Sharing Their Homes & Hearts

From an urge to escape the city, to keeping a family legacy alive, these homestay owners have stories to tell
Jan Mohammed Sait and wife Numaira Sait
Jan Mohammed Sait and wife Numaira SaitThe Sait family

Ooty The Kelso House

One day, I was standing out in our garden, and the golden rays of the setting sun were on my face. That's when I realised it was time to make my father's dream a reality," says Tazeen Jan Mohammed.

Tazeen is the youngest of the four daughters of Jan Mohammed Sait and Numaira Sait, the owners of Ooty's Kelso House. "My father wanted my mother to be secure. With the uncertainty of life and the urge to keep the family legacy alive, his dream of building a homestay was born," she says.

The Kelso House
The Kelso HouseCourtesy: The Kelso House

Since they were four girls, there were various narratives about the fate of their family legacy and how there was nobody to carry it on. "Our father wanted to change that narrative. To tell us that it did not matter if he had no son," says Mariam, the third eldest daughter, who lives in Bangalore. Their eldest sister, Rooman, lives in Australia, while Shahwar lives at the residence with Tazeen and their parents.

The 200-year-old colonial bungalow in the Nilgiris, with lush green lawns and stunning views of the mountains, is an ideal escape for city dwellers. Its beauty is only matched with the warmth of the family that owns it.

In 2020, when the pandemic hit and the siblings lost their grandfather, they felt the loss echo through their beautiful home. And amidst the chaos of the pandemic and their personal loss, the decision to finally give wings to their father's dream came about.

After many conversations and much convincing, their father gathered all the resources, and they all got to work putting together their labour of love.

"The carpets, tapestry, and furnishings all have their own story to tell. At Kelso, we have furniture that are centuries old. The story of our family is in the details of the interiors," says Tazeen. The collective aesthetics of the homestay, as well as its branding, is inspired by Ooty's ubiquitous eucalyptus.

The Kelso House has 16 rooms, each with a distinct personality. "Because it's not a hotel, each room is unique," says Tazeen. The common dining area is where guests take their meals. There is no room service; all guests must experience what it truly means to share a meal at home with everyone. "Growing up, the only time we would all come together was during the evening tea time. Chai-biscuits, pakodas, bondas, and so much laughter," says Tazeen. "We wanted to keep this tradition going even with our guests." On days when it's just the family without any guests, they all snuggle up on the lawn and share a blanket as they watch the sunset. "Our staff are the backbone of Kelso, and many of them have been here since before we were born," says Mariam. "Having meals in the kitchen and chatting with them is something we always do back home."

Address: Kelso House, Kelso Road, Kotagiri Rd, near wax world, Kil Kodappamund, Ooty

Website: thekelsohouse.com

Shammy Jacob with wife Charlotte and their two boys
Shammy Jacob with wife Charlotte and their two boysCourtesy: Jacob and Klooster Farms

Chennai Jacob and Klooster Farms

If you are driving down Mk Stalin Street via the Thalambur main road in Chennai, you might stumble across a sprawling urban farm, complete with animals. Finding Jacob and Klooster Farms is a bit like discovering the closet hiding Narnia.

For Shammy Jacob and wife, Charlotte van't Klooster, their farm is a way of life. Having worked in the fashion industry and lived abroad, Jacob grew disillusioned with the way we do city life. Realising how the clothing industry is one of the most polluting in the world, he and his wife decided to move back to India and create their own natural paradise.

"I lived in the Netherlands for 14 years. That's where I met my wife," says Jacob. "After we had our two boys, I wanted to move back to Chennai and raise them somewhere closer to nature," he says. The family would visit Chennai over the holidays and then go back to the Netherlands. But in 2013, they decided to move base permanently and set up the farm. Their two acres of ancestral land is now a thriving, fully functional lifestyle farm, complete with a cafe and a shop that sells the local produce and also provisions from friends and neighbours who grow their own food.

The farmstay
The farmstay

The couple converted two shipping containers into guesthouses, with running balconies and all the facilities needed for a comfortable stay. One of them is suitable for up to four guests and the other for up to two. Recently, they have also started giving out tents to guests who want to camp under the stars. They also offer day bookings for picnics.

"When we first moved here, the city was 20 km away. We had no internet, not much connectivity, but everything has gradually grown around the farm now," says Jacob. "The kids' school is nearby, and everything is within accessible distance. This is what has garnered an interest from the schools as well."

They have a four-hour programme wherein kids from local schools visit the farm to learn about how it is run. "We have facilitators who take them around the farm and tell them about everything–from cows to chickens, composting, planting and permaculture."

With their two kids now well-versed in the farm lifestyle, the duo are perfectly content with their lives. "We wanted our kids to live with nature and understand everything from seasonal fruits to the birth of a cow to identifying and relocating snakes. This is an experience they could not have gained anywhere else in the city," says Jacob. With their weekends usually booked, the couple does most of their farm work on weekdays.

An innovation centre and a coaching centre are also part of the farm. Jacob, a certified Marshall Goldsmith coach and creative executive leader, helps individuals and organisations maximise their creative potential. Klooster has a PhD in traditional knowledge of medicinal plants and teaches anthropology to students in the Netherlands. She holds various healing and meditation sessions at the farm.

Beyond their successful farm venture, they are a close-knit family who enjoy spending time together. "When it's just us, we love sitting around a bonfire with our friends and watching the kids playing under the night sky surrounded by the sounds of nature. The innovation centre turns into a place for music, and it is heavenly," says Jacob.

When asked if he would like to give any advice to people wanting to start their own farms, he says, "You have to create your world around your farm and not the other way round. If you choose it to be a priority, only then this lifestyle could work out well."

Address: New 6/122 – Old 1/300 Mk. Stalin Street, Chennai-600130

Website: jacobandklooster.com

Tanhau homestay
Tanhau homestayCourtesy: Tanhau

Corbett Tanhau

When Sunando Sen decided to find a peaceful abode surrounded by the wilderness but also with a view of the hills, Jim Corbett National Park was the place for him. Sometime towards the end of 2011, Tanhau came about in Bhatoli village. Perched at 4,300 feet, at Tanhau, you can leave the din of the city well behind and enjoy some great views of the Jim Corbett National Park and the Kosi River. It's a cut-off spot with the particular patch of land locally referred to as "Tanau," or "Tanola," all variations of the word tanhai, meaning solitude. "That's how the name Tanhau was thought of," says Sen.

"Camera trapping is something most of our guests are very excited about," he says when asked about the kind of experiences Tanhau offers. "We do get wildlife enthusiasts and photographers, and it's always interesting to talk to them." He adds that he often sets up cameras around the property at night to gather hours of footage overnight. "In the morning, when I collect the camera, we find pictures of tigers, and our guests love them," he says.

Sunando Sen
Sunando Sen

Sustainability is a big goal of Tanhau, and the operations and day-to-day functioning of the place are rooted in principles of sustainability, infringing as little on the natural environment as possible. The place is run on clean solar energy, and members of the local community have been employed for all construction around the place.

"The place is remote and not without its challenges," says Sen. "The nearest town, Ramnagar, is 42 km away, and logistics are tough. Getting anything here is a difficult task. If we need something fixed or some plumbing done, it could sometimes take a couple of days to get someone to come here and fix things. So we have had to figure out how to take care of most of the things ourselves here."

The last four kilometres of the road that leads to Tanhau are an uphill dirt track and tricky to navigate. Guests need to park their vehicles in the nearby village, from where the host picks them up in jeeps and takes them to the homestay. "The adventure starts at the very beginning," adds Sen, who leads guests on walking safaris as well as village walks. The area is also constantly being reforested by Sen and his team to claim the wilderness back to its natural state. On days when there are no guests to tend to, he takes his six dogs for walks and plays with them.

Address: Near Corbett Tiger Reserve, Village Bhatoli, District Almora, Uttarakhand

Website: tanhau.in

Swati Seth
Swati SethCourtesy: Seeking Slow

Naggar Seeking Slow

Swati Seth was never fascinated by cities; it was the mountains that always had her heart. After leaving the city life and moving to the hills a few years ago, she started hosting women in her house. Hearing their stories and learning about the market gap regarding women-only homestays in India, Seeking Slow Farmstay in Himachal Pradesh's Naggar was born. "When I initially started hosting in my previous house, it was only women because there was just one washroom and I was not comfortable sharing with men. But the stories I heard from my guests spurred me to do something, make this into a proper thing," says Seth, co-founder of Seeking Slow and founder of The Color Caravan, a slow fashion brand.

"So many of the women I hosted told me how this was their first time travelling on their own, and they could only do it because this was a primarily-for-women homestay," she says. Launched in May 2023, the Farmstay idea took root in reality when Seth's co-founder, Richa Tandon, came into the picture and decided to cement it and make it happen.

"My urge to do something for women made me say yes to Swati, who is again very passionate about what she has been doing," says Tandon. "This was something I know I would have loved to do but never really got a chance to do before. So, when Swati came up with this idea of a farm stay exclusively for women, I immediately said yes."

Offering a variety of experiences for women, Seth takes them through village walks, forest bathing, and forest foraging and conducts immersive craft workshops for natural dyeing, knitting, spinning and weaving.

One of the rooms at Seeking Slow
One of the rooms at Seeking Slow

"I'm from Lucknow, so food is a big part of the experience I offer my guests. Along with the typical Lucknow-style food, both veg and non-veg, we also offer Himachali and continental fare," she says. Guests can also participate in a cook-along with the host and learn about new cuisines or eat with the locals; the itinerary is built around whatever the guests want to experience and, of course, on the availability of resources.

Although born out of passion, turning the farmstay dream into a solid reality was arduous for Seth. "I lived in the house for two months while the construction was still ongoing to keep track of everything that was happening," she says. With no domestic help, she would take care of everything herself, from managing the labourers to designing the interiors, and zeroing in on every little detail. While Tandon is a partner in the business, she is based out of Bangalore, so Seth takes care of the property and hosts the guests in Naggar.

"It was difficult, but my reason for wanting to create the farm stay in the first place kept me going," she says. Seth shares an affectionate bond with her guests and aims to create an environment where women can learn and empower each other through their individual stories. With most of her guests comfortably sharing their stories with her, Seth's disposition towards them is a lot like the slow and steady pace of the hills, which you crave after being part of city life's madness.

"All my guests tell me how they felt as if I was that long-lost friend they found again," she says. "One of them left a particularly sweet note. She wrote how she felt seen, empowered and inspired after her stay here. Such small but meaningful gestures from guests make me feel hopeful. It reminds me why I love doing this."

Perfect for women seeking the slowness in life, the snug property has five guestrooms which can house up to nine guests. And you have to be comfortable with the two resident dogs, Ollie and Chutki. "They are the official mascots of the farm stay," laughs Seth.

Address: Village Nashala, P.O Larankello, Tehsil Naggar, District Kullu, Himachal Pradesh

Social handle: Instagram/seekingslowfarmstay

The stone house
The stone houseCourtesy: Slowness Himalayas

Nainital Slowness Himalayas

Ashish Godara and Kriti Bisht didn't know they would end up marrying and starting a homestay in the hills away from their lives in Delhi when they first met in Rajasthan. "When I left my job in 2015, I took up travelling, and I did so extensively," says Godara. He narrates how his travels took him to places where he would sometimes volunteer and take odd jobs to sustain himself. Then, he finally decided to stay in Bundi, Rajasthan for a while.

"I had been running a small cafe there for the past six months, and that's where I met Kriti," says Godara. "She was running a travel company then and wanted to take a group to Bundi. Since the cafe I was working at was part of a guest house, she found me on Instagram."

The couple married in 2019, the same year they decided to move to Basgaon, in Nainital, Uttarakhand. It took three years for them to build the stone house in the village, and in 2022, they finally opened their doors to guests.

Ashish Godara and Kriti Bisht
Ashish Godara and Kriti Bisht

The stone house is a beautiful structure built in the Kumaoni architectural style using insulated materials and building techniques to keep temperatures in control. They collaborated with local masons to construct the home. The stone house is characterised by conscious design elements, while curtains in the four rooms are crafted from indigenous kala cotton and dyed with pomegranate peels.

"My wife is a natural dyer, and she has a studio on the property where she conducts sessions for guests as well," says Godara. Bisht also manages their sprawling Ayurveda farm. The food at the homestay is all vegetarian, with most ingredients sourced from their permaculture farm. "When we first moved here, we felt like outsiders," says Godara. "Warming up to the locals was challenging at first. But it's been five years and this is our home now, so we feel like a part of the community."

Address: Village Basgaon,Suyalbari, District Nainital, Uttarakhand

Website: slowness.in

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