At Home with Beena and Sudi
Beena Homestay (Cochin, India)
Member Name: koshkha
Beena Homestay (Cochin, India)
Advantages: Warm, friendly people and super clean accommodation
Disadvantages: It won't suit those who are looking for lots of facilities
My husband and I had been to Kochi before, about 8 or 9 years earlier, and at that time I'd been a bit under the weather and hadn't been entirely receptive to the city's delights. I was quite a long way into a rather intense organised tour of southern India and was feeling a bit jaded. I knew however that I would want to go back one day and that we'd want enough time to look around. On our previous stay we'd been in a hotel somewhere way out of the city and had to take a boat trip to reach the historic port area so this time, I wanted to be in or around the Fort Kochi area.
Research on the Tripadvisor website helped me to find Beena's Homestay. Tripadvisor categorises accommodation in different ways - hotels, B&Bs and Inns, Speciality lodging and holiday rentals - and Beena's Homestay holds the number one slot in the 'B&Bs and Inn's' category, beating 187 other places in the same category. With well over a hundred reviews at that time - almost all of them glowing - we figured that this had to be a good choice but I wasn't so sure that it would be available.
Homestays - pros and cons
This was our first time booking a 'homestay' and we weren't entirely sure what to expect. There are many such places in India and in some towns we have visited - such as Munnar in the mountains of Kerala - there seem to be many more homestays than actual hotels. Other large cities such as Mumbai appear to have none. It seems that the quality and the hospitality can vary a lot but we were confident that this would be a good place. The principle is simple - people who have spare rooms let them to travellers, provide meals and give you the opportunity to live in a family home with all the potential pros and cons that brings. For people who don't want to eat their meals with other people or who crave a bar, a swimming pool and a man in a uniform to take their bags to their rooms, homestays are not a good option, but for people like us who rather like the idea of a less sterile and isolated accommodation, it seemed worth a try.
Making my booking
A few weeks before we were due to go to India I wrote to Beena using the email address on her website. With only a few rooms in her home, I was expecting to be told she was full and we couldn't go. But we got lucky, and a friendly email was pinged back to me very quickly saying that she had a room and in fact we could have a choice - a room with air conditioning at 2000 rupees a night or a non-AC room at 1200 rupees. Both rates included dinner and breakfast for two people. Exchange rates have changed a little in the last year but at the time we were getting just over 70 rupees to the pound so the AC room was less than £30 and the non-AC, considerably less than £20 for the two of us.
I mailed back to check if the non-AC room had a fan as we generally don't use AC unless it's stupidly hot. She confirmed that it did have a fan and that we didn't need to give any credit card details or pay up front but should pay in cash at the end of our stay. If we needed to cancel we should just let her know as early as possible. For me, when a hotel or B&B treats its guests with trust, it's always a good sign and I was really happy with this arrangement. Our booking was made.
Finding the House
If you check on a map of Kerala, Fort Kochi lies at the tip of a long peninsular that runs roughly north - south. At the tip of the peninsular is the Fort Kochi ferry terminal to which boats run to and from other parts of the city. We approached from the south and were able to arrive without the need of any boats. Beena's Homestay lies on a sideroad near the Southern end of the KB Jacob Road, in a triangle between that road and the Beach Road. It's well known enough to be marked on google maps. It's roughly a mile from the northern tip of the peninsular so you could walk up to the main sites but it's well worth considering that Kerala at any time of year is hot and sticky. We were there in early November and not in a hurry to walk anywhere too far.
We set off to Kerala and took a four day trip with a car and driver and asked the driver to deliver us to Beena's house. I knew it was in Fort Kochi but I didn't have a map so I gave the driver the phone number and he called ahead to get instructions. The house is on a side lane off the KB Jacob Road, and the driver was really struggling to find it. In a series of calls to the house he got rather rude and aggressive with Sudi, Beena's husband, and we were quite embarrassed by his behaviour. When he finally found the right turning, he backed us down the road to the house to drop off the bags and say goodbye. Sudi told us that the driver had been quite rude and we apologised and he apologised for making us feel we needed to apologise. This is one of the reasons I love going to India so much - most Brits and most Indians (big generalisation coming up) desperately want to not offend anyone or make them feel uncomfortable.
Home sweet Homestay
First impressions were very good. The family car was parked in front of the house on a paved area with a neat little lawned garden beside it and a pleasant little pond with fish to the other side. Beena and Sudi greeted us at the door and we took off our shoes and headed inside to the ground floor sitting area where there's a large fish tank and an almost life-sized cuddly tiger. We were offered a drink and then shown to our room. Beena told us that she had another room upstairs if we didn't like this one but the room was absolutely fine so we said we were happy with it. We also guessed that it would be quieter on the ground floor than on the higher floors where the family lived and where meals were served. I believe there were three rooms on the ground floor and one or two more upstairs.
The room was simple and spotlessly clean. I'd estimate it was about eleven foot by eleven in size and was plenty big enough for an overnight stay. The floor was made of large slabs of granite with a contrasting polished stone for the skirting boards. Long curtains covered a window that looked out over a wall but that was no big deal - you can't expect a view in a residential area. We had a table which I used for my suitcase and a chair beside it. The bed was two singles pushed together with typically hard Indian mattresses which I rather like. Had we been staying longer and not just living straight out of our bags, there was a large wardrobe which was painted in a cheery shade of blue. There was no TV but we didn't miss it.
The bathroom was small be really clean, proving that my assumption that ALL Indian bathrooms have black grout and smell of mould was not actually true. We found only cool water but I had heard the showers running in the other guest rooms and we might well have just been too late and others pinched all the water. In a place as hot and humid as Kochi, you can cope with a cool shower once in a while.
Dinner was served on the first floor and Sudi likes to stagger the time he serves for the different rooms so he can give more attention to the diners. Rather than have us all turn up at once, he likes to be able to fry the fish individually so they're hot for each person. On our first evening we got tasty little fried fish and a good assortment of curries and sticky rice as well as lots of bottled water. The set up was good for encouraging conversation and we sat up for a couple of hours talking to two young Belgians who were on their first trip to India whilst the family wandered in and out and stop to chat and offer advice.
Beena explained that her daughter was away studying for a PhD in Aquaculture which made us realise why there were both a large fish tank downstairs and a small pond in the garden. Kerala has a lot of fishing industry in the back waters and the ocean and learning how to 'farm' fish in the backwaters is clearly critical to the success of the state. Beena's granddaughter - the child of the daughter who was studying in a bigger city - was living with the family and was a source of constant chirpy entertainment.
Up on the roof
There's an open roof on the top of the building where guests can go to sit and relax and Sudi told us about a guest they'd had who'd left a horrible review of the homestay on Tripadvisor. He'd objected to not being allowed to smoke or drink in the house and had made some accusations about being treated like a child. It sounded to me like that's exactly how he'd been behaving. When you ask to stay in someone's house you really do have to be prepared to live by their rules and if their religion means they don't want you to do those things, then that's fair enough. Sudi explained that they tell guests they can smoke and drink on the roof if they want to.
Breakfast in the morning was spectacular and it's a wonder we could walk by the time we finished. Sudi's speciality is Kerala pancakes stuffed with coconut, sugar and cardamom and served with lots of locally produced coffee. We also had pineapple and papaya chunks and fistfuls of tiny bananas. Quite how he manages to whip up breakfast for a houseful of guests and then head off to his day job in an insurance company should be an inspiration to all his guests.
We had a really late train to Mangalore the following evening so we asked if there was any chance that they would have space so we could keep our room for longer. We said we'd be happy to pay for an extra night just so we could come back, pack our bags, have a shower and leave for the station in a cleaner and rather more human state. We knew that it would be quite hard work to spend the whole day from morning through to late evening wandering around in such heat and humidity. Luckily they had a cancellation caused by someone wanting to delay their arrival by another day and they said we'd be welcome to stay and they'd like us to have dinner with them. We went out for the day, bouncing around the city, doing some shopping, chatting to shop keepers and drinking lots of cold drinks and then returned late afternoon for showers and to change our clothes. We were given another lovely dinner and our hosts booked a taxi to take us to the station.
Value for Money
We would happily have given them the full payment for an extra night but Sudi told us he wanted only an additional 300 rupees, bringing the total for our day and a half including two dinners to 1500 which at the time was approximately £20. We tried to insist on giving more but he smiled and told us that it's their house and their business and the joy of that is that they can choose to charge what they want to. We were certainly humbled by their generosity.
This was our first homestay but it definitely persuaded me that this is a way I want to stay again in India. I just hope that we didn't start with the best and that we won't be disappointed by all the others that follow. As well as offering accommodation, the family are well connected to arrange tourist activities, to book taxis and even arrange rice barge stays on the backwaters.
Beena Home Stay
Tel : +91- 484- 2215458
Mob :+91- 9447574578,+91-9447574579
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
(Note - this stay took place in November 2011)
Summary: We loved it. Very highly recommended