Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Vacation? Let's go to a village.

- Ruchi Junnarkar

With Diwali around the corner, all sorts of vacations are being planned, booked or awaited eagerly. But this year, along with Goa, Malaysia, London, Maritius and the like, there are vacations being planned to Hodka, Pranpur, Curtorim, Spiti, among others. No, these aren’t exotic destinations in some remote country that you’ve never heard of before. These are Indian villages, probably just a few hours away from your city.

A strange new trend in travel seems to be gaining popularity among Indian and foreign travelers lately – Rural tourism. After the intense urbanization (read anglicisation) of pop culture, be it cinema, music or even the mainstream news media, perhaps urban residents have realised anew the existence of the other India and have been possessed by the urge to experience it. This could be attributed to an elitist fascination with the lives of the “working class”, or maybe simply to successful policy implementation by the government of India.

At the turn of the millennium, the government, in its Tenth Five Year plan, identified rural tourism as an area with great potential to impact employment and income levels in villages by offering alternative forms of employment. The Ministry of Tourism, together with the UNDP invested a large amount of capital in identifying suitable villages across the country and transforming them into tourist-friendly villages by building the necessary infrastructure. Today, several years on, the trend seems to catching on fast with several private agencies also entering into the domain of rural tourism. The aptly named “Travel Another India” is one such company, which offers holiday packages at some select villages, including Hodka in Gujarat, Pranpur in Madhya Pradesh, Spiti in Himanchal Pradesh among others. “Grassroutes” is another such organization which has developed tourism in the villages Purushwadi, Walvanda and Shiroshi in Maharashtra.

While rural tourism seems to be a great idea to generate income and employment, I can’t help but be a little amused by the “packages” offered by some of these rural tourism agencies. Activities that one can partake of in these villages include “threshing the grain”, “transplanting rice”, “chopping firewood”, “picking fruit at orchards” and even “milking goats and cows”. Looks like a great deal for the farmers of these villages – get money for hosting tourists, and make them do your work too. Perfect. Jokes apart however, rural tourism does have immense potential in India with the sheer number of villages in the country. With several people living in rural areas looking to change from agriculture to an alternative form of livelihood, tourism presents the perfect opportunity. Not only can this industry easily absorb the women living in these communities, it will also provide a boost to local artisans whose crafts will now have a direct market in their own villages without having to go through numerous intermediaries and lose out on revenue.

While I must admit that I find the prospect of visiting a village and living as people in rural areas do for a short while quite fascinating, I believe it is only among younger generations that this concept stands to succeed. Try explaining to your grandparents that you’re going on vacation to indulge in “activities” which once constituted their daily chores. If they aren’t already convinced that you’re mental, this will probably do it. Although, if you look at it objectively, can you blame them? If ever the concept of urban tourism comes around, the equivalent of the rural “activities” listed above will be to take rural tourists to your cubicle in the office and make them watch you as you stare at your computer screen. Or share couch space with them as you tune in to your daily dose of the idiot box. My, what an adventure. 

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