While we enjoyed the comfort and convenience of guided tours, we arrived in New Delhi early for two homestays to be able to connect with some of the people of India – not possible on standard tours.
We had read about a non-profit organization which serves as a clearing house for hosts who take pride in showing foreigners aspects of India that regular travelers don’t experience. Mahindra Homestays offers insights into the real India in homes located across the country in major cities as well as rural areas.
We selected a New Delhi B&B homestay with Chandrakant and Lakshmi Singh who’ve been hosting for more than two decades. Chandra wrote us: “I think we are going to enjoy your visit a lot. It may interest you to know that the village in which our housing estate has been developed is named after Lillian Carter and is called Carterpuri. She had stayed here as a Peace Corp worker in the 1960s and visited again during Carter’s presidency when the village was renamed in her honor!”
We arrived in New Delhi at the beginning of the Commonwealth Games, which attracts tens of thousands of participants and spectators. While Chandra was an official on the steering committee, he still found time to provide unique tours, including a personally guided stroll through the National Museum, the biggest Museum of India which holds more than two million works of exquisite art covering more than five thousand years of India’s cultural heritage.
A remarkable part of this tour was that we had this immense Museum to ourselves! We spent several hours there with Chandra on a Monday when the Museum is closed. But he does volunteer work there and had entry. So we can definitely concur in the observation that “You would be hard pushed to find a more informed, articulate and animated guide than Chandra Kant and his tours are about getting a feel for the city rather than just trailing round monuments.” And Lakshmi is a wonderful cook who provided examples of some of the best local food.
Another homestay was with retired Indian Army Colonel Surindar Singh who provides free overnight hospitality through Servas. It’s a non-profit membership organization that “fosters understanding of cultural diversity through a global, person-to-person network promoting a more just and peaceful world”. (There are more than 700 hosts in India.) Rusty and I have stayed with more than 80 hosts around the world and are hosts in our Macon, Ga., home. I was on the board of US Servas and am now an interviewer.
Two decades ago, after I retired, Mary and I rented our house and traveled for more than three years, visiting many of the exchange students we hosted for 11 consecutive years. We agree with Miriam Beard: “Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.”
~ By guest blogger Richard (Dick) George