India’s many great and historic cities are the draw for most visitors. But the sights, sounds, cultures, cuisine and monuments can sometimes overload the senses of unwary tourists. Sure you can spend time in a spa retreat, head to the hills for a trekking excursion, or flop on the beach, but why not try a rural experience that will bring you a little closer to the local cultures and a little downtime as well?

Festivals are a great way to get involved in local communities. And in India, they celebrate everything. Like the births of Gods and Goddesses, saints and prophets, historic events, battles, seasons, New Year…. It all involves music, dance, costumes, food, processions, pilgrimages and everyone is invited.

Dussehra, in Milap near Varanasi features royalty riding elephants, a procession of horse, camel and elephant riders, music, dancing and a re-enactment of Lord Rama’s defeat of the Demon King Ravana. Bharat Milap takes place the next day, with a procession of Lord Ram and his reunion with his brother all in the presence of Kashi Naresh (former king of Varanasi) and his entourage.

One of India’s newest, and most intriguing festivals is the Cherrapunjee Indigenous Festival, that highlights the culture, food, crafts, arts and everyday life in Cherrapunjee, “The World’s Wettest Place”, in Meghalaya State, “Home of the Storm Cloud”. The Festival, first celebrated in December, 2010, features traditional folk tales, displays of traditional clothing and ornamentation, demonstrations of indigenous games, sports, arts and crafts, local songs and dance, and of course, plenty of local food. The people of the area are renowned for their hospitality and etiquette, as well as producing acclaimed honey and fruit, and growing, yes growing, bridges from roots than can last hundreds of years.

Tourism India’s website is an excellent resource for discovering all the rural pleasures of the country. You can search by destination, by craft, by area. The Browse by Circuits section offers sample itineraries throughout India and each one highlights local communities, their tourist attractions, handicraft specialties, local culture and even the local accommodation that is available. There is a Showroom that displays featured crafts and contact details of the artisan; a Monthly Highlights section that spotlights different destinations; and a News & Events section that chronicles rural experiences all over India and lists upcoming festivals and fairs.