Ever stayed in a house made up of cow dung? Or danced to the tunes of the traditional Indian folk music? Or tried your hands on Warli painting?
Well, you surely have heard of these a numerous times but not all have experienced it. An average Urban Indian is also unaware of the joys of simple living without the noise, pollution and pace of crowded city. These are some raw experiences which stay exclusive to the rural landscapes of India. Rural India has a lot to offer to the world in terms of its traditions of arts, crafts and culture.
This desi way of holidaying seems to be catching up a lot amongst the international tourism circuit. From 22,115 tourists visiting in 2001, it has now risen 73,412 in 2010. The foreign tourist arrivals are now projected to reach 80,753 in the current year, 92,866 in 2012 and 1, 11439 in 2013. With rural villages finding place on the tourist map, villagers are earning the much needed additional source of income while the tourists are able to interact with them and gain a rare insight into their way of life. The Union ministry of tourism in collaboration with UNDP has launched the Endogenous Tourism Project linked to the existing rural tourism scheme of the government.
The Incredible India campaign launched by the tourism ministry has tremendously supported the rural tourism business in India. The advertising campaigns have truly inspired the domestic and international tourists and positively transformed the public perception about villages in India. The campaign repositioned rural India as an exotic holiday destination. It was enthralling to know that India won the ‘Best Destination’ and ‘Best Marketing Campaign’ awards at the World Tourism Mart held recently in London.
The overall initiative has also turned around the indigenous rural market to a large extent. It has given a huge platform for the rural people to promote their indigenous culture and art. Rural tourism initiatives have not only created jobs for people within the villages but also helped to conserve the local lifestyle, environment and traditions by empowering the local communities with opportunities that are sustainable. A classic example of how rural tourism has facilitated rural art is of a small village, Hodka in Gujarat. The village, which lies in Kachchh district of Gujarat, is famous for its Embroidery and Leather Craft, while the surrounding region is known for a variety of crafts such as wood work, lacquer work, copper bells, rogaan work on clothes, block printing and weaving. The village received the much deserved attention when it was chosen as one the 31 rural tourist sites in India by the UNDP and Ministry of Rural Tourism, for an Endogenous Tourism Project owned, built and managed by the community. The village also has a community run resort known as, Sham- e- Sarhad which serves as a local stay for the tourists. Over, 60 of 600 families in Hodka are engaged in tourism since the venture started in 2005.
Apart from highlighting the local culture and art, rural tourism has also opened avenues for farmers to create an additional source of income which can be then used to invest in better farming techniques. This type of tourism is popularly known as, Agri- Tourism. For Sunil Bhosle, a farmer in the Jogwadi village in the Baramati taluk of Pune district, a 13 acre piece of land tilled by his entire family round the year meant an annual income of Rs 60,000-75,000. This was before he was exposed to the benefits of agri-tourism. Bhosle, with the help of the Agri Tourism Development Organization (ATDO), opened his farms to tourists, years ago, charging each Rs. 300-350.
He has since then welcomed hundreds of tourists with traditional garlands and authentic Maharashtrian delicacies. The effort translated into an additional income of Rs 15,000, after deducting an equal amount in expenses. He has also built rooms for tourists to stay and spend some time in the lap of nature. Apart from telling them about the various crops and how they are sown and harvested, agri-tourism exposes tourists to authentic food, handicraft, dress, culture, music and language. Tourists get to indulge in rural activities such as bullock-cart rides, milking cows and goats and picking farm-fresh fruits and vegetable.
As villages have changed to rural tourist destinations, the villagers have also witnessed a sea change in their thinking and perspective to the outer world. More than earning, its been a learning experience for both the sides. More importantly, it has built a sense of pride and belonging amongst the ruralites.