Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Mana – A Walk to the Heavens

Mana, the Last Indian Village, is where myth and reality blurs as we mortals enter the world of epics. Here Maharishi Vyas dictated the Mahabharat to Lord Ganesh who wrote it down and it is the same village where Pandavs, the heroes of the epic found themselves on their way to heavens. 

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.

The jewel like Neelkanth over Badrinath in early morning
In the quiet of the chilly morning, as the clouds form a lace 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.

A lacy sky over Badrinath
An hour later blue skies and fluffy clouds over Neelkanth - Badrinath in Uttarakhand
Alaknanda murmuring her way to Devprayag where she will meet Bhagirathi to form Ganga - On way to Mana Village from Badrinath in Uttarakhand
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.

Related Links on this Blog
Valley of Flowers
Valley of Flowers - a Photo Essay

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.

The Last Indian Village - Mana
Vyas Gupha or Cave just beyond India's Last Tea Shop in India's Last Village! Branding is the key in today's competitive world
Close-up view of Vyas Gupha or Cave - it is supposed to be more than 5300 years old

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’.

The elusive Brahma Kamal flower - it is mostly found in the trekking route to Hemkund Sahib from Ghangaria
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.

River Saraswati at Mana Village
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. 

The Bheem Pul or the bridge formed over River Saraswati by Bheem when he placed this rock so that Draupadi could cross over when the Pandavs took this route on their way to Heaven

Baba Barfani aka Naga Baba at the Bheem Pul in Mana Village - Last Indian Village
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 an alcove like dwelling carved into the rock sits the Baba Barfani aka Naga Baba who is now manicuring his nails while an admirer sits watching the proceedings. 

Mana Village - You have come a long way baby!
It is time to go back home after a once in a lifetime visit to Valley of Flowers - Mana Village
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.

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.

A version of the story appeared in Sunday’s Free Press Journal, Mumbai Edition on 21st Aug 2016


  1. Very beautiful description of Mana.Full details and awesome photographs.

    1. Thanks Sheela ji!

      I do hope you will visit Badrinath soon and walk the same path that was taken by the Pandavas on their way to Heaven.