Helen van Berkel finds staying with a local family in Nepal one of the most enriching travel experiences of her life.
Getting there: It's about an hour's bus trip from Kathmandu over sometimes bumpy roads. I was travelling in Nepal with boutique tour operator Crooked Compass.
The check-in experience: Sari-clad women met our tour bus and led us, accompanied by drums and symbols, to the headquarters of the Panauti Homestay organisation. After food (a bright yellow boiled egg, a lentil patty and a deep-fried locally caught fish) you are introduced to your host family and walk back to their house. Your luggage goes on a rickshaw.
Price: US$25 a night.
The accommodation: Our house, one of about 20 in the programme, was a narrow, four-storey brick home with lino-covered mud floors, accessed via ladders. On the ground floor was a modern European bathroom and the owners' bedroom; next were the two daughters' bedrooms; then our rooms, complete with a private living area. The kitchen/dining/living area was on the top floor, directly under the tin roof.
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The facilities: Homes have to have a Western-style toilet to be part of this programme — we had to remember to bring down the toilet paper — and we also had a califont shower. My room had a double bed and an open window (no glass) to the back courtyard. A thin curtain or shutters kept out the heat.
Food and drink: Breakfast, lunch and dinner with the family are included, along with tea and coffee, juice, fizzy drinks and plenty of bottled water. Over my two-night stay, I was served traditional Newari food such as lentil patties, baked soybeans, garlic and ginger vegetables, a noodle omelette and a deep-fried cake that we sat in a dark little bakery to watch being cooked over an open fire. You're encouraged to help prepare your own food. Rice wine was also on offer.
Toiletries: Thick white towels, Lifebuoy soap — and toilet paper.
In the neighbourhood: Buddhist and Hindu temples, medieval houses, cobbled streets, Himalayan foothills and a river that "used to have faeces but now doesn't".
Would I stay again? Yes. A Panauti homestay is a once-in-a-lifetime look into the lives of people who live so utterly differently from ourselves. It's challenging, exhilarating, startling and unique. I'm hoping to make it a twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Who should stay here: If you find genuine joy in gaining a peek into the lives of others, can handle chasing pigeons out of the kitchen, peeling garlic and rolling chapatis while sitting cross-legged on the floor, and if you are prepared for an enriching experience you will never forget, you need to book.