Members’ Voices: Mountain Homestays, India


"By bringing in employment opportunities to their doorstep through electrification and tourism opportunities, Mountain Homestays not only empower the local women population but also prevent migration ... [leading] to the preservation of age-old cultural heritage and enhanced livelihoods…" - Manjiri Gaikwad, Community Tourism Manager, Mountain Homestays 

Mountain Homestays, established in 2018, is championing community-tourism in remote mountain villages. We have established 55 homestays, mostly run by women in the isolated villages of Leh, India – and the operation continues to expand. 

Our organization leverages tourism to generate livelihood opportunities that empower mountain communities through the development of homestays, the organization of local touristic activities and experiences, and marketing and promotion. Mountain Homestays works to achieve holistic development of mountain communities while preserving local ecosystems, agro-biodiversity, culture and traditional knowledge.  

Mountain Homestays developed out of our observations that mountain communities often face hardships due to relying only on agriculture for income, the negative effects of unsustainable tourism, and the potential for tourism to safeguard mountain resources and bring international attention to valuable mountain practices.

In total, we work with 130 individuals, from homestay hosts to local tourism coordinators.

The homestays themselves are as varied as the travelers who may come to visit them. There is the “Copper Artisan Homestay” for those who like ancient art of copper handicrafts, the “Apple Orchid Homestay” for nature lovers or the “Sumda-chun Homestay” for those who want to see an 11th century Buddhist monastery.

Mountain Homestays has carefully curated experiences for travelers to enjoy. Examples include “Experience Farming at 14 000 Feet” for travelers who want to help grow (and eat) healthy organic food and the “Hemis National Park – The Wildlife Trail” for those who want to see the majestic creatures of the Himalayan Cold Desert, like the snow leopard.

One of the unique aspects of Mountain Homestays that sets us apart is our pioneering effort to develop astronomy for tourism in these villages. The highland villages are ideal for viewing and studying the stars. Our homestays that run astronomy sessions are called “astrostays” and the homestays owners are known as “astropreneurs” (astronomers and entrepreneurs). The homestay hosts of the village are taught astronomy and the basics of handling a telescope; a large optical telescope is gifted to the village after the training of its community members. This creates a model of ownership and an additional source of income. 

Since the astrostay programme’s beginnings in June 2019, 30 women from 15 different villages have been trained on the basics of astronomy and how to operate telescope. The first astrostay in Ladakh was set up in the village of Maan, situated at more than 4 000 metres above sea level. The trained youth of the village conduct an astronomy session for the tourists during nighttime and take them on a village tour during the day. This project has created multiple avenues for the community to generate extra income and there are now six operational astrostays in Ladakh. So far, more than 670 travelers have visited the astrostays, generating 3 200 USD in revenue and directly impacting 45 families.

Communities are at the heart of our organization. The first step in starting a homestay is holding a group discussion with villagers to ensure agreement upon the concept. The community members then mobilize themselves: they agree to host travelers, contribute space in their homes and provide resources. Once the villagers agree to open up their homes, we provide the essentials needed to host guests. Creative thinking and innovation is essential: Mountain Homestays uses local assets, skills and knowledge such as craftsmanship, farming and weaving to develop tourism in the villages. We then develop travel itineraries suitable to the local culture, heritage and sustainable lifestyle. Travelers become immersed in the local life and learn the significance of traditional practices. 

Because the team works closely with communities at every stage of the execution of the projects, we have seen firsthand the changes being made in mountain people’s lives. We have watched communities emerge as entrepreneurs when they see the tangible impacts of the advancement in their villages. 

An example of this is Tsewang Dorjey from Maan, the first village to have an astrostay. It is a typical pattern in the village that local youth emigrate, searching education and employment opportunities. Dorjey, a young man of the village, was one of those who left home in search of a better life. After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in May 2019, he came home to Maan for a visit around the time that the Mountain Homestays team had begun promoting the village as a tourism destination. Dorjey witnessed the transformation his village was undergoing: they were hosting travelers in their homes and were being trained to conduct astronomy sessions for visitors. He was inspired by these changes, and became actively involved in the process, moving back to Maan to work full-time managing the newly developed tourism sector. One year later, Dorjey is successfully managing the astronomy sessions and homestays. He has also encouraged other local youth to get involved in developing Maan. These days, Dorjey and his friends are learning about greenhouse farming and how to implement it in their village. This heartwarming story of reverse migration makes the MH team believe in our mission even more and inspires us to continue our work. 

We believe that the work of Mountain Homestays will create positive change for both mountain communities and travelers. Promoting community-based interventions will generate livelihood opportunities and curb out-migration from mountain areas. At the same time, promoting responsible tourism in mountains as a force for sustainable mountain development will make an impact among world travelers, bringing their attention to mountains’ importance and making them more responsible stewards of the earth. 

Mountain Homestays is a new Mountain Partnership member, having joined in May 2020. Being part of the membership has been a good avenue for exploring other mountain-related organizations that are working in different areas. This exposure will help our organization to develop future collaborations. Going forward, we look forward to knowledge sharing, adopting innovative practices, member collaborations and working together for sustainable mountain development.  

Mountain Homestays is calling on the Mountain Partnership members to participate in a short survey. The survey is meant to measure interest in sustainable tourism and homestays setup in the communities of our MP members. Your responses to this survey are of crucial importance – as this will enable us to support new livelihood projects in your mountain region.

Take the homestays survey

Watch a video about astrostays

Watch a short documentary on an astropreneur 

News and photo from Mountain Homestays

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