Off-grid adventures in rural India

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 The drive to Purushwadi village took us 6 hours from Pune, and included 5 stops on the way to ask for directions.

The last hour presented us with small curvy roads and 2 wild peacocks. We arrived at dusk, where we were welcomed by our village guides.

Grassroutes Journeys offer a unique experience for national and foreign tourists alike. You are taken to Purushwadi, a rural Indian village consisting of 109 households. Here you are invited to join the daily activities of the villagers and experience rural life in India far away from wifi, supermarkets, and aircondition. Very far.

There are multiple village activities for guests to engage in, depending on the season and personal preferences. We tried activities such as splitting firewood, preparing harvested rice and milling it to flour, baking our own rotis on the firewood stoves, and much more. Best of all, we chatted and laughed with the welcoming villagers, and were encouraged to walk around between the simple country houses and engage with the Purushwadi people.

Visitors stay at a campsite a short walk from the village. Here there are tents with solid beds and separate western toilets with scoop-style showers. Delicious vegetarian meals are enjoyed in the home of a selected family. During meal times we would sit on floor mats inside our host’s house, as our meals were being prepared and served. Our village guide was there to translate for us, so we could ask questions and talk about the daily life and dreams of our hosts.

Notebook scribbles:

During our time spent in Purushwadi, we learned interesting details about the community and their involvement in Grassroutes Journey’s community-based ecotourism programme. These are some amusing details, I plotted down in my notebook during our off-grid adventures:

∗ Purushwadi village has 109 households. 80 of them participate as hosts for tourists. The households take turns to host tourists for meals.

∗ By visiting Purushhwati, you contribute to the village economy, which is otherwise dependent on farmed crops. A fixed amount of the price goes to the village funds and participating households. There is a strict policy of no tips during your stay, so you need only use cash if you want to buy some of the village products and crafts, but this is not a central part of the experience. The villagers have initiated the programme and have complete control of how the tourist visits are organized.

∗ A normal house in the village has only one room. The kitchen is the central gathering point. Some houses have no electricity, so in the last hours of the evening, we sit in the flickering light from the firewood under the kitchen stove. As bedtime approaches, the floors are sweeped and thin mats layed out. This is where the families sleep. Some family members sleep outside beneath the stars.

∗ We ask our guide about the wildlife in the area. There are leopards, peacocks, langur monkeys, wild boas, hyenas, and even tigers are sometimes spotted. During our stay we saw peacocks and langur monkeys. Walking around in the village you will also encounter goats, chickens, and cows. From the end of May to the end of June it is common to see fireflies near the village. Visitors coming during this time can take a short evening walk to a small river and experience the magical sight.

∗ Only a few years back, villagers used to tell the time by the appearance of airplanes in the sky. When the first evening airplane on its way to Mumbai appeared in the sky high above the village houses, villagers knew that the clock had stricken 9:15 PM – and it would then be bedtime. Today many villagers have mobile phones that also function as clocks.

∗ Some villagers have never been outside the village. Their daily routines know no weekends or holiday breaks. Many of the younger members of Purushwati village go to schools in bigger towns.

∗ The village language is unique to the region. Our Indian friends whom we traveled with did not understand much of the local tongue, but the homegrown village guides served as valuable translators.

∗ The area has 54 small villages. All of them are alcohol-free, so if you expect to share homebrewed rice wine with a local herdsman, you will be dissapointed. The unofficial policy of no alcohol was introduced 25 years ago when alcohol was an issue in the villages. The village women created a self-help group and took matters into their own hands. They had had enough with the health issues and disturbances of drunken men not able to contribute to the daily chores because of excess alcohol intake. The allied women would start scolding and publicly riduculing any drunken man. Eventually, they succeeded, and today it seems, everyone agrees to the no alcohol policy.

∗ Before the engagement with community-based tourism, Purushwati was involved in a national water project called WOTR. This project helped secure sufficient water supplies for the households and the surrounding farmlands. As the project was due to be completed, villagers reached out to the WOTR management and held meetings where they discussed opportunities to diversify the village dependency on farming. Community-based ecotourism was chosen as an alternative source of income for villagers.

∗ The Purushwati community’s main scepticism about inviting Indian and foreign tourists to the village was this: “Why would anyone be interested in coming to a simple, poor village with no proper facilities or significant landmarks”? “What would guests think of them as they saw the dirty village and primitive houses made from broken bricks, scrap material, and floors made from cow dung – they had no modern appliances, some of them not even electricity installed!”. In other words, the villagers were embarassed to show how primitive their lives are and struggled to understand why their village would be worth a visit. Obviously, Grassroutes Journeys and the village representatives of the project managed to convince the community that tourists would indeed be interested in learning about their lives. The logic they told was that a few centuries years ago, the great great grandfathers and -mothers of the tourists used to lead lives very similar to those of the Purushwati villagers’. They were now eager to learn about how their own forefathers used to live.

∗ One very talkative and lovely old lady complained that visitors come to the village and take lots and lots of pictures, but they never send any copies back to the village. She would like a poster size copy of the images we took. We did not commit to poster-size photos, but we promised to send a few copies to the Grassroutes Journey office in Mumbai, and have them deliver the images to the old grandmother.

∗ The villagers in Purushwati are vegetarians. Most of their food is homegrown and by default organic since no one uses pesticides in the area.

Fast facts

Organizer: Grassroutes Journeys –
Trip type: Off-grid, rustic and authentic holidays with rural people and tribes
Destination: Purushwadi, India.
Presentation video from the organizer:

Words from the organizer, Grassroutes Journeys

Grassroutes’ journeys are responsible holidays in India’s villages where-in the local village communities welcome you to partake in their life. True essence of India; the richness of culture, abundance of nature, still preserved & practiced ancient traditions & knowledge systems and colourful & diverse lifestyles but most of all her welcoming & loving people.

Located in Akole block, District Ahmednagar, Village Purushwadi is situated 220 km from both Mumbai & Pune en route to Nasik. This tribal village is inhabited by the ‘Hindu Mahadeo Koli’ tribe. Renowned for as rice cultivators and as skilled animal herdsmen; these villagers are warm, simple & full of wonder.

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