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Live farmer’s life on holiday

Jaipur, Sept. 17: If you were to visit Girwar Singh’s farm in Rajasthan’s rugged Shekhawati region, chances are you might come across a French national milking a cow or a Belgian working in the field.

Global village? Not really. It’s just that rural tourism has become more rustic.

Rajasthan’s royals have long opened their palaces to tourists; now farmers are flinging open their huts to visitors, offering them everything locally made from bed to breakfast, apart from the taste of village life.

It has helped them increase their earnings too.

But the agrarian idyll has a corporate ring to it as well.

For farmers like Girwar and Kan Singh, letting tourists into their homes and, more important, agreeing to let the women shed the veil and mingle, may not have been possible had an NGO not commissioned a study by IBM.

“Rural tourism has been on in these parts for quite some time, but only in bits and pieces,” Piyush Mehta, general manager, corporate communications, of the NGO Morarka Foundation, told The Telegraph. “We got IBM to conduct a study last year about the feasibility of promoting rural tourism in the region.”

IBM prepared a model that stressed on intensifying marketing of rural tourism in the Shekhawati region that comprises the districts Sikar and Jhunjhunu in the state’s northeast.

“The study helped us approach the project more methodically, benefiting the local community both economically and socially. We tied up with a travel company, which sends foreign groups. The concept also gets publicised by word of mouth,” said Mehta, whose organisation has been working in the region for several years.

Over the past year, tourists from France, Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Italy, America, Belgium and Spain have come in groups, spending a few days with villagers and living like their hosts.

‘One Mr Patrick’

Girwar, a villager in Singhasan who stays with his eight brothers and their families, said he played host to tourists from France and Belgium.

“In August this year, we had a group from France. The tourists live just the way we do, eat our food, work on our fields, cook with us, milk our cows, cut fodder for cattle, sing, dance, try learning our language, essentially everything we do every day.”

Kan Singh, of Katrathal village, about 9km from Sikar, spoke about a Mr Patrick.

“My tourists, mostly from France and America, are interested in the way we farm organic products. Staying on for four-five days, they lend a hand in farming as well. There is one Mr Patrick, a professor in France, who keeps visiting off and on. All my guests are served food from our farms, cooked in ghee prepared by our family members. These home stays have increased our income by over 75 per cent.”

Mehta, the NGO official, explained the reason behind linking farming with tourism. “Agriculture being India’s main culture, we tried to link farm tourism with rural tourism. The tourists who come try to understand how people here lead carefree lives with so few amenities.”

The tourists get to milk cows, knead the dough, cook the traditional dal baati churmai, make chapatis in clay ovens, feed the cattle, fetch water from the well, interact with the village panchayat and lend a hand to potters and other craftsmen.

Not that it’s smooth all the time. When the power goes, they sit and wait like everybody else.

Chapati and yogurt

The typical hamlets or dhanis in the region have remained unchanged over the years with the walls still covered with clay, cow dung and hay.

In the evening, the tourists talk to village elders, hear Rajasthani melodies and dine on fresh oven-baked chapatis with yogurt.

“The villagers who took up the offer of opening up their homes for tourists have multiplied their incomes. We are only facilitators, all the revenue earned goes directly to the farmers. Now we have 10-12 farmers benefiting from this concept. We intend to open up 50 more spots soon,” Mehta said.

Rajasthan’s tourism industry, the third largest employer after agriculture and the textiles sector, accounts for almost 15 per cent of its economy.