TREND A lot has changed since the days when travel was just an obligatory respite from everyday grind. Today, it is increasingly becoming a quest for an ‘unforgettable experience’. It is in this context that rural tourism is gaining prominence. Both local and foreign tourists, eager to get knee-deep into the lifestyle and culture of rural India, have helped preserve not just heritage but the villages as well. ANUSHA PARTHASARATHY lists a few groups in the country working in this area, making it a win-win situation for all involved
Grassroutes works with rural communities to foster social change. It helps villagers — from the comfort of their own homes — connect with tourists and continue their practices and culture, ensuring better income and lesser migration. “Our tourism is community-based, since we train villagers in hospitality and help them with the infrastructure. We facilitate people’s journeys to discover these hidden areas,” says Inir Pinheiro, managing director, Grassroutes.
Inir feels that rural tourism is picking up because people are going in search of their roots. “These are third or fourth generation city dwellers who have heard stories of villages, but have never been to one. Now, they’re going back to experience it themselves. We provide a traditional welcome, food grown and cooked by the village and the experience of rural life. In Valwanda, guests learn to make Warli art and even take part in their dance ritual or go for just Nature walks, chop firewood or work in the fields. I see people going back to villages to learn to use medicinal plants. These experiences are what people look for. Since these initiatives are run and managed by rural communities, they see a 30 per cent increase in their income,” he explains. “If we can create livelihood for these locals across India, the tourism is sustainable.”
Grassroutes currently works with communities in Purushwadi, Valwanda and Dehna.
Travel Another India
This group too works with village communities. “We build or renovate guest houses on a small scale and train local teams to take care of them and serve the guests,” says Gouthami, the CEO. “For example, Chanderi is famous for weaving and also has a rich history spanning a thousand years. About 200 families here are part of the weaving community and guests can try their hand at this or something such as pottery and metal craft. We also organise bullock cart rides.” And as with any kind of tourism, there are some unique experiences that the tourists come looking for. “We help guests rediscover old games, have long conversations by a bonfire, spend time stargazing and enjoy the pace and rhythm at which the village operates,” says Gouthami.
She believes it’s a question of going back to simpler things of life. “I’ve had guests tell me that they grew up spending their vacations in their ancestral villages. But now, everyone has moved to the city and their children have nowhere to go. Through our tours, they allow their children to get a taste of rural life,” she says.
Travel Another India offers tours to Pranpur, Hodka and Ladakh; they present wheelchair-friendly options too.
A. Chandamouli has turned his childhood home in the Chettinad village of Kanadukathan into a heritage hotel. “A lot of hoteliers expressed interest in starting a hotel here and since we were already in the hospitality business with properties in Kerala we thought why not open a hotel ourselves?” The Chettinadu Mansion is a heritage property while the Chettinadu Court, is a fairly newer hotel.
Since Kanadukathan, over 15 km from Karaikudi, is a heritage village, Chandramouli offers a variety of rural activities. “Most people come here for the food and the architecture (some of the houses here are over 45,000 sq.ft.). They like the fresh air, the abundance of time and the opportunity to study the culture of the place, and we provide them a map of the village. They either walk around to see the 170-odd mansions here or even cycle. We offer bullock cart rides as well.” Tourists shop in the local markets, antique stores and at Athangudi (renowned for its tiles), thereby generating income.
Chandramouli sums up rural tourism in three words, “Weather, leisure and pleasure.”
About nine months ago, Rural Parikrama began giving rural experiences to tourists, thereby helping generate additional income for the rural community. “This would help reduce their migration to cities and preserve their culture and tradition,” says Navdeep Arora, its co-founder. “We are targeting people who are willing to experiment, can stay in remote areas, love Nature, communicate with local people and young parents who want to expose their children to rural life. We don’t expect the hosts to invest in huge infrastructure to create luxury. But, we do offer ‘natural luxuries’. Guests can enjoy a local meal by a small rivulet after a long trek. The key is to find places that are not affected by commercial tourism and yet attract a discerning tourist. In this sense, even tribal villages in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat could be explored.” Rural Parikrama organises trips in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Rajasthan.