Shimla: For Indians, there`s a long weekend ahead and nearly 100,000 tourists are expected to make their way up to Himachal Pradesh. But while driving away from the city`s madding crowd, opting for a homestay might be a better idea instead of already overbooked hotels.
According to tourism department estimates, over 100,000 tourists, mainly from the plains of north India, are likely to visit the state during the three-day weekend that starts with Raksha Bandhan Saturday and ends with Independence Day Aug 15.
"Almost all our hotels are full well in advance. Of course, the extended weekend is always a holiday hit," Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC) general manager Yogesh Behl told IANS.
So get a homely room in a snug wooden cottage amid orchards and nature in a village. At present, the hill state has 359 homestay units, all in rural areas, with a room capacity of 969. Out of these, 119 alone are in the Kullu-Manali region. Kangra and Shimla districts have 45 and 33 units.
The most sought after destinations are Shimla, Narkanda, Sangla, Kasauli, Manali, Palampur, Dharamsala and Dalhousie, he said. Even the HPTDC`s Chindi property, some 100 km from Shimla via Tattapani in the Karsog valley, has got a good response this weekend.
Added D.P. Bhatia of Clarke`s Hotel in Shimla: "We have 100 percent occupancy for two days. Those who`ve made the bookings are mostly from Punjab, Haryana and Delhi. On Independence Day, they will depart."
Director Tourism Arun Sharma said for the budget tourists and for those who want to enjoy rural tourism in a homely atmosphere, staying in homestay units is the right option.
"Some of the homestay units are located amid scenic beauty. Their location is available on the official website of the state tourism department," he said.
"The homestay units in the picturesque Kullu Valley and in and around Shimla and Chamba towns have got an enormous response from domestic tourists. The units in remote Lahaul and Spiti and Kinnaur districts have attracted a good number of foreigners," Sharma told IANS.
Corporate executive Renu Sinha from Chandigarh said: "Last time we stayed in a homestay unit in Saho village (on the outskirts of Chamba town). We really enjoyed homemade recipes like madra, or red beans with fried curd, and khamod, or boneless mutton prepared in curd."
This weekend Sinha and her family have got a booking in a homestay unit in an orchard in Narkanda, 65 km from Shimla, where apples are in full bloom.
Sharma said the homestay units have succeeded in driving tourists from traditional hotspots to offbeat destinations. Moreover, it helps checking fleecing by hoteliers during the peak season.
In Kinnaur district, there is a tradition to welcome guests with a garland of dry fruits and a cap with a green flap.
"Last time we were impressed by the gesture of Kinnauris (as the locals are called). This time we are again heading to Kinnaur," Naveen Khullar, a businessman from Delhi, said.
The homestay units are also offering adventure activities such as jungle trekking, angling and mountain biking in the vicinity.
Under the `homestay scheme` launched by the state government in 2008, any household owners can rent out a portion of his house to tourists after getting the premises registered with the tourism department.
According to the tourism department, 18,156 national and 1,485 international guests have come to the homestay units till February this year.