It’s 8.30 pm. I’m tired after a long day of work running around Bhopal. All I want to do is sit down for a nice warm meal before going to bed. I’m just praying the lady of the home wasn’t too enthusiastic with spices tonight. My stomach would keep me up all night, if she did. When I look up from the dinning table I see two steaming hot dishes being brought in. They look familiar. I recognise the thick potato mash on top of a mix of vegetables. It looks like what me mum would cook. I’m getting a Dutch stew served at this kitchen table in India.
This morning when we talked about Dutch cuisine – which made me blush from embarrassment – she took notes and this afternoon prepared some of my favourite dishes from home. Now that’s something you won’t even find in a five star hotel.
Homestay – the word alone seems to go against everything you want to do when you backpack. You’ve packed up a minimal amount of clothes to leave and experience any place but home. No comfortable beds, no squeaky clean shower and no home cooked food for a while. That’s what you’ve signed up for and that’s the stuff that’s going to lay the basis of the epic stories you’ll tell your friends and family when you return.
A homestay also comes with a family that can cramp your sense of independence. For some backpackers that’s an essential part of the journey. You have to be a bit considerate when you’re essentially invited into someone’s home.
In Bhopal I found a homestay that made me feel comfortable, part of the family almost, yet I had all the freedom to go and come as I pleased. The homestay proved for me that while I won’t book one for every part of my trip, it can be a welcomed change from noisy hostels and lonely hotel rooms.
Meet the retired army general Mr. Goswami and his lovely wife Jhoba, they own the Jheelam homestay in Bairagarth, Bhopal. Although I had booked for just a couple of days I ended up staying for nearly two weeks in their Brown Room – It’s more yellow than brown, don’t worry –
This homestay has a view to die for, it’s right along side of the far end of the Upper Lake. The beautiful garden that the family maintains so well, only adds to the feeling that you’ve left the city for a countryside retreat. Most of the vegetables that you’ll find on your plate for dinner at night are plucked from the garden surrounding the homestay. I was lucky enough to arrive during Pomegranate season. The tree right outside my door provided fresh fruits every day.
The three rooms the Jheelam Homestay offers are all outside the main house. So it’s fairly private. I opted for the cheapest and most basic room. I was still backpacking after all. It was all I needed. The bed is typical Indian, a bit on the hard side. You can have a hot bucket bath – splashing yourself with water from the bucket – by warming the water up with a heater. The other rooms have television and a hot shower, but come at a higher price. The family told me they wanted to offer a budget option and that’s what you get in the Brown Room. I felt very comfortable there.
Traveling on your own can get lonely. Many people have warned me about this before. When you stay at a homestay like this there is always someone at the breakfast table asking you if you’ve slept well. At dinner someone will ask you how your day was. When you don’t want to be asked, you’re free to have your meals outside and retreat to your own room as soon as you come back. Or you can have the dinner from the house served in your room.
But I would advice you to make the best of the experience. Mr. and Mrs Goswami are warm and welcoming people that are willing to, for a brief time, make you part of their family. You’ll get a chance to ask about Indian customs, converse about current affairs and get inside information to the city from a local.
If you’ll ask nicely – like I did – Jhoba is even willing to share the secret to one of her dishes. I loved her tomato chutney so much. Its sticky, it’s sweet and probably not good for your health at all, but OMG it is so delicious with a nice deep-fried puri.
I have the recipe for you here of the Bengali Tomato Chutney in this little movie of Jhoba preparing it.
Staying at Jheelam Homestay can get as homely as you want, or as independent like a hotel room as you want. The choice is yours. But if you decide to book a room here I won’t let the opportunity, to meet one of the loveliest families you’ll meet during your travels, go to waste.
A few tips for this stay in Bhopal; Try to book this room via websites like Stayzilla or Goibibo. They sometimes offer you a cheaper stay. For me this was the case. The Jheelam Homestay is a bit out of the way and not all taxi services know the area – I’ve experienced – I would call up the Goswami family before hand to get proper directions.
If you plan on staying at the Jheelam Homestay or have been there before, let me know what your experience was. If you have any other questions about staying in Bhopal, you can leave a comment below or send me an email.