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Sign up for lunch in village homes, bullock-cart rides, sugarcane treats and more at these harvest-friendly destinations

Last year, over 40,000 people participated in the Pongal celebrations hosted by Isha Foundation in Coimbatore. Members from around 20 villages took part—performing folk dances, cooking  pongal and organising kolam competitions. The urge to connect with locals is seen in other places, too. For instance, in Ludhiana, the 22nd Lohri Mela was attended by both villagers and city folk. We look at other rustic experiences for the long weekend where the harvest takes centrestage.

Pongal (3)222Velliangiri Foothills,
Coimbatore, January 16
What better place to spend the Pongal weekend than in the foothills of the Velliangiri Mountains, where Isha Foundation is hosting a massive celebration with the help of in-house residents and local villagers. With an expected attendance of over 500 people—including people from surrounding areas like Madurai and Tirunelveli—the event will start with a traditional meal served in the morning, followed by games and kolam competitions. Next, catch the main puja with the cows, after which pongal will be cooked in 25 pots, amidst cheers of ‘pongal o pongal’. The evening is reserved for folk dances, traditional songs and Tamil skits by the students of Isha Samskriti and Isha Home School. A trip to Velliangiri will take just over an hour from Coimbatore, and along the way you can stop by Doddabetta peak and Pykara lake. You can also head to Yelagiri where ISL Farm and Resorts has tied up with villagers to conduct a three-day Pongal programme. A two-night stay starts from Rs. 10,000. Those who wish to experience a bullock cart ride can stay at Hoysala Village Resorts in Belur, Karnataka, and enjoy a 45-minute ride to nearby villages like Handinkere (Rs. 500 per head). Details: ishafoundation.org; islresorts.in; hoysalavillageresorts.com

Pochampally village,
Telangana, January 15
The village, which is an important weaving centre in Andhra Pradesh, is popular for its ikat saris. You can observe traditional rangolis outside homes and shops, and children indulging in flying kites. This is also a great time to attend the International Kite Flying festival in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, and the NAMO Patang Mahotsav in Ranchi. Scores of children and adults have already bought their kites from local craftsmen like Talib, who has been making them for the past four decades at Karballa Chowk. Elsewhere, cockfights in Jamshedpur beckon. Those heading to Pochampally can spend the night in Hyderabad (50 km from the place) in homestays like Eden Homestay (9160704672). There is also a popular homestay for animals called Petcetera, in case you bring your four-legged friend along. Details: 8686140000

Chitrakoot and Bastar,
Chhattisgarh , January 24
Chhattisgarh has its fair share of tribes (think Gond, Haiba and Pando). You can lose yourself in their folk music during the Cher Chera Festival that celebrates the harvest. People also exchange produce like rice, which they then  cook and eat. We suggest you head to the villages in districts like Chitrakoot and Bastar. Besides paddy fields on either side of the roads, you can also find interesting places to spend a night, like the grand Kanker Palace Heritage with its colonial style architecture. From Rs. 4,600 per night. Details: kankerpalace.com

Panbari Village,
Assam, January 16
Try some community fishing at Goraimari Lake in Assam’s Panbari village (50 km from Guwahati) on the occasion of Magh Bihu (also known as Bhogali Bihu). Dedicated to Agni (god of fire), the celebrations last for a week—starting with young men erecting makeshift huts, or mejis, inside which community feasts, called bhoj—with dishes like rice cakes and coconut sweets—are served. At the end of the celebrations, the huts are burnt and the ashes spread on farms to improve fertility. To participate, head to the Indraprastha Community Development Organisation in Jorhat, where, besides a grand feast, there will also be traditional games like tekeli bhonga (pot breaking), plays by children and bull fights. Book a flight to Guwahati at around `11,000 on makemytrip.com, and spend a night at Prabhakar Homestay (from Rs. 3,800). Details: prabhakarhomestay.com

Quick pick
EcoLogin: This Chennai-based rural trip organiser has scheduled four trips this month and the next. “We will be taking tourists to visit weavers in Theni and learn how the latter go about their trade. Guests can choose a design and the weavers will make customised apparel for them,” says founder Sridhar Lakshmanan. Following this, they will visit farmers who own bulls, to get to know more about the history and tradition of jallikatu. Commenting on the ban, he asserts, “This age-old tradition has been instrumental in preserving the native bull breeds. Else, they will all end up in the slaughterhouse, and we will continue importing semen to produce calves. One needs to visit the farmers themselves to understand the importance of such traditions.” There are also trips to Nagapattinam and Thiruvarur scheduled, where discussions on the play Ponniyin Selvan and yesteryear Carnatic songs will be conducted. Packages start from Rs. 6,000 per head, for two days. Details: ecologin.org

— Karan Pillai

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