Keeping in view the key factors of sustainable tourism, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is currently on the lookout for rural villages across the world that are promoting local culture and heritage while safeguarding the economic interests of local communities. In May, announcing the 'Best Village Tourism Award', the organization rolled out a call for entries with a deadline of July 31 which was eventually extended till September 15.

From India, three villages have been shortlisted and nominated including Pochampally from Telangana, Kongthong from Meghalaya and Ladhpura Khas in Madhya Pradesh.

Pochampally village is situated around 45 kms from Hyderabad, Telangana
Pochampally village is situated around 45 kms from Hyderabad, TelanganaFacebook/ Mana pochampally

While Telangana's Pochampally village is renowned for its handloom weavers community and keeping alive the age-old craft of Ikkat (dying process), it also holds a historic space in India's history.

It was on the lands of Pochampally, in 1951, that Acharya Vinobha Bhave began the Bhoodan movement persuading wealthy landowners to voluntarily give a percentage of their land to landless people. The village, having taken on the movement title, is also known as Bhoodan Pochampally.

Later in the 1980s, the famous town also turned muse for acclaimed filmmaker Shyam Benegal as he made 'Susman', a film featuring Shabana Azmi, Neena Gupta and Om Puri, depicting the life and tyranny of the local handloom artisans. 

A still from Shyam Benegal's Susman inspired by Pochampally handloom weaver community
A still from Shyam Benegal's Susman inspired by Pochampally handloom weaver communityYouTube

N Prasad who is engaged by the Department of Handlooms and Textiles, Telangana as the in-charge of Pochampally Handlooms Weavers Co-Op Society spoke to International Business Times to share his excitement. 

"Currently, there are around 1,500 weaver families in our village, that is nearly 70 percent of the population. The pandemic brought in dull times for our community. The government schemes helped us to sustain. But this news of being nominated on an international platform has made us very happy. It will likely bring more visibility and help in the upliftment of the local handloom weavers," he shared.

On Tuesday, Pochampally garnered more attention on Twitter as parliamentarian Mahua Moitra posted a picture flaunting her gifted Pochampally Ikkat saree.

Apart from Pochampally, two other villages, one from the Northeast and another from Central India are on the list.

Whistling village of Kongthong near Shillong

Kongthong near the state capital of Shillong is famous for a unique tradition called Jingrwai ïawbei wherein local mothers do not identify their children by a name but a whistle tune instead.

Kongthong, like other regions in Meghalaya where Khasi people live, follows a matrilineal tradition where the children inherit the mother's family lineage and clan.This trait is the hallmark of the tribe.

Ladhpura Khas in MP

The third entry in the list proposed by the Union Ministry of Tourism includes Ladhpura Khas near Orchha, Madhya Pradesh which is a window to the traditional Bundelkhand architecture and heritage.

"Tourism can be a driver of positive change for rural communities all around the world," stated the UNWTO official website quoting its Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili. "We want to recognize the uniqueness of each village and showcase the best initiatives to make tourism a means for a better future in rural areas," he furthered.

Through this initiative, select villages will reportedly become part of UNWTO's upgrade program and may receive support from UNWTO and its Partners in improving elements of the areas identified as gaps in the evaluation process.

The selected villages will be announced in October 2021, on the occasion of the 24 session of the UNWTO General Assembly (Marrakesh, Morocco).