India, along with Africa, has the largest tribal population in the world. The statistics are quite astonishing: the 533 different tribes, made up of more than 80 million tribals, represents almost 10% of India's population. The lives of the tribes in India are closely tied to nature, and they inhabit some of the most pristine and picturesque environments in the country. Largely unaffected by the modern world, they're very simple and often curious people, who have retained their rituals and customs. Here are five of the best places to tour tribal India, and get an unforgettable insight into their existence.
There are 16 major tribes in untamed Nagaland, which shares a border with Myanmar in remote north east India. Whether you venture to the villages just a few hours from Kohima, or to the far-off districts of Mon and Mokokchung, you're sure to be engaged by the fascinating tribal village life in Nagaland. Many people prefer to take an organized tour, but it's not a must if you're adventurous. Permits are needed though. For a real tribal treat, don't miss the Hornbill Festival, held every December in the Kohima district.
Tours: Tribal Discovery Tours and Travels offer six night/seven day tribal discovery tours in Nagaland, visiting the villages of the Angami tribesmen in the Kohima district. Custom designed tours are also possible.
The largest number of tribes, 62, can be found in Orissa. These ancient people with mystical ancient ways dwell in Orissa's remote, deep forests and hilly interiors. Most of them are in the southwest part of the state. You'll need to go on an organized tour to visit the tribes in Orissa as some tribal areas are quite inaccessible and require permits, and language is also a barrier. Puri is the best place to arrange tribal tours. Tours run for at least five nights/six days, due to the amount of travel involved.
Around 15% of Rajasthan's population is tribal. The Bhil tribe, the predominant group, were amongst the original inhabitants of Rajasthan. They're mostly located in southern Rajasthan, and certain cities are named after their Kings who once ruled there. Don't miss the five day Baneshwar tribal fair, held every January/February in Dungarpur. You can also celebrate the Holi festival in traditional style in Banswara with the Bhils. See them dressed in traditional clothing, carrying swords and sticks, and performing the tribal dance of the region.
Maharastra has a large tribal population. The state is home to almost 50 tribes, with the main ones being Bhils, Gonds, Mahadeo Kolis, Pawras, Thakurs and Warlis.
Tours: Grassroutes, a community based rural tourism venture, runs regular trips to Purushwadi village, home of the Mahadeo Koli tribe. The tribe lives in harmony with nature there, earning a living through farming. The village has just over 100 houses, and over half of them welcome guests. So, you'll be able to stay with the tribal families and experience what it's like to live in a tribal village. The Mahadeo Kolis are extremely warm and friendly, and will happily continue their regular activites unmindful of visitors. Or, you can join in and help them!
Bordering Orissa, the small but cultural state of Chhattisgarh used to be part of Madhya Pradesh. Over a third of its population is tribal, with most of them living in the thickly forested areas of the Bastar region. The tribes, which are predominantly Gonds, are known for producing beautiful arts and crafts, music and dance, and unorthodox marriage practices. Young men and women live together in groups in Ghotul huts and interact freely before getting married. The Dusshera festival is one of the most important festivals of the region, and is celebrated in unique style there.