A bit of green is being added to tourism in Rajasthan’s Shekhawati region, making farmers offer tourists a slice of rustic life and turning farm tourism into a viable proposition

Planning a trip to the Shekhawati region in Rajasthan? You may well like to add a bit of green to your itinerary. After an engrossing peep at the fascinating frescoes and over 5,000 havelis, how about enjoying warm hospitality at a farmer’s home? Away from the cosy comforts of five-star hotels, soothing spas and swimming pools, but the real taste of Rajasthan is in a perfect rustic ambience!

If you have always yearned to get away from the hustle and bustle of cities to have a quiet holiday, feel fresh breeze amidst lush green fields in a simple village setting, the road to your dream vacation is not very far.

Farm tourism is already a hit in the region, particularly with tourists coming from Europe. It is not the typical desi food alone which is luring the foreign palate. They enjoy every bit of rural life, right from milking a cow to churning butter and trying a hand at farm activities, says Babita, whose family recently played host to two groups from France.

With farmers unrolling a welcome carpet for tourists, signature royal Rajasthani hospitality is also getting rustic. Thanks to the initiative of M.R. Morarka and GDC Rural Research Foundation, it has picked up momentum now. Motivating farmers like Girwar Singh, Nekiram Godara or Hari Ram Mool to turn into hosts for bidesi sailanis (foreign tourists) and let their veiled womenfolk interact with them was not easy though. They could finally be convinced following a study conducted by IBM that highlighted the worth of the project.

The idea clicked. Now it is a common sight to see tourists enjoying a day with farmers’ families in number of villages like Sinhasan, Katrathal, Lakshmana ka Bas, Bidodi Badi, Bidasar, Milon ka Bas, Sigda or Basava. The Foundation had started the Shekhawati Festival in 1995 to promote tourism activities in the region, comprising Nawalgarh, Jhunjhunu and Sikar, known as the largest open air art gallery in the world.

With initial experience came the realisation that a large majority of visiting tourists stayed only for short durations, said Mukesh Gupta, the driving force behind many a Morarka Foundation projects, mainly organic farming ones. Other than havelis, there is not much attraction to prolong their stay. Also, in Rajasthan tourist spots are located at great distance from one another. This limits the larger involvement of communities in tourism-related activities. So we thought of exploring the option of promoting farm tourism, Mr. Gupta added.

Interestingly, farm tourism is more popular with overseas tourists, he said. Domestic tourists do wish to spend a day at a farm but want to be back at a five-star hotel to rest at night. Travel companies have started taking interest in the concept and more and more overseas guests are enjoying overnight stays at farms, both in mud houses or tented accommodation. The heritage hotels of Nawalgarh and Mandawa have also started including farm visits in their guests’ itinerary, Mr. Gupta added.

Birbal Yadav’s Bhakhariyon ki Dhani in Basawa is the latest farm location. This organic farm, located on the way to two popular religious spots — Shakambhari and Lohargal temples, is likely to attract domestic tourists as well. The farm will be developed in due course as a major rural culture and desi organic food centre, Mr. Yadav added.

Setting up facilities like making a new jhonpa (hut), decorating it and providing basic amenities is an investment. A pucca construction would be better but he can do so only with the help of the Foundation, he shared. Despite initial hesitation and some apprehensions, his family loved playing host to their French guests. “They stayed just as our family members do during their visits,” he added.

Tourists from France, Belgium, Italy, Germany, U.S., Spain, Finland and India have enjoyed the taste of rural Rajasthan over the past year. Digvijai Singh from Katrathal has so far hosted 14 groups from India, U.S. and Europe. Thakur Mool Singh from Sigda and Manoj Sharma of Bidodi Badi also extended their hospitality to over 10 groups last year.

“We have tied up with a travel company, which sends overseas tourists inclined to enjoy farm tourism and of course, word of mouth publicity also helps,” Piyush Mehta from the Foundation said.