A concept which involves elements of wellness, organic food and retreat rolled in one, the concept of Agri-tourism is finding growing numbers of takers in Indian cities and towns, writes Jyoti Balani. She engages with hospitality stakeholders to decipher some key trends in the growing segment, beside taking a look at how some of the hotels are making the most of the trend, also helping the growth of the tourism profile of the destination.
India is a country of villages, even when tourists visit our country, they make it a point to spend a few days in our villages to get the real flavor of India whether is it food, farming, etc. These days a lot of hotels, farmstays, homestays, organize for guests to experience these activities such as a fun ride on a bullock cart and tractor or picking figs, plucking and eating fresh pomegranates, sugarcane, oranges, mangoes, guavas, gooseberries, or other fruit orchards along with a stay in a village house or a farm style resort. In addition, encouraging Agri tourism on a professional basis serves as a source of additional income for farmers, farm stays and resorts. It also helps in bringing city guests and tourists closer to rural India which is the essence of our country.
Sustainable tourism, village tourism or agricultural tourism as we call it in India is currently being taken very seriously by various hospitality ventures. It is also an attractive holiday concept for Indian travelers who always look for unique weekend trips with an exciting itinerary. These unique itineraries find favour with not just locals but also expat travelers who want to experience the local flavor of a region including the food. I was recently invited to one such unique weekend getaway in a pollution free zone of Satara- the rural district of Maharashtra. As part of it is initiative to endorse environmentally and culturally friendly tourism, Jakson Hospitality has been promoting eco and village tourism in the Satara district of Maharashtra. Jakson Hospitality presently operates ‘Jakson Inns Phaltan’, India’s first three-star LEED GREEN platinum rated hotel which is nestled among the serene sugarcane fields and pomegranate orchards.
This popular hotel has successfully managed to develop many experiential outdoor activities for guests from nature trails, fort treks, leisure activities, village tours, farm visits, cultural tours and wind mill tours. Announcing the developments, Sandeep Talaulicar, Managing Director, Jakson Hospitality says “We have long since recognized the potential of eco and village tours in the district of Satara and have been constantly developing opportunities to promote tourism in this region. We aim to strengthen our commitment to responsible tourism by conceptualizing eco sensitive packages for our guests and keep sustainability at the forefront. The market for eco sensitive tourism has been growing exponentially over the years and will continue this momentum over the next two decades. We are extremely delighted to be partnering with the local community at Satara to deliver unique travel experiences aimed at individual and corporate groups”.
Local attractions include Pusegaon windmill farms to catch a glimpse of hundreds of gigantic windmills set amidst the adjoining hills. The Pussegaon windmill site offers you a chance to view the rotating fans from close proximity. For art lovers, Aundh museum exhibits rare paintings and sculptures by well-known Indian and European artists. Those who enjoy trekking can visit the Ajinkya Tara Fort, located at 3,300 feet above sea level in the Sahayadri Mountains offering a magnificent view of the entire Satara city. It is also a great idea to visit the largest organic farm in Satara on a bullock cart, learn traditional techniques of farming and experience Gladiola and Rose plantations. For those keen on ancient culture and history, a visit to the royal palace of the Marathas-the Phaltan Rajwada is a great idea. Phaltan Rajwada is the former residence of the Phaltan royal family. The grandeur of this palace along with its architectural wonder is a very special attraction for tourists. For a special experience of farming one can visit the nearby sugarcane fields, dairy farms, waterfalls pomegranate orchards to experience nature at its best.
Spread across 25 kms of lush greenery, located just outside Bangalore, Shreyas is the perfect place to spend a few days of relaxation and leisure. This retreat offers all kinds of yoga trainings right from Hatha yogas, Ashtanga asanas, kriyas, Vedic chants, pranayamas and yoga nidras along with in house consultations with the Ayurvedic doctor and Naturopath. “We have 5 acres of organic gardens where we grow vegetables, herbs, fruits, spices etc. that are used in our kitchens every day to prepare meals for our guests. We also have our own cows for our dairy needs. The requirement of milk is met through the cattle reared at Shreyas. The cattle are fed organic fodder grown especially at our farm, ensuring the milk is organic as well.
At Shreyas we take great care from the very beginning, from growing the ingredients to harvesting them, to developing the recipes and serving our guests in the appropriate setting and presentation, so that the subtle essence of food can be released and absorbed and appeal to the soul. Yoga therapy and Ayurveda believe that right diet is the foundation of all healing therapy. Healing is not effective without the right foods, right quantity and eating at the right times,” says Nidhe Sood, Head of Sales and Marketing.
“At Shreyas, guests have an opportunity to experience the real India as we take them to the local villages and provide them an opportunity to serve the local school children and their families in organized feeding exercises. For example, sourcing the vegetables and herbs, cutting and cooking the food (assisted and supervised by our team of chefs), transporting the food in tractors, cleaning and preparing the area where the school children are fed, and finally feeding them. This exercise which is known as “Seva” or Service is an alchemy for transmuting negative emotions such as arrogance into humility, sympathy and indifference into empathy and compassion anger into love. At Shreyas, guests have an opportunity to spend one hour daily in the herb, agricultural and rice paddy fields. You are guided by our resident team of farmers to learn more about the various items that are grown in house and activities include harvesting, planting, weeding, watering the various food and herbs that go into their food and rejuvenation oils. Yoga, Meditation and Spa sessions that are an integral part of Shreyas and the very soul of the Retreat,” she reveals.
Hotels have capitalized on the concept, creating unique tourism products
Aunique concept by Hilton hotels, The Hilton Shillim Estate Retreat and Spa houses probably the world’s largest spa. With 99 ecologically designed luxurious villas and a restaurant that serves organic food, the retreat focuses on environment sustainability and holistic rejuvenation of the mind, body and soul. The hour and half drive from Pune to Shillim took us past villages, magnificient views of the picturesque expanse of Shillim valley and peaks of the Sahayadri mountain ranges. “We grow our own vegetables and use the same in our Green Table restaurant. The Green Table at the Hilton Shillim Estate Retreat & Spa, emphasizes health and nutrition. Our menu is inspired by fresh seasonal produce and we strive to preserve and enhance flavor through careful cooking techniques. We grow as much as we can ourselves while supporting responsible farmers and artisans who share our commitment to organically grown produce. Our vision for the future is to achieve a sustainable farm to table ecosystem that protects limited natural resources and improves the quality of our environment,” says Bhagwan Balani, General Manager, Hilton Shillim Estate Retreat & Spa.
Fort JadhavGadh, a museum heritage hotel near Pune organizes picking figs from nearby farms, milking cows. All these experiences are unique and give one a feel of the rustic life in villages which works really well as the heritage hotel is located in close proximity to villages. This hotel has vast open spaces, perfect for those who enjoy outdoor games or evening walks. To add to the rustic feel of the heritage hotel, a common means of transport in ancient times known as Jinker, bullock cart riding has been reinstated by Fort Jadhavgadh for guests. Beautifully decorated carts decorated with comfortable colourful mattresses and pillows along with traditional fanfare are used to create an unforgettable and exhilarating experience for hotel guests of all age groups.
Agritourism as a concept works very well in a country like ours as it brings agriculture and tourism close to each other where farms and home stays invite tourists to their property to experience nature at its best. A lot of people enjoy being outdoors, far away from the maddening city crowds, to breathe in fresh air at leisure and eat healthy food which is picked from farms attached to these resorts and retreats. One of the fastest growing segments of the travel industry, agritourism includes visits to industries, resorts, retreats, wineries, ranches and farms. The itineraries are unique and involve a lot of entertainment, education, relaxation, outdoor adventures, shopping and dining experiences. The fact that these trips are cost effective, manage to bring families together for a fun weekend, encourage farming, promote environmental conscious make these initiatives to be a big draw with both guests and entrepreneurs and farmers. These initiatives also help to promote rural development in countries like India.