A friend’s advice had been perfect. I had risen early in the morning to step out of the hotel. As promised, the view outside was staggering. Towering over the holy town of Badrinath, Neelkanth, washed in the golden first rays of sun, gleamed brilliantly in the blue skies. The view was both exhilarating and breathtaking. Awe-struck by the glorious view, my body seemed to have been infused with new vigour after the arduous trek to the ultimate Valley of Flowers. Every day in Garhwal, here in the lap of Himalayas, has been pleasantly surprising.
In the quiet of the chilly morning, as the clouds form an embroidered canopy in the skies, I listen to the Alaknanda River murmuring its way to Devprayag where it meets Bhagirathi to form our holy Ganga. Last evening after paying obeisance at the surprisingly crowd-free Badrinath Temple, I had planned to visit Mana as my last stop of this trip in Uttarakhand. Mana Village, touted as India’s Last Village, is three kilometres to the north of Badrinath. Beyond is the Mana Pass and border to Tibet.
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Energised by seeing the brilliant jewel like Neelkanth, I decide to walk to Mana. The gently ascending road meanders around Alaknanda. Bare and rugged mountains along with the singing Alaknanda keep an eternal watch on the travellers – just like they did when the Pandavas walked this exact path on their way to heaven. It is almost the end of the tourist season and I have the road to myself. Once in a while, an army truck rumbles by. Shadows shift over the mountains and on the meadows that hug the river as clouds overhead change their patterns.
The tiny wild flowers growing by the side of the road have kept me company for the past few days are spectacularly colourful and always smiling. Horses graze on the slopes high above as the hardy local women carry firewood and fodder on their bent backs. The mountains, always silent but observant watch the proceedings benignly. The timeless mountains can vouch that not much has changed over the centuries. The life here has always been beautiful and unhurried – the smiles never leaving the content faces.
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Mana Village is just beyond with a smattering of dwellings. In the shadow of Badrinath, Mana has enough to hold on its own. In the village, mythology blurs into reality. Mana is the place where Mahabharata was dictated by Maharishi Vyas to Lord Ganesh. It is surreal that the place where the heroes of the epic were on the last leg of their journey to heaven is also the birthplace of the Mahabharata. Signs lead me up the inclined concrete pathways to the Ganesh Gufa and then to Vyas Gufa – the creator and steno of the epic. Here don’t miss to enjoy a cup of refreshing tea at the aptly branded ‘India’s Last Tea Shop’.
Coming down back into the village square, as I enjoy a hot plate of noodles, I notice the lettuce like Brahma Kamal adorning the table. I had missed seeing the flower in my trek to the Valley of Flowers which is also the state flower of Uttarakhand and is offered in the temples. Seeing the flower seemed almost divine on this last day of my trip.
Mana has more surprises. I walk to the spot where water gushes down from the mountains above. This is the origin of the legendary Saraswati River which would flow into Ganga and Yamuna at Allahabad but has now vanished. Flowing with exuberance, the waters crash through a chasm to meet the jade waters of Alaknanda few metres in the distance. Alaknanda in turn flows from the Satopanth glacier about 25 kms away. And then I realise, the bridge on which I stand, is actually a big rock spanning the chasm. People believe that the rock was placed by Bheem when Draupadi could not cross the river, thus creating a natural bridge.
In Mana, it seems we mortals straddle the time continuum. The paths in our present take us to the times when epics were born in this ancient land of ours. In Mana, I have just crossed over into the world of epics.
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Getting There: Mana Village in Chamoli District of Uttarakhand is about 540 kms from Delhi and 3 kms from Badrinath. The nearest railhead is Haridwar or Rishikesh 325 kms away. Plenty of private and government buses run towards Badrinath. It is recommended to break the journey at Rudraprayag where you can participate in the evening arti at the confluence of Alaknanda and Mandakini rivers. The arti conducted by local devotees is a sweet experience. Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN) has budget guesthouses in all the towns on the way with two properties in Badrinath.
When to Go: The months from May to October are ideal to visit Garhwal.
What Else to See: Vasudhara Waterfalls about 5 kms from Mana make for a delightful trek among the lofty peaks. The trip to Badrinath & Mana should be combined with the ultimate trekking destination to the World Heritage Site of Valley of Flowers and the Sikh shrine of Shri Hemkunt Sahib. The trek is arduous so it is recommended that proper planning is done before undertaking the 15 kms trek from Govindghat. Govindghat lies on NH58 and is 30 kms south of Badrinath.