Referred to as ‘Adivasis’, aboriginal and tribal societies survive in pockets across remote corners of India – an exceptionally dense concentration of them in the hills of southwestern Odisha, where they gather fruit, nuts, honey and medicinal herbs from the forest and undertake subsistence farming.
Each minority has its own distinctive styles of dress, as well as music, dance and crafts traditions, though these can be difficult for outsiders to experience in their authentic setting. Weekly markets, or ‘haats’, attended by minority people have in the past provided opportunities to see them, but attention of this kind from foreign tourists is rarely welcome.
There is, however, one way you can meet its aboriginal inhabitants on their own terms and in ways that are mutually beneficial. A small guest house half a day’s drive inland from the coast has been set up as a base for visiting Adivasi villages in the surrounding districts. Local people act as the guides, showing you around their homes and giving demonstrations of traditional pottery, jewellery making, cookery and dance. They’re paid a fair sum for the interaction and clearly enjoy it as much as their visitors.
The tours are usually conducted on foot, but you can also drive to places further afield where similar arrangements have been made with members of other Adivasi groups. Your hosts will guide you around local temples and markets – a much more culturally sensitive way of experiencing these unique rural areas than merely turning up in a tour bus armed with a camera. If you’d like to know more about exploring Adivasi in Odisha, ask one of our specialist India consultants for details of our suggested itineraries covering this area.