Like other American girls I like to spend holiday season at home in an idyllic ambience with family and friends. I initially had reservations about investing time in touring the rich heritage and culture of India. My friends challenged me to try something new. So, I planned a trip to India with Jane Smith, my travel buddy and decided to experience the life in villages in India.
The audacious journey saw us taking off from the San Francisco International Airport for the Mumbai International Airport. The initial days amidst the tribal villages in India left both of us in awe. If you want to know India inside out, the thumb rule is to know its soul. The soul of India resides in rural areas. We take you through a whirlwind tour of 10 villages that Jane and I saw during our tour.
Hiware Bazar, Maharashtra – The village of Millionaires
I visited Hiware Bazar, Maharashtra the richest village of the country. I learnt that forty years back, it was laden with agricultural debt and farmer suicides ran riot. In the nineties, the village saw a new village chief (Sarpanch) Popatrao Baguji Pawar taking charge. Popatrao scripted a new narrative of economic development by imposing a ban on deforestation, liquor and grazing. He brought a new work culture of enterprise and labour. Today Hiware Bazar has 54 millionaires and is the richest village in India.You must visit here once to get an enriching taste of Indian culture.
Me, riding Tractor with Ramesh (Picture Credit: My escorting friend Jane)
Mawlynnong, Meghalaya – the Most Exotic Village in India
Second on our itinerary was Mawlynnong, Meghalaya; Asia’s cleanest village referred as ‘God’s own garden. The village had won the title in the year 2003 and continues to inspire people in the country and visitors like us from across the world. Mawlynnong is inhabited by people that breathe cleanliness. Almost every household is embellished with bamboo portals and furniture. Jane and I climbed atop an 85 feet high watch tower to look around the entire village and surprisingly got a bird’s eye view of neighbouring Bangladesh. The villagers maintain waste composts that are used to bio-degrade wastes. We did not see plastics in use anywhere.
Jane with one of the farmer named Rakesh (Picture Credit: Me)
Kumarakom, Kerala – Home to the Laid Back Elegance of Kerala Backwaters
Jane and I had first stumbled upon Kumarakom, a village in Kottayam district of Kerala, when it was awarded the World Travel Mart Responsible Tourism Award in 2017 in London. Our curiosity had led both of us into researching on the endowments it offers. When we reached Kumarakom, we realized that the place deserved every bit of praise lavished on it. The key takeaway from our short visit to Kumarakom was the house boat ride in the largest lake in Kerala, the Vembanad. The experience epitomized the lazy elegance that Kerala backwaters are famous for. Blessed with amazing flora and fauna and a rich ecosystem the place also hosts migratory birds that fly from far off places each year.
Punsari, Gujarat – Enjoy the Luxury of Wi-Fi, AC and CCTV
Call it the hi-tech village of India. Punsari is a living example of rural transformation and we bear witness to this statement. Punsari offers Wi-Fi internet connectivity to all households and offices in the village and air conditioning machines and CCTV cameras to the primary schools. Each one of us should be inspired with such zeal to learn irrespective of the surroundings.
Panamik, Ladakh – the Village That Has a Hot Spring
Welcome to the chill thrill of India. Trust me. Ladakh is not only freezing cold but also amazingly beautiful. The famous places that we visited in Ladakh included Leh Palace, the Shanti Stupa, the Hemis monastery, the Stok Palace, the magnetic hill, the Nubra Valley and India’s only hot water spring village, Panamik. Panamik stands at a distance of 150 km from Leh and houses several sulphur hot springs. Like other villages in the Ladakh region, Panamik has a strong Buddhist influence and is the base for adventure trekking to the 250-year old Ensa monastery. The trek through the Nubra river valley took us nearly four hours and was strewn with beautiful sights of arid lands, mountain streams and a Himalayan setting of snow covered peaks in the winters. If you want to experience adventure and scenic beauty at the same time, this place should be in your list.
Hampi, Karnataka – Temples that Speaks of India’s Heritage
An advisory to girls travelling here is to carry the camera. We loved clicking pictures in this amazing backdrop.
Hampi is the place to be for aficionados of ancient Indian architecture and art that flows in full form and glory at the temples and ruins. Located in the Tungabhadra basin, Hampi, we learnt was once the capital city of the Vijayanagara kingdom. The ruins of the temples made us feel as if we were living the history of the place. Hampi breathes art and architecture and houses various complexes like the Krishan temple complex, Narasimha, Ganesa, Hemakuta group of temples, the Achyutaraya temple complex, Vitthala temple complex, Pattabhirama temple complex and the Lotus Mahal complex.
Shani Shingnapur, Maharashtra – the Land of Blind Faith
Shani Shingapur, Maharashtra is a village with no doors. As weird as it appeared to us, this village in the Indian state of Maharahstra is known as the land of blind faith. The locals believe that Lord Shani shall punish those committing theft. The local deity of the village is the Hindu God Shaneswara. The village houses a black monolithic idol of the Hindu God Shaneswara that is said to have emerged from beneath the surface of the earth. The locals of the Shani Shingnapur village worship the idol in an open space and believe that the deity keeps the crime of theft away. In fact we stayed at this place in a room that had no doors and still we felt secure.
Me with the Beautiful Soul of Shingnapur ‘Ketki’ (Photo Credit: Ketki)
Malana Village, Himachal Pradesh – Flawless beauty and an Ancient Village in the Whole Country
Villages in India are rooted in history and there is hardly a village that does not narrate legends running into thousands of years. One such village with flawless beauty in India is Malana, Himachal Pradesh. The inhabitants of the village of Malana consider themselves to be the descendants of Alexander the Great. Malana is famous for ‘Malana cream’, a strain of Cannabis hashish that has high oil content and an intensely fragrant aroma. The villagers consider their language to be sacred and do not allow folks from the near-by villages or visitors like us to speak it.
Kuldhara Village, Rajasthan – the Most Haunted Village in India
This was our date with the dead! The dead in Kuldhara village, Rajasthan, India are not sleeping in their graves. They rule the village. Abandoned long ago Kuldhara is the best blend of ruins of an era gone by and the aura of the dead! It is the most haunted village in India. Kuldhara is one of those rare tourist attractions in Rajasthan that draws visitors for its dead and not the living. Legend has it that, two hundred years back a minister Salim Singh had threatened to impose heavy taxes if the villagers came in the way of a girl that he fantasized about. The villagers vacated Kuldhara with a curse that nobody shall inhabit the place again. Kuldhara continues to be abandoned to this day. If you love to fight with your fears do visit here once.
Mayong Village, Guwahati- the Black Magic Capital of India
This was our date with the dark corners of India that practice black magic. Mayong a tiny village near Guwahati derives its name from the Sanskrit word ‘Maya’ meaning illusion. Black magic thrives in this village. The village of Mayonng celebrates black magic as a solution to all problems of man. While we found no account of the birth of black magic in Mayong, we saw scriptures in an adjacent museum containing hymns that are considered to be powerful enough by the locals to solve problems of life and death. Mayong deserves a place in your travel wish list if occult sciences invoke your passion.
From the holy, the beautiful, to the dead, Jane and I explored a wide plethora of interests that villages in India offer. Pack your bags girls. There is no other way but to experience it.
Article by Michelle Breitstein
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