“What I say is, a town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not foolin’ a soul.” Neil Gaiman-American Gods
I wonder what American Gods author, would say if he heard about ‘Bhillar’.
Tucked away in the folds of idyllic Western Ghats is a surprising little village of Bhillar. This village that no one had heard of, suddenly woke up from a deep slumber coming out of the shadows of obscurity to find its place under the sun giving the hills another reason to lure travelers.
In May 2017, Bhillar assumed the title of “Pustakancha gaav”, the first ever ‘Book village’ of India!
I was on my way to Mahabaleshwar, a weekend trip I look forward to always. The Western Ghats wore a fresh cloak of emerald green drenched in the monsoon rains. Along the way, the wispy clouds pregnant with heavy mist blotted out the valley view, the swathes of green played peekaboo with those very clouds, the numerous waterfalls springing to life gushed out to meet, the corn sellers out with their golden produce had put up their ware along the drive and the long tailed langoors swung out of nowhere from the tree branches.
Lost in soaking up the natural splendor, I realized we had left the winding road only when the car came to a halt in front of a shop selling freshly roasted spiced up Bengal Gram and masala chai.
A small nondescript sign board stood ignored by locals. It read ‘Pustakaanch Gaav‘. I ignored it too assuming it to be a place where school books were sold for nearby village schools and concentrated more on warming my hands over cup of chai.
But the curiosity had been piqued…
Just about half an hour away and on the same route as Mahabaleshwar, Bhillar was one of the villages where Britishers began strawberry farming. With around 250 or so houses, the village carries on the farming with as much gusto and now produces strawberry wine as well. As I drove down the muddy trail leading to the village, a wine factory outlet caught my attention. What was more intriguing that instead of promoting the wine, the sign at the outlet read ‘Enjoy books as you eat strawberries’. Later only did I realize that this was the mantra of the book village!
With a renewed interest I trundled down the trail. A few ordinary houses later, began emerging the ones with specific theme painted on the wall.
A two storied house ‘Mangaltara‘ painted with images of fort and Maratha ruler Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj displayed the theme ‘History and forts of Maratha Empire‘
Another had a Warli Art depicting the folktales.
Colorful boards displayed various genres of literature. While there was children’s books at one house, others had women oriented literature, tourism and nature, science, technology and development, biographies and many more. It was indeed a treasure for book nerds out there in Bhillar.
Inspired from the town of Hay-on-Wye in Wales, the education minister of state of Maharashtra came up with idea of a village that is a library in itself. After much discussion and deliberation the idea was floated among various villages. Bhillar village which prides itself with more than ninety percent educated folks seemed most enthusiastic in the project. They definitely had the space and willingness for such a venture.
Twenty five houses opened up their hearts to unknown people offering them safe, clean, homely atmosphere to read and research in peace. Some of them also offer bed and breakfast for bookworms. With more than 15000 Marathi language books to begin with, the book village is state sponsored initiative and aims to grow more with books of all Indian languages. The villagers have also donated some land for an amphitheater where literary activities would be held on completion.
The village looks forward to promoting literary tourism and with over 50000 tourist visiting Mahabaleshwar every year, the trend might just take off soon. With Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani offering various other touristy attractions including paragliding, boating, horse riding and many more, the rustic home-stays of Bhillar village are perfect to curl up with a book.
Next time if you head over to Mahabaleshwar or Panchgani for that weekend getaway, check out Bhillar. May be you will find a book that enchants you over a cup of masala chai and onion pakoras or strawberry cream and wine!
Facts and Trivia:
- Nearest big cities are Pune and Satara.
- Mahabaleshwar is well connected by road to Mumbai, Pune and Satara. Private buses, cabs, taxis and state run buses ply from Pune and Satara to Mahabaleshwar.
- Nearest airport is at Pune. Mahabaleshwar is at about 120 km from Pune.
- Major railway station is also at Pune.
- Bhillar village is half hour by road from Mahabaleshwar and 15 minutes away from Panchgani.
- Mahabaleshwar and nearby villages are worth visiting all the year round with cool weather. The strawberry season lasts from March to April and October November.
Stay and food:
- Home stays at Bhillar are rustic and homely. They offer bed and breakfast.
- Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani have many resorts and hotels for every pocket.
- While Mahabaleshwar offers variety of food choices, Bhillar is a small village and only home cooked food is available at few houses with library.