A home in the hills

Arun Prakash Ray’s Manali homestay The Haus aims to bring personalisation and familial feeling into hospitality

It is the de facto location Indians think of when they want to vacation in the hills. And to accommodate this large volume of visitors, the hill station of Manali boasts of numerous hotels, homestays and bed-and-breakfasts. One among these many accommodations is The Haus – a humble attempt by Arun Prakash Ray to offer a family like feel and personalised experiences to guests. The Haus, located in Simsa, is a four-bedroom wooden cottage, comprising a large stone fireplace. One of the bedrooms in this duplex property is used by Ray and his wife while the rest is used to accommodate guests.

“The rooms are spacious and have mountain-facing balconies. They can easily accommodate two guests as well as a child if needed,” says Ray, who has been working on this venture and conducting research since 2012. A unique aspect in this homestay, however, is the lack of TVs in the bedrooms. “Ever since we became operational in mid-May, we have noticed that guests only care for wi-fi as far as in-room entertainment is concerned. But we do have large living rooms on both the floors. The ground floor has a large 50-inch screen, a small library and a sitting area while the first floor has a small lobby area. Our homestay is homely with high wooden ceilings and hanging lights. Overall, it is a clean, minimalist kind of a place,” Ray says.

Ray adds that most guests prefer having a conversation with him and his wife over a drink. “It provides an old-worldly charm, like we used to have in the olden days. In fact, one of the families that came to stay wanted to watch Minions while they were here. So, we all sat down together and watched it, complete with popcorn,” he shares with a smile. Board games, Jenga bricks and Lego blocks complete the entertainment offerings at The Haus which also has a specialised children’s rugs designed like the snakes and ladder game for kids to sit and play on.

When it comes to food, Ray and his wife pay special attention to it. Guests at the homestay can enjoy breakfast and dinner at the homestay while the owners encourage guests to go out and explore nearby areas and tourist attractions during the day. This seems to be in line with the guest requirements as during the time of its operations, Ray barely received orders for lunch from guests. The husband-wife duo has kept the food in the house simple – traditional Himachali home food that is not heavily reliant on grease. The Himachali chef at the homestay provides adequate veg and non-veg options, prepared in a kitchen that is especially kept hygienic at all times. “We believe in adding an extra personal touch. Once when some Irish guests were staying with us, my wife cooked Shepherd’s Pie for them. She takes care of bacon while I enter the kitchen when someone wants Laal Maas or Rogan Josh,” Ray shares.

Operating in a competitive place like Manali means that the homestay must offer something different. Before opening the homestay, Ray and his wife conducted research for almost a decade and found that the homestays burnt a hole in the pockets of visitors. “At these rates, guests would expect absolutely clean rooms, washrooms, bed linens and towels, along with high-quality toiletries which were not provided. These aspects cannot be compromised with,” he shares.

Another USP of The Haus is parking, which has space for three SUVs, says Ray. “While looking for a property, we kept things like parking and accessibility in mind. There are a few houses in Manali which have, say, 20 steps to get to the house and if there is snow and it is dark, it’s a life risk for guests. We were careful about it and that is why out of 20 properties we scouted, one made the cut,” Ray says. 

The Haus owner also ensures that he and his wife are accessible, 24x7. “Once, one of our guests got stuck in Mandi due to a landslide. We were able to get him to one of our homestays,” he shares, explaining that when he says ‘one of our homestays’, he means one of the homestays in the network he’s created by reaching out to other owners along popular tourist routes.

“I talked to the nearby taxi stand to send a local Himachali driver and instructed them to send a clean car with a bottle of water and a pack of tissues. I don’t take any commissions, instead have them provide good service to my guests. That is what I have created and what other homestays do not offer,” avers Ray.

The success of The Haus relies on the personalisation the duo offers – be it a free coffee in the morning if any guest happens to stumble into the kitchen while Ray is making himself a cup or a complementary glass of wine or bottle of craft beer over an evening tete-a-tete. “It’s these little things that set us apart. I have a backup pair of sandals that I share with the guests in case they only carried shoes and need a pair. That’s not all. Once a guest liked a book in our library and asked if he could borrow it and then send it back to me later. I wrote a little note for him and gifted it to him. These things make a difference,” he asserts.

While The Haus has been working well, the duo’s long-term plan is to create a clean, minimalistic chain of homestays with a vision to expand from the current arrangement of three rooms to a 20-room inventory over the next three years. For this, they are currently looking at a six-room property in Bir, Himachal Pradesh, that they are hoping to sign the lease agreement for by mid-January and open by March 2023. Ray shares that he has chosen to operate on an asset-light model where he would take properties on lease three years at a time instead of purchasing each one. 

While Ray’s homestay is a place where there are no rules and people can relax, the husband-wife duo only allows pets for large groups of people. “We have no problem with pets but there have been times when guests in one room have had issues with pets accompanying guests in another one. It was an experiential learning and it’s the reason we don’t promote our villa as pet friendly,” explains Ray, who also believes in giving back to the community and sponsors a few students to pay for their fees since their parents can’t. 

Though not a chain yet, The Haus in Manali makes a strong case for homestays - a healthy blend of personalisation and luxury that appears to be the way to go.


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