A trail of history that leads through its many a steps of reverence to the unbounded expanse of heaven itself, how very beautiful must be that place on earth that conjures up multiple images of a diversified legacy across its every spread, in a profusion that stems of the unique allures of both the riches of heritage and the wonders of a wide many natural offerings? Mana in the Indian state of Uttarakhand is the village that is blessed with such myriad uniqueties, each of which only seeks to make it even more charming the land that it already is. A whole weave of mythology weaved across its every strand of existence, playing out as well through a vivid course along the distinguished alleys of history and residing still in a legacy that makes it as enigmatic a presence of the present times. As the last official Indian village, Mana is a different world altogether indeed but meandering along its terrains of distinction are a motley of elements as diversely vivid as can be that makes this landscape of exuberant natural beauty and spirited lineage and legacy a delight to tread upon for every curious traveler and every aspiring enthusiast in its many a different modes of continuance through history.
While it undoubtedly is Mana’s offbeat identity as the last village of India that has led it to be a phenomenon in popular exploration, the quaint hamlet tucked atop the higher reaches of the Himalayas is no less steeped in the power of mystique. Located in close proximity to the Hindu pilgrimage site of Badrinath, Mana is steeped in spirituality and dons around it the airs of devotion with such unwavering allegiance to the Gods that makes palpable the divinity permeating through every strand of its being. But Mana has always been the abode of the Gods, ever since times of antiquity, as is evident in its close links to the Hindu epic Mahabharata. It is believed that on the banks of the Saraswati river, along which Mana exists as a confluence of a wide range of astounding experiences, the epic of Mahabharata was composed by Ved Vyas. In fact, it is quite interesting to note that the popular identity of the Saraswati as Gupt Gamini or the Hidden River derives from its association with the sage himself who on being disturbed by the gurgling flow of the river cursed it to disappearance. Beyond such anecdotes as well, the traces of the Hindu heritage within the precincts of Mana are more than evident. Believed to be the village that the Pandavas crossed during their journey to heaven, Mana’s many an assertion of touristry prominence of the present day bears testimony to this undisputable link.
Most prominent of such links would be the presence of the Vyas Gufa within the premises of which the Mahabharata was penned. Named indeed after the scholar Ved Vyas, the cave itself is a remarkable specimen of interest with its roof resembling the pages from his collection of the four Vedas all attributable to his scholarly prowess in their origin. There is also a small shrine inside the cave dedicated to him and that which is intriguing as well in its existence, believed to date back by some 5000 years. Then there also is the Ganesha Gufa located close by, believed to be the premises within which the Mahabharata was dictated by Lord Ganesha to Ved Vyas. Also effective in their mention of the Pandava reference would be the two prime attractions of the Bheema pul and the Vasundhara waterfall. While the Bheema pul is a stone bridge over the Saraswati supposedly built by the Pandava brother Bheem to help his wife cross the river during their Swargarohini Yatra, the picturesque premises of the Vasundhara waterfall finds mention in legends as the temporary staying place of the Pandavas during their time in exile. Other similar mythological and religious references continue to hold relevance in many such existences throughout Mana, all of which today command fame as tourist attractions in their own right.
The Tapt Kund for instance is another such standpoint steeped in mysticism. The holy abode of the Lord of fire Agni, the medicinal properties of the water flowing through this natural skin is believed to cure many skin diseases. Similarly revered for its healing properties is also the nectar flavored water of the Vasundhara fall that has been enriched with Ayurvedic herbs and helps therefore in maintaining health. Translating literally as the path of Lord Vishnu, the Vasundhara is also steeped in religious significance for the Hindus. Believed to be elusive to the sinners, the water of the spring is said to bring upon salvation to anyone upon whom it falls making it thus a favorite spot for devout Hindus to stand under to avail themselves of the miracles afforded by its water. Residing in ambits of such miracles is also another waterbody significant to the Mana heritage. Though not located within the confines of the last Indian village, the Satopanth Tal is still deeply intertwined with the Mana essence in the mystical powers it possess. A pristine glacial lake, the Satopanth tal is where the people of Mana immerse the ashes of the dead, making it a holy site for them even as beliefs abound of the lake being harbourer of more such accounts of the divine power. Beyond the magic afforded by its mystique, the lake is also significant as part of a trekking escapade for a whole lot of adventure enthusiasts, the embarking upon which begins from Mana, making it therefore very integral a facet of exploration of the village itself.
The vibes of the religious continues to dominate the expanses of Mana, this time through the Mata Murti Temple, that is devoted to the mother of Lord Narayan. The local deity of the village, the Mata Murti temple sits on the right bank of the Alakananada river opposite Mana and is a honoring of such legends that attributes Lord Vishnu taking birth as the twin sons of Nar and Narayan to Mata Murti upon her request. Host to the Mata Murti ka Mela every year sometime in August or September on the eve of Vamana Dwadashi, the temple celebrates the annual visit by Narayan, also revered as Badrinath, by worshipping His mother by the Rawal of Sri Badrinath. One of the most widely celebrated festivals in Mana, the occasion sees the local people assemble at the Mata Murti temple to receive her son and thus pay their respects to their reigning deity.
Diverting from the realms of the spiritual and seeking instead to discover the natural bounties of Mana would lead enticed travelers along the trail to the Neelkanth Peak that makes for one of the region’s prime attraction in all its beauty and splendor. At an altitude of 6597 ft above sea level over the Alakananda valley, this snow clad peak encompassing the immense charm of the Himalayan grandeur also is as much a frontier of challenge that resides in the daunting reaches of its many steep ridges and faces, towering over the temple of Badrinath and revealing itself in a stupor of stupendous dimension while residing still in the spectacular assertion of its beauty that justifies its place of pride as the Garhwal Queen.
Though a range of such unparalleled assertions of nature abound throughout the otherwise not very expansive realm of what makes up the village of Mana, it still is its distinction as the official last village of India that accords it a prestige of unique beckonings. Designated as a Tourism Village by the Uttarakhand Government and set to be developed as an iconic village as well as per a recent ambitious move, Mana carries well its legacy of eminence well into the modern times. Awarded the ‘best clean, iconic tourist destination’ under the Swachh Bharat Mission (Rural) in 2019, this nestling in the Himalayas is a sight to behold in its many tiny cottages, built into the mountain side as mud plastered havens replete with vivid kitchen gardens, that are a setting in stark simplicity, manifesting therefore as somewhat of a contrast to the immense significance that its identity as the farthest extant under the Indian jurisdiction seeks to esteem it with.
Pristine and tranquil like any rural setting that offers a wonderful break from the exertions of the city life, this borderline existence that marks the delineation of India from the Tibet/ China bounds is a revelation in itself in so many facets of its wonderful being. Famous also for its produce of potatoes and kidney beans resplendent with the goodness of their mountain stemmings, Mana displays also as much an array of gorgeousness across its many woolens spread across its local markets with everything from shawls and caps and mufflers to blankets and carpets that carry in them also a vibe of the typical uniqueness native to this last Indian village. Charting out the path of surreal realisation embedded in every inch of its existence is sure something worthy of a visit to Mana, where you would get to experience the inexplicable emotion associated with being what would indeed be the last frontier of your country, soaking in all that awareness in hindsight while sipping on as unique a cuppa of steaming chai at one of the many ‘Bharat ki aakhri chai ki dukaan’s. Indeed in its multiple identities, each steeped in a distinctive legacy, this is an Indian experience to partake of along the jaw dropping edges of its geography.