Ever felt bottled up with the chaotic city life around you and wanted to escape to the rural life?? Imagine waking up to mesmerizing petrichor, sounds of flames crackling from an earthen pot on the fire, smell of staple curry, sound of native women whispering in groups, children playing with all anything that is accessible, open fields, and a very welcoming presentiment. Well, my two-day immersion into rural Andhra Pradesh with Grassroutes Journeys in collaboration with Andhra Pradesh Tourism proved to be a transformational journey that I’d remember for a long time to come.
Grassroutes Journeys as an organization works with NGOs and gram panchayats to develop unique experiences and in turn, conserve rural heritage. With already a successful sustainable model developed in three states (Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Gujarat) Andhra Pradesh is the latest to come onboard. The village of Madhavamala and the town of Srikalahasti are two places identified for the phase 1 of the project and our whole itinerary was curated around these two places.
Madhavamala is small village ie; 20 km outside of Tirupati that can be easily accessed by Road, Airport and Bus station. We accessed the village by a tractor ride which was the perfect entry that I could’ve asked for. We were welcomed by the villagers with a traditional welcome of aarti & tikka after which we met Abhilash Varma – the project manager for GrassRoutes Andhra Pradesh division who gave us a brief idea about the itinerary that was in store for the next two days.
We started off the experiential with feeding rice to the chickens by hand that’s something quite unusual for a city person like me. While we did this, the villagers who had the knack of calling the chickens with whistles taught us the same trick.
Later, we went on a tour of the village which has a population of about 500 odd residents whose main occupation is agriculture and wood carving. Wood Carving as a skill is originated in Madhavmala where every person in the family has acquired the skills from their previous generation. We stopped for breakfast at one of the villager’s houses where we were treated to steaming hot fluffy idlis & Wada with coconut and tomato chutney – all served on a traditional banana plantain leaf.
Post breakfast we visited the local government school where students until the age of 12 years are accommodated. It was nice to interact with them and the students were all smiles to meet & greet us. We had a quick conversation with the school principal who spoke about the efforts that were put in place to improve the basic infrastructure.
Up next was a visit to the paddy plantation – an activity that I have been quite excited about! The first drops of monsoon rains that soak the soil are the harbingers of the paddy plantation, we were fortunate enough to witness the magical spell that the rains had cast over the rural landscape of Madhavamala.
Later in the afternoon we spent time among the village residents and satiated our appetite with some delicious lunch of raw mango sambar with drumsticks, pickles, rice and sooji halwa, after which we experienced the art of wood carving, in true Madhavmala way of life.
After a much-needed afternoon siesta under a mango tree and a cot made of coir – it was time to try my hands on milking the cow. I survived my first and surprisingly intimidating experience of milking a cow – thanks to the village volunteers who encouraged me to try it – the experience was authentic, beautiful and rustic.
After another delicious meal, we halted for the night at one of the villager’s houses who certainly went out of their way to make us comfortable.
Next day, after bidding adieu to the family that hosted us at Madhavamala, we drove to Srikalahasti a temple town that is not only popular for the famous temple but also for the Kalamkari artwork. A family whose primary occupation is Kalamkari arts hosted us for a delicious breakfast post which we explored the local temples and the traditions at each of them.
The afternoon was purely dedicated to meet & interact with Kalamkari Artists and also try our hands on this age-old art. Kalamkari is an ancient style of hand painting done on cotton with a tamarind pen, using natural dyes. This art apparently involves 23 tedious steps of dyeing, bleaching, hand painting, block printing, starching, cleaning and more. The artwork drawn spans from flowers, peacocks, paisleys to divine characters of epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana. The artists helped to understand the nuances and we managed to try our hands on it as well. The day culminated with a bit of retail therapy.
All in all, these two days were completely off-grid, rustic and authentic experience with these rural villages of Andhra Pradesh. Kudos to the entire team of GrassRoutes for working with local tribes and indigenous communities to deliver these unique rural experiences while still improving their lives.
About : Project Sanskriti” was envisaged by Andhra Pradesh Tourism with the aim of promoting and empowering villages within the state, through the medium of rural tourism. It offers tourists an opportunity to interact with artisans and rural folks and gain a rare insight into the life and culture of the place.
To achieve this objective Andhra Pradesh Tourism has identified 12 villages for the first phase of implementation of the ‘community run tourism model’. 3 of the villages – Madhavamala, Srikalahasti (within Chittoor) & Venkatagiri (within Nellore) areas , which are famous for its artisanal work of Wood carving, Kalamkari painting and handloom weaving respectively – are being groomed by Grassroutes Journeys Private limited (aka Grassroutes), which has been operating ‘community run rural tourism’ since 2007 and currently are working in over 15 villages across different states in India.