Vacant homes become homestays in Nepal

Women left behind turn their homes into tourist destinations, as the menfolk migrate for work

All photos: KHIM GHALE

When Satya Ghale left his village in Lamjung for Hong Kong for work, there was no one left in his ancestral home, and it began to fall apart. He could not return to renovate the house in the scenic village of Khasur, nor could he entrust the upkeep to someone else.

His neighbour Chandra Kumari Ghale was in a similar dilemma 12 years ago. Her sons moved out, and since she could not bear to be alone, she joined her elder son in Besisahar.

Once, during a visit she was sad to see that her home in Khasur was derelict, so Chandra Kumari decided to let the local women’s group in the village turn it into a restaurant (pictured above).

Most of the women in the group were single women, whose children or husbands had moved out for work. Many had gone to Kathmandu, while others had migrated overseas.

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Like many Himalayan districts of Nepal, Lamjung’s population has been decreasing, and is now 20% less than what it was 20 years ago. Many village schools have closed, farm terraces are fallow, and only the elderly, women and young children remain. Many of the quaint stone houses with slate tile roofs have fallen into disrepair.

Khasur is across Marsyangdi River from the nearest town, Besisahar. The surrounding mountains are all draped in thick forests, there is a spectacular view of Lamjung Himal, and folds of ridges to the south.

The village’s cobblestone paths wind past stone houses built in the traditional architectural style of the Gurung people. But of the 64 households, 20 or so are vacant. With few of the families returning, residents are worried that their culture and way of life will also soon disappear.

Which is why Rupa Ghale has brought together other women in the village and formed the Pragati Nari Samaj (Progressive Women’s Group) to convert abandoned homes into homestays, so that the houses can be maintained with the income.

One of those houses is Satya Ghale’s ancestral home. Inspired by Chandra Kumari, he too renovated the building at his own expense and gave it to the women for free to run a homestay for tourists.

Village elder Prithvi Man Ghale, teachers, government officials and entrepreneurs have promised support and cooperation for this women-led initiative for sustainable tourism. In return, those who have left Khasur have their family property taken care of, and they also have a place to stay when they return for holidays at festival time.

“When people began to leave, the houses started falling apart and there was no money to fix them,” Prithvi Man Ghale says. “And we thought homestay tourism was the perfect way to generate income for the upkeep of the houses and for the families taking care of them.”

The women of Pragati Nari Samaj currently run three homestays and have coordinated operations for 10 more. Another 17 houses are in process of getting permits, and there are more unused houses that need to be looked after.

“When guests arrive, the first priority is always to place them in a home where we operate a homestay," says Rupa Ghale. “If there is no space here, we arrange to host guests in other houses in the village.”

It is now the single women of Khasur who have turned their village into a model for the preservation of Gurung culture and architecture. The income for the homesteads are divided among the 16 members of the group, and a part of it is budgeted for upkeep of the facilities.

All hands are on deck to turn Khasur into a prominent tourist destination to rival nearby Ghalegaun. The community has approached the state and local governments for assistance with infrastructure development, training and publicity.

For road improvement, Gandaki Province has allocated Rs1 million, Besisahar Municipality Rs500,000 and the ward office Rs200,000.

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While the Khasur Homestay Committee has been formed to arrange homestay options for visitors, the three houses run by Pragati Nari Samaj has become a secretariat. The welcome and farewell programs for the guests are at Chandra Kumari Ghale’s restaurant which has also become a venue for planning.

The women have also made familiarisation visits to Sirubari, Ghalegaun, Manang and Mustang, where homestay tourism has taken off in recent years. For the Gurung people of Khasur, all this is just an extension of their traditional culture of hospitality.

The initiative is also a perfect antidote to the depopulation of these villages because of the out-migration, mainly of young men. It helps preserve the festivals which revolve around the farming seasons, and restores the economy and vibrancy of the community.

“While many of our guests right now come from Beshisahar for lunch and return, we hope to attract people from Kathmandu and even abroad,” says Rupa Ghale, who adds this has restored Khasur’s traditional hubbub.

Translated from the Himal Khabar original by Ashish Dhakal.

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