the produce they grow on the land, Picture source: Kundan
Kundan's family has been engaged in agriculture for generations and they grow wheat, pulses and apples on the land
Kundan’s family has been engaged in agriculture for generations and they grow wheat, pulses and apples on the land, Picture source: Kundan

Not only does this design make the home calamity-proof, but it also keeps it cosy on chilly days.  As one guest Gopi testifies, “We visited in December when temperatures hit below zero degrees Celsius, but we hardly needed a blanket! It was that warm inside the home.”

But while the home’s design can be credited for the warmth, Kundan’s wife Kala’s cooking is also responsible for part of the magic. The food is steaming hot and prepared with produce sourced from the farm.

Gopi and his friends were treated to a sumptuous feast of bari (a mixture of various dals boiled in turmeric leaves), siddu (a steamed dish made from wheat flour and served with garlic chutney), pahadi chicken curry, and more. Don’t forget to ask for an extra helping of the steaming hot gajar ka halwa (carrot dessert) that is admittedly one of her specialities.

A bonus is the ambience — you’ll be having these feasts on the charpai outside Kundan’s home with the stars for company.

As evening settles, you can enjoy your pahadi feast on the charpai under the stars outside Kundan's homestay
As evening settles, you can enjoy your pahadi feast on the charpai under the stars outside Kundan’s homestay, Picture source: Kundan
The home is constructed using the traditional architecture techniques practised in Himachal Pradesh
The home is constructed using the traditional architectural techniques practised in Himachal Pradesh, Picture source: Kundan

Through your stay, you can revel in the landscape of Himachal that seems to be unchanged over the years, even though modernity has set in. The apple orchards, the sun’s golden glow, and the equally cheery smiles of the local villagers, who pride themselves on their culture, cannot go unnoticed. To add to the merriment of your trip, Kundan has interesting stories about the village and his ancestral family that he retells to anyone who will listen.

Once he has ascertained your interests, he will take you around the village so you can witness the culture for yourself. “Tourists enjoy seeing the village women decked in pattoo (the local dress worn by Himachali women that comprises a long shawl spun out of pure wool). They also enjoy seeing the natti dance (a performance where the local youth dance to popular folk songs and enact stories of their culture),” he says.

In the evenings, you can accompany Kundan to the farm where he will introduce you to the traditional techniques of pahadi agriculture. Take heed and notes!

The Kundan Homestay is a 30 minute bus ride from Kullu and invites you to experience a stay in a traditional setting
The Kundan Homestay is a 30-minute bus ride from Kullu and invites you to experience a stay in a traditional setting, Picture source: Kundan

As dark settles, Kala gets to work to turn fresh produce into delectable food, and you can be a bystander to the amazing fare she is preparing.

While tourists enjoy the culture in the village, Kundan enjoys hearing about theirs. These interactions have changed his mindset in many ways.

“The belief in the village was that girls should be married off young,” he explains. “And though my wife and I would send our children to school, we often had their marriage at the back of our minds. We would worry that once they have completed school we need to think about it. But the tourists who came to my homestay from foreign places tell me ‘Kundan ji, education gives a better life’. This began changing our mindset. Now I am not worried about my girls getting married young. There is time.”

As evening bathes the Kais village in a bluish tinge, it is wonderful to watch the farmer’s family bustling about their guests. “I couldn’t take my family to see the world. So, I brought the world to them,” Kundan says, reiterating his dream.

Edited by Pranita Bhat

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