Intern at an organic farm or spend a weekend picking apples or tea as ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY discover India’s latest trend of agri-holidays, eco-tours and farm stays
The healing sight of green, the touch of moist soil in your hands or plucking vegetables straight off a plant instead of buying them shrouded in plastic; there are many joys of life on the farm. The smell of rain on dry earth evokes similar emotions, unlocking some primordial part of our brains that makes us feel connected to the earth. Oddly, humanity had no word for it until two Australian researchers coined one in 1964. Petrichor, derived from Greek petra (stone) and ichor (fluid coursing through veins of the gods), is akin to the earth’s perfume, its pheromone. Equally surprising is the fact that in a country largely dependent on agriculture, farm stays and agri tours took so long to sprout in India. Coffee, tea, grapes, mangoes, apple, spices and organic farms; choose from these wonderful themed holidays…
Tea plantation bungalows
(Kangra | South India | North East)
Know your oolong from your pekoe as you trace the journey of India’s most popular brew from leaf to cup. From the dark fragrant Nilgiri Tea to Munnar’s full-bodied Kanan Devan tea, the bold maltiness of Assam or fine Darjeeling the color of Himalayan sunlight, India’s tea growing regions are diverse. Head to Kurseong, home to the world’s first tea factory in 1859 where you can savour Silver Tips Imperial (the most expensive tea) while staying at homestays run by villagers. Grown in the Palampur hills by the British since 1882, the aromatic Kangra Tea produces a weak colour, but the Dhauladhar range’s microclimate imparts a certain aroma after it is sun dried. Visit the Tea Museum in Munnar or enjoy colonial comforts at Briar Tea Bungalows at Meghamalai. Experience tea-themed cuisine and bison in the bush at Tea Nest Coonoor or drop by at Tranquilitea tea lounge nearby. Become a tea taster at Jorhat’s Gatoonga Tea Factory while staying at Heritage North East’s Burra Sahib and Mistry Sahib bungalows. Wild Mahseer, an 1875 British angling bungalow and former residence of the tea-estate manager have been transformed into a classy resort.
Darang Tea Estate, Kangra
Ph 01894-240231, 9418012565, 9816312333
The Tea Sanctuary, Munnar
Ph 04865 230141
Briar Tea Bungalows, Munnar/Meghamalai
Ph 0422 2311 834, 94422 02001
Tea Nest, Coonoor
Ph 0423 2237222, 94439 98886
Sangsua & Gatoonga Tea Estates, Jorhat
Ph 033 2229 9034, 0376 2304 267
Wild Mahseer Lodge, Balipara
Ph 02267 060881, 91670 38491
Makaibari Tea Estate, Kurseong
Ph 033 22878560, 9733004577
Tathagata Farm, Mineral Spring
Ph 9932021569, 9775809299
The Tumsong Retreat, Ghoom
Ph 033 3093 6400
When to go: Tea-picking season lasts from April-October, making it a good time to visit tea estates and factories.
Jet Airways flies to Guwahati, Jorhat, Bagdogra and Coimbatore
Coffee Estate Stays
(Coorg | Malnad)
Head to Baba Budan Giri where a Muslim mystic sowed seven coffee beans smuggled from Arabia from where it spread to the rest of the country. Visit the coffee museum at Chikmagalur and stay at Plantation Escapes’ colonial bungalows at Ossoor Coffee Estate in Sakleshpur, a 1200-acre plantation started in 1866! Nearly 80% of India’s coffee comes from neighbouring Kodagu or Coorg. To compensate fluctuating coffee prices, local planters spun their estate bungalows, fabled Kodava hospitality and delectable cuisine into unparalleled homestay experiences. With the world’s highest density of sacred groves (devarakadu) and fountainhead of the Cauvery river, Coorg is a bounteous land of wildlife and waterfalls. Do a Bean-to-Cup plantation walk at Tata Coffee’s heritage bungalows in Coorg and Sakleshpur. At Rainforest Retreat learn how coffee, pepper, cardamom and vanilla are grown organically in the shade of rainforests. Rediscover nature without TV, mobile and Internet connectivity at Meriyanda Coorg with estate-grown Arabica, clove, pepper and honey available in gift packs. Soak in the luxury of Tamara Coorg with spa treatments, a signature ‘Blossom to Brew’ coffee tour and become a barista at The Verandah coffee shop.
Rainforest Retreat, Galibeedu
Ph 08272 265638/6, 201428
Tata Coffee Plantation Trails, Polibetta
Ph 080 2356 0761, 2356 0695-97
Meriyanda Nature Lodge, Hattihole
Ph 080 4164 3999, 9008163388
Tamara Coorg, Yavakapadi
Ph 88840 00040
Plantation Escapes, Sakleshpur
When to go: By Nov-Dec, the red coffee berries are ready to be harvested. Picking season lasts till Feb, before April showers transform estates into blankets of white coffee blossom.
Jet Airways flies to Mangalore and Bangalore
Spice plantations & coconut farms
Kerala’s legendary Spice Coast drew Arab traders and colonial powers to Indian shores for cardamom, cinnamon, clove and pepper, prized for centuries as Black Gold. The rich bounty of crops in coconut, rubber, areca and tapioca, coupled with a thriving tourism scene and wide choice of resorts, make Kerala perfect for a farm experience. Inspired by a mountain tribal dwelling, CGH Group’s Spice Village at Thekkady is a good place for plantation walks. Instead of a staid reception desk, a herbal tea counter dispenses fresh tea brewed with the herb of your choice. Shalimar Spice Garden at Kumily offers Spice Plantation Tours with elephant rides through a plantation with bath, feeding and timber dragging rituals. Experience Syrian Christian hospitality at the Tharakans’ Backwoods estate at Nilambur, home to the world’s oldest teak plantation. Or find out how mussel farming is done on coir at Oyster Opera from Gul Mohammed, a recipient of the Karshaga Shiromani (national award for agri-farming).
Spice Village, Thekkady
Ph 04869 224514, 222315
Shalimar Spice Garden, Kumily
Ph 04869 – 222132, 223232
The Backwoods, Nilambur
Ph 04931 200529, 9447748529
Oyster Opera, Padanna
Ph 0467-227 8101, 94471 76465, 94471 44062
When to go: Kerala in the rains is ideal for a romantic escape or a rejuvenating Ayurveda treatment, though October to March is the main season.
Jet Airways flies to Kozhikode and Cochin
Grape-farming & Vineyard tours
Nashik, hailed as India’s wine capital, brims with wineries and Tasting Rooms that offer an intimate experience through vineyard visits and cuisine tours. Understand the nuances of terroir, a combination of soil, climate, water and rainfall of a particular area that impart a unique character to wine. From the Sanjegaon valley caressed by the Godavari river to the twin hills of Nhera-Ori at Dindori, Nashik is easily the best place in India to become a wine enthusiast under the tutelage of ace sommeliers. If Napa Valley seems far away, get to Nashik for a memorable stay in farmhouses amid trellised vineyards.
Sula Vineyards, Govardhan
Ph 0253 302 7777, 9970090010
D’ori Winery, Dindori
Ph 022 65064933
York Winery, Gangapur
Ph 0253 2230700
Vallee de Vin
Ph 02553 204379
Mountain View Wines
Ph 0253 2392369, 9822056881
Maharashtra’s Konkan region is renowned for its delicious hapoos or Alphonso mangoes from Ratnagiri and Devgad. In mango season, enthusiasts can buy cartons of this yellow goodness and even stay in a mango farm. Homestays like Atithi Parinay, set amidst mango, coconut & banana plantations on the banks of the Kusum, offer ‘eat as much you can’ incentives. After a sweet yet scorching summer the rains revive the Konkan in a blaze of green. At Maachli, the stream gurgling through the organic farm is the highlight of the monsoon and guests must wade through ankle deep water to reach the property! Nandan Farms, a 12-acre plantation growing cashew, coconut, banana and pineapple offers stay in earthy cottages with mud walls and terracotta tiled roofs. Enjoy farm fresh organic food and Malvani cuisine at Dwarka Farmhouse, where Dilip Aklekar uses traditional methods for cultivation through go-mutra (cow urine) and vermi-compost.
Atithi Parinay, Ratnagiri
Ph 02352 240121, 9049981309
Nandan Farms, Sawantwadi
Ph 94223 74277
Dwarka Farmhouse, Sawantwadi
Ph 02363-266267, 98694 10626, 94225 41168
When to go: Konkan offers something unique in every season – mangoes in summer, waterfalls in monsoon and pristine beaches from October to March.
Jet Airways flies to Mumbai and Dabolim Airport, Goa
(Sikkim | Arunachal | Nagaland)
Sikkim’s diverse farm stays provide insights into not just local farming practices but also the rich culture of various tribes. Enjoy Lepcha hospitality, food and folklore at Mayal Lyang in Dzongu, with leisurely walks to the Rongyung Chu river for angling. Stay at a heritage farmhouse with a Bhutia family at Yangsum Farm growing seasonal crops and fruits against the backdrop of the Kanchenjunga mountain. At Bon Farmhouse in Kewzing learn about organic farming, harvest millet, maize or seasonal vegetables and consume farm fresh milk, butter, curd and cottage cheese. Ziro, in the Lower Subansiri region of Arunachal Pradesh is known for ancient farming techniques of the Apatani tribe. Stay at Abasa Homestay at Siro nearby with State Tourism Award winner Kago Kampu, who grows organic vegetables and uses them inventively in salads and sautés served with chutneys of sunflower seeds and yokhung (Zanthoxylum acanthopodium). In Nagaland, watch Angamis carry out alder farming and terraced rice cultivation at Khonoma and trek to the scenic Dzukou Valley. Or stay in Shiyong village amid Konyaks learning how to milk cows, pluck tea, pick oranges and helping locals harvest rice in season.
Bon Farmhouse, Kewzing
Ph 9735900165, 9547667788
Mayal Lyang, Upper Dzongu
Ph 9434446088 Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Yangsum Heritage Farm, Rinchenpong
Ph 03595-245322, 94341 79029
Abasa Homestay, Ziro
Ph 03788-225561, 94024 60483
Baby’s Homestay, Khonoma
Ph 94360 71046
When to visit: Though October to March is the main tourist season, during monsoons, edibles ferns, wild mushrooms and bamboo shoots are aplenty in July-August.
Jet Airways flies to Guwahati and Dibrugarh
Ever wondered where the humble phool jhadu comes from? True to its name, it is the flowery inflorescence of Thysanolaena maxima plant, known simply as Broom grass. Though it grows almost wild across the North East, Meghalaya and Karbi Anglong, its neighbouring district in Assam are leading areas of production. Primarily cultivated on slopes by the Tiwa, Karbi and Khasi communities as a mixed crop, the plant serves as a big cash crop for local farmers. In Meghalaya, head to Mawlynnong, which claims to be Asia’s cleanest village. Stay in a community-run house on stilts made of bamboo and thatch. Village walk down squeaky clean paths lined by flowers and fields of broom grass lead to amazing sights – living root bridges, relics of ancient Khasi tradition and Sky Bridge, a viewpoint overlooking the plains of Bangladesh.
Village Guest House, Mawlynnong
Nakliar Tours, Shillong
Ph 0364 2502420, 9436104844
When to go: Meghalaya is good to visit post-monsoon. Harvesting starts from February and continues till March end. Almost 90% of the produce is sold during March and April.
Apple orchard stay
Though India was no stranger to the apple and the Kashmiri Ambri was a popular indigenous variety, Captain Lee and Alexander Coutts were the first to plant English apples in Himachal. But it was an Indianized American Samuel ‘Satyanand’ Stokes who introduced the first apple saplings of the ‘Starking Delicious’ in 1916. Thanedar became one of the first apple plantations in the country and together with Kotgarh, constitutes the orchard region of Himachal Pradesh. Here cherries, strawberries and other fruits abound, processed into juices, jams, preserves and pickles. Stay at Apple Tree Cottage in Kotgarh (73km from Shimla) or the apple orchard inn of Krish Rauni. At Thanedar, India’s apple bowl, stay at Banjara Camps surrounded by terraced fields awash in red…
When to go: Apple harvesting in Himachal Pradesh is from July to October and is at its peak by September. This year has seen a bumper crop.
Apple Tree Cottage, Kotgarh
Banjara Orchard Retreat, Thanedar
Ph 011 2685 5152/3, 2686 1397
When to go: Apple harvesting in Himachal is from July to October with August-September forming the peak season.
Jet Airways flies to Delhi and Chandigarh.
Sea-buckthorn first stormed the market as a wunderdrink called Leh Berry developed by DRDO for the Indian army combating Ladakh’s extreme climate. The orange berry possesses a unique mix of minerals, vitamins and amino acids with anti-cancer and anti-ageing properties. In Spiti’s desolate landscape, sea-buckthorn or tsirku (Hippophae rhamnoides) grew wild along riverbanks, with locals exploiting the shrub for fences and firewood. Spiti Sea-buckthorn Society, aided by ‘Nono’ Sonam Angdui, the King of Spiti and Spiti Ecosphere, empowered villagers to harvest the berry through viable conservation means. The community initiative currently has 33 groups from 27 villages with over 500 members producing jam and juice concentrates, available under the brand name Tsering (‘blessings for a long life’ in Tibetan). Dried berry peels are shredded into rejuvenative tsirku tea. Watch villagers grow barley and pea, while staying at India’s loftiest Himalayan homestays in traditional mud-brick homes overlooking snowy peaks. Explore fossil sanctuaries and go on yak safaris on the Spiti Left Bank trek, visiting high-altitude villages like Langza, Demul, Lhalung, Dhankar (Spiti’s old capital) and Komik, the highest inhabited village in Asia.
Ph 01906-222652, 98994 92417, 94182 07750
When to go: Like Ladakh, Spiti has a cold, harsh desert environment, best suited for a visit during the main tourist season from May-October.
Jet Airways flies to Delhi and Chandigarh
Fruit orchards & Bio-tourism
Snow clad peaks, forests of deodar, buraansh (rhododendron), oak and pine and orchard farms surrounded by untamed wilderness, Uttarakhand embraces you with the warmth of rustic mountain hospitality. Its ecologically sustainable model for Bio-tourism spreads across 13 districts covering 1200 Bio Villages. At Syath, a model village near Nainital, families trained in hospitality provide pahadi meals in village homes, arrange visits to watermills and waterfalls, with hands-on activities like organic farming techniques, milking cows, composting or fieldwork. Himalayan Village at Sonapani near Mukteshwar is a 20-acre organic farm growing apricots, apples, plum, peaches, vegetables and pulses. At Darbar Resort, remnants of the 1815 Purana Darbar palace in old Tehri have been recycled into its architecture. Visit an Angora rabbit farm and Pant Nagar Agriculture University at Ranichori, 3km away. At Ranikhet, try Ayurvedic healing in colonial comfort at Holm Farm or buy ‘Kumaoni’ fair trade products from Umang like Himkhadya (organic grain and nuts), hand-knitted woollens, preserves, pickles and natural honey in eucalyptus, sunflower or lychee flavours.
Holm Farm Heritage, Ranikhet
Ph 9411113263/4 Email email@example.com
Darbar Hotel & Resorts Organic, Chamba
Ph 01376 252660, 9412953297, 9837034329
Himalayan Village, Sonapani
Uttaranchal Organic Commodity Board, Dehradun
Ph 0135 2760770 Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Umang Naini Shop, Kalika
Ph 05966 240 430
When to go: Rhododendron (buraansh) blooms in Feb-March, though in plum orchards, picking is on till September.
Jet Airways flies to Delhi and Dehradun
Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the September 2013 issue of JetWings International magazine.