India is the land of tribes. Not many people know this, but almost 10% of India’s population is tribal in nature. That is a full 100 million people living as tribes in the world’s largest democracy. There are 533 different tribes as per the latest count, and some of them inhabit the most pristine and beautiful parts of the country. Any tourist planning to travel across India should have some tribal destinations on their itinerary, or if you’re really interested in them, make it a full-blown ‘tribal tour’.
We don’t have space here to list all 533 tribes, but we will list the top five tribal tour destinations.
1. Nagaland and the Northeast
There are 16 major tribes in 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 (renowned for having the last surviving head hunters) and Mokokchung, you’re sure to be struck by the fascinating tribal village life in Nagaland. Many people prefer to take an organised tour, but it’s not a must if you’re adventurous. The Hornbill Festival, held every December in the Kohima district, offers a popular tribal experience.
There are 62 tribes in Orissa, which is the largest contribution to the tribal populace any one state in India makes. These are ancient tribes, with people still living the mystical way, close to nature, worshipping it as a Mother, taking from it only what is required. They dwell in Orissa’s remote forests and hilly interiors. You will need to go on an organised 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.
One of the newer states of India, Chattisgarh has once been part of Madhya Pradesh, but in the recent split, became a state by itself. Over a third of its population is tribal, with most of them living in the thickly forested areas of the Bastar region. These tribes, called Gonds, produce beautiful arts and crafts, and live in a social structure in which men and women interact and mingle freely before they get married. The Dusshera festival is celebrated with unique pomp and style here. The Royal Bastar Farm near Jagdalpur, which forms part of a tribal village, is the best way to get a tour of the important places.
Also known as the desert state of India, Rajasthan is many things rolled into one. On the face of it, it’s dry and arid, but it houses the palaces of perhaps India’s most valorous race of kings, the Rajputs. Around 15% of the population here is tribal, with the Bhil group being the predominant one. Conveniently located not far from Jodhpur, Bishnoi village provides an authentic experience of rural Rajasthan. Members of this tribe revere nature and live in harmony with it, so much so that they bury their dead to preserve trees that would otherwise be used in cremation.