The growth in the India rural tourism market in recent years means that many Indian villages have now found a place on the tourist map. Not only does it provide the villagers with a much needed additional source of income, visitors are able to interact with them and gain a rare insight into their way of life. They say the heart of India lies in her villages. Here are some top ways of experiencing them. If you're concerned about having to sacrifice your comforts, don't be. There are luxury accommodation options too in some places!
Kutch Adventures India: Community Tourism in Kutch
Kutch Adventures India offers journeys into Gujarat's Great Rann of Kutch to visit artisan villages, as well as the region's famous salt desert. You'll get to watch the artisans in action, as well as experience and get an insight into village life. Stay in mud huts (with attached western bathrooms) or tents at Hodka's village resort, the Shaam-e-Sarhad (Sunset at the Border). It's owned and operated by the Village Tourism Committee of the people of Hodka village. Or, sleep out on a charpoy (traditional woven bed) in a village under the stars.
Itmenaan Lodges Punjabiyat: Farming in Rural Punjab
Less than two hours from Amritsar and the Golden Temple, Itmenaan Lodges has four stylish boutique cottages nestled into the verdant fields. They've been made in traditional-style by local craftsmen entirely out of mud. Guests can get involved in various farming activities (including milking of cows), go on a tractor ride, go cycling, visit a Sikh temple and experience religious ceremonies, walk around the village and meet the villagers, or simple relax and enjoy the serenity.
Ecosphere Spiti: High Altitude Rural Tourism
The Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh is a lesser-known alternative to Leh and Ladakh. Visits to Buddhist monasteries, yak safaris, treks to villages, village homestays, and cultural performances are some of the possible activities. Ecosphere Spiti, an award winning non-profit organization focused on conservation and responsible tourism, is highly involved in the community there and can make all travel arrangements. They also offer volunteer travel packages, involving a range of community initiatives.
The Sundarbans in West Bengal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that's notable for being the largest mangrove jungle in the world. About 35% of the Sundarbans lies in India, and this part of it is made up of 102 islands, just over half of which are inhabited. Village life there is challenging. There's no mains water supply, electricity, roads, or cars. People live in homes built from mud and straw, and are constantly wary of attack from tigers. Tora Eco Resort on Bali Island is a unique community-operated tourism project, with six ethnic cottages surrounded by paddy fields. Guests can go on village walks and participate in village activities, as well as explore the narrow canals of the Sundarbans by country boat (similar to a large canoe).
Bishnoi village, about 40 minutes south of Jodhpur, provides an authentic experience of rural Rajasthan. The fascinating Bishnoi people revere nature and live in harmony with it, so much so that they bury their dead (instead of burn them like other Hindus) to preserve trees as wood is used in cremation. Chhotaram Prajapat's Homestay has become quite renowned since it was established in 2009. There, you'll get to stay in traditional yet contemporary dwellings (with western style facilities) with a family of weavers. Outstanding Rajasthani hospitality is provided, along with delicious home-cooked food. Activities include folk dances, camel safaris, village trekking, attending an opium ceremony, and jeep safaris to Bishnoi village.
Part way up the trekking route (about 20 minutes) to Nag Tibba, Goat Village has 10 attractive earthen Garhwali cottages with mountain views to die for. It was set up to help provide a livelihood for locals to stop them from leaving the area, and enables travelers to experience the local way of life. Organic farming and agriculture are carried out on the property -- including the breeding of goats. You'll get to feast on local delicacies prepared with freshly grown ingredients and completely detox from the rest of the world. Only go there if you value quietness. The Goat Village also has other properties in Uttarakhand.
Boutique Chandoori Sai Guesthouse in Goudaguda pottery village, in Odisha's far south Koraput district, is a remarkable labor of love for its Australia owner, Leon. He conceptualized and built the guesthouse himself with the help of the local potters whom he recruited to make the terracotta floor tiles, roof tiles, and ornamental urns. Many of the tribal village women are also employed to help run the property. Guests can explore the village at leisure, visit the potters' colony (firing in the traditional-style kiln takes place on weekends) and learn pottery, go on nature walks in the surrounding hills, spend time with the tribal women (they will sing and dance beautifully if asked), watch food being prepared and learn some cooking tips. A local guide from the village leads village-to-village hikes, and there are many fascinating tribal markets held in the area. You can even walk with the village women to the market!
If you're into art, you're likely to find Gunehar village in the Kangra Valley of Himachal Pradesh interesting. German-Indian art impresario Frank Schlichtmann founded a project there to transform the nondescript village into a thriving art hub. The village now has an art gallery, an ecological boutique guesthouse in a restored 70 year-old house, a camping site in the fields, and fusion restaurant. Innovative art events are held as well. The villagers are mostly Gaddis and Bara Bhangalis, who are semi-nomadic sheep herders. You can stay in the middle of the village and learn about their lifestyle, as well as go on walks and treks, and visit local temples. Gunehar is very close to Bir-Billing, a popular paragliding destination, about five hours drive from Chandigarh airport.
Spectacular Lakhsman Sagar was once a royal hunting lodge and is perched on a ridge in the Pali district of Rajasthan. Its design has been inspired by the culture of the region, and numerous activities are offered that give guests an insight into the surrounding rural area. These include breakfast at a villager's home among the fields, horse safaris, village visits, exploring old forts, nature walks, and visits to local industry such as chilli drying and wholesaling, and making of bricks by hand.
Get to know Rajasthan's rural communities by going deep off-road with Overlander. You'll be accompanied by host Uday, who hales from a local noble family that's been part of the region since the 16th century. They've been working with the local villagers to help improve their lives and have a respectful relationship with them. Their signature trips is a full or half rural drive south of Jodhpur along a dry riverbed to meet various village communities, with an option to spend the night glamping in the wilderness. You'll get to interact with the villagers, taste their cuisine, witness their ceremonies, and see abundant wildlife. Overlander conducts desert expeditions as well.
Nestled in the Maikal Hills, three hours from Raipur in northwestern Chattisgarh, this beautiful rural homestay provides the perfect base to explore the region. Host Satyendra "Sunny" Upadhyay will take you to visit the local Baiga and Gond tribal villages. Other attractions in the area are the 7th-11th century Bhoramdeo temple complex, markets, forest treks, cycling, and abundant wildlife and birds. There are five guest rooms, plus a separate cottage with kitchen on the property. They're decorated with local artifacts and murals by a local Gond painter. Delicious village-style local cuisine is served.
This former royal hunting lodge turned eco-friendly heritage homestay offers an exceptional variety of personalized local experiences in otherwise inaccessible rural Odisha. Literally located in the middle of nowhere, the erstwhile king's great grandson and his wife rescued the mansion from abandonment and squatters, and are living an enviably harmonious self-sufficient lifestyle there. The host is well integrated into local village communities and conducts outstanding guided tours that give guests the opportunity to interact with local tribes and tribal artists. You can try the potent tribal alcoholic rice brew, visit an old age home for cows, cycle on rural roads without any traffic, enjoy nature walks and treks, spend time boating and spotting birds at the wetland. Plus, there are many farming activities to participate in at the property such as feeding and milking the cows, feeding the geese, cutting hay (in season), and silk worm farming. Guests can also learn about sustainable living by visiting the property's bio gas plant, fish pond, and organic vegetable garden.
Dirang Boutique Cottages: An Ancient Fortifed Village in Arunachal Pradesh
Nestled by the river in the Dirang valley of remote Arunachal Pradesh in Northeast India, Dirang Boutique Cottages is the flagship property of Holiday Scout -- a local travel company that's pioneering tourism in the region and conducts custom tours. The owner lives on the property with his family, creating a homely atmosphere. Dirang is located between Guwahati and Tawang, but it's a delightful place to explore in itself. The Monpa tribal villagers are warm and welcoming, and will invite you for tea. You can learn their traditional dances and how to make momos, churn yak butter, explore ancient Dirang fort-jail, go on nature walks, visit Buddhist monasteries and witness monks praying at sunrise, meet local farmers and their flocks, and watch weaving. Organic produce is grown on the property as well.
Grassroutes started in 2005 with the aim of creating livelihood opportunities for rural India. They've since helped develop 12 villages across three states for community-based tourism. Purushwadi, in Maharashtra, was their first village. Various unique activities are possible depending on the time of year, including watching fireflies in June, and the cultivation of rice. Grassroutes organizes small group fixed departure trips, curated experiences such as Warli art workshops and writers retreats, as well as custom packages based on the interests of guests.
The heavily forested Dang district (also known as the Dangs), located a bit over two hours east of Vadodara in Gujarat, has much to offer nature lovers. This small district is also home to a large tribal population. Rural Pleasure focuses on improving the livelihoods of residents in Subir village through community-based tourism. Visitors are encouraged to participate in all village chores such as plowing, milking cattle, harvesting crops. cutting wood, and meal preparation. Other activities include tribal dances, tribal painting, village walks, and forest hikes.