India is home to a large number of tribes with some of the world’s most exciting and distinct cultures. Living in close proximity to nature and having their own set of customs and traditions evolved over centuries, tribal communities across India offer travellers a new perspective on life. Head out to some of these exotic destinations and immerse yourself in the vibrant hues of tribal Indian communities. Not only will you have made unforgettable memories to cherish, you might even come back having made some interesting tribal friends!

Himalayan escapades

The exotic mountains and valleys of the Himalayas are home to several indigenous tribes such as the Bhutias and Lepchas. While vacationing amidst snow-clad retreats, engage with these original inhabitants of the Himalayan kingdom across Darjeeling, Gangtok and Sikkim. Having a strong influence of the erstwhile Tibetian kingdom, the Bhutias are avid dressers. The women wear quintessential chunky jewellery and intricately embroidered silk gowns. The men flaunt their colourful bakhus, a type of comfortable and stylish woollen jacket. The Bhutias are a warm and friendly community who are always delighted to share their culture with travellers. The Lepchas are more local to Sikkim and refer to themselves as ‘citizens of the mountains’. This community has a deep reverence for the mountain peaks and offers special prayers to the Mountain Gods. If travelling to Sikkim during the monsoon, don’t miss out on the Phang Lhabsol celebrations in Gangtok. Dedicated to Mount Kanchenjunga, this festival marks the ‘Treaty of Brotherhood’ signed between the Lepchas and the Bhutias. Shake a leg with the locals as they perform the Chaam dance, a musical re-enactment of how the treaty was signed, keeping guardian deities as witnesses.

Southern sojourn


While vacationing in the hill stations of South India, take a tour to experience ethnic tribal lifestyles. The Paliyans are Adivasi people inhabiting the rain forests of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Up until the 20th century, the Paliyans lived a nomadic life in rock crevices and caves. Being honey merchants, the Paliyans can give you an insight into their ‘buzzy’ trade of honey collecting and processing. While journeying towards Kodaikanal, take a tour of the Grizzled Squirrel Wildlife Sanctuary near Madurai with the Paliyans, who play an important role in conserving these squirrels and many other endangered species.

This Dravidian tribe also has an adept knowledge of herbs and their medicinal applications. Spending some quality time with the Paliyans amidst the serenity of Mother Nature can be an enriching experience. The Nilgiri mountain ranges are a treasure trove of tribal cultures — the Todas, Kurumbas, Paniyas, Irulas, Kattunayakans and Kotas — each of them speaking a distinct dialect and living their own definite lifestyle. In this melting pot of tribal culture, you will find some of the most unique professionals in the country — snake catchers, metal craftsmen and sorcerers. In order to enhance your experience of the Nilgiris in the monsoon, go on a long walk with the Toda men as they graze their cattle. Explore the characteristic thatched huts of the Toda families and learn to create an embroidered shawl with the womenfolk of the Toda community.

The best way to explore a new destination is to get to know its indigenous people and their culture.

Discover some of India’s unique tribes with Sterling Holidays.