Borders between countries have always held a special charm, attracting both locals and curious travellers. They mark the beginning and end of different lands, shaping the identities of nations. Alongside these borders, you'll find quaint towns and villages steeped in fascinating history and unique cultures. India, a landlocked expanse up north and a beautiful peninsula down south, shares famous and infamous borders with its neighbouring countries. While the famous 'Wagah Border' in Amritsar captivates us with its flag-lowering ceremony, there are lesser-known borders in the east and northeast of India waiting to be explored.
Nestled amidst the majestic Himalayas, in the enchanting Chamoli district of Uttarakhand, lies the mesmerizing village of Mana. It was formerly the last Indian village near the Indo-Tibet/China border. It is no longer called the last Indian village. What is it called now? Let us find out more about this beautiful place.
This quaint settlement is proudly now called the first Indian village from the border of India and Tibet/China. A new sign board, put up by Border Roads Organisation, now calls it the First Indian village. Perched at an elevation of approximately 3219 meters, Mana village gracefully rests near the sacred site of Badrinath, adorned by the flowing waters of River Saraswati.
The entire population of Mana shifts to lower heights like Chamoli for six months as severe winters set in. Entire village is covered with snow in winters with temperature dropping to below zero degrees.
Mana village, or lovingly called Mana Gaon, is a treasure trove of delights with many first’s to its credit.
Besides being the first Indian village, it is also a designated tourist village. Here, you'll discover countless spots for thrilling treks and hikes, a cascading waterfall that exudes a mystical aura, ancient temples steeped in history, and charming cottages adorned with intricate carvings. No wonder the Uttarakhand government has rightfully designated Mana as a 'Tourism Village.'
Notably, Mana village was honoured with the prestigious accolade of 'best clean, iconic tourist destination' under the Swachh Bharat Mission (Rural) during the Swachh Mahotsav 2019 held in New Delhi. This recognition solidifies the village's commitment to maintaining its pristine charm and welcoming visitors with open arms.
Prepare to be captivated as you venture into the enchanting realm of Mana village, a place where natural beauty intertwines with cultural heritage. Embark on an unforgettable journey and immerse yourself in the tranquil embrace of this extraordinary destination.
Right at the end of Mana is India’s last tea shop. This tea shop is more than twenty five years old and very popular with the tourists. I and my wife visited Mana more than ten years ago and felt proud to be at the last Indian tea stall sipping piping hot cup of tea.
Beyond the village starts the border area , accessible only to army and Indo-Tibetan force. And if you are lucky to get special permission to visit border area, you can trek in Mana pass. There, you will find the sacred Deotal lake which is believed to be the origin of Saraswati river.
Mana pass was the trade route between India and Tibet in old times. The river is named after the goddess of wisdom and quite fittingly here on its bank the greatest Indian epic Mahabharata was written. The river is known as Gupt Gamini or the hidden river since it flows just about 100 metres from its origin and then merges into Alaknanda at Keshav Prayag in Mana. According to the myth, the gurgling flow of the river was disturbing Vyas to focus on Mahabharata and hence he cursed the noisy river to disappear.
In Mana, you can also find two special caves, Vyas Gufa and Ganesh Gufa. Vyas Gufa is the cave where the sage Ved Vyasa rearranged the Vedas into four parts and narrated The Mahabharata for the first time. It is believed that from this cave he narrated Mahabharata to Ganesha who was the assigned scribe to write Mahabharata . Inside the cave, there is a small shrine dedicated to Ved Vyasa, and it is believed to be around 5,000 years old. Just a short walk from Vyas Gufa is Ganesh Gufa, where it is said that Lord Ganesha himself wrote the epic Mahabharata.
It is believed that the great Pandavas crossed through Mana on their final journey to heaven. There's a stone bridge called Bheema Pul near the Saraswati River, which is said to have been built by Bheema himself to help his wife, Draupadi, cross the river. It's like the gods once lived right next door in this magical village, located in the holy land of Uttarakhand. It's incredible to know that the children of Mana know the stories from The Mahabharata by heart.
Right next to the Bheema Pul you can also see a 20 feet tall foot shaped mark on the rock that is said to be the footprint of Bhima. Another important landmark in Mana is
Mata Murti Temple . The temple is devoted to the mother of Lord Narayan. The temple holds a magnificent festival (Mata Murti Mela) every year in the month of August or September.
Since village is on the Indo-Tibet border, it is influenced by both Indian and Tibetan cultures. People of the village belong to Bhutia tribe of Mongolian race. There are about 558 household here and 2011 census puts population of Mana at 1214. People here live in handcrafted small cottages with small windows and doors. These cottages are made of stones and wood. Their main profession is knitting woollen garments, caps, hand gloves socks as well as woollen dresses out of sheep wool.
No story of Mana village can be complete without Badrinath. The Badrinath shrine closes in October/November and reopens in the month of May every year. Joshi math is the winter resort of Lord Badrinath. Joshi math requires all the blessings of lord Badrinath for its survival as the town is slowly sinking. It looks more like a man made tragedy than a natural disaster. It was all quiet and business as usual in the city until the last few months of 2022. Gradually, homes and other manmade structures in the city started developing cracks. Over 600 families have been moved to safer places.
There are a few other attractions in and around Mana. One of them is the NeelKanth Peak, which is set at an altitude of 6597 ft. above sea level. Also known as ‘Queen of Garhwal’, this snow-clad peak beautifully towers the Badrinath Temple and makes for a must-visit attraction for every adventure and trekking enthusiast.
According to a legend, Lord Vishnu was in search for a quiet and peaceful place for meditation. He found Badrinath to be a nice little place with everything just the way he thought it should be.
He found a house there and went into it. But then he realized it was Shiva’s abode. He really liked the place. So, Vishnu transformed himself into a little child and sat in front of the house. Shiva and Parvati, who had gone out for a walk, returned home. They found a little baby crying at the entrance of their home. Looking at this child crying, Parvati’s maternal instincts came into force and she wanted to pick up the child. Shiva tried to stop her, but Parvati said, “Nothing doing! The mother in me will not allow me to let the child cry. She took the baby inside the house, comforted and fed him and put him to sleep.
Then she went with Shiva for a bath in the nearby hot water spring. When they came back, they found the door locked from inside. Parvati was aghast. Shiva said, I told you, don’t pick up this child. You brought the child into the house and now he has locked the door.
Parvati said what we shall do? Shiva said, let’s go somewhere else. Because it’s your beloved baby, I cannot touch it. They walked around, looking for an ideal place to live and finally settled down in Kailash Mountain.
A hot water spring , next to Badrinath temple is called the Tapt Kund . As per Hindu mythology, Tapt Kund is the holy abode of Lord Agni or Fire God. This natural spring is believed to have medicinal properties, and people say that taking a dip in the ‘Kund’ water cures skin diseases.
The name of the Badrinath tirtha originates from the local word Badri which is a type of a wild berry. It is said that when Lord Vishnu sat in penance in these mountains, His consort Goddess Laxmi took the form of a berry tree and shaded Him from the harsh sun.
According to a legend, Vishnu was chastised by sage Narada who saw Vishnu's consort, Lakshmi, massaging his feet. Vishnu went to Badrinath to perform austerity, meditating for a long time in padmasana.
The Vishnu Purana narrates another version of the origins of Badrinath. Yama had two sons, Nara and Narayan , both of which are names of Himalayan mountains. They chose the place to spread their religion and each of them wed the spacious valleys in the Himalayas. Searching for an ideal place to set up a hermitage , they finally found the hot and cold spring behind the Alaknanda River and named it Badri Vishala.
The Badrinath area is referred to as Badari or Badarikaashram (बदरिकाश्रम) in Hindu scriptures. Thus, in the Mahabharata, Krishna addressing Arjuna says, "Thou wast Nara in a former body, and, with Narayana as thy companion, didst perform dreadful austerity at Badari for many myriads of years."
As per one legend, when the goddess Ganga was requested to descend on earth to help the suffering humanity at the request of Bhagirath, earth was unable to withstand the force of her descent. Therefore, the mighty Ganga was split into two holy channels, with Alaknanda as one of them.
This holy town is named after the Badrinath temple dedicated to the preserver,
Lord Vishnu. The town is situated on the banks of Alaknanda river. This shrine showcases the traditional Garhwali wooden architecture.The town of Badrinath lies between Nar and Narayan mountain ranges and in the shadow of mighty Neelkanth mountain . Several lakes, towering snow clad peaks, sacred ponds and hot water sulphur springs make Badrinath a must visit place.
According to legend, Adi Shankaracharya discovered a black stone image of Lord Badrinarayan made of Shaligram stone in the Alaknanda river. He originally enshrined it in a cave near the Tapt Kund hot springs. In the sixteenth century, the King of Garhwal moved the idol to the present temple. The temple is approximately 50 ft (15 m) tall with a small cupola on top, covered with a gold gilt roof. The facade is built of stone, with arched windows. A broad stairway leads up to a tall arched gateway, which is the main entrance. The architecture resembles a Buddhist vihara (temple), with the brightly painted facade also more typical of Buddhist temples. Just inside is the Mandapa , a large pillared hall that leads to the garbhagraha , main shrine area. The walls and pillars of the hall are adorned with intricate carvings.
The annual Char Dham yatra in Uttarakhand witnessed the highest-ever footfall in the year 2023 with over 40 lakh people travelling to the four Himalayan shrines of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, Yamunotri . The yatra began on May 3 , the Akshaya Tritiya day, followed by the opening of the portals of Kedarnath temple on May 6 and Badrinath temple on may 8 . More than nine lakh pilgrims visited Badrinath.
There are four yugas namely Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dwapara Yuga and Kali Yuga , the present age. The four kshetras of the Char Dham represent each Yuga. Badrinath is related to the first Yuga, the Satya Yuga, Rameshwaram is related to Treta Yuga, Dwarka is related to Dwapara Yuga and Puri is related to the present Yuga, the Kali Yuga. According to Hindu scriptures, each individual should go on Char Dham Yatra at least once during his life time. God has been kind to me and my wife. We have the privilege and honour of completing this divine Yatra.