What is a Nepali Homestay Really Like?
For travelers wanting to get off the beaten path in Nepal, accommodation options will generally look far different than the hotels and westernized lodges found on the Annapurna Circuit or Everest Base Camp treks. Areas with little to no tourism (and therefore no tourist infrastructure) will typically have two options for accommodations: local lodges and homestays, both of which are fairly similar in nature and differ primarily in size.
Because true homestays in Nepal are not yet a popular way for Westerners to travel, not much information exists on the internet about what to expect. When I planned my trip to Nepal, I was primarily concerned with being able to authentically engage with the local people and see how they lived, and of course, take in some amazing views on my trek! I knew that the best way to do this was homestays, but I had no idea what I could expect, what I should pack, or about any local customs I should be aware of. In reality, Nepali homestays are a delightful and educational experience and you have nothing to worry about. Here’s what you can expect!
Nepali village and homes
As a group of three females, my friends and I had separate private space for our group each night. The nature of that space varied greatly: one night, we stayed in a large open air room upstairs with three simple wooden beds and plenty of space to spread out. The next night, we slept in an out building where grains and feed were also stored. Another night, we stayed in a shed next to a water buffalo shelter that had been carefully set up with large tarps to offer us privacy and featured one large wooden bed for all three of us. The nature of the setup depended on the village, but travelers are generally offered their own separate space. I wasn’t sure if I would be sleeping on someone’s kitchen floor or the middle of their living room, so this came as a great surprise to me!
Accommodations in an outbuilding. Lots of space!
Beds are found at some homestays and not at others. When they do exist, the beds are wooden platforms that are off the ground. There are no mattresses, but some have a thin foam pad and a large stack of blankets. Your host will offer you a variety of blankets and pillows, but presumably, you have brought your own sleeping bag and sleeping pad (highly recommended). We used the extra blankets as additional padding on the platforms or floor as necessary. We slept on the floor in several places and found this to be essentially no different than sleeping on the beds themselves, especially with a sleeping pad.
At least two meals will be included as part of your homestay each night, including dinner and breakfast. In rural Nepali villages, there will likely be limited food options. The Nepali dietary staple is dal bhat (steamed basmati rice with lentil soup, curried vegetables, and potatoes) and many people in the villages eat dal bhat for three meals a day. The good news is dal bhat is delicious (and naturally gluten and dairy free, for those with dietary concerns) and the flavors change as you move from village to village and through the different elevations. It is not recommended that western tourists eat meat in Nepal unless the animal is slaughtered fresh, as there is no available refrigeration in villages and sanitation can be a concern. If you need some protein, opt for the eggs that can be found in nearly every village, and don’t hesitate to add them to your dal bhat – it’s delicious. Every village we visited also had packaged noodles (sort of like ramen) that were available as a meal option each day, so if you get sick of dal bhat, that is another option. My friends ate noodle soup with eggs and vegetables most of the time, while I ate dal bhat for literally every meal (and loved it). Case in point: don’t expect a ton of options when traveling in rural areas, but do expect piles and piles of rice.
Freshly prepared dal bhat
Any time I travel to another country, my mother’s first question is always about the toilets, so I make sure to take good notes about them so I can tell her everything she wants to know – lucky you! In Nepal, squat toilets are the norm. In most places, and especially in rural villages, the toilets are located in outbuildings that are a short distance away from the house. These outbuildings are usually a bit bigger than a western “porta potty” and offer a little more room to move around. There has been a large push by international aid organizations to install sanitary toilets in rural Nepali villages, so every bathroom we used featured a ceramic squat toilet (i.e. not just a simple hole in the ground). The squat toilets have a textured place to put your feet as you hover over the bowl. The contents are then “flushed” by the bucket of water that is in every bathroom (check it before you enter to make sure it isn’t empty). There is no toilet paper, as Nepali people use water to rinse themselves, so if you need paper, bring your own. Our experience, with very few exceptions, was that the toilets and bathrooms are as clean as they can possibly be and were much better than we expected. Of course, there are no sinks or running water, so have your filtered water ready to wash your hands – and bring lots of hand sanitizer.
Pretty standard bathroom
Interacting with the Locals
Nepali people are incredibly friendly and welcoming, but it may not seem like that at first. Smiles are not immediately ubiquitous, but the locals will almost always smile back if you smile at them first. Communication in the rural areas will be a challenge if you don’t speak Nepali or one of the local ethnic languages, such as Tamang, but this is where your guide will come in handy. It is immensely helpful to learn some of the local phrases, even things as simple as “Thank you” (Dhanyabhad) or “The meal was very good” (Khana mitho tyo), as this effort is noticed and goes a long way. The local people will offer you everything they have in order to make sure your stay is comfortable!
With our hosts one evening! We stayed with our guide's parents in the village of Chalish
Water and Sanitation
The most common source of illness for westerners in Nepal is the water. Whether you’re in Kathmandu, where not even the locals drink the water, or the mountains, where the villagers depend on the mountain streams, unfortunately, the water is not drinkable for those whose immune systems aren’t used to it. There is no bottled water for sale in the small rural villages, so you’ll be unable to purchase water for your trek. Come prepared with a filtering system that makes sure to eliminate particles, protozoa, bacteria, and viruses – make sure that your filter (or combination of filters!) will take care of every possible contaminant. I used the Grayl water bottle on my trip, which features a built in filter and was incredibly convenient to use at the many mountain streams and sources we encountered along our trip. Other options include a UV filtering system, a filter and chemical drops, and plenty of other options. Do your research and find the option that will work best for you! The water is not drinkable cold (although once boiled, it is fine), and you can’t use it for even something as simple as rinsing your toothbrush, so be prepared.
Sitting down to eat boiled potatoes with local women
Where sanitation is concerned, there is a significant difference between what you’ll experience at home and what you’ll experience in Nepal, particularly in the area of food preparation. It’s important to eat your food piping hot. Keep in mind that this is a developing country, so there is simply less access to things like soap, disinfectant, sanitizer, and other sanitation measures we are accustomed to at home. It is completely possible to make it through your entire trip without getting sick if you pay attention to what you’re eating and drinking and use your hand sanitizer regularly.
Connectivity and Electricity
The connectivity and electricity in Nepal may surprise you. It certainly surprised me! Even many of the most rural villages have electricity, although it may only be accessible during certain times of the day. Villages that do not have access to electricity generally have solar powered lights to use at night in certain rooms of the house. Throughout all of the homestays I did, there was only one where there was absolutely no source of light at night – and for that one, we were staying in an outbuilding that was also used for food storage, so that makes sense. Otherwise, I was surprised by the availability of power. However, there are usually no power outlets, so don’t expect to be able to charge your phone or other devices on most nights. Of course, there is no running water, so there are no showers. Bring wet wipes!
There's no showers, but you might get lucky and be able to wash your hair with freezing cold water coming off the mountain!
Mobile phone service varies from village to village, so it’s best to ask your guide ahead of time if it will be available on your trip. The first 6 days of my trip had no connectivity, but the last 6 did, so it all depends on location. Of course, there is no WiFi in a rural village and especially not during a homestay. Although some lodges may advertise available WiFi, I’d recommend not getting your hopes up – I never found a WiFi signal that worked during my trip.
If you take the opportunity to experience a true Nepali homestay, you’re bound to have the experience of a lifetime. While things will likely be a bit different from back home (that’s what you came for anyway, right?), you will undoubtedly be impressed by the friendly, generous, and welcoming nature of the Nepali people. Pack an open heart and mind with you and you’re in for a stay you’ll never forget!
Eating dinner the Nepali way! With our hands, on the floor.
About Danielle Cemprola
Danielle Cemprola is a freelance journalist and the writer behind the running and travel blog
The T-Rex Runner. She is a 50-time marathoner, world traveler, and Mexican food enthusiast whose main goal is to encourage other people, especially women, to pursue their dreams in the face of obstacles. Danielle loves finding off-the-beaten-path adventures that are still accessible to the average traveler and seeks to engage with the local community as much as possible. The more adventurous and active her trips are, the better!
Danielle fulfilled a lifelong dream by visiting Nepal in October 2016. She opted to trek the Ruby Valley Trail and Tamang Heritage Trail in order to get off the beaten path and experience Nepali culture as authentically as possible through local homestays. Her time getting to know the wonderful people of Nepal and hiking the stunning mountains is among her fondest travel memories.
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