When Guwahati hosts…

SAMHITA BAROOAH

Recently at a conference, I met someone prominent in the tourism business who shared a tip, “always remember to add a personal touch”. As women in Assam remains confined to their homes, homesteads, households and home economies, their home ecology becomes immensely crucial. Assam is blessed with a very self-sufficient home space which suffices the needs and tastes of the families who owns the space. Assam-type house is a very common phrase used to depict wood framed, tinned roofed, brick wall high raised foundation with walls made out of a reed called ekora which is endangered now. In rural Assam, few houses would be made in that style while most of them would be made out of bamboo and mud. In riverside communities, homes are built on stilts made of bamboo and people live by the river to sustain themselves. There are communities in Assam who still live without electricity, roads and vehicles in the remote corners of the state but they cannot live without the rivers, forests, hill tracts and the valleys used for grazing and agriculture.

The relationship between one’s surrounding and one’s choice of housing is closely linked. Bamboo grooves are now valued in cities as miniature Feng Shui element for good luck and prosperity. But in rural and semi-urban spaces, bamboo is a huge resource. It is considered to be green gold. It is a multipurpose raw material which can replenish very fast without much effort. In recent years, bamboo has been transformed into a high-end market product in the form of furniture, tiles, flooring and wall fittings in the household sector. Apart from decorative and utility items made out of bamboo for furnishings, home decor and daily use stuff, bamboo is also used in scaffolding, framing, moulding and fencing. Use of bamboo as a grass, flavouring agent, aromatic spice in food, cooking vessel for smoking, boiling and roasting food for consumption and preservation remains a distinct feature of Assamese cooking and lifestyle choices. Bamboo housing in cities is gradually becoming a much sought after trend. People with landed space, an eye for finery, ecological consciousness and an interest in bamboo style architecture prefer to build their living space with bamboo. Some people also integrate bamboo structures within their concrete homes to add a touch of elegance and ethnicity which sustains the lives and livelihoods of artisans and craftspeople.

Haiku Home is a home stay started in 2011 in Guwahati city adopted a bamboo walled tinned roofed living space on concrete stilts. It provides bed and breakfast space for guests in 3 luxurious rooms with modern facilities like solar geyser and free wifi. Haiku Home has a bamboo room with tinned roof which blends with a relatively modern tinned roofed concrete structure as the base. This house has a history of 35 years in Guwahati city and has survived the vagaries of time and flash floods in a low lying residential area. Haiku home has a flower and vegetable garden which suffices the natural ecology of the homestead and also adds value to the aesthetic choices. It caters to selective personal guests recommended through friends, family and word of mouth preferring to stay at a home rather than a hotel in Guwahati. There is a customised menu for the guests with the locally available natural and local supplies. Currently the home stay supports a family of three and two young girls from remote villages of Assam as they manage the space. The owners Barooahs, Suravi and Biswadip find time to attend to the guests despite their hectic social and professional schedules. While in Guwahati especially in the Dispur area, if you are looking for a relaxed space with homely care and comfort, Haiku Home can be a good option. Check the link https://www.facebook.com/haikuhome/ for details.

In the same light there are other spaces which are worth mentioning when it comes to home stays and guesthouses in Guwahati. Devobhawan or popularly known as B&B (Bed and Breakfast) situated on the lamb road Ambari is another favourite comfort zone for travellers and guests visiting Guwahati. Started by two women entrepreneurs Reeta Phukan and Lonie Chaliha in 2008, this bed-and breakfast space has become a second home for many guests from across the world coming to Guwahati for work and fun. B&B started with 3 spacious rooms and then moved on to have 6 rooms in total currently. They have customised food facilities for the guests with diverse culinary tastes. The heritage home belonged to the parents of Lonie Chaliha who kept the memories of her parents alive through this guest house facility. Reeta Phukan looks into the daily management of the facility, guests and the staff members. She has supported the enterprise with her ideas, time, contacts and culinary skills which remains a huge USP for the guest house. For details please check https://www.tripadvisor.in/Hotel_Review-g503692-d3428663-Reviews-B_B_Guest_House

Within the close vicinity of Uzan Bazar another guest house facility which restores an old home is Barua Bhawan with 6 rooms and fascinating interiors. Started by Mr. Raj Barua who works at the merchant navy, this facility is indeed a living heritage of Assamese literary genius of Shri Birinchi Kumar Barua. Upholding the family traditions and decor of antique furniture, the interiors of Barua Bhawan reminds any guest of this rich colonial past. Close proximity to the riverside and Uzan Bazar local market with fresh vegetables, fruits and other utilities gives the guest a glimpse of mundane daily life of old Guwahati city. Please visit http://www.heritagehomeassam.com/ for bookings and details.

Most recently another homestay facility has started in 2017 in the Shantipur area of Guwahati. This place is called Xunaroo Heritage Home which has about 4 luxurious rooms started by Dr Shamim Akhtar and her daughter Lonava Tahreen. Dr. Akhtar shared how she grows aloevera, mosundori, seasonal flowers and many plants to keep her home green. She also wanted the house to remain a home and not turn into a flat. She said many literary guests from across the country and various activists from the grassroots have also stayed at her homestay. She adds a personal touch to every guest to make them feel at home. It is indeed a stay worth exploring. Visit https://www.facebook.com/xunarooheritage/ for bookings and details.

Prabhakar homestay is in Chandmari hills. Adorned with natural spaces, this space caters to the needs of diverse travellers and guests. It has beautiful home gardens with about 250 varieties of orchids and birds. Founders Sheila and Mahesh Bora retired from their prolific professional lives in the academia and mining respectively decided to extend their home to guests and visitors from all over the world. They have about 5 rooms with all modern amenities to cater to the needs of guests. They also have a unit for supporting eco-friendly handmade paper products. Do visit http://www.prabhakarhomestay.com/ for bookings and details.

In all these facilities within the city of Guwahati there seems to be an effort to retain the traditional housing structures with a minor blend of modern amenities without losing the essence of an Assamese home in a city. As the city of Guwahati is growing there are numerous 3 to 5 star hotels which can accommodate more than 1000-2000 guests at a given time and space but not everyone these days affords to stay in these hotels. Some travellers also have specific needs, location benefits and sometimes wish to connect with local families. Under such circumstances home stays and personal guesthouses play a major role in fulfilling the needs of diverse guests. With the growth of various employment sectors, women travellers are also very common whose safety remains a huge concern for organisers of events and their own families at affordable rates. Home stays also provide that safe space for transit travellers whose schedules remains very erratic and they cannot afford to spend long hours at the train station or airport or even at bus stations all alone. Guwahati has gone through diverse transitions and with the upcoming projects of new international airport and trade hub, possibilities of diverse businesses has a lot of potential. In fact there are many more homestays and holiday destinations like resorts and weekend break spaces in the outskirts of Guwahati which cater to the adventure spirit of guests in all denominations. But when a concept of restoration and revival of the past era through present amenities is laid out to the guests, then the homestays does play a very crucial role.

Haiku Home, Barua Bhawan, Prabhakar Homestay, Xunaroo Heritage Home and B&B can be very important avenues for reviving the old amidst the new structures. There are many heritage spaces within Guwahati which are maintained by families as their home spaces and some are turned into restaurants and libraries for children. But not every home has made space for people from all over the world to stay as guests. Thus, finding a homestay in Guwahati is indeed an experience these days. For some guests it is more of the hospitality, for some value for money and for others it is the ambience and aromas. It remains a struggle for the homestay owners and families to withstand the demands of time, markets and competitors in the tourism and hotel industry within their limited resources and support services.

But when the concepts are sustainable for years together and they evolve with every guest then the home-based livelihood sector do flourish along with other sectors. While Assam is getting hospitable, pack your bags and experience the enthralling beauty of rivers and hills within the same city for your next holiday.

Samhita Barooah

Samhita Barooah

Samhita Barooah is a Researcher and Travel Writer.