Tuesday, 30 September 2014

7 Reasons Why Corporate Travelers Prefer A Homestay

Unlike in the past when company executives either stayed at a fancy but expensive hotel or a basic guest house with inconsistent service, today there is another option of a homestay / bed & breakfast.

And Tripadvisor makes it easy to find these special places hidden in a city's landscape. With ratings and detailed guest reviews you can be assured of a safe and comfortable stay at this non hotel option!

So why should a busy corporate traveller stay at a homestay. Here are 7 good reasons. 

1. Do you remember the last hotel room that you stayed in 5 years ago on a business trip? Most probably you don't.  But people who stay at a homestay/ bed & breakfast invariably remember, because their experience is so unique and special. You may be a busy executive, but you still remember the delicious home cooked food, the quirky room with some beautiful painting; the chat over breakfast on local city tips and much more.

2. The Warm Human Touch.  Unlike a B&B,  a hotel doesn't have hosts who blend the skills of a cook, waiter, tour guide, housekeeper, conversationalist and much more to make every guest's experience a delight.

3. For the budget conscious corporate traveller, the SME owner, the entrepreneur with a tight wallet, often the homestay works far economical than a hotel. The food costs are less and you avoid luxury tax.

4. Many a time the corporate traveller travels with his/ her spouse or family. In these cases, the home like environment of a B&B is much better than the confined space of a hotel room. 
Of course you need to check the reviews on Tripadvisor before you make the booking.
In the connected economy, the good places are easy to book and the bad places can't hide themselves!

5. If the stay is for more than a few days, hosts at a B&B can give valuable tips on shopping, eating out, the coolest cafes and pubs. These local tips are invaluable when you are in a  new city for a few days. It saves you valuable time and you gain from their expertise!

6. Hotel food, no matter how fancy can get on your nerves and palate after a while. Especially for the widely travelled corporate traveller, hotel food is no longer a big draw! But a well prepared, delicious home cooked meal at a homestay is a big hit with travelers. Often the odd pickle, a special recipe, a local sweet or ice-cream is a gentle balm for the wearied corporate traveller.

7. A homestay is also a place where you chance upon other interesting travelers. At Cinnamon Stays - we have hosted amazingly interesting people from almost 60 countries - artists, entrepreneurs, corporate honchos, VCs, musicians, social media gurus, NGO heads and even students in their gap year! 

The homestay with it's unassuming and open space allows corporates to mix and unwind with this diverse lot. The free flow of ideas and conversations is enriching for all. 

The world is opening up. Businesses like airbnb.com have made B&B accessible and available to all. Tripadvisor and guest reviews have made finding great non hotel places far easier. 

So, in case you have never tried a homestay / bed & breakfast  you may want to give them a try after reading this. Believe us; after 5 years of running Cinnamon, our lives have been transformed by this experience.

(The hosts and writers Manish and Shilpi have had a corporate career in media and HR respectively. They took the plunge 5 years back to create cinnamonstays.in - the No.1 B&B in Gurgaon. They also manage the bookings and marketing for Granny's Inn - www.grannysinn.in in Varanasi run by their aunt and mother!

Sunday, 28 September 2014

10 Reasons Why You Should Stay At The Granny's Inn, Varanasi

Varanasi, Banaras or Kashi is amongst the oldest living cities of the world - a holy city for the Hindus and a spiritual, music, sanskrit learning and yoga learning destination!

To experience the sights, sounds and the flavour of Banaras, one must ideally stay in a homestay. A standardized hotel - even a star one does not add much to the experience of Varanasi. Granny's Inn is one such comfortable homestay run by two feisty grannies in their 60's - Asha & Aruna. They started this homestay in December 2013 and in about 9 months, they are already No.10 on Tripadvisor amongst 140 odd B&B's & Guesthouses in Varanasi!

Here are 10 reasons why you must stay at the Granny's Inn 

1. If you are bored with the standardized and bland rooms of a hotel, the Granny's Inn offers double rooms with AC/ non AC options with character. Set in a house with old architecture and a courtyard, it will charm you with it's decor and quirkiness.

2. You get to sample authentic Indian vegetarian food. Prepared by the grannies and their man-friday - Kashi. Even though the street food in Varanasi is amazingly diverse and tasty; many of our guests still prefer the Granny's Inn meals.

3. The Grannies are obsessed about cleanliness. You will find the rooms very neat and clean. Besides all the rooms have en suite modern bathroom. 

4. You are less than 10 min walk from the main Kashi Vishwanath temple. 
This is a boon in the city of Banaras as you avoid the traffic and save time.
It's easy to do the early morning Mangla aarti at the temple!

5. The ghats are also a mere 10 min brisk walk from the Granny's Inn. It's very convenient to attend the evening aarti or the morning boat ride(must do's on the tourist/ pilgrim check-list)

6. The Grannies will also guide you in case you have a taste and the stomach for Banaras street food. It's tasty, unique and a riot of flavors. Dina Chat Bhandaar is the closest and quite good(although you may want to order and eat at the homestay). They will also tell you where to have pan, lassi and baati chokha. 

7. Banaras is known for it's intricate Banarasi silk sarees. The grannies will help you with tips on (a) where to buy, (b) the best shops to visit. You may persuade them to accompany you on a shopping spree. They love shopping!

8. The grannies make some amazing pickles - mango, chilly, lemon etc. 
Depending upon the season and what's available you can sample their finger-licking pickles. Difficult to find in any hotel or a standard guest house. 

9. Safety is a big concern for independent women travelers and senior citizens. This homestay is amongst the safest in the city. It's family run with trustworthy staff. One of the two grannies is always there to help and support. Women travelers feel very safe at our homestay. 

10. The Granny's Inn has loads of local Varanasi flavour. The furniture is made by the local Khadi Gram Udyog (cottage industry). Many of the artifacts, wooden mirrors and clothes hangars in the bathroom and are made by the local toy maker - Sharmaji. 

Whether you are a foreign tourist wanting to savor Varanasi in an authentic way, an Indian tourist with or without family, an elderly pilgrim, the granny's inn is a good option for experience Varanasi - very safe, cosy & delightfully homely. Drop us a mail at namastey@grannysinn.in for booking or queries!

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Khaike Paan Banaras Wala, Khul Jaye Band Akal Ka Taala

This famous song from the Amitabh Bachchan starrer - ‘Don’  has made the Banarasi paan a part of our national psyche. This betel leaf Banarsi wonder - Paan - is a trademark of the holy city of Varanasi.

One associates the ubiquitous paan with the brick-red stains that cover the facades of Banarsi structures—old and beautiful, modern and shiny.

But Paan is also associated with the best of Banaras—with musical sittings called baithaks - in which paan is offered graciously to listeners for aesthetic enhancement; with strolls at sunset by “Gangaji” and with family gatherings and festivals.

In Banaras the ‘paan’ is savoured as a treat at odd moments and often to mark even the smallest of special occasions. The Banarasi paan is inseparable from 'Banarasipan', which is the ethos that is associated with Banaras, a joie de vivre that the locals called mauj and masti or abandon and revelry.

For the people of the city, Banarasipan is embodied by a dip in the Ganga, a nap under a tree, an unannounced stop at a friend’s place, an open-air music session, a trip to a local saint’s tomb—or, indeed, savouring a paan.  

The Banarsi paan has many stories built into it. The elders say, in the decades before India’s independence, members of the Indian National Congress would secretly exchange messages hidden in the ubiquitous paan.

Bismillah Khan - the famous shehnai player who lived in Banaras, in the neighbourhood of Beniabagh used to relax at Chaurasiya paan bhandaar (in Chowk area). A simple, poor man, a pakka Banarasi. His biggest joys were playing his music and enjoying his paan.

The ingredients of a typical paan are :

8 beetle leaves (paan)

4 tsp small fennel seeds (saunf)

2 tsp betel nut slivers

2 tsp coloured sugar coated

1/4 tsp cardamoms powder

1/4 tsp nutmeg (jaiphal) powder

1/4 tsp cloves (laung / lavang) powder

1/4 tsp cinnamon (dalchini) powder

1 tsp grated dry coconut (kopra)

2 tsp tutti fruity 1/4 tsp menthol powder

1/4 tsp camphor powder

2 tsp gulkhand  

1/2 tsp slaked lime

Though we (at the Granny’s Inn) are still quite new to Banaras and therefore far from an expert on where to get the best paan. But would recommend paan at these two places. (a) Near Diamond hotel in Bhelupur and (b) the famous Prahlad Prasad Chaurasiya Pan Bhandaar at Chowk!

The blog post content has been excerpted from this Live Mint article