September 27, 2017 was World Tourism Day. To commemorate the occasion, I am bringing to you a special story of the ‘last village standing’ in Uttarakhand. While tensions between two highly-demographic Asian giants over the Doklam issue in Bhutan rose and fell on the north-east border, some young bikers organised the ‘Mission Clean and Green India’ at an altitude of 3,219 metres (above sea level) in the village Mana – which is 24 kilometres away from Tibet.
The ‘last village’ Mana is located in the extreme north of the National Highway 58 in Joshimath, Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. The state government has already designated Mana as a ‘tourism village’. This Himalayan village has 558 families with 1214 villagers, as per the 2011 census.
Amit Kumar, an environmental health and safety (EHS) professional, covered 1100 kilometres on bike with his team of riders – reaching Mana on August 14, 2017. The purpose of this campaign was to send a country-wide message that a remote scenic village, residing in the lap of the Himalayas, despite having a scarcity of essential commodities, has people who have been inheriting genes of cleanliness from one generation to other as an integral component of their culture.
Each family has a lovely, spacious house of bamboo and wood with a kitchen farm where they organically grow vegetables for household use. The community also cooperates in managing the public school, toilets, water conservation, etc. through an integrated mechanism of social and local self-governance.
Mana also has traces and relics of mythological significance. For instance, there is a ‘Bheem pul‘ – a huge rock-bridge over the river Saraswati, which was supposed to be constructed by Bheem, one of the Pandavas, while they were making their voyage to heaven. Evidently, this village is naturally gifted with numerous ecological tourism destinations that would attract visitors.
Neelkanth Peak, Tapt Kund, Mata Murti Temple, Vasudhara Waterfall, Vyas Cave, Ganesh Cave are some of the famous visiting spots here. Mana also attracts visitors those are interested in trekking. This village has three major trekking routes: Mana to Vasudhara, Mana to Satopanth, Mana to Mana Pass.
This village has the Bhotia tribal community, which has Mongolian origins. This medium-sized hamlet provides varied and contrasting views – from the gorgeous Himalayan landscape to a glimpse of rural India.
However, unlike Mawlynnong (Asia’s cleanest village) in Meghalaya, Mana’s villagers lack a bit of the mindset necessary to attract more visitors. Also, this village has a patrilineal society – and so, women’s roles are inconsistent. This is unlike Mawlynnong, which has a matrilineal society and where women play a powerful role in driving the economy by running shops, restaurants and guest houses. Women have a formidable potential to excel in the tourism industry – this is the lesson that Mana needs to learn.
‘Voice of Environment’ and ‘GJ Barrel Riders’ jointly organised this programme to promote Himalayan rural ecotourism. They discussed various aspects of cleanliness and preservation of village ecology as well as the development of local skills and handicrafts as an eminent market-tool for tourism. Strengthening market potential for expanding opportunities for local agricultural products and handicraft goods by interlinking it to the tourism industry is one of the convenient ways to raise the economy and livelihoods. Even the Uttarakhand government should work on promoting skills among villagers to make Mana a more-competitive model of rural ecotourism in India.