New Delhi: Imagine waking up in a Naga home, amid tribals who were once known for the practice of head hunting, and plucking tea leaves or lemons through the day. Or having a close brush with a herd of elephants in the morning and calling it a night with a mug of `apong` or rice beer in an Assamese village.
If you are looking for a vacation away from the usual hill stations, then exploring homestays in India`s northeast could be the answer. According to tourism experts, the sector has grown by 10 percent in the past year.
Sabina Chopra, co-founder of travel portal yatra.com, told reporters: "The northeast is slowly but steadily catching the eye of the tourist. Due to lack of infrastructure, in terms of good hotels and resorts, tourists are willing to explore newer options like the homestays."
This sector involves travellers staying with a host family to get a first-hand experience of local life and culture.
Nestling in the lap of nature, the eight northeastern states - Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura - have a wealth of cultural diversity, wildlife, flora and fauna.
Nagaland alone has more than 15 tribes and is a cauldron of different cultural practices, art and craft.
The Shiyong village homestay in the northernmost part of Nagaland is one of the many in the region that one can explore to know about the Konyak tribe -- famed for the facial tattoos and headhunting.
As part of the tour package, one gets to live with a tribal family, participate in daily farm work, pluck tea leaves in the family-owned tea plantation or oranges and lemon when in season.
The village, which is situated 32 km from the district headquarters Mon, is well connected by road from Jorhat (147 km) and Dibrugarh (283 km) in Assam, which are in turn connected to Guwahati, Kolkata and Delhi by air and rail.
If getting close to wildlife fascinates you, then homestays by the North East Social Trust (NEST) in Assam is your answer.
"Our idea is that instead of living in a resort while visiting the Kaziranga National Park, why not stay with the local community on the fringes of the park? In any case, it`s just early in the morning or evening that one is occupied in a safari and the rest of the day you don`t have much to do in Kaziranga," NEST founder Arif Hussain told reporters.
By staying in a village, one can enjoy the wildlife, see the one-horned rhino and the tiger, as well as experience the culture and traditions of the locals.
"For instance, in Dhuba Ati village you can see how villagers co-exist with wildlife by understanding nature`s signals. How they ward off a herd of elephants or a tiger and how they have come to understand that the sudden chirping of birds indicates danger," Hussain said.
The price of staying in one of these homestays is not much - Rs.800 for a double room, which excludes food. While the weather is pleasant through the year, you may want to avoid the monsoons. According to Hussain, the ideal time to visit is between October and April.
If the hills beckon you, then you may like to head for Sikkim and stay at the Yangsum Farm, a heritage farmhouse which was built in 1833 and remodelled in 1966.
The Tsechu Tharpa family, which runs the farmhouse, manages a 44-acre mountain farm which consists of pine, Himalayan alder, chestnut, magnolia, rhododendrons and other trees.
One can soak in the beauty of the hills and enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables right from the kitchen yard. The family grows cardamom, avocados, orange, banana and seasonal vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage, tomatoes and peas. The charge is around Rs.3,600 per night.
Yet another homestay in Sikkim is the Mayal Lyang in Dzongu. According to a manager at the homestay, the meaning of Mayal Lyang is `Hidden Land` and the homestay lives up to its meaning because it is "hidden from the hustle and bustle" of the city.
You could also head for the Bo-Ville homestay in Shillong, Meghalaya. A grand old house with aesthetic wooden touch, lush gardens and furnished with modern amenities, you would love to stay curled up here and sip your favourite brew.
Of course, enjoying the beauty of the hills and the pleasant `Shillong` weather is part of the package. The room tariff ranges from Rs.2,000 to Rs.2,300, inclusive of breakfast.