The Smallprint: This post is sponsored by Atma Journeys. As always, the stories, experiences and opinions expressed here are purely my own. To find out more about what type of organisations I collaborate with, please read my Editorial Policy.

Maharashtra: India’s Secret Garden?

I’ll admit that, until a few years ago, reading Shantaram, I hadn’t heard of Maharashtra. I’d heard of its pulsing heart – Mumbai – of course, but that was about it.

And I don’t think I’m the only one.

Even a google search for ‘things to do in Maharashtra’ yeilds limited results, mostly confined to wider Mumbai and perhaps a visit to Osho’s infamous ashram in Pune. Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to stay with a family in Pune for a week, and from there I took the trip to Mumbai. Perhaps one of the most beautiful parts was the train journey on the Deccan Queen that winds its way through the Maharashtrian hills and green-carpeted countryside as the sun rises.

Maharashtra group tours with Atma Journeys

Indian town life. Image c. Atma Journeys.

But beyond that, Maharashtra is home to vineyards, caves, palm-fringed beaches, mountains and forts to rival those of other states.

So you can imagine my excitement when I heard about Atma Journeys and the ethical trips that they are putting together in Maharashtra, and the chance to join them this year!

Add to that when I heard that ‘atma’ means ‘soul’ in Hindi, I knew I had to get involved…

Want to know more? You can join me and Atma Journeys in Maharashtra. Read on for how!

Maharashtra group tours sustainable travel with Atma Journeys

Bicycles given to girls in rural communities to help them reach school and receive an education. Image c. Atma Journeys.

Who are Atma Immersive Journeys?

As one of the less visited states of India (if we don’t count Mumbai for a second) Maharashtra does not have many options for group tours or organised trips. It especially does not have many options for responsible tourism.   Until now.

Atma Journeys are changing all that.

An Australian not-for-profit, Atma Journeys started as Atma Cycles. They sold bicycles in independent bike shops to raise money, and Atma ran their first trip to Maharashtra in June 2015. They gave away 100 bikes to girls in rural areas so that they would be able to reach schools and be able to access an education. The bicycles are donated through partner NGO Mann Deshi Foundation in Maharashtra. Access to education in rural communities of India (especially for girls) is sporadic – at best – and having a method of transportation other than walking can be a game changer.

In January 2018 Atma Journeys will be running their next trip and doing it again, and you can be a part of it with me.

The trips to Maharashtra are now an important part of their fund raising for the bicycles. Atma have set up a truly sustainable travel model for their immersive journeys to Maharashtra.

Their guiding value? “To only run a tour if it can have a positive impact on the community it visits and on the environment as a whole“.

Maharashtra group tours and sustainable travel with Atma Journeys

Explore village markets. Image c. Atma Journeys.

Things to do in Maharashtra: It’s not just Mumbai.

Maharashtra small group tours with Atma Journeys

Morning light in Mumbai – cycling past the Taj Mahal Hotel in Colaba.

Mumbai is probably my favourite place in India, and this is where the trip with Atma Journeys starts and ends.

Travellers get to explore the south of India’s city of dreams – including a cycle ride around early morning Colaba – past Mumbai’s iconic landmarks. There’s also a chance to see some of the amazing work that that NGO’s are doing to bring the positive impacts of tourism to the city’s poorer areas.

The 10 day trip heads on from Mumbai with a chance to stop in Pune to the small town of Mhaswad, to see the nearby forts and temples, and most importantly to meet with the Mann Deshi Foundation. The foundation is Atma’s partner for distribution of the bicycles, and acts as a micro enterprise which supports women from low-income backgrounds. The local community here is responsible for the design of the whole Atma trip’s itinerary, and the main purpose of time in Mhaswad is to get to know some of the locals and experience their lifestyle. Mhaswad is also famous as the home place of Lord Siddhanath, believed to be the incarnation of Lord Shiva.

Maharashtra group tours responsible travel with atma journeys

Wedding Henna. Image c. Atma Journeys.

From Mhaswad there is the rare opportunity to track and meet some of the nomadic shepherds of the nearby area, and learn more about nomadic life over a cup of freshly brewed chai.

The trip also visits Bamnoli, at the top of the mighty Western Ghats – the mountain range that runs south along the rest of India, deep into Kerala. This area is famed for its outstanding biodiversity, and Atma’s biodiversity expert and naturalist (who accompanies the trip) takes over to explain more about this beautiful part of Maharashtra that few see.

Before returning to Mumbai, the group heads to Panchgani, a hill station that is well known amongst locals but a mystery when it comes to foreign tourists. Aside from visiting lakes and just admiring the view, white water rafting is on the agenda and even the possibility to practise yoga on the top of the Western Ghats…

Things to do in Maharashtra

Enjoy Maharashtra’s lush countryside. Image c. Atma Journeys.

Sustainable Travel in Maharashtra with Atma Journeys.

There’s often a healthy debate over whether it is more “sustainable” to travel independently vs joining group tours. During my travels I’ve done a fair bit of both. One of the things I’ve always found hardest with group tours is understanding where the money is going, and trying to work out how much of my money is used locally (vs lining someone’s pockets in a fancy head office).

One of the reasons I felt compelled to partner with Atma was their transparency and commitment. On Atma’s website you’ll find a full breakdown of exactly how your money is spent – from carbon offsetting to local food.

Things to do in Maharashtra India

Kas Lake. Image c. Atma Journeys.

Beyond that, the itinerary that Atma have come up with, would simply not be possible to do by yourself. From the chance to meet with social enterprises and see the bicycles being distributed, to the group having its own local travelling chef (who will teach you how to cook) and resident naturalist, the itinerary that Atma have put together is as incredible as it is sustainable.

Travelling independently in India is not for everyone. From haggling over prices to inconsistent infrastructure India is not always the easiest country to navigate, especially solo. Small group tours are a great opportunity to get the experience of local travel, while the arrangements are all taken care of by someone else! Plus you get a readymade group of travel friends 🙂

Sustainable travel in Maharashtra, India

There’s nothing quite like the colours of Indian life. Image c. Atma Journeys.

Want to join me Exploring Maharashtra?

Have I woken up your wanderlust?! I’m delighted to have teamed up with Atma to be able to offer you the chance to join me and a great deal for readers of Soul Travel Blog!

For a discount of 10% on the trip, simply enter the code “SOULTRAVELBLOGROCKS” at checkout on Atma’s booking page!

Atma are currently selling their last couple of spots for this trip so hurry!

See you in Maharashtra :-)!

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