Rural tours showcase India’s inner beauty

The remote village of Purushwadi is perched high in the jagged hills of Maharashtra state in western India, where life for the tribal farmers has barely changed in centuries.

Locals live with their animals in mud-brick houses with dried cow dung floors, there is no electricity or running water and the day revolves around backbreaking work in the fields under the harsh sun.

Yet places like this are now attracting India’s city dwellers, who are eager to swap their desk jobs and the stresses of metropolitan living for clean air and a more traditional way of life — if only for a few days.

Hans Lewis, an artist and web entrepreneur from the teeming metropolis of Mumbai, has travelled the 220 kilometres to Purushwadi. But India’s bustling hub of international finance, media and entertainment — a polluted, noisy and crowded city of at least 14 million people — might as well be on the other side of the world.

It has taken the 27-year-old Lewis and eight of his friends seven hours to get here by crowded train and over potholed roads.

But he said the energy-sapping journey has been worth it, giving him a fresh perspective on life away from his daily focus on money and career.

In a few short hours, the group has swum in a crystal clear river, helped farmers thresh wheat, chopped wood with a long-handled axe, and eaten home-cooked food with locals in the dim light of their meagre huts.

"There’s a poetic experience coming here and understanding what this simple life is all about, being in touch with nature, how people live by little means, with absolutely no electricity, simple farming," he said according to an article published in AsiaOne.

About 70 per cent of India’s 1.1 billion people live in villages like Purushwadi. But as cities like Mumbai expand, fuelled by the country’s economic boom, the gap between urban rich and rural poor is widening.

Migration in search of work is eroding India’s rich range of cultures, languages and traditions, and loosening the ties of community life.

Inir Pinheiro, whose company Grassroutes takes white-collar city workers and middle class youth groups to Purushwadi and another nearby village, says it’s important such lifestyles are not lost completely.

"It’s an endeavour to get people into villages to realize the beauty of India," he said.

"The idea, ultimately, is to get the communities to connect. Every day we’ve had more than 10 farmers killing themselves. We’ve had massive malnourishment even on the outskirts of Bombay and there are lots of places that have no water.

"But nobody cares about these things (in the city). The dynamics are so awry."

Lewis and his friends have spent $25 for a night in the village — a small fortune for the locals who earn on average only $1.25-$1.45 per day — to reconnect with a simpler, slower way of life.

The money goes straight into the 450-strong community, supplementing their income from the cultivation of rice, wheat, millet and pulses, and stopping them for heading to the city to look for work.

Such travel is boosting greater understanding between people at the opposite ends of India’s rigid social ladder, who would never otherwise meet, said Pinheiro.

"We don’t want to change the villagers’ lifestyle in any way," he said, describing the business as "responsible rural tourism."

Leave a comment