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After years of hard-selling India’s heritage sites and its scenery, the government is waking up to a new brand of tourism that the country can easily excel in — rural tourism. This new concept targets a new breed of experiential tourists who value the quality of experience even if that means a relative sacrifice of comfort.
Over 74% of Indians live in villages and many of India’s traditional craftsmen live in rural areas. Rural tourism has so far been a marginal attraction. Tourists mostly ventured into villages due to stand-alone properties located there. Now a new joint initiative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Government of India aims to bring village India onto the mainstream tourist itinerary. The Endogenous Tourism Project sets out to provide employment and additional income to local communities while enhancing India’s bouquet of tourist attractions with the hopefully memorable experience of living with a village community.
The project will initially cover 32 villages across 20 states. The government has sanctioned Rs 50 lakh for infrastructural development (road connectivity, landscaping and accommodation) in each village. Meanwhile, the UNDP pitches in with Rs 20 lakh for each village channelled through local NGOs, to train local, er, endogenous villagers to provide tourists with the comforts to which they have grown accustomed. Accommodation will be basic and cuisine simple, but the UNDP hopes to ensure that standards of hygiene will be high. Villagers are being trained in foreign languages like French as well, making interaction with tourists easier. Depending on the community, tourists will either stay with families or in vishram sthals to be built in harmony with local architecture. In Hodka, close to the Rann of Kutch, the vishram sthals are made entirely of mud, down to the furniture inside the rooms.
Most of the villages selected are known for a unique craft or art form. The arts and crafts will be showcased in purpose-built kala kendras. The gurukul concept will also be incorporated in some villages. Depending on the length of the stay, the tourists will be offered courses in local art forms. For example, tourists visiting Pochampalli in Andhra Pradesh, known for its hand woven fabrics, can learn the art of ikat weaving from master craftsmen.
While the UNDP-sponsored initiative begins in 32 villages, the government has already decided to extend this concept to another 37 villages as well. Villages like Hodka, which have their infrastructure in place, have now started to receive visitors. Other centres are expected to be on stream by the next tourist season in October.
For more details on this project visit www.exploreruralindia.org
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