While Rajasthan is well known for its forts and places, what's now being discovered is its potential for rural tourism in India as well. While tourists commonly visit the numerous attractions in India's cities, the real heart of India is its villages, where ancient traditions and ways of life continue unchanged today. Yet, up until recently, villages were off-limits to most tourists due to the language barrier and lack of accommodations.
The Importance of Rural Tourism in India
Spend time in India's villages and you'll discover that they're facing growing issues. One of the main problems is that more and more people are leaving the villages in favor of major cities, where there are greater opportunities. In many villages, such as those in Rajasthan, people are abandoning their usual occupations. As rural economies are largely based on agriculture, this makes it hard to get workers.
Some villagers in Rajasthan are facing other problems, particularly those who have traditionally relied upon snake charming (now banned by the government) as their source of income. Without any assistance to find alternative employment, the sad reality is that they have become nomadic, roaming from village to village and relying on begging to survive.
The development of villages as tourist destinations provides additional sources of income to residents, whether it be through operating homestays or rural tourist activities (for example, village visits and sale of wares).
Rural Development Work of Culture Aangan in Rajasthan
Culture Aangan is a Mumbai based organization that's been pioneering rural tourism in India. One of their main focuses has been on developing homestays in the Pali district of Rajasthan, which lies between Jodhpur and Udaipur. Guests stay with a family and experience the culture of the local village. This allows them to get to know India and its people closely, to understand family values, learn how the village functions, and discover the appeal of village life. The people are simple, down to earth, and welcoming.
Depending on guests' interests, there are three types of homestays to choose from.
1. Farm Homestay: Culture Aangan's farm homestay in Padampura village is owned by a local Rajput family (rulers of the area). It's surrounded by fields, and the accommodations have been newly constructed especially for guests. The rooms have modern western facilities and attractive contemporary decorations, inspired by the region. Fresh air and tranquility are in abundance. (And, so to is decently made back coffee. A pleasant surprise!). The homestay is run by the family's eldest son, who's an excellent horseman and conducts horse safaris.
2. Royal Homestay: Culture Aangan's homestay in Nana village is resplendent with regal heritage. Owned by a descendant of the Mewar royal family from Udaipur, the imposing haveli (mansion) has been built over centuries. The guest rooms are charming, with private balconies, and the one of the top floor has its own private terrace.
2. Village Homestay: For those who like to be close to the action, Culture Aangan has a homestay with a couple and their young children in the village of Gulthani. This quaint village has narrow lanes and old architecture.
In conjunction with the homestays, Culture Aangan offers a range of activities as part of their packages. The options are numerous and diverse and include leopard spotting, horse riding, spending time with the villagers and local tribes, exploring markets and forts, visiting local craftsmen and learning their arts, and evening cultural performances.
Find out more about Culture Aangan's rural Rajasthan tour packages on their website, and read on to learn about some of the activities offered. There's a surprising amount to see and do!
Meet the Villagers
Every morning, the local shepherds go from home to home in the village to have their tea, tobacco, and opium fix to fortify themselves for the rest of the day spent out herding their animals in the harsh environment.
Attending the morning village opium meet is a fascinating experience and will enable you to learn about the various village communities. The red turbans worn by these men indicate that they belong to a pastoral shepherd community called Raika. Their rings known as mathi, and bangles with a mouth of a lizard at the opening, signify them as shepherds as well. While the shepherds are away, their wives embroider their dhotis with designs made out of camel hair.
Every caste has a different colored turban and ornaments. An off-white colored turban signifies a farmer. Rajputs (the ruling caste) wear five colored turbans, and saffron at the time of marriage.
While marriages in the ruling Rajput community take place when sons are in their late 20s, this contrasts starkly with the Raika community where, up until a few years ago, child marriages were the norm. Quite astonishingly, children were wed when they were as young as three months old. As they were unable to walk around the fire seven times (required in a Hindu marriage ceremony), they were apparently carried around on a platter!
If you're interested in Rajasthan's infamous beast of burden, the camel, Camel Carishma is the place to visit. This organization was founded by Jodhpur local Hanwant Singh Rathore and German veterinary scientist Dr. Ilse Köhler-Rollefson, who have been working with the Raika community for more than 25 years. They aim to preserve the state's dwindling camel population by providing camel breeders with funding to continue keeping camels. One of the ways they do this is by developing and selling environmentally-friendly products derived from camels. These products are made by local people and are available for purchase at the premises. Popular items include camel milk soap, notebooks made from camel dung paper, and woven camel hair rugs, bags, and stoles.
Visit the Terracotta Horse Temple
There's a temple in Harji village, in the Pali district of Rajasthan, where terracotta horses are worshiped. People make a wish at the temple, and if it's granted they donate a terracotta horse to it. Row upon row of these horses, in all shapes and sizes, fill the space behind the temple. One horse almost rises as high as the roof! You can also visit the terracotta horse craftsmen nearby to learn how the horses are made.
Visit Artisans Who Make Silver Temple Doors
You're likely to have seen the heavy silver plated doors with intricate designs at temples in India. Now, discover how they're handcrafted at a workshop near Gulthani village. It's time-consuming work that takes months to complete.
Admire Tribal Jewelry and Attire
These women are members of the nomadic Bhat tribe, whose main occupation is the trading of livestock. Instead of keeping their money in the bank, they invest it in gold and silver jewelry. You'll have major jewelry envy. It's beautiful!
Go Horse Riding
The host at the farm homestay owns several Marwari horses of the best quality in the region. This rare breed of horse is known for its strength and endurance (Marwari horses were used in war in India and are a symbol of warrior kings), and ears that turn inwards at the tips. It's possible to go on an evening and/or early morning horse ride, through villages and the surrounding desert landscape. Plus, visit a horse farm and see how they're bred.
Watch Harvesting in the Fields
In February, the rural landscape is usually a carpet of bright yellow mustard flowers. March is harvesting time. The dried stalks are processed by village workers to extract the tiny mustard seeds commonly used in Indian cooking.
Enjoy Evening Cultural Entertainment
The evening's cultural program at the farm homestay features a performance by a dancing wedding horse, colorfully decorated and usually ridden by the groom at village weddings. The horse steps to the beat of drums. In addition, a group of villagers sing live bhajans (Hindu devotional songs) and dance.
India's villages are full of unexpected treasures!