Narchyang, a village nestled in the Annapurna rural municipality, is home to a number of indigenous groups who settled here in the 1960’s. Prior to that, they were a nomadic people, herding livestock in the high passes of the mountains. A melting pot of language and culture, the people of Narchyang live simple lives in the shadow of the Annapurna mountain range, where agriculture is the primary industry. Recently, community homestay projects such as those operated by the Royal Mountain Community Homestay Network have become a popular way for tourists to experience true Nepalese culture while empowering locals by providing a unique revenue stream. these community homestays really give travelers an insight into the hospitality of Nepali homes.
We visited Narchyang as part of a 6 day hike with our guide Asis, but it’s easy enough to reach for an overnight stay from Pokhara. Upon arrival we were welcomed into our homestay in the traditional way, with a garland of flowers placed around our necks and tikas (a red dot blessing) on our foreheads. This welcoming was the first taste we got of traditional hospitality of Nepali homes. After a cup of mint tea, we settled in the garden to learn more about this incredible location, and why this homestay in Narchyang is so special.
The vision of the community homestay project is to provide mutual benefit to the visitors and the locals. Our guide Asis tells us that in the beginning it was difficult to convince locals of the benefits homestays would bring. “The first few years were very difficult,” he says, “because just as the project was beginning to gain momentum, we were hit by Covid, and all tourism came to a halt.”
Despite the slow start, it’s easy to see now that community homestays are on the rise in the region. For a family who wishes to join the program, their investment is reasonably modest. They must provide suitable accommodation for their guests, cook a traditional meal and give a little of their time. In exchange they are paid a fair rate, allowing them to access a revenue stream which is not tethered to the land. As the impact of climate change is felt, this is of growing concern.
“The rains are very late this year,” admits Asis. “Every day that passes raises the chances that the whole crop will be ruined, and people will starve.” Our host is out tending to her crops as we speak, and it’s clear that almost everything that will go into our dinner has been grown less than 30 feet away. Should the crops fail, the family will need income to feed themselves.
I ask Asis if interest in the homestay project is growing. “When we started, our hosts were nervous. They do not all speak English and they were intimidated to host tourists in their homes. That’s why the guides are so important.” Asis is proud to speak more than 3 languages and dialects of Nepal, and he acts as interpreter when we interact with our host. She tells us that her neighbors want to join the homestay program because they recognize the positive impact it has on the community and her life.
Narchyang is becoming more and more popular because it provides an authentic alternative to now overcrowded stops such as Tato Pani on the Annapurna circuit. “It’s very authentic,” says Asis. “Since these people are just living their normal lives, guests get a taste of the real Nepal.” The feedback from tourists is overwhelmingly positive too, and it’s easy to see why. Our hosts are warm, friendly and inviting. The insight into their culture is fascinating and a little humbling. “Nepal needs tourism,” Asis tells us, “and the local people can see that now.” For our part, it feels good to know that we are empowering our hosts by putting our money directly into their pockets.
We decide to head to the local hot springs to wash away the dust of the day’s hike, which involves a short walk back through the village. Schoolchildren are on their way home and take the opportunity to call out to us, shyly practicing their English. Asis tells us that Narchyang was built to provide a school education for the local children. Three farmers are plowing their field with the help of a yoked water buffalo. In the distance the waterfall on the mountain sets a picture perfect scene of Himalayan life.
Arriving at the hot springs, we realize we are the only tourists in attendance, but they are packed with bathing locals. Slipping into the warm water feels wonderful on sore muscles, and a body tight from trekking. I notice a little boy staring and imagine that he may have never seen westerners before, but in fact it’s Asis’s height that has drawn his attention. “Are you Nepalese?” he demands. “I’ve never seen such a tall Nepali man before!” He turns out to be a basketball fan, envious of Asis’s 6′ 6” build…
Our host’s husband meets us at home just in time for dinner. Since he speaks English well, we chat with him about his work at a local school, and what representing true the hospitality of Nepali homes means for him. Dinner is dal bhat, a local lentil curry which is served with rice, papad and vegetables. After our third helping, we are pushing the plates away groaning “it’s delicious, but we can’t take another mouthful.” He pours us some Raksi, a kind of spirit made from millet which reminds us of sake. It serves to lubricate conversation until we are all laughing and chatting. Before long, we are all full, sleepy and ready for bed, looking forward to a good night’s rest, and a simple breakfast with our newly adopted family in the morning.