Specially Written for Vikalp Sangam
How businesses can be community-centric, environmentally sensitive and thrive with the right support systems in place
Punam runs a homestay that provides a glimpse into Kumaoni life. She has been running Manpraso in Nathuakhan, Mukteshwar since June 2022.
Instead of following the trend of migrating to cities for employment, Punam foraged her own path by opening up a homestay that provides an immersive experience into Kumaoni culture, receiving visitors throughout the year.
Working as a science teacher, Punam aspired for a permanent government position, only to be thwarted by the uncertainty of vacancies. She says she was unable to give time to her exam because of work and responsibilities, “I was not able to prepare well for a government job as a teacher, so I thought of starting a setup here.”.
Unlike many others in their area, she did not want to migrate to a city for employment. “My husband and I had thought of making a home for ourselves, so we decided to build it up as a homestay”. They had noticed that many were migrating towards Mukteshwar from villages further up. “People go towards cities for jobs, but we wanted to stay here, since we were working here, and we didn’t want to migrate for a job. We wanted to set up our own; if we start something then other people also become a part of it.”
Punam was well qualified – with a Bachelors in Science as well as Education – but she did not come from a business ‘background or mindset’, as she says herself. She had heard of the Margshala Fellowship while at her previous job at an NGO Chirag in Mukteshwar and was inspired by their ideas.
Instead of running a homestay that just offers accommodation and food, “that’s easy”, she says, “Mai majboor ho gayi bariki mei homestay ke baare mei sochne ke liye” (Margshala compelled me to think in detail about what I could offer). Margshala explained what homestay could entertain apart from stay and food, and she started to focus on the guests’ experience, what they felt living there.
The fellowship also put her in touch with other homestays in the area who shared their experiences. Punam and her husband, Jagdish, started wondering whether they could offer a richer, more traditional experience. Punam says she realised that the homestay could help them save their culture as well.
Manpraso’s Unique Experience For Guests
Punam shares that while she has a concrete setup, her homestay is a journey through nature, with old traditional objects and tours of hidden sightseeing spots. Visits to the local Naula near their house are organised, immersing their guests into the ancient water setup and temples of Kumaon. Their homestay contains orchards of peaches, plums where guests can visit and pluck their own fruit. There is also a vegetable patch to select fresh produce from and cook their own food for a complete organic, authentic experience of living in Kumaon.
Today, Punam employs two full time staff and is also personally invested in managing the property. She hires local taxis and tour guides that take guests into traditional homes, nature spots and trails. She looks forward to giving even more people employment opportunities as Manpraso grows.
Punam tells us that her husband says that if they didn’t know about Margshala and had not been exposed to all the homestay experiences around them, they wouldn’t have elevated their focus, directing attention to the guests’ experience and the emotions they feel within the homestay. Punam agrees and stresses that it was important to know what all was there and that time needs to be given to the people, the business and the property.
She says that there were three essential elements that Margshala helped them with: digital marketing to increase their reach, where her mentors helped with putting up Instagram posts and stories. The financial training helped her understand that before financial investment they needed to improve on what they were already offering. Adding the Kumaoni setup has helped them build an identity of their own and cater to a spectrum of guests such as foreigners and bikers who visit for a few days and then head off to other locations.
As the demand for their homestay increased, they shifted back to their old house and now offer the entire 3 bedroom home to their guests, and are expecting more footfall around Christmas time when it is expected to snow.
“With no business background, [in] my journey with Margshala I got to learn. The setup we had started, it grew much more. In 5-6 months, it grew how it would have in a year.” It helped her get more interested, and she started to prioritise the business. It gave her strength, increased her confidence levels and most of all helped in the development of her personality.
“Business se saath, khud ka bhee bahut improvement raha” [Along with the business, I’ve seen a lot of improvement in my own self].
Punam’s journey exemplifies the resilience and creativity that can flourish with the right support system. Through their homestay, Punam and her husband are not only creating a source of income for themselves and those around them, but also actively preserving and showcasing their cultural heritage. The traditional experience also becomes a means of educating visitors about the rich history and traditions of the region. In doing so, they are contributing to the preservation of their heritage for future generations, empowering local communities and making their homestay a cultural bridge between the past and the present.
Contact the author.