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In Session: Frontier Urbanization across the Himalayas: Society, Politics, and Transformation
3: Homestays, state, and endogenous tourism in an urban hinterland in the Indian Himalayas
Monday, March 22, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
Ashoka University, India
This paper examines the rising homestay industry in northeastern India to better understand the intersections of state-sponsored tourism and frontier urbanization across the Himalaya. I explore how the Incredible India Bed and Breakfast/Homestay establishment aims to provide clean affordable lodgings to both domestic and foreign tourists in the homestays of Tawang and West Kameng, two small Buddhist-majority districts in Arunachal Pradesh. While family-run guesthouses and small hospitality enterprises have been on the rise in these districts for several decades due to their inclusion within regional Buddhist pilgrimage circuits, homestay as a concept of modern middle-class tourism has gained ground only since 2016. Homestays now constitute the main ‘endogenous’ activity (Michaud 1991) in the tourism sector in these districts. And yet while participation by the resident local population expands, the state tourism department is directly involved in selecting, approving and registering homestays. I show the discrepancies between the concept of homestay as offering a local experience, and its actual practice and functioning as locals try to adapt themselves and their ways of life to an imagined national culture as prescribed by state-led development initiatives. In conversation with broader discussions about urban life across India, I further show how homestay practices reveal a politics of food that reflects the current ‘bovine nationalism’ (Suresh 2018) of the Indian state. The co-option of the homestay business into a mainstream idea of what is Indian defeats the very purpose of the government initiative on homestays, which promises a taste of local flavors to tourists.