Domestic holidays for Indians have always meant one of two things: Heading for the sea or mountains.
Domestic holidays for Indians have always meant one of two things: Heading for the sea or mountains. But prompted by the desire to connect with one’s roots, experience a closer brush with nature, get a taste of rural living, and step into a world far removed from the concrete jungle of city life, Indians are discovering the delights of rural or farm stays. For a rising number of tourists, vacation no longer means white sand beaches — instead, it’s about milking cows and growing vegetables.
India is home to a plethora of landscapes, flora and fauna, thus facilitating various kinds of farm stays. From coffee plantations in Coorg and tea plantations in Darjeeling to grazing cows in Punjab and organic farms in Uttarakhand, travellers can take their pick for their next vacation.
The great escape Bengaluru-based traveller Ravi Mittal feels that farm stays are the perfect way to escape the corporate hustle and bustle of the city and its stress.
“I went to Destiny Farmstay in Ooty for complete relaxation and a break from my life. The best thing about a farm stay is that it is isolated with a lot of privacy and peace. It is nature-oriented, perfect for anyone who seeks a detox from their daily city routine. It is ideal for people who are office-goers with high stress levels. You can’t hear any sound except the birds and the breeze, which really clears your head off any worries.”
For an experience of country living, farm stays offer myriad activities and engagement options for every kind of traveller. Some of the most popular activities are camel grazing, cow grazing, tractor riding, riding bullock carts, elephant grazing, growing your own farm produce and organic products, says Sharat Dhall, president, Yatra.com. “Since in India we have been blessed with different sorts of harvesting options, people can also indulge in potato farming, rice harvesting and orchard farming in different parts of the country. Another favourite amongst visitors is taking trips to vineyards to understand and experience grape processing. People go and stay in farms surrounded by natural vegetation that is home to wildlife too, like langur, deer, wild boar, porcupine, leopard, tiger and so on.”
Manmeet Ahluwalia, marketing head, Expedia, India explains that the cultural immersion of farm stays enables travellers to familiarise themselves with country style living with hands-on sessions. He says, “Some sessions introduce one to the local arts and handicrafts as well. Various farms across India are opening up to this idea of letting out their facilities to visitors and offering them a glimpse into their life. Some of the other activities that are growing in popularity include sowing, harvesting and milking the animals for cheese-making, etc. The soothing morning weather of farms is just perfect for those who wish to indulge in a spot of meditation or yoga.”
Pocket-friendly Being budget-friendly adds to the greater value for roaring growth of this travel trend, says Manmeet Ravi of his stay at the Destiny Farms, “Farm stays are much easier on the pocket. If you compare the tariff to conventional hotels, then any three or four star will cost you the same, minus any of the experience that farm stays bring with them.” As a consequence, some farm stays also thrive on repeat customers.
Jaykrishan Shinde, who started the Shintre Wadi farm stay 25 years ago in the middle of a vast paddy field in Maharashtra, reveals, “Many of our customers keep coming back for quick and economical weekend getaways. Unlike expensive hotels and resorts, we are less about the money and more about establishing a human-nature connection. The idea is to provide a simple home away from home — with a small verandah, homely food and total privacy.” His property covers three acres and has a capacity to host 60 people simultaneously.
Farm stay vacations as a trend has also been growing among inbound tourists visiting India who want to experience the cultural nuances intermingled with natural activities at lower cost. “The entire experience is more cost-effective in the subcontinent as compared to places abroad like Texas, as there are abundant options. So people are increasingly flying to India to connect with the roots of the place better,” shares Dhall.
Simply basic The key note of these holidays is to move closer to nature, and distance oneself from all things digital. Farm stays offer basic comforts, explains Shinde, adding, “When people come to us, they want peace, good food and privacy. These are the three main things, besides cleanliness and silence. We don’t have televisions in any of our rooms and we don’t encourage anything electronic because the idea is to be as close to nature as possible. Our concept is completely nature-oriented. We insist on eco-friendly practices on our property, encouraging a kind of digital detox.”
Delhi-based travel buff, Akanksha Dureja, who visited Pahadi House, a farm stay at Kanatal, a small village located in hills of Uttarakhand warns, “A traveller should understand that a farm stay is not a hotel and keep realistic expectations. If you’re looking for a luxury retreat then a farm stay won’t fit the bill. Go for a farm stay only if you’re looking for experiences rather than luxury. It might not be able to give you perfect white bed sheets and a cosy fireplace but it will give you stories to cherish and experiences to keep.”
Go organic The trend is part of a larger movement called Ag-tourism or agriculture tourism that involves getting familiar with one’s own natural environment in its raw form. “Since the entire world is increasingly becoming conscious of synthetic products available in markets and wants to indulge in natural and organic products to reduce their carbon footprint, natural activities provided at the farm stay like growing your own harvests from farms and orchards are plus points,” says Dhall.
Akanksha agrees, “For me, the best part of opting for a farm stay was the opportunity to pluck an apple or apricot from a tree when I was hungry. All the food at a farm stay was delicious, given that they used their own organic produce.”
Vinod Saharia, owner of Sahariya Organic Farmstay in Rajasthan, bought about 18 hectares of barren farmland and planted around 10,000 trees of different kinds including 2,500 amla trees to create a mini forest. He then decided to convert the area into an organic farm. He says, “The accommodation that we offer is very organic and has an earthen finish that includes nine huts made out of clay and mud with a thatched roof. There are no chemical paints or varnishes used. We have a small swimming pool that is maintained organically using neem leaves. From sowing the seeds, tilling the land, watering the plants to cooking your own meals on natural gas or chulha, guests can be a part of the organic movement too.”
Inputs by Aditi Pancholi Shroff and Nandini D. Tripathy