While most people take back a tan and possibly an extra suitcase from a vacation, a little digging into India’s rich cultural heritage led to the conclusion that clearly, we’ve been doing it all wrong. Here’s one way to switch up your holiday experience, ensuring you don’t just come back with a skill or two from one of these destinations, but armed with the most original souvenirs yet! Not to forget, a history lesson and an experience like no other; for this isn’t just another lodge, hotel or campsite dedicated to a cause — it’s an entire village.
Where: Himachal Pradesh
When an Irish woman called Norah Richards first shifted to Andretta, little did anyone else know that she’d become the ‘nani of Punjabi theatre.’ She lay the foundation for what was to become one of India’s most popular artist villages, back in 1935. Following the partition of the country, several Indians fled from Lahore, of whom many were artists — only to settle in Andretta.
Of these, one of the most prominent was Gurucharan Singh, a famous potter in India. Till today, the Andretta Pottery and Crafts Society is run by Mansimran Singh (Gurucharan Singh’s son) and his wife Mary.
How To Get There: Hop on to a bus from Delhi, to Palampur. One can stay at the Andretta Pottery and Crafts Society, if you sign up for a course, else there are homestays around the area to stay at.
II. Cholamandal Village
This autonomous village that has survived by itself for over four decades, claims to be India’s largest self-supporting artist village; and one of the most successful in Asia. Built on a barren stretch of sand, it is purely dedicated to art and every single establishment in the village was built by the artists inhabiting it — right from the kitchen walls to their art galleries. The village is recommended only to those who share a passion for the arts, and wish to learn of the history and evolution of multiple art forms, over the years. A majority of the artists here are sculptors.
How To Get There: Cholamandal is located 15kms from Chennai, so a bus or train would be your best option.
Here’s a village that celebrates its inherent culture by ensuring its people are all taught the art of painting and craft. Saputara is a hill station in the Dang district of Gujarat with multiple tribal artifacts on display. However, at this village, participation in crafts is encouraged! Try your hand at Warli painting, or even craft your own tribal object.
How To Get There: Road or rail is your best option. Gujarat’s tourism board recommends travelling by rail; specifically Billimora. A direct bus service is then available from there. Accommodation is available at the community itself.
Where: West Bengal
Famous for the terracotta temples that dot the entirety of this village, the region’s traditional terracotta craft was built upon due to the lack of stone in the area. Till date, the village is known for their terracotta horses — called the Bankura Horse, to be specific. However, it’s also known for its production of the hand-woven silk Baluchari sarees. A tour inside one of these factories gives many tourists a look at the effort and skill it takes to produce one of these pieces.
How To Get There: A direct train runs from Howrah in West Bengal, to Bishnupur. Buses also leave from Kolkata to Bishnupur. Accommodation is provided at the village, at a number of budget hotels and lodges.
The beautiful embroidery and leather work produced in this little artist village attract quite the crowd. The villager’s artistic endeavours spread from textiles to the walls of their houses, leaving their visitors astounded by the colours and patterns around them. Located in Kutch, the village is also close to an Indus civilization ruin for those interested in exploring archaeological sites.
How To Get There: It is recommended to travel to Hodka from Ahmedabad, as it provides you the option of travelling by train or bus. A village resort called Shaam E Sarhad has also been set up, to boost local income.
When a village is still nurturing an art form that dates all the way back to 5 BC their expertise is unquestionable. Known for their mastery of Patachitra, every member specialises in the art of painting on scrolls. Besides this, the village also produces poetry, has its own dance troupe, and about ten other forms of art and crafts that they engage in, on the side. They didn’t just earn the title of ‘heritage village’ for nothing — art isn’t just their form of livelihood, it’s in their blood. Several tourists end up staying for months on end, just to learn their artistic way of life.
How To Get There: Regular transport can be arranged from Puri in Odisha, to Raghurajpur; although one may have to walk the last kilometre or so.
Home to some of the country’s most ancient handloom centres and weavers, Pochampally unfolds a rich heritage of dyes, fabrics, and most importantly, the art of Ikkat. Visitors to this village can get a glimpse of this form of art that creates designs via an intricate process of tie-dye. From towels to sarees, the village has come a long way when it comes to weaving.
How To Get There: A day trip from Hyderabad is recommended as the region does not have several accommodations on offer. The village can be reached by rail or road.
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