When one thinks of Mahabaleshwar, visuals of misty mountains, deep valleys, blue waters and green trees emerge. It’s one of the most refreshing weekend getaways for folks who love to relax under the skies, amidst the greens. However, now there’s one more reason to cherish; in addition to listening to chirping birds and dipping drops, a brand-new experience awaits you. A village was known as Bhilar (aka Pustakanch Gaav or village of books) is a must-visit place for literature and reading enthusiasts. This article will help you learn more about this village that’s India’s first book tourism destination.
From the location perspective, Bhilar is situated in the Mahabaleshwar Tehsil of the Satara district in Maharashtra. It’s about 18 kilometers and 8 kilometers away from Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani respectively. The village is spread across 432 hectares; it houses about 3,000 people in 620 homes. Strawberry plantation is the main occupation; the village earns an annual profit of Rs 40 to 50 crore through its strawberry produce. There are about 30 to 40 hotels and homestays that attract travelers who are visiting Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani.
In May 2017, Ministry of Marathi Language launched ‘Pustakanch Gaav’ in Bhilar, a first of its kind initiative in India. The Minister, Vinod Tawde, was Inspired by the Welsh town, Hay-on-Wye, that is known for its bookstores and literary festivals. The department not only aims to promote Pustakanch Gaav as the main tourist hub by itself but also aims to promote the Marathi language. Interestingly, an international concept has an indigenous touch when we talk about project execution. Unlike in the Welsh town where there are multiple bookstores (commercial premises), about 25 villagers have opened their houses for book lovers in the Pustakanch Gaav.
There are about 15,000 books that are organized in 22 genres. One will encounter rare, India-center genres such as the Diwali Ank (a collection of Diwali edition of magazines in the Marathi language) and Maratha History (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 a few books are available in the English language, a vast majority are in the Marathi language. There are 25 locations dedicated to reading in the Pustakanch Gaav; they are the houses of villagers, guest houses, and one temple where one will find books/magazines/newspapers of their choice.
Every house maintains books in one distinct genre. The Government has provided a red beanbag, a 16-pocket wire book stands that can rotate and a metal bookshelf with glass doors where one can see through the titles. Visitors can pick up any book and use the reading area (made available by house owners) to sit, relax and read. Most houses have a verandah and the Government has placed garden furniture (huge table with an umbrella and four chairs) for those who prefer reading in natural light. Thematic paintings outside every house are hard to miss. Apparently, they were painted by artists from across the state. The Government had launched a crowdsourcing campaign to invite these artists. The local culture, food, and people will add to your overall experience. One can avail tiffin service (expect authentic Maharashtrian cuisine) that is provided by most homes (upon prior booking).