As Jossey Thomas gave us a tour of the small farming village where generations of his family have lived for more than 500 years, the true benefits of an Indian homestay came to light.

In the space of an hour we discovered more about the ancient traditions of village life, the precise techniques used to grow familiar foods and snippets of local gossip than we could ever have gleaned from any guide book.

And while the travel guides may not mention the tiny St Thomas’ Fine Arts Centre tucked away in the village of Champakulam, in the Alleppey district of Kerala, Jossey personally introduced us to Kurial Chacko, whose father set up the centre in 1921.

As India’s tourism industry expands, a growing number of families are opening up their homes to visitors. Homestays allow tourists to experience the real culture of the area by staying with a local family, eating the same meals as them, meeting their neighbours and listening to their stories of life in India.

Jossey’s homestay, Kaits Home, on the backwaters of the river Pampa offers individual rooms outside the main house which have stunning views from their verandas.

Kaits Home is one of a number of homestays in the southern state of Kerala which has been branded a Mahindra Homestay. The company, an offshoot of the Mahindra Group, vets all of its homestays so customers can expect a certain standard. While every home is different, guests can be assured of particular aspects such as clean rooms and hot water.

The Indian people take great pride in their homes and guests, whether from a neighbouring village or halfway around the world, are always treated well.

Jossey, who lives with his wife, mother and two small children, told me: “There are two important things in Kerala. The first is education and the second is our homes.”

Another advantage of staying in a family home is that your hosts can recommend must-see attractions and help you organise trips.

In Alleppey, which sells itself as the “Venice of the East”, a leisurely trip along the backwaters in a traditional houseboat is a must.

Homestays also offer unique moments which could never be replicated by the mass tourism of large hotels, as when on one occasion a teenage girl from the village shyly came to perform a traditional dance for us. We were proudly told she had won the top prize at her school for dancing and an impromptu performing area was set up outside with a line of chairs, a stereo and a single light bulb over the “stage”.

Other homestays in Kerala have seen plantation owners open up their homes to supplement their incomes due to the falling prices of coffee beans and vanilla pods.

Hillview Homestay, run by Babu and Neena Chandran, is on a hilltop in Vaduvanchal, in the Wayanad district of Kerala. It has stunning views overlooking their four-acre coffee plantation.

The food at each of the homestays we visited was fantastic and every evening a spread of different breads, curries, rice and fruit filled the table, allowing us to sample a number of local dishes in one meal.

Like all our hosts, the Chandrans were incredibly generous, whether it was providing limes to ward off my travel sickness on the long bumpy journeys or presenting me with a bag of coffee, simply after I complimented it.

We travelled between our three homestays in a mini-bus somewhat optimistically named the “Moving Palace” and despite the frighteningly busy roads, we were constantly entertained by the views, from the tea plantations and rice fields dotted around the countryside to the more chaotic sights in the towns.

Snapshots included an elephant walking in the road carrying bamboo leaves, a cow weaving in and out of traffic in a busy town centre, women in beautiful rainbow-coloured saris sitting side-saddle on motorbikes, a “James Bond” dry cleaners and children running alongside us with cheeky grins and the mantra “one pen? one pen?”.

Our third homestay, Pepper County, again offered stunning views from its location in the hills just outside Kumily in the Thekkady district of Kerala.

Cyriac, our host, showed us around his seven-acre plantation, where he grows mainly pepper and cardamom, but also has a vast variety of fruit and spices, many of which made their way on to our plates each evening thanks to his wife Dolly’s amazing cooking.

During the crash course on Indian farming we learnt everything from how to fertilise vanilla to the pepper-drying process and at every step we were urged to smell and taste each crop.

Pepper County is perfectly located to explore the famous Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary.

The 777sqkm of protected land is home to 63 species of animals, including 40 tigers, 323 species of birds and 200 species of butterflies. Only 50sqkm is open to the public.

Our guide, who knew the national park like the back of his hand, pointed out monkeys, buffalo and wild pigs. But the highlight of the trip was watching a herd of elephants on the riverbank scooping up red mud with their trunks to put on to their backs as the rain fell.

After a day of sightseeing, it was back to our hosts to share the day’s news.

In their advertising brochure Babu and Neena write, “guests are treated as gods” in India. After my trip, I’d have to agree.

  • Emily-Ann travelled to India courtesy of Mahindra Homestays.
  • For full details of their accommodation in Kerala and the rest of India, visit
  • Reservations can be made on 0203 1408422 or email:
  • Prices: Hill View from £67 per room per night, Kaits Home from £36 and Pepper County from £56. All include breakfast.
  • Nearest airports are Kozhikode and Cochin.