A homestay initiative started by the Balipara Foundation might just become a worthy lesson in the tribal culture of certain villages in Assam. Starting this month, three villages — Balingaon Mishing, Sengelimari Garo and Phuloguri Nyishi — will have designated homes that will function as homestays for anybody who wants to visit. The three villages represent three tribes from the region: Mishing, Garo and Nyishi.
“The project is part of the larger Rural Futures (RuFu) plan aimed at restoration of habitats, community development and improvement of the socio-economic condition of the villagers,” says Saurav Malhotra of the Balipara Foundation. The foundation has been around since 2007 working towards the conservation and preservation of the ecosystem of the eastern Himalayan region. In 2016, it launched Elephant Country initiative, with an aim to preserve the habitat of the Asian Elephant and mitigate the man-elephant conflict by creating an effective elephant corridor in Assam’s Udalgiri region.
For the homestay project, the foundation has collaborated with the Mahila Shakti Kendra (MASK) Balipara that works for the cause of women empowerment in the region, specifically the Balipara development block. MASK works with 106 self help groups spanning more than 300 villages. In the homestay project, the registered beneficiary of each household in the village is a woman. “We helped the Balipara Foundation connect with women from various self-help groups,” says Dhruba Das of MASK, “Tourism is a big component of livelihood here.”
Guests will be able to tour the village, participate in traditional village activities from weaving to farming, sample local cuisine and spend the night in a chang-ghar, an authentic hut on stilts, typical of the architecture of the region. The night stay is priced at about Rs 2,000 while individual activities are charged for separately. “The benefits for the villagers are two-fold,” says Malhotra, “It helps the individual homeowners, and adds to the economic independence of the community too.” Fees for the tours in the villages, the food prepared, cultural performances etc. go directly to the community.