Explore Rural India is the story of the path-breaking national rural tourism project, which aims at strengthening the ‘rural’ dimension through the development of unconventional tourism destinations.
Those seeking a glimpse into India’s indigenous folklore, arts, heritage and culture, will find this book a perfect companion. Explore Rural India is not just a window that provides an enriching view, but a door that opens up a world of engaging, interactive and heart-warming experiences.
Every step on the untrodden path, every smile exchanged with a villager, every halt to touch, see and interact is a direct contribution towards strengthening rural livelihoods and the local economy.
Explore Rural India is a recognition of the great India ethos, a tribute to indigenous skills and knowledge, and a step forward in the preservation of national identity.
Rural tourism destinations across the country are being developed by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, and the pilot project has been partnered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
These limes, composed for the 100th birth anniversary of our grandfather came forcibly to mind when we visited our native village, Chandi (meaning ‘silver’). We realized the true extent of the sacrifice he had made half a century ago, when he left of the city in order to provide education to my father and his siblings. It was not only the wrench of leaving behind his ancestral home; it was the parting with a whole way of life- the orchards, the gurgling river waters and indeed the wisdom of generations. For us, the village was an indescribable experience. Its serenity was that of a different era, its stillness bringing a rare peace and quiet to city-bred souls, caught in the hurly-burly of stressful schedules.
India lives in her villages. The rural areas of our country embody India traditions; visiting a village is like holding up a mirror to society, with the difference that it reflects both past and present. These are the homes our forefather grew up in, surrounded by lands they tilled, guarded by the trees that provided shelter from sun and rain alike. To go to a village is like discovering the world afresh, a world where rippling fields of golden grain and fragrant fruit trees capture the imagination. Here, culture and heritage are spun into gossamer fabric, crafted into paintings of vibrant hues and shades, and carved with a magic touch on wood, stone and marble.
The world today is a global village, in a manner of speaking. Globlization has led to far more knowledge of, and therefore proportionate curiosity in, the rest or the planet earth, Earlier it was enough to be able to travel out, exclaim over the marvels and monuments and send picture postcards from everywhere to everyone you had a nodding acquaintance with. Today, technology has opened innumerable window. Information is just a mouse-click away so the questing soul is no longer content to capture images on film and write diary entries on every attraction worth the name. ‘Been there, done that’ being the common refrain, the desire is to explore, to find something unique. And rural tourism, being eco-friendly, responsible to environmental and cultural heritage, is the most unique concept that can be experienced. Tourists feel they are not just spectators but part of the living heritage, as they are drawn into activitres like tree plantation, plucking of tread leaves, spinning the loom and much more.
India traditions have myriad dimensions. The world has now realized the medicinal value of tulsi or basil leaves which have been an integral part of India homes of centuries, nurtured in each courtyard with loving care. Neem trees grow in abundance all over villages; its twig is better than any toothbrush – even the breeze, it is believes, gets cleansed after rustling through neem leaves. Village food is in tune with nature and her elements, and harmonizes the mind, body and soul, a pre-requisite for healthy and happy living.
It is a fact that on several fronts such as health, education, and connectivity, there appear to be more questions than answers. But hard data, numbers, statistics are not everything in this complex world that we inhabit. There is the emotional quotient, the spiritual quotient, and here the Indian score card defies definition.
Spirituality is a core dimension. People in our country have faith – a deep-rooted belief in the power of prayer, and it is this sometimes irrational faith that has made millions of Indian youth optimistic and confident of a bright future. The village inhabitant worships nature, observes fasts to purify mind and body, and believes firmly in a superior being who guides and blesses every action. It is this simplicity of living that makes the visitor, caught in the fine art of balancing wants and needs; introspect about the material aspect of happiness.
Every festival is an occasion to celebrate life. Apart from the regular Holi and Deepawali, Eid and Baisakhi, each day on the lunar calendar has its own symbolism. The harvest is celebrated through Sankranti and Pongal; obeisance is paid to agricultural implements and artisans’ tolls during vishwakarma Puja. Not to forget the cattle fairs which the entire population, including the soon-to-be-decked-up cows, look forward to. The green fields come alive with joy and merriment as up swings, slides and Ferris wheels whiz people around. It is a veritable rout of colors, with bright Indian sarees competing with the vivid colors of blossoming trees. And al under a golden sun gazing benignly forms an azure blue sky.
A visit to a village is like traveling back in time and space. The homes are vernacular in architecture, which means they very from earthen to stone, bamboo to wood, but always in harmony with the environment. The family rises early to receive the duly benediction of the sun’s rays at dawn and goes on to perform their other tasks, whether plugging the fields with bullocks instead of the fuel-guzzling tractors or fertilizing them with manure in place of chemical fertilizers. In states like sikkim, the use of pesticides and fertilizers is banned. Little wonder then that this small but beautiful state calls itself with justifiable pride ‘nature’s own garden’.
Tourism in rural areas has demonstrated its ability to be inclusive, taking into its fold all stakeholders. Most importantly, women have begun to get closely involved. They have started micro-enterprises including production of herbal soaps, pickles and so on, which are being eagerly picked up by hotels and resorts. Kudumbasree in Kerala is one such example, which has knit people together down the value chain and made them all beneficiaries of tourism.
The Wheel has almost come full circle insofar as local politics is concerned. Now, when women contest, elections, they want to understand what exactly winning entails, and little by little, are making their presence felt in the hitherto male dominated bastion of decision making. An innovative idea of setting up self-help groups in some rural areas has turned into a mass movement—a truly remarkable saga of the slow but sure empowerment of women. The cascading effect of this is the empowerment of the community that has made villages self-reliant, capable of taking decisions that are socially and economically viable.
At rural tourism sites, the inhabitants proudly display their skill with the loom or the potters’ wheel and the home stays give a unique flavor of rural life to the visitor. In fact, the home stays are a real attraction, offering an experience of the diversity of the country – its people, their craft, culture and cuisine. Indians and foreigners alike are discovering the great difference between regions in terms of the terrain, the art forms, and last but not least, the mouth-watering and flavours! Guests find the looms an irresistible proposition and spend hours trying their hand at creating the simplest pattern which their host the craftsperson weaves together with such consummate ease. The huts in the village are often painted with frescoes on diverse themes, them common element being the use of vegetable dyes and the master strokes of the brush wielded by entire families of artists. All senses come alive to nuances of village life. The music of anklets, the rhythm of bangles, and the tinkling bells on the horns of cattle headed home, combine to create a melody that overcomes memories of horns blaring on congested roads.
Society in India is gearing up for change, for attitudinal and practical change, and that is what leads to a high level of optimism. The impact of globalization has led to international influence on our ideas, thoughts and concepts. We are open to them all and we also have positive feelings about the outcome of this change. In fact, that is what will make all the difference. It is no surprise to see a thatched hut nestled in the midst of trees with a bunch of schoolchildren clustered around a computer, absorbing its various attributes with rapt concentration. Young scientists are demonstrating indigenous and eco-friendly solutions to problems, like generating electricity from rice husk in a village in Bihar. Being firmly anchored in their traditions, they are determined to come back to their roots and give back in some measure what they have derived form the soil.
The uniqueness of a village is its ability to stump even the most eloquent soul. The vista is ever changing—you see a solitary leaf fluttering in the breeze and quick as magic the blue sky is obscured by purple grey clouds. The first gentle raindrops and the warm scent of earth transports the senses to different plane, till finally the glorious sunset which turns th43 fields to burnished red takes the breath away. And the people are at the heart of it. Children who walk long distances to the nearest School, and make sure they get into all the puddles on the way back, women who peep shyly out of their homes and hospitably offer of lass of buttermilk to the stranger, and the senior citizens, gathered round banyan trees, who with wrinkled faces and seamless smiles narrate tales of yore—the village has them all. It is as comforting a picture as anyone can hope for. There is an ageless, changeless quality to it.
As all tourists visiting a rural tourism discover, the village makes them connect with themselves, and lifts the spirits beyond anticipation. No matter where you hail from and where you are headed for, the village has a solid and unchanging presence in the global era if fast movement. Like the fort of Asirgarh in Forster’s A Passage to India, which simply states ‘I do not vanish’. We discover our roots, individually and collectively and come back enriched in a way that words cannot describe, by this commune with nature in all her multi-faceted dimensions.
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