In 2011, a small village of Rajuri, in the Pune district’s Junnar, woke up to an unusual phenomenon. People who had come all the way from Pune city to work in the fields and experience farm life. Among the most surprised was Manoj Bhimaji Hadawale, the son of a farmer who had organized the trip.

Khet bhi koi dekhne aata hai kya? (Does anybody come to see farms?)” he remembers the villagers thinking at the time.

Hadawale had studied agriculture in college, worked in a bank, and traded in onions. In a moment of inspiration, he decided to organize a grape-picking trip to his family’s village home in Rajuri and sent out emails to his friends. More than 200 people signed up and Hadawale began to take groups of 32. “The first group, alone, bought Rs 40,000 worth of grapes, besides chikoos and sprouts from the farmers,” says Hadawale.

The trip led to a startup, Parashar, which strips the frills off agri-tourism and focuses on giving guests an immersive experience of the raw and real agrarian life. The startup’s name is drawn from sage Maharishi Parashar, who wrote the world’s first manuscript on agriculture, Krishi Parashara. His ashram was said to be located in Junnar.

The Maharashtra Government is actively promoting agri-tourism, rural tourism, and sustainable tourism and has even formulated a policy for it. Parashar is one of the important players in the field, although it is not for the commercial tourist but the thoughtful one.

Festive offer

The real and raw

“We have no resort. Instead, there are clean cottages with thatched roofs, bamboo walls, and floors wiped with cow dung. The bathroom is one of the few places with modern, urban amenities. The food is local, freshly grown produce, such as tomatoes, brinjals, spinach, and other available vegetables, cooked by locals, and seasonal fruits like custard apple, chikoo, grapes and pomegranate,” says Hadawale.

Entertainment options include visits to the weekly markets, learning by doing different farming activities such as irrigation, sowing, harvesting and farm pet rearing, understanding the village administration structure, credit systems, and age-old co-operatives, and going to a 50- year-old dairy.

Clients, referred to as guests by the startup, participate in the same rituals as the rest of the village, such as folk singing and dancing, enjoying seasonal festivals and visiting historic sites that influence the community’s identity and culture. They play games, such as Ningorcha, Vitti Dandu, and Bhovara, and make agricultural tools by hand. Many have come forward to work with their new village friends to clean cowsheds, and milk cows, plow the fields, sow seeds, cut, and winnow or harvest crops.

Market policies

Hadawale’s family had mortgaged their house to raise the initial investment of Rs 23 lakh for the venture, the money Hadawale has since paid off. The startup has not only broken even but is also making an annual profit after the setbacks of demonetisation and the pandemic.

According to government statistics, agriculture and its allied sectors are the largest sources of livelihoods in India. Rural households still depend primarily on agriculture for their livelihood, with 82 percent of farmers being small and marginal.

Parashar’s business model is community-based, with several farmers, who own fields, dairies, and farmland, among the stakeholders. Hadawale’s innovative approach has attracted guests who like offbeat trips, such as corporates who want to work from home here, student groups from schools and colleges, artists, including Bollywood’s finest, senior citizens looking for quiet, and foreigners who want to see a less- known layer of India. Repeat guests make up a sizeable part of their annual visitors.

The company seems to be lacking in marketing its niche concept. As commercial tourism grows and farm visits become popular for weekend travelers, Parashar must activate its online and offline outreach to keep the guests coming.