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Diwali at Purushwadi Village—courtesy Grassroutes Journeys!

Purushwadi is an Indian village of 109 houses—situated at a height of about 1,000 feet on the Western Ghats in Maharashtra. It is about 190 kilometers away from our residence in Mumbai, and takes about 5 hours to reach.

It was Diwali week in 2018. Smoke coming from fireworks and firecrackers envelopes, and suffocates our neighbourhood. So I decided to drive away to Purushwadi to escape the noise, and the pollution. The little relief that we get from the smog after the monsoons comes to an abrupt end during Diwali.

The highway was traffic-free. I took a right turn after Igatpuri on the Mumbai-Nashik Expressway, and then swirled up a hill for two more hours. I passed many villages along the way before reaching Purushwadi—which is on the hilltop.

Hence the name “pur unch wadi”, or “highest farmyard”. Purunchwadi later corrupted to the present name. Purushwadi translates to “men’s farmyard” in the local language, Marathi.

But Purushwadi is not about men alone. It’s about the women, children, farms, farm animals, ghats, fireflies, forests, festivals, river, dam, treks, waterfalls and more.

I reached Purushwadi after dinner and settled into a tent, pitched on a cliff, and “hit the hay”, so to speak. And when I stepped out of my tent at 6:30 am the next morning, I saw belts of mist floating aimlessly over rice fields in the valleys below. The lemongrass plants growing in the campsite were soaked in due. This lemongrass will be used in my black tea, which will be prepared over firewood at the campsite.

I went for a morning walk through fields, backyard vegetable gardens, and mud houses where children waved out for attention. Bulls marched in circles over hay. The cut culm, or stem of the rice plant is dried and softened in this manner before cattle can consume it as fodder.

There is a river at the end of the track (a little less than 2 kilometers away from the campsite). I dipped my foot in the river, and at once removed it with a jolt—it felt as if a thousand pins had pricked me, all at the same time. 4 hours later the hand numbing morning cold had given way to fervid pre-noon sunshine, and this was a good time to swim!

Diwali was 4 days away. Diwali is the Indian festival of lights, celebrated in the months of October or November. Children made a little conical pedestal out of thin sticks. They fixed this pedestal to a rectangular frame made out of thicker sticks, so that it could support an oil lamp vertically.

At 7 o’clock in the evening, some twenty children gathered at the village square. Red flowers decorated the pedestal. The oil lamp was lit. Half a dozen adults supervised the children. One girl held the pedestal in her hands, and everybody went from house to house singing local folk songs—like Christmas carols.

There were four groups of children and adults in total, covering every house in Purushwadi.

While the children sang away outside a house, with broad grins on their faces, a woman would emerge from inside, and pour some oil into the lamp. The adults then collected all this oil in a bottle, and everybody moved on to the next house.

The following evening, two pedestals were fixed to the frame, and two lamps were lit. It was another child’s turn to hold the pedestals. Three oil lamps on the 3rd day, four on the 4th day, and come Diwali day—5 oil lamps embellished the frame.

Some families offered the children homemade sweets and snacks. Others offered sesame seeds, jaggery, and milk. The group will prepare sweets and snacks of their choice using these ingredients, along with the oil collected over the 5 days.

I have visited Purushwadi over ten times, and enjoy revisiting the people, and the river. Purushwadi looks different every time I go, as if she has just been to the parlour. Her ornaments are her people, whose good nature and hospitality make tourism possible here.

In the summer (March to May), emerald green coloured groundnut fields stand out against the baking brown landscape. Every shade of green conquers the fields, hilltops, slopes, and valleys during the monsoon months (June to September). Innumerable waterfalls begin to appear. There is no brown anywhere. In winter, night time temperatures fall below 15 degrees celsius. And the night sky is a dance floor where stars, shooting stars, and planets dance a waltz until the bar closes—at sunrise.

Grassroutes Journeys, a Mumbai-based company has set up tourism initiatives at Purushwadi, and some other villages in India.

Families welcome travelers into their houses with a broad smile—showing all 32 teeth. Women prepare and serve the best home cooked food in their kitchen where travelers can relish the rice grown on the fields outside. I was encouraged to try my hand at farm activities such as ploughing, sowing, transplanting, and threshing rice etc. depending on the season. The youth are employed as travel guides.

Overall, Grassroutes Journeys has brought about an average increase of 25% in annual family incomes. There is a significant reduction in distress migration. Upto 8,000 days of employment is created annually per village.

This sets an environment for conservation of biodiversity through ecotourism. And the revival of local arts, crafts, and culture. It creates a space for urban and rural communities to connect through meaningful interactions.

The Purushwadi adventure instantly lowers stress, and the pains of big city life. I feel rejuvenated, and enjoy making photos with a clear mind—it is my “phototherapy!” Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of facilitating photography workshops in Purushwadi. We welcome photography buffs to experience this wonder. You may get in touch with me at www.girishmenon.com for more details.

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