I am scorched by the Chennai sun and exhausted as I write this. It is strange how last year did not seem so bad. Maybe the fact that this time last year I was planning my annual holiday somewhere in the mountains helped. Last year I wanted to go to Kashmir but ended up visiting Badrinath – a holy place that is accessible only half a year. After the six month winter break, the Char Dham yatra opened on 30th April. This news brought up memories of the free flowing Alaknandha and the towering Himalayas. I yearned to go back as I looked through my photographs and saw the places that we passed through and things that we did in Badrinath. So if you are suffering in sweltering heat like me, switch on the AC, get yourself a cold drink and read about the Mana Village.
A few kilometres away from Badrinath Town, is Mana Village. Mana is the last village of India before the Tibetan border. It is a picturesque little hamlet right out of one of Ruskin Bonds’ books or Nora Roberts’s books. There is very strong army presence here with a border base camp. The mountains surrounding the village are mighty and seem to envelop the houses. The mountains were both green and brown but I also saw a couple of snow-capped mountains in the distance. Even in Peak summer, I could not see some of the peaks as they were covered with mist. Talk about the mountains being moody!
The people of Mana
Mana village has people of Bhotiya community. They are said to be descendants of Mongolian tribes. The men and women of the village are expert knitters and weaves and sell their wares at affordable prices. They are said to live here only six months in a year (summer) when the roads are accessible and then move on to Gopeshwar or Chamouli during winter. Their houses are little structures made of blocks of stone with metal or asbestos roofing. They grow plants in the little patches of land next to their houses and make most of the tourist season by selling hot tea, bajjis and other fried snacks to the tourists. I was a little surprised to see flatscreen TV and dish antennas along Cell phones towers along the village. They have become bare necessities now.
Aasan – the carpet craft
The folks of Mana, weave little square carpets called Aasan (pronounced AAsun) or seat. It is warm enough to sit on, during winter as it is quite bulky. It is also used by people as a seat, to sit on while performing puja (offering prayers) at home. These carpets are available in a variety of colours and patterns. Brightly colored geometric florals are the most common. They are woven continuously and cut into desired widths for smaller sizes or used as it as floor carpets.
I bought the one the weaver in the above picture is cutting up for Rs.300 (around $5). I now wish I had bought more of them. These carpets were woven by the artisan in the picture and her sister. Though both were elderly women, they expertly climbed small yet steep stone steps leading to their house when I asked them if I could have this particular piece that was displayed on the balcony. I admired her jewelry and braid for a few minutes as I looked through her carpets.
It is said that people of this village have the traditional right to prepare the woolen blanket for Lord Badri Vishaal. They alone can weave that woolen blanket, known as Ghrit Kambal, which is soaked in clarified butter and wrapped around the holy idol of Lord Badrinath. Though I couldn’t get a glimpse of Grit Kambal. it was interesting to see how the hotel that I stayed at in Joshimath used these aasan’s for their seating.
A recent web search told me that a floor carpet from this region is retailed for Rs.8500 while I found the same for Rs. 2500 in the village. The profit the middlemen and the retail company is making is staggering and it really pains me. The Uttarakhand government seems to be making strides in design intervention with craft research project. However, as someone who has been involved in similar projects, I know that it does nothing to improve the financial status of the artisans. The whole idea of craft development has to be redefined.
Things to do at Mana
Mana village is a great place to buy winter clothing and carpets. But beyond shopping there is much to see and do here. Mana village is a mountaineers delight. If you are fit person you can (easily) trek as there are stone steps leading up. But being asthmatic both my mom and I found it difficult to climb. There is Doli service where people will carry you in baskets.
Vyas and Ganesh Gufa
Gufa means cave and there are a couple of caves here that are said to be over 5000 years old. It is said that Mahabharata – The great indian epic was written here by the Elephant God Ganesha as Sage Vyasa dictated it to him. While the Structure on the left is a temple, behind it is the actual Ganesha cave. There were beautiful daisies blooming everywear. Had I known that it would be this beautiful, I would have worn something better and taken someone along to take editorial pictures.
Just past the village, the mysterious Saraswati river flows. She is as white as milk and makes a short but definitive stance. She then blends into the deep waters of Alaknandha, one of the headstreams of Ganga at Keshav Prayag. Some say that after this point she flows under the ground, until she reaches the sea at Kutch. The river saraswati of the yore was the lifeline of the Harappan civilization. Geography books note that due to tectonic shifts the river dried up. The vedic reasons for her disappearance are very different. However, both geologists and vedic scholars note that river flowed with warm waters.
Though I grew up on the banks of River Kaveri, I have never seen a river flow for such a long distance at such a great width. From Devprayag to Mana, as we went uphill to 10,133 mtrs above sea level, she had kept up company, beckoning us, to trace back to her point of Origin. Alas, we could go no further than Mana. Here is the link to a video I found of the saraswati river at Mana. The trails to Vasundhra falls (6km uphill) and satopanth lake begins nearby but it is not for couch potatoes like me. You can visit the Saraswati temple and Bheem pul here which is said to be the bridge that Pandava Bhima created so that his wife Draupadi could cross the chasm on their way to the heavens.
With that I come to the end of my Mana Village memories. It was a wonderful place, one that I wish to revisit without our incorrigible driver who made us bicker and fight every step of the way. I would wear an exotic outfit and go with a photographer to get some awesome pictures clicked.
I want to have a sort of throwback travel days each month. A post where I talk about interesting places that I have been to in the past but never documented. What do you think of this idea? Would you like to read about my travels or should I keep this blog pure jewelry? Tell me in the comments.