30 Traditional Homes Around The World You Need To See
24. NAMCHE BAZAAR, NEPAL
In 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa became the first people in history to summit neighboring Mount Everest. The owner of the home below, Kancha Sherpa, is the last living survivor of that expedition. “That was the first time I saw foreigners who looked like the Americans,” he said, “I had heard about them before but hadn’t seen them. I had heard their eyes were white, their hair was red. We were surprised.”
Today, the town of Namche Bazaar at the foot of Mount Everest is the hub of the region. The Sherpa people have lived there for generations and continue to welcome visiting trekkers from all over the world.
In previous years, we would’ve been looking down on traditional roofs made from bamboo mats, but today, corrugated iron sheets keep the Sherpa homes of Nepal dry. In April of 2015, an earthquake triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest, devastating the area and claiming many lives. Like many others near the snowy giant, the home you see here is no longer livable. Nevertheless, Kancha Sherpa guides us through the family home that he someday hopes to rebuild.
A Sherpa home, or “tengkhang” as the Sherpa people call it, became popular in the late 19th century. It’s characterized by having two floors: the upper floor for people and the lower floor (“chakhang”) for the animals. Three cows and five zopkyoks (a cross between a yak and a cow) once called Kancha Sherpa’s downstairs area home. They earned their keep by assisting on treks; providing milk and producing fertilizer for the potato fields.
Trees and lumber are scarce in these parts, so rock makes up the majority of the home. In this corner of the world, the animals are literally part of the walls: Stone facades are filled in with a layer of mud plaster made from sandy soil and cattle dung to help prevent drafts. Finally, the exteriors are whitewashed with clay.
Welcome to the “khangpa ma” or colorful main room — the heartbeat of the home. Eating, entertaining, warming up by the fire and sleeping all take place within these four walls. Between the TV set and lineup of family portraits, a door opens to the Buddhist chapel room, also known as “the house of the Gods.” Wall hangings, sacred statues, scriptures and ritual objects used for conducting household religious ceremonies fill the room.
Having a place of worship inside the home allows for a habitual religious practice, which has become a staple of everyday life for this family. On the altar of Kancha’s chapel room, you’ll find their ceremonial bowls. Water offerings are made at sunrise and are emptied before sunset. Member and expert on the Sherpa community, Dr. Lhakpa Norbu Sherpa shares the purpose of this ritual: “to train one’s mind to become a selfless giver by practicing first with the essential…water.”
25. SIYAVA, RAJASTHAN, INDIA
The Garasia tribe lives in the dry forests of northwestern India. Siyava, a Garasia village below the rugged Aravalli Range of southern Rajasthan, is home to Teji Bai and her family. She gets up early every morning to cook bread and separate curd from the milk of the family’s cows. Then, she prays at the local temple before farming and doing household chores. Teji Bai’s husband built the house in a traditional Garasia style with local materials. A focal point of the house is the courtyard where everyone gathers for meals. During the dry season, it’s also used as sleeping quarters.
Houses in rural Siyava are made from clay, wood and stones, all of which are collected locally. The insulating properties of these natural materials keep houses cool on extremely hot summer days and warm on cold winter nights.
Often built by the owners themselves, they can last up to 70 years, withstanding fierce dust storms and monsoon rains. Surrounding the houses, children from the village play together in bare earthen yards. Low outbuildings are used to store farming tools, grains and more. Thorny trees offer some shade, and fences made of sticks keep wildlife at bay.
“My home is where I have my family, and I love it” says Teji. The layout of the house is communal. In the breezy kitchen, with walls made of intertwined branches, there is a clay stove and an open fireplace on the ground. In the covered courtyard, clothes hang from wires strung between wooden rafters, above homemade beds. Water, collected from a handpump in the village, is stored in earthen pots to keep it safe from animals. Bare adobe walls, marked with white chalk drawings, reflect the ochre tones of Rajasthan’s soils.
26. BHOWANIPORE, KOLKATA, INDIA
Kolkata’s Bhowanipore area has a distinguished past. In its heyday, many famous residents lived along its tree-lined streets and on the banks of the holy Adi Ganga River. Today, the river is contaminated, there are few trees and air pollution is a problem.
Yet Arup Mallick remains. He lives in the same traditional Bengali home that his family began building in the 1860s. “I am a part of the home,” he says. “The home is a part of me.” Although only about 50 of Arup’s family members live there now, the sprawling structure has room for up to 250 people.
Back when the river was navigable, it was used to transport Burmese teak wood and other materials used to construct the house. The ground floor was created first, and over the years, the second floor and other structures were added as the family grew. “Generations have adapted the house to the needs of their times,” Arup explains.
According to him, climate change has necessitated adding air-conditioners. Arup is proud of his home’s history, saying that famous Indian nationalist leaders used to visit and discuss Indian independence from British colonial rule.
Ancient Hindu architectural principles called ‘vastu’ dictate the location and shape of doorways, halls and rooms, including the incense-filled ‘thakur ghar’ or Hindu worship room.
Pictures of revered ancestors hang in most spaces. Each family has a separate dining area, but during major festivities everyone eats in the courtyard, which is also where children play.
The courtyard also hosts theater, dance and music performances, especially at Durga Puja. During this festival, family members who settled outside Kolkata return to the home, which keeps everyone close and connected. “Staying together with my family, I have learned all the important values of life and relationships,” Arup says. “I have learned how to love and give love to everyone.”
27. Ganj, Orchha, Bundelkhand, Madhya Pradesh
Once the center of the Bundela kingdom, the riverfront town of Orchha is known for its architecturally significant collection of magnificent stone temples and palaces from the 16th and 17th centuries.
But the increasing frequency of droughts and rising levels make water a precious commodity, challenging the daily lives of the farmers and simple artisans in the surrounding countryside village of Ganj. Here, a potter named Pramod Prajapati lives and works in a traditional clay brick and tile house, handcrafted by his family over generations.
Bricks baked in an on-site kiln and scavenged rocks are bound together with wet clay to create the walls. The neem tree, a fast-growing plant related to mahogany, provides wood for doors and rafters. Outside in a dirt courtyard there’s livestock and a hand pump for water.
Pramod’s grandfather built the first rooms. Sons are expected to stay at home and support their parents, so Pramod’s father and, later, Pramod added onto the house when they started their own families, as will Pramod’s son one day.
The sound of a potter’s wheel spinning and the smell of wet clay permeates the spare interior, with its unadorned whitewashed walls, wooden cots and a corner display with various representations of Hindu deities.
Pramod’s wife, with help from his mother, prepares meals from locally gathered ingredients and tends to the buffalos, while the couple’s son and daughter attend school. The family also offers homestay for international guests. “My home may be small,” Pramod says, “but there is lots of love for anyone who comes here.”
28. KUTCH DESERT, DHORDO, INDIA
In the Kutch Desert, an arid salt flat that stretches across the border of India and Pakistan, extreme heat is a fact of life. So are earth tremors, with more than a thousand each year. Occasionally, they’re catastrophic. In 2001, a massive earthquake destroyed nearly a half million homes in the region, many of them modern structures.
Here, Ramesh Haja lives in a traditional bhunga hut that’s engineered to be both cool and stable. Built by his father and grandfather 30 years ago, the hut is more than a home. “It’s a memory of my forefathers and my childhood,” he says.
Ramesh says the conical shape of the hut’s roof is what keeps it safe. Natural materials — dried grass laid atop a sturdy wooden frame and bound with strong tree fibers — means it’s easily maintained should damage occur. “Repairs are cheap and easy,” he says. The walls are stones plastered over with clay, which keeps the interior comfortable during intense summer heat waves, when temperatures can hit 49 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit). Cow dung applied to the floor of the huts and courtyard also helps keep things cool.
Days begin at 5 a.m., when Ramesh milks the cattle. He then goes to work at a handicraft company, and the children go to school. Later in the day, they’ll help with the cattle. Meanwhile, the women of the family gather water from the village well and make traditional embroidery to sell. Meals are cooked on a mud stove and eaten in the main room during the day and the courtyard in the evening. The family spends time together in the large outdoor area, which has separate buildings for the kitchen, storeroom and more. Everyone sleeps outside on cool summer nights and inside during the winter and rainy season.
29. CHIKMAGALUR, KARNATAKA, INDIA
Chikmagalur is located in the Western Ghats range of southern India. This mountainous region still has expanses of tropical forest, along with streams and wildlife like peacocks and sambar deer. The weather is often cool, with torrential rains in the monsoon season.
The area has many coffee and spice plantations, including the one owned by Nirvane Gowda Girish. He’s concerned about climate change, and wishes that more was done to preserve the environment. Nirvane’s home was built 350 years ago by his ancestors. Now run as guesthouse, it offers a peaceful Chikmagalur experience to visitors.
Nirvane’s plantation house is surrounded by dense forest. When it was built, many generations ago, all the construction materials were sourced from the local area. The walls are five feet thick and made of clay. To stop burglars breaking in through the walls, they have been reinforced with iron bars.
The roof is formed of wooden beams and rafters, topped with clay tiles. Outside walls are painted in earthy tones. The house has a front porch overlooking a lawn and farm outbuildings. Nowadays, houses in the region are built with concrete, which is cheaper to buy and maintain.
“This place can be very soothing to the soul,” says Nirvane. Following a traditional style, Nirvane’s house is built around a central courtyard, hemmed in by a veranda. Its tiled roof is held up by wooden pillars, carved out of local tree species. The wooden structure of the house is considered a work of art. Walls are painted white and furnishings are kept to a minimum to allow for enough space for extended family.
While Nirvane manages the business and his son takes care of the estate, Nirvane’s wife is in charge of cooking. Typical foods include dosa pancakes, freshly-baked chapattis and curry sauces made with coconut milk and tamarind.
30. KUMAKAROM, KERALA, INDIA
Kumarakom is a settlement in the Kerala backwaters of southwest India. In this watery world, houses are built on low-lying land between lakes, rivers and canals. The lands that the homes sit on are actually man made, as are the canals, which were dug to help keep the the low-lying lands dry. It’s lush and tropical, with torrential monsoon rains.
Known as the rice basket of Kerala, Kumarakom also has coconut plantations, mangrove forests and abundant fish. It’s home to Crispin Kodianthara. His Christian ancestors, originally from Israel, came to Kerala in the middle ages. Crispin’s home, built in 1850 from local materials like wood and clay, now serves as a guesthouse for tourists. His favorite part of the house is the porch, called the sitout.
Crispin’s house is set in a tranquil semi-rural location, with direct access to the backwaters. In the garden, there are shady trees and tropical plants. There’s also a fishing pond, with the sound of croaking frogs. The house itself, listed as a heritage building, follows the principles of vastu, the traditional Hindu architectural system.
Nālukettu houses are designed in harmony with natural forces, including the sun, wind and water. Local hardwood, such as anjili, is used for structural components. Around the outside are cool shaded verandas. Nowadays, most houses in the region are built out of concrete, as there’s a lack of quality wood and few skilled carpenters.
“The home is like a temple of peace,” says Crispin. Inside, there are wooden walls and ceilings, along with antique furnishings, artifacts and religious paintings. There’s a separate prayer room and the family is part of a Christian community. Crispin enjoys collecting stamps and singing. The house is also a social place, with regular house guests and lively gatherings with friends and family. His daughter’s wedding was “the most exciting thing that happened here.” In the area, relatives traditionally lived together in large Nālukettu houses. Nowadays, families often split up, with young adults going to live and work in the cities.