Arun Samant and Appa Khule have little in common - Samant lives in Khetwadi in Mumbai and Khule is a fisherman from the picturesque Nivti-Bhogve village in coastal Sindhudurg in Maharashtra. But both can soon find their cash registers ringing for the same reasons.
Courtesy a unique "home stay" programme initiated by Mumbai-based Tourism Co-operative, they both are looking forward to an additional income of around Rs 10,000 a month in the tourist season.
All that the two men have to do is play host to foreign tourists looking for a taste of Indian life. In the bargain, they even get a bank loan to renovate their homes.
The scheme got an official endorsement from Union Tourism Minister Renuka Choudhary during her recent visit to the state. She promised to promote the scheme in other states too.
It is a win-win situation all around: For the Indians, it is a fresh source of livelihood; for the tourists, an idyllic holiday replete with virgin sun and sand, or a slice of life in traditional Mumbai homes. Drawing water from a village well or bargaining for vegetables at a Dadar stall early morning, the experience is yours for the asking.
Says Sudhir Sawant, chairman of Tourism Co-operative, "The average European tourist comes here for the mysticism and romance that India offers. That is what we have tried to capitalise on. It is also an effort to provide an alternative source of income to fishermen, farmers and village artisans who are otherwise languishing for want of income. In Mumbai, it will also help us tide over the acute shortage of hotel rooms, while helping to maintain the few traditional houses left in the city."
Under the programme, Indian homeowners register with the co-operative, which in turn is registered with charter and special travel agencies in Europe and the US. Once tourists reach India, the cooperative organise their last-mile travel right up to villages. Once there, the visitors will receive traditional Indian hospitality.
The first batch - 20 tourists from Germany - is expected in December, followed by a batch of Scottish tourists. Sawant said he expected around 120 nights' booking in the first year at Nivti-Bhogve. In Mumbai, the scheme will start in January in time for the Mumbai Festival.
The State Bank of India is providing loans up to Rs 250,000 for renovating houses that will retain an ethnic touch while providing modern amenities.
Twenty-two families have registered for this scheme in Sindhudurg in Nivti-Bhogve, Oras, Sawantwadi and Vengurle. At each home, up to three rooms have been be added for guests.
"We have taken care to ensure that the ethnic touch is maintained," Sawant said. Common recreational areas, dining rooms, toilets and bathing facilities are also being developed.
In Mumbai, around 50 families have registered so far. Here, a tourist will be able to choose between traditional Maharashtrian, Gujarati, Marwari and eastern Indian homes, including the heritage Khetwadi precinct.If all goes well, the home-made dhoklas and the bhakarwadis can prove to be the irresistible draw for foreign tourists.