Chaudhary remembers why she was keen to join the program. “We used to do all this conservation, putting in a lot of time into creating a community forest and helping it grow. Then I thought: ‘Why not benefit more?’” she says. So she signed up for the program, as did her sister-in-law (who now runs her own homestay next door). Together, they attended training sessions run by WWF, polishing their hospitality, cooking, and English skills.
In the early days, Chaudhary says she fretted over many things. “I was worried about the food, whether the guests would eat it. And no matter how much I cleaned a room, it never felt clean enough.”
One of her biggest fears, however, was if she would recuperate her investments. But nearly a decade on, Chaudhary says she has “no regrets, none at all.” Her income has increased manifold thanks to the homestay. “Because my situation has really improved, I’m able to give my [7-year-old] son a better education,” she says.
With competition growing—there are now 22 homestays in Dalla, double the number at the start—Chaudhary is looking to upgrade the facilities she has to offer. She’s building two new rooms that, when completed in a few weeks’ time, will be larger than the existing ones, boasting tiled flooring instead of mud, and en-suite bathrooms equipped with hot water.
Her confidence in speaking with strangers has grown too, and now she looks forward to people visiting her home. “The best part is having people come,” says Chaudhary, who sometimes gets up to 18 guests a month. “I used to think, ‘Why do they come?’ But now if they don’t come, I feel like there is silence in the village.”