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!
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Kutch Adventures India offers forays into Gujarat's Great Rann of Kutch to visit artisan villages, as well as the region's famous salt desert. You'll get to go off the beaten track 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.
02 of 10
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.
03 of 10
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.
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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).Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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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.
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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 old merchants home, 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.
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Spectacular Lakhsman Sagar luxury hotel, which was once a royal hunting lodge, 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.
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Greener Pastures: Sustainable Tourism in the Remote North East
Interest in India's north east region as a tourist destination is growing, especially to states such as Nagaland. There you'll be able to interact with the state's tribal communities. Relatively new to tourism, the people are curious, warm, informal -- and open to receiving visitors. The Greener Pastures is pioneering sustainable tourism in the north east and offers a wide range of experiences, ranging from simple rural life in Assam to an epic one month journey across the whole region.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10
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.
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Kila Raipur Sports Festival: India's Rural Olympics
One of India's Quirkiest Festivals, the annual Kila Raipur Sports Festival near Ludhiana in Punjab is an unconventional demonstration of strength and skills that's been taking place since 1933. The highlight of the festival is an action-packed bullock cart race. There are plenty of other competitions and off-beat events such as men being run over by farm machinery, pulling vehicles with their hair, and lifting bicycles with their teeth. Cultural events, including bhangra dancing and folk songs, take place in the evenings.