Rural tourism spots in India for the long-weekends

Why should you favour rural tourism for safety and society

Tourism

September 30, 2020

/ By / New Delhi

Rural tourism spots in India for the long-weekends

With no crowds, rural tourism is the ideal travel option during the pandemic (Photo: Red Stone Villas)

The upcoming weekend of October 2-4 is the first long weekend when at least some Indians can hope to travel since the Covid-19 menace hit India in March. If you are planning a trip, favour small rural tourism destinations for your family’s safety and to give a helping hand to rural economy.

Since the nationwide lockdown, imposed on March 25 to battle coronavirus, began to be eased at the end of May, the coming long weekend of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary (October 2-4) is the first real opportunity to travel for many Indians who have been not only deprived of any travel, but literally imprisoned in their homes for over six months now.

And indeed, for most hotels and resorts in some key destinations in various parts of India, there is some cheer as hotels are seeing near total occupancy after nearly seven months of either zero or close to zero arrivals. Travel agents, too, are not complaining as customers have been calling, visiting, emailing or even sending messages through WhatsApp to enquire and make bookings.

The trend of the bookings are mainly to destinations in remote areas, wildlife sanctuaries as well as of course the mountains. In practically all the cases, the setting is rural and indeed it is an opportune moment for rural tourism as not just tourism, but the entire rural economy has been delivered a near-mortal blow by the sudden lockdown and the subsequent collapse of the national economy.

The impact of the pandemic has been felt the highest in the rural areas for several reasons. In many remote and rural areas, tourism is the sole source of livelihood for many, even those who have small farms as farm income is nowhere near enough to sustain a family. Moreover, the millions of migrants who were forced to trudge back home – either on foot covering hundreds of kms or by any other means of transport like trucks, buses and the infamous Shramik Special trains.

Even though there is a trickle of tourists in a handful of rural and remote destinations, mainly in the Himalayan region accessible from the major metros of the country, almost the entire rural tourism industry is still facing a lockdown kind of situation due to connectivity as well as frequently changing rules covering travel.

Thus, for most village communities and properties there, it has come as a big relief that there is significant demand for these sites for the upcoming weekend that also marks the arrival of the festive season in India. Some hotel owners say that going rural on this weekend is the best option for travellers as it will have significant impact on revival of rural economy. ‘‘I strongly feel the need to promote rural tourism in India due to the massive repercussions of the current pandemic which has hit the rural population severely. The economy has indeed taken a severe beating and unemployment is high, which includes a large ratio of people staying in rural areas. I believe that promoting tourism in remote areas will not only generate employment for them but also promote overall revenue generation in multiple ways,’’ Anvay Kolwankar, founder, Red Stone Villas, a luxury hotel chain that has upscale villa-type properties in several parts of rural India, tells Media India Group.

So far, the customers seem to be following suit as the bookings indicate. ‘‘Most of the properties, in rural or wilderness, that have been the favourites of people from Bengaluru have already been booked to capacity. Be it the Jungles Lodges in Cauvery, hotels in Bandipur wildlife sanctuary or even the near-by B R Hills, people have been booking them for the October 2 weekend since many weeks,’’ says Manu Mahalingaiah director of Skyway Travels, south India’s largest travel firm that specialises in mainstream as well as off-beat and customised travel services, with its own fleet of over 100 vehicles of all sizes.

Santorini in Alibaug recreates the ambience of the famous Greek Island (Photo: Red Stone Villas)

For the denizens of Mumbai, places at a drivable distance from the Maximum City are the top picks for the weekend. These include the standard ones in and around Lonavla, Khandala, Matheran, Nashik and of course along the coast – Diu or Alibaug and Kihim. ‘‘Amongst all our properties spanning across Maharashtra, Goa, and Andaman & Nicobar Islands; Santorini at Alibaug has been getting a great response from patrons and a maximum number of bookings. It is situated in a village called Koproli near Mandwa, Alibaug. This property helps us create job opportunities for locals like farming of fresh vegetables and the opening of grocery stores. It helps us to create an overall wholesome home-stay experience for our guests,’’ says Kolwankar of Red Stone Villas.

With the pandemic still raging in various parts of the nation, the emphasis on rural properties is sensible for the customers as most of these areas have had the least impact of the pandemic, which has mainly been concentrated in metros and large cities. Moreover, these properties are isolated and smaller in size, minimising the risk of coming in contact with any infected persons. The agents and hotel owners say they keep a strict protocol not only to sanitise the properties regularly, but also track their employees and guests to keep the infections away.

‘‘Our own staff is checked daily when they report for work and we also sanitise our vehicles after every trip and at the end of each day on a multi-day trip. Moreover, all the properties that we book customers into observe strictly the protocols advised by the central and state governments to ensure that the guests and the employees are safe,’’ Mahalingaiah tells Media India Group.

Red Stone Villas’ Kolwankar says that not only are the tourists safe in their properties, they take measures to ensure that the rural communities do not get impacted by infections brought in by the guests or their vendors. ‘‘Owing to the safety measures and preventive checks that we undertake, it is safe to say that tourists can travel to rural areas. It is mandatory for our guests to fill a form that requests their travel history in the past seven days and medical certificate which qualifies them for the commute. We have also adopted the Red Safety Secure system which checks the temperatures and oxygen levels of all guests before they check into our villas. Meals are prepared from fresh vegetable plantations behind the villa which enhances the flavors of local delicacy and safety from outdoor vendors,’’ he says.

Properties in rural settings favour local supplies for everything – from fresh vegetables, fruits, dairy products to any kind of outside activities. This, they say, is not only very beneficial for the environment as food products are normally transported over hundreds of km, but it is also healthier for consumption. Moreover, it minimises risks of infections and maximises the job opportunities for the rural communities. ‘‘We try to generate as much employment as we can to help and support the families living around all our properties. Right from assigning caretakers for our villas, we employ gardeners, local chefs, source ingredients locally required to prepare meals and so on. We wish to generate as much as income we can for these families to take care of themselves and minimize the effect of the pandemic with Red Stone Villas,’’ says Kolwankar.

Mahalingaiah says that they and the properties booked by them favour local persons for not only supplies but also other activities such as tourist guides, jungle guides and adventure activities.

And it’s not just the solo travellers who are eager to pack their bags and leave for the weekend but also families who are ready to get out of the months-long monotonous routine. “Over this weekend, we have families and friends travelling to our villas” says Kolwankar. He further adds that the average stay has also increased in the last couple of months. “The guests are preferring to book a stay of minimum 2-3 nights of a mini staycation trip. Besides that, we also have received bookings from corporates and families for longer stays of as much as two months owning to the current circumstances,” he says.

Here are a few such spots where travelers can go, especially on long weekends-

The main attraction of Almora and Ranikhet is the amazing closeup view of the snowcapped Himalayas

Almora and Ranikhet in Uttarakhand are known for short trekking opportunities and majestic views of the snowcapped peaks of the Himalayas.

Narkanda and Kufri in Himachal Pradesh are ideal retreats for tourists who seek solitude in mountains. These destinations are also famous for hikes.

Shantiniketan and Sundarbans in West Bengal. The former is known for its contribution to education, arts and literature, and has an amazing variety of handicrafts that are produced in and around town by local craftsmen and artisans. The latter is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the only wildlife sanctuary with Royal Bengal Tiger.

Alibaug and Kamshet in Maharashtra: Alibaug has been renowned as the preferred weekend getaway spot for over two decades. The rural settings and the pristine beaches of the Konkan coast offer an ideal setting to take the mind away from humdrum of metro life. Set in the verdant Sahyadari hills in the Western Ghats, Kamshet is closer to Pune than Mumbai. With numerous lakes and forts all around as well as opportunities to discover life in a tribal village barely two hours from Mumbai, Kamshet is a must for adventure tourism fans as it offers one of the best paragliding experiences in the country.

Kabini and B R Hills in Karnataka: Situated on the banks of Kabini, a major tributary of the Cauvery River, South India’s mightiest river, Kabini is an ideal rural tourism spot in the country as it is right in the midst of wildlife sanctuary, the Nagarhole Wildlife Sanctuary. One can participate in numerous adventure sports activities like canoeing, kayaking and trekking. B R Hills, a short drive from Bengaluru, promises great spots for angling, river rafting as well as wildlife spotting.

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