Far from well-traversed places like Delhi, Varanasi, Goa and Rajasthan lie some rare gems. The customs and social set-up of these places is unlike what is usually associated with India. Most of these places are yet unspoilt by a tourist influx, so why not check them out next time you’re in India?
Kibber is a village in the Spiti Valley of Himachal Pradesh, located at an altitude of a little over 4000 meters. There are about 70 identical stone houses, and the population here numbers less than 500. Interestingly, the village is said to have only one communal TV. Until another Spiti village Komic surpassed it, Kibber was known to be the highest motorable village in Asia. The roads to Kibber are accessible only during the summer months, and travellers can stay at any one of the handful of homestays in the area.
In the East Khasi Hills of the state of Meghalaya, Mawlynnong is an exemplary village. It has earned quite a name for itself as the cleanest village of Asia. The residents are dedicated to making sure their reputation remains intact. It’s a common sight to see people cleaning public spaces and throwing rubbish into bamboo dustbins. Another feather on its cap is that the village has achieved 100% literacy. Mawlynnong is a far cry from many mainland cities, and reveals the heterogeneity that is India.
The Bishnoi are an ethnic community, founded in the 15th century, who have settled in Rajasthan. The cluster of villages they occupy lie close to the tourist hub of Jodhpur. The most wondrous aspect about these villages is how passionately the inhabitants safeguard their natural surroundings. For instance, they bury their dead instead of cremating because the latter will result in felling of trees. Willing to Sacrifice, an award winning film, is based on a native who sacrificed his life to protect the wildlife species in the encircling forests. The famous Chipko Movement also had its origin in Khejarli, one of the Bishnoi villages. 363 natives willingly gave their lives to protect the sacred trees which were being cut down on the order of a Maharaja who wanted to use the logs to build his palace. Traditional carpet weaving called dhurrie and pottery are two main sources of livelihood here.
The heritage crafts village of Raghurajpur in Odisha is home to hundreds of artists who have honed and preserved their skills over generations. The natives are masters of the traditional Pattachitra art form, a cloth-based scroll painting, the origin of which can be traced back to the fifth century BCE. Other than Pattachitra, the villages are also adept at palm leaf engravings, stone and wood carvings, and papier mache toys. Every house in the village has brightly painted murals, a fitting display for a place where every resident is an artist.
Lachung and Lachen
Narrow, rugged and winding roads lead to the mountain villages of Lachung and Lachen in north Sikkim. Here, the pristine Himalayan landscape is re-energising. Sikkim is the first and only organic certified state of India, and while at Lachung and Lachen, trying your hand at organic farming is a rich learning experience.
The Kutch region in Gujarat is made up of the Great Rann of Kutch and the Little Rann of Kutch. The former is one of the largest salt deserts in the world, and stays submerged in water for about four months every year, during the monsoon season. The large barren land is sparsely populated by nomadic inhabitants, some of whom have their roots in Persia. The tiny villages that make up Kutch each specialise in their own traditional handicrafts. The Vankar community of Bhujodi, for example, are renowned for crafting superior handloom textiles. The locals are more than happy to welcome travellers and showcase their artistry.
Arunachal Pradesh, the easternmost state of India, also goes by the epithets “the land of the rising sun” and the “the land of dawn-lit mountains”. There are such mesmerising treasures hidden within this beautiful state, and Ziro Valley is just one of them. The small but scenic village has expansive rice fields bordered by verdant hills and snow-capped mountains. It is home to the tattooed Apatani tribe. Their mainstay is agriculture, and they have developed sustainable methods of farming that are unique to their tribe.
Munsiyari, which means “a place with snow”, is located in the Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand, and is a favourite among trekkers from around the world. The panoramic beauty of the hamlet, which lies on the ancient Salt Route to Tibet, is an instant rejuvenator. The residents of Munsiyari are well-versed in the art of healing by medicinal plants. For years, they have used this knowledge both for trade and for personal use.
During the 13th century, the prosperous Nattukotai Chettiar community of businessmen and bankers started migrating to Chettinad in Tamil Nadu. Over the years, they established a 96-village strong region complete with splendid mansions fit for the royals. It is said that the Chettiars financed a lot of British colonial ventures in Asia during the 19th century. After Indian Independence, their fortunes began to suffer and they moved to the bigger cities of Tamil Nadu. The Chettiars also relocated to countries like Myanmar and Sri Lanka, leaving their palatial homes to elderly family members or caretakers. Most of them now only return for occasions like family weddings. A tour of this once affluent region provides an engrossing lesson in the history of its erstwhile grandeur. Chettinad is also celebrated for its vibrant cuisine, usually quite spicy.
Dah and Hanu
Dah and Hanu villages are located in the Leh district of Jammu and Kashmir. The Brokpa tribe who resides here have Caucasian features and they believe that they bear the pure Aryan bloodline. This tribe has lived in isolation for thousands of years, and Dah and Hanu are the only two Brokpa villages that tourists are allowed to visit. The Brokpas are practicing Buddhists and have distinctly elaborate cultural rituals. A visit to these two villages emphasises the cultural diversity of India.
Residents of this picturesque hamlet in Himachal Pradesh believe that they are descendants of the Greek soldiers of Alexander the Great’s army. They also claim that they are one of the oldest democracies in the world. But their ultimate leader is a legendary sage named Jamblu Devta, with whom they communicate through an oracle. They are fiercely protective of their identity and culture. And they also produce the world famous hashish, known as Malana Cream. Earlier this year, this out-of-the-ordinary village closed down all guest houses and restaurants and became off limits for tourists, following Jamblu Devta’s divine decree.