Much has been written about travel and tourism in India and abroad. But how much are Indian citizens aware of the phenomenon of Book Tourism? The Pustakanch Gaav in the village of Bhilar, near Mahabaleshwar , has turned itself into a unique destination for Book Tourism. The concept of the village is very interesting and it’s an epitome of our cultural philosophy, ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’. There isn’t any central library in the village. These books are placed in 25 houses and the local temple, where residents have opened doors to total strangers for their common love of books.
There are about 15,000 titles which are organized in 25 distinct genres. A few genres are very unique; for instance, the Diwali Ank (this is a collection of Diwali edition of magazines in Marathi language) and The History of Shivaji Era (this is a collection of books on Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj). Genres such as Humor, History, Poetry, Science, Feminism, Culture, Hagiography, Children Literature, Travel, Biography, Short Stories, Novels, Award Winning Literature, Exhibitions and Newspapers are also present. While the book village houses a few books in English language, the vast majority are in Marathi language. The walls of the houses are adorned by colourful paintings. It is interesting to know that the paintings outside a house reflect on the genre of books that are available inside. According to the Education Minister Vinod Tawde, “Seventy-Five artists have creatively designed the 25 locations with support from Asian Paints Ltd.” The tourists are given a catalogue to browse through upon their arrival in the village. This helps them to understand where different genres of books are housed. The readers are given access to a vast treasure trove of book free of cost, although a minimum amount might be asked for contribution towards the maintenance of these mini-libraries.
The Origin of India’s First Book Village:
The idea of a book village is the brainchild of the Maharashtra Education Minister, Mr Vinod Tawde. Inspired from Britain’s Book Village situated in Hay-on-Wye near Wales, he set on to build a similar book village in Maharashtra, India. This project was inaugurated in May 2017 by Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. The Times of India reports that according to Mr Tawde, “Around 15,000 books (in Marathi) would be made available in the village premises. Also, the state has provided several facilities such as chairs, tables, decorated umbrellas, and glass cupboards to local villagers to help them enhance the reading experience of literary connoisseurs visiting there.”
The volunteers have expressed that the project and the resident’s involvement in it are completely not-for-profit in nature. Residents are simply supporting the Government initiative and there aren’t any monetary gains in return. The key driving forces of this project are passion for literature, appetite for knowledge consumption and enthusiasm for promotion of culture. The total population of around 3000 people has collectively turned Bhilar into a Sanctuary of Knowledge promoting not only dissemination of knowledge but also a unique concept of book tourism. In contemporary times, given the rising level of security concerns, it is not easy to open one’s doors for complete strangers. But the passion and enthusiasm the people of this village feel towards this project and towards sharing the habit of reading, has made them forget security concerns and welcome guests like one of their own; connected to them by the invisible thread of love towards books. The residents have also started contributing towards the infrastructure which would sustain this project. Some have built additional staircases to separate the library from the main house; many also provide meals upon prior request.
Bhilar itself is undergoing a change. With the residents being aware of the large volumes of tourists coming to visit the village, they have started keeping a vigilant eye on the beautification and cleanliness of the village. The residents have become more responsible and disciplined in their approach towards life.
Coming to travel, accommodation and food; Pustakanch Gaav is very strategically located in Bhilar. Good connectivity by road makes travel easy. There are hotels and home stays. A few home stays charge just about Rs. 500/- per night if the sole purpose of the visit is reading. Other accommodation options range from Rs. 1,200/- to Rs. 1,800/-. Authentic Maharashtrian cuisine is something that you’ll cherish. Although, the weather in Bhilar is pleasant, it can get a bit chilly in the winters and monsoons.
Responses from the Tourists:
Pustakanch Gaav is getting positive responses from the travellers and guests. Being situated close to Mahabaleshwar, which is a tourist hotspot, many have started including a visit to Bhilar on their holiday itinerary promoting the concept of book tourism. Most tourist come with their families or alone to spend some quiet time browsing through books. They are in awe of the concept, as it is very new in the state and India as a whole. This has benefited the youth population in a larger way. Instead of going out of the boundaries of their village in search for books on competitive examinations, they are now made available to them in the comforts and precincts of their own village through this project. The elders of the village are now quite relaxed seeing their children slowly imbibing in the habit of reading while staying away from electronic distractions for at least a few hours a day.
The Future of Pustakanch Gaav
According to Mr Fadnavis,“With this concept, the residents of Bhilar have carved a niche for themselves in the country’s social scene. Henceforth, Bhilar will be the definitive destination for bibliophiles and I urge litterateurs and publishers to freely host events here for the promotion and preservation of literature and literary ideas.” Currently the mini-libraries of Bhilar houses only Marathi and a few English titles. But there are plans of expanding the project in the future by adding volumes by Munshi Premchand, Barsanelal Chaturvedi, Harishankar Parsai. There are plans of stocking up the libraries with books of other languages like Gujarati and Tamil. Apart from this, events like book meets, poetry readings and the like would also be organised in the near future.