To celebrate Responsible Tourism, we have for you a luminous bouquet of homestays from all over our beloved country. Homestays do tick all the boxes. There’s no new construction in most cases, just the creative reuse of an already existing building. They are small and intimate. There’s no easier path to local immersion. The homestays in  this list stretch the definition in every direction. Some have no electricity, while others are working farms, and some are set at the edge of deep forests. Food is splendid everywhere. But what makes these homestays truly sparkle are their hosts, each of them with a riveting story to tell. And that’s why each of them is absolutely unique. Go on then, plan your next guiltless trip with Part 2 of India’s Best Homestays. To read Part 1, click here.

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Sanjiv’s Aira Holme Retreat, Shimla

Located 4km from busy Shimla’s Mall Road (‘Maal Road’, if you want to go local) is a colonial cottage built circa 1870, surrounded by forest. Sanjiv Malhan inherited the house, then known as Morefield Grange from her grandfather Sir Jogendra Singh, who had renamed it Aira Holme. This was Mrs Malhan’s home for decades and the homestay her labour of love. She passed away in April 2016, but the homestay continues to be run in tribute to her memory by her husband, Billy, and their daughter Panita. “Sanjiv’s Aira Holme Retreat, she called it, and Sanjiv’s Aira Holme Retreat it will stay,” says Panita. Two cosy rooms are on offer, one with an attached sitout and the other without, but with wraparound bay windows that offer views of the surrounding valley and deodar forest. A warm home comes alive with the personality of artist Billy and the spirit of bon vivant, Sanjiv. Tariff: from 6,000 doubles, breakfast included. Dinner can be arranged on request (from 500 per head). Contact: 9814782557, sanjiv-aira-holme.blogspot.in

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Fort Rampura, Bundelkhand

It’s someone’s home. A 600-year-old ‘fighting fort’ that also served as living quarters for the erstwhile rulers of Rampura, a princely enclave deep in the heart of Bundelkhand. Keshavendra and Padmini Singh are the unpretentious descendants of the fighting clan, and they’re happy to introduce city-slickers to their feudal traditions in the backwaters. Proud residents of the fort, they offer four rooms to guests as a homestay experience. The rooms reflect the owners’ personalities—knowledgeable but simple, well-educated and welcoming. The first ‘thing to do’, as listed on their website is: Nothing. Which gives you a hint of what to expect of your hosts. In fact, there are several things to be done here, including walking through the area’s famed ravines, meeting the villagers, getting a maalish on the terrace, visiting the many forts, fortresses and temples in the area, taking a boat ride on the Yamuna here, where it’s a river rather than a drain… Tariff: 10,000 doubles, all-inclusive. Contact: 94150324666, fortrampura.com

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Tathagata Farmstay, Darjeeling

Come home to tea country. And stay, of course. Set deep in the gorgeous hills of the eastern Himalaya, and 45 minutes away from over-touristed Darjeeling town, this farm stay gives you an immersive introduction to the tea planting life. Accommodation is in two charmingly rustic wooden cabins built on stilts and with private sit-outs that look out onto land that grows cardamom, ginger, oranges, vegetables and, of course, tea. A ‘deluxe room’ (below) has also been newly added. Nothing fancy, everything comfortable. Food is fresh and non-hotelly, made with produce from the garden. Activities here include a guided village walk to interact with the farming communities, fishing, picnicking by the river, birdwatching and, of course, that ultimate luxury—doing little other than staring out at the green and emptying mind and body of the stresses of city life. Tariff: from 5,520 doubles, all inclusive. Contact: 9775809299, tathagatafarm.com

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Redbrick Residency, Kolkata

To get under the skin of a city, try and get into the home of an old-time resident. And when the city is one as characterful as Kolkata, it’s imperative you find a home to match. The rather grandly named Redbrick Residency is not redbrick but it’s grand all right—a century-old mansion with a nostalgic pale-yellow façade and green shutters, furnished in a combination of baroque, art deco and kitsch, with curios from around the world, typical of the well-heeled, well-travelled upper-class Bengali. Four bedrooms are available, fitted out with such necessities as ACs and en suite bathrooms. The house is lovingly maintained (the caretaker, Nandu, gets consistent applause from guests), with gleaming balustrades, polished brassware and the like. Located on Sarat Bose Road in South Kolkata, this homestay is well-connected to the rest of the city (the Metro is also just a 10-minute walk). Tariff: On request. Contact: 9830128115, redbrickresidency@gmail.com, facebook.com/RedBrickResidency/

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Anthraper House, Cherthala

Think of it as Kerala’s famed syncretic culture in a bottle. And take a deep glug. This beautiful 70-year-old house, located far from the tourist bustle of Kochi and Alleppey but just 45 minutes from the airport, is a repository of fascinating history. Of a family that can be traced to the 16th-century Portuguese adventurer, Andrew Pereira, who settled in this part of Kerala; the roots spread like a great banyan, with subsequent inter-marrying and assimilation with local culture. All this is if you’re interested. If you’re not into furthering your understanding of history, simply enjoy the place. Two attractive AC suites are on offer at this beautiful property, set on two acres of gardens and surrounded by the backwaters on three sides. The architecture is traditional, the comforts fully modern, the food outstanding, the ambience serene. Enjoy the hospitality of the five Anthraper sisters, led by Omana Thomas. Tariff:  8,500 doubles, all-inclusive (till April 30). Contact: 0478-2813211, anthrapergardens.com