You know, I have only seen villages in passing, through tinted windows, during train journeys. For as long as I remember, I have yearned for an authentic village experience. As a child, I dreamt of living in a hut, by a stream and a big mango tree. So, when Grassroutes Journeys approached me for an experiential trip to a village, I jumped at the opportunity! Finally, I was going to live my dream.
As urban Indians, when we talk about villages, our imagination is more often than not limited to a field of crops and farmers. Rural India is that and so much more. I visited a small village in northern Maharashtra – Purushwadi; where the villagers open their homes and hearts for travellers like me, where the sound of birds and the gurgling clouds are your wake-up calls, where I was welcomed in a stranger’s house to share simple meals made with fresh ingredients from their backyard.
Purushwadi is a postcard village. Nestled in the lush foothills of the Sahyadris, the slow life here is as lyrical as the sound of the river stream, shimmering under the warm sun.
A buffalo bathing in the sun. A dog and a cat sunbathing next to the river. Men and women at work. Rice crops dancing in the wind. Sunshine peeking through the clouds. The mighty Sahyadris standing in wait, for the sun to go down.
For the love of nature
Even at the risk of sounding cliché, I would say take a trip to the Indian countryside and you will truly be awed by the beauty out there. In this tiny hamlet called Purushwadi, nature puts on a show everyday. All we need to do is look up and around! Most of us who live in cities often crave for those moments that remind us of simpler times or our childhood – a cot on the terrace on balmy summer nights, the luxury of stargazing, the simplicity of having a conversation unperturbed by technology, the joy of not looking at our screens all day (there’s no WiFi here and you’ll barely get any network either). This village experience gave me that, the luxury of time to contemplate and take in the picturesque beauty all around.
What stood out on my visit to Purushwadi was the villagers’ relationship with nature. They have found a sustainable way of living off the land they occupy, the trees that surround them, the mountains that guard them. Everything they consume comes from earth. They have mastered the art of connecting with the basic elements of life and are earning their livelihood while maintaining this relationship with nature.
Indulging in farm-fresh food
Every meal during this trip was prepared with fresh ingredients from the farms. The three main agricultural crops cultivated in this region are rice, potatoes and groundnuts – you can spot all the three on my plate above.
Our guide for this trip – Gorakh, a botany enthusiast, who lived with his family and a couple of cats, just by the river, with the most beautiful view of the sunset. He invited us for evening tea to his house and served the most delicious lemongrass tea. The villagers use lemongrass as a natural sweetener and do not add milk to their tea. We snacked on fresh berries and cucumber from his farm. He took us on a short hike to the village dam and shared stories about the evolution of Purushwadi into this rural tourism spot. The villagers work on the Grassroutes model that has created sustainable community-centered experiential platforms to understand rural living and to generate livelihood opportunities in rural India. Every household in Purushwadi serves as a homestay for travellers. There are a dozen trip guides that specialise in treks, local art, cooking, or some other skill that their guests might want to explore. The trips are curated for travelers to offer a glimpse of rustic village life and give them an opportunity to experience it first-hand through home-stays, the food they eat, farming-cooking/art workshops, etc.
Learning to live like a local
I knew I wanted an immersive and rustic village experience when I agreed to go on this off-grid getaway. But I was not prepared for what I had signed up for. The sights and sounds that welcomed me into this bucolic world were something I had only read about. Morning meant early breakfast and lemongrass tea, followed by short hikes in the wilderness. Afternoon was a time of conversations after lunch, men under banyan trees playing cards, dogs napping under a shade. Evening meant strolling by the riverside to catch the setting sun in all its glory.
In my attempt to understand the village life better, I volunteered to try my hands at the community kitchen (picture above) and also learned how to make bhakri from scratch! And look at the joy on my face! 😉
Shadowing a villager while they go about their daily routine is the only way to know how to live like a local here. And we did exactly that with our village host. Our host and guide were the warmest people who answered all our curious questions with a smile and taught us so much about village life. We came back with beautiful memories, a ton of pictures, and a newfound respect for the people of rural India.
Where: Purushwadi, Ahmednagar District, Maharashtra
Local Community: Hindu Mahadeo Koli tribe (traditional hunter gatherers)
Best time to visit: August to February
Distance: 195 kms from Mumbai
Time of travel: 3.5 – 4 hours (By car) | 4 – 4.5 hours (By local transport – train and local jeep)