Rural Tourism - here we come!

Rural Tourism - here we come! Averil Nunes

Stop. Take a deep breath. And walk, fly or catch a train away from the city and into a world where the average pace of life is slower than slow. Averil Nunes on the buzz that’s rural tourism

"It is not down in any map; true places never are." ~ Herman Melville. In a land of 7 billion villages and 330 million Gods, there is more off the map than there is on it. But slowly and surely, rural tourism initiatives in India are connecting the present to the past, the avenues to the gallis, and people to people, making history, culture, craft and tradition relevant in a contemporary context. Whether through milking a goat, ploughing a field, harvesting rice, learning a few Warli strokes, building a greenhouse, watching fireflies outshine each other in the mating game, or simply sleeping under the stars, rural tourism initiatives are not just giving city-slickers a taste of life on the other side of the farm hedge; they are creating sustainable eco-systems, which provide alternate sources of income for village dwellers without straining their existing resources. If you're in the mood to explore some less-travelled roads, read on for a few leads.

/2013/6/19/maha-rice.jpgEarthy Endeavours

How would you feel about waking up in a nursery rhyme, complete with crowing cockerels and lowing cattle? Would you rub the remnants of your dreams out of your eyes and walk down the dirt road to try your hand at milking a goat? Or perhaps, chopping wood? Or maybe, you would prefer an early morning dive into the river nearby? Is that your rumbling tummy demanding your attention? Perhaps, you'd better follow the aroma of that sumptuous poha, cooked on a wood-fire, and help yourself, before we make you do any more thinking. If you're still pinching yourself, and wondering why you haven't yet woken up in your real world, which is typically a chaos of sound, LEDs and fast-moving consumer goods, in fact, fast-moving everything... please stop before you have an angry black and blue patch on your arm, and we'll tell you what's going on. This is Purushwadi, and you are one of the few city-weary travellers who were enticed enough by Grassroutes' description of a million fireflies lighting up the night sky just before the monsoon storms in, to step on a train and head straight out of town, without a second thought. Friendly people, seasonal food... this is the village life for you. You could knock a few mangoes down from the trees, try your hand at ploughing the field or come back later in the year, during harvest season to listen to the story of rice. Aside from Purushwadi, Grassroutes also works with the villages of Valwanda (where you could raise your artistic quotient through a course in Warli painting, conducted by a local artist) and Dehna (rain lovers might love to wander through the forests of Dehna, which nestles in the highest rainfall region in Maharashtra). We'll leave you to figure out the travel directions at http://grassroutes.co.in

Locations: Purushwadi, Valwanda, Dehna (Maharastra)
Duration: 1 to 5 days
Best time to Visit: Dehna and Valwanda (avoid the summer months)
Facilitators: http://grassroutes.co.in/
Cost: Rs.1,200 to Rs.15,000 per head (exclusive of tax, varying with the facilities availed off)
Note: If you are heading to Valwanda, please do carry some mosquito repellent along.

/2013/6/19/door-new.jpgHigh-altitude Exploring

Take a deep breath... can you smell the oak and the pine? The woods are lovely, dark and deep, and if you ever decide to wander around the Kumaon, we recommend you do it on foot. Actually, that's probably the only way to wander around in this area, which does not receive as many footfalls as its more famous neighbour Ladakh. Don't let the seeming lack of infrastructure deter you; One Planet Journey's village walk programme Dãna (hilltop in Kumaoni) will lead you through the villages of Deora, Pallyu and Shaukiyathal. You'll cover an average of 10-12 km per day, walking past temples, waterfalls and terraced fields ripening with paddy, millet, seasonal fruit and vegetables. Along the way are stone-walled, slate-tiled and mud-floored homes inset with intricately carved windows and doors, where the parrot motif (typical of mountain dwellings) seems quite popular. The mountains, like the plains, and just about every nook and cranny in India, have their Gods, and it is Nanda Devi (an incarnation of Parvati), who rules the Kumaoni hilltops and lends her name to the highest peak in Uttarakhand. Architecture and spiritual leanings aside, perhaps the most intriguing part of your experience will be "the cannabis-infused cuisine you'll taste in the village homes, which is unavailable even in the local restaurants", mentions Shikha Tripathi of One Planet Journeys. In attempts to revive the local culture, One Planet Journeys has been encouraging the celebration of festivals, to draw in local participation, generating a second stream of income and making the villagers independent. Depending on what time of year you visit, you may also be treated to the sights and sounds of the choliya (a tradional Kumaoni dance), the masakbeen (a bagpipe-like instrument) or a hudki player tapping out a rhythm to keep up the spirits of the women toiling in the fields. The more adventurous amongst you should also check out the Explorer’s and Adventurer’s Trails on www.oneplanet.co.in
Locations: Deora, Pallyu, Shaukiyathal (Kumaon, Uttarkhand)
Duration: 5 nights/6 days
Best time to visit: October to May
Facilitators: www.oneplanet.co.in
Cost: Rs.29,900 for two (Dãna)
Note: Please remember to carry a pair of good walking shoes and a warm jacket
/2013/6/19/hima-new.jpgAn Eco Adventure

If you've always wanted to help build a greehouse or a solar passive structure, we know just the place for you. The Spiti Valley is ripe with opportunities to aid economic empowerment, infrastructure development as well as the conservation (and celebration) of natural resources, through community-based eco-tourism. Sphearheading a carbon-neutral approach to building sustainable livelihoods for the people of the valley, is Ishita Khanna, co-founder of Ecosphere. What is truly astounding is the diversity of things you could do here - humble homestays in the villages of Demul, Komic (the highest inhabited Asian village) and Langza, where you can learn to cook the traditonal cuisine or try your hand at the local crafts; insightful farming lessons at altitudes averaging 4,400 metres; botanical tours, mountain biking expeditions, and yak safaris; spiritual soujourns that ford rivers and valleys in the footsteps of the Buchens (nomadic Tibetan minestral lamas); journeys with storytellers that weave yarns of a 675-year-old mummy and a fairy who has made its home in the Chandertal Lake; encounters with Buddhist theatre artists; excursions into the habitats of snow leopards, blue sheep and Himalayan wolves (the original occupants of the Spiti Valley, and the oldest surviving species of wolves in the world, with a lineage that goes back over 8,00,000 years)... this is one journey that sounds like it will carve a niche for itself in your soul. For the finer details, log on to http://www.spitiecosphere.com.

Locations: Demul, Komic, Langza (Spiti, Himachal)
Duration: Varies with the route chosen
Best Time to visit: Mid-May to Mid-October
Facilitators: http://www.spitiecosphere.com
Cost: Varies with the route chosen

Cross-country Ramblings

Across India, from the rolling hills of Punjab to the coffee plantations down South are heritage homes and affectionate people who open up their doors and lives to people curious about Indian culture and cuisine, or simply looking for an escape from the constant bustle and hum of city life. Organic farms, apple orchards, coffee plantations... there's a lot to choose from. The cuisine varies with the geography, but what stays the same is the fruit-of-the-earth authenticity. India Untravelled sources and develops relationships with places and people located slightly off the beaten path to give you a taste and feel of how the other side lives. You could choose to help out on the coffee plantations and farms or simply chill out on a private island and do nothing in particular. Amongst their offerings, is an organic farm stay in Punjab, where you eat the produce of the land or locally sourced ingredients. You could even opt for a lesson in traditional Punjabi cooking, or get involved in the farming activities, milk the cows, feed the chicks, cool off in the tube wells… If you're preoccupied with the past, you could set your bags down in the colonial homestays at Shimla, Manali and Dharamshala in the Himalayas or The Dak Bungalow in the British Kumaon. India Untravelled is just "filling the marketing gap between an urban audience and rural tourism destinations, through its marketing skills and social media networks", according to its founder Shivya Nath. Find out more at http://indiauntravelled.com

Locations: Kerala, Rajasthan, Punjab, Uttarkhand, Himachal Pradesh
Duration: Varies with the trail chosen
Best Time to visit: Varies with the region you choose to visit
Facilitators: http://indiauntravelled.com/
Costs: Rs.17,000 – 41,000 per head, on a twin-sharing basis

"In India, there's a unique food experience practically every 200 km," tells us Gouthami, the founder of Travel Another India; and yet, food experiences are not the only point of discovery when you choose to take a trip with Travel Another India, which puts together experiential tours that let you partake of the culture, art and daily lives of the people in Pranpur, Ladhak, Hodka, Khanapur, Mysore, Sonapati, Spiti, Aldona, Curtorim, Olaulim… Try your hand at weaving silk in Chanderi, which is also know for its pottery, metal work, stone carving and 'beedi' rolling; tour Pranpur with a local guide who will acquaint you with the craftspeople and a whole lot more; explore the folklore and music of Bundlekhand; participate in the farming, cooking and other everyday activities; learn to cook Ladhaki cuisine such as mok mok and thukpa; try wood carving in Ludia or sit at the potter's wheel in Khavda. Travel Another India also features trips for wheelchair wanderers. We could go on, but we'll leave you to do a bit of exploring by yourself at http://www.travelanotherindia.com
Locations: Pranpur (Madhya Pradesh) and Ladakh, Hodka, Khanapur, Mysore, Sonapati, Spiti, Aldona, Curtorim, Olaulim
Duration: Varies with the route chosen
Best Time to visit: August to February
Facilitators: http://indiauntravelled.com/
Costs: Rs.1,100 – Rs.24, 250 per head (customizable)


The Ministry of Tourism is reportedly funding the development of 189-odd rural tourism destinations in India, through the state governments. If you are the adventurous sort and like to find your own way around, do log on to www.incredibleindia.org and check out the Explore Rural India initiative, which lists rural travel destinations categorised by state, by craft, as well as by site features. It may still be a while before these places are highlighted on a tourist map, but that perhaps is the best part of visiting before the rest of the world decides to.

/2013/6/19/cart.jpgOther rural tourism options include:
http://www.cultureaangan.com – for customised fishing trips; agriculture, culinary, culture and walking tours in Rajasthan and Sawantwadi (Konkan), to join the morning opium meeting, to learn block printing, blanket weaving or pottery

http://www.villageways.com – for guided walking tours in the Himalayas as well as cultural experiences in the Thar desert and South India

http://www.indiaruraltours.com – for rural lifestyle packages, homestays and volunteering opportunities across India
http://www.agritourism.in – for agricultural tourism in Baramati

http://www.savefarm.in/tarpa.html – for agro-tourism in Tarpa and Dahanu

http://www.hideout.co.in – for farmstays in Vikramghad

http://www.grassroutesjourneys.com – for rural experiences in Odisha

http://www.mawlynnong.com – to visit the cleanest village in Asia

http://www.theblueyonder.com – for responsible tourism adventures in Kerala, Orissa, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Spiti and the Andamans

http://www.himalayan-homestays.com – for a traditional Himalayan experience

http://ecomantra.com – for trips across India

http://helptourism.com – for tribal tours in North East India

http://mangalajodiecotourism.com – for an experiential village stay in Mangalajodi, Orissa

Must haves for the village-bound traveller:
- Mosquito repellant
- A torch (with extra batteries)
- Sensible walking shoes
- Cap, stole or some other form of head protection
- Appropriate attire, to suite the climate, and to prevent triggering a culture shock
- Energy bars – In case you can’t stomach the local food

What is rural tourism?
Travelling to an unarguably rural environment with the intention of experiencing the culture, traditions and lifestyle of its inhabitants.


Images, in order of appearance:

1. A tourist setting off on a walk through the Kumaon with a local guide, Uttarkhand. Image: Shikha Tripathi, One Planet Journeys
2. Try your hand cleaning rice in Purushwadi, Maharashtra. Image: Courtesy Grassroutes
3. Look out for the parrot motif as you walk through the Kumaon, Uttarkhand. Image: Shikha Tripathi, One Planet Journeys
4. Help build a greenhouse in Spiti, Himachal Pradesh. Image: courtesy Ecosphere
5. Hitch a sunset bullock-cart ride in Pranpur, Madhya Pradesh. Image: Tanushree Singh, courtesy India Untravelled