I was born and brought up in the hilly region of Uttarakhand; close to the mighty Himalayas. The Mountains has been a very important and special part of my life. I grew around some of the highest peaks, which were once considered invincible .But of all these is the Majestic Nanda Devi , the second highest peak in India and place rich in flora and fauna, have its religious significance and fragile ecosystem thus declared a UNSECO world heritage site. On the eastern face of Nanda Devi in the Garhwal region close to the Indo- Tibet border lies the Niti valley. The culturally and religiously rich place is home to some of the rarest species of plants and animals. Niti, Malari, Tapovan, Jhelum, Dronagiri, Lata, Reni are some of the prominent village in this valley.
An urge to travel some less travelled paths I choose one such experience to one of the village in the Shadow’s of Nanda and to seek her blessings. Lata, a small village with around 84 houses became my destiny, passing the Joshimath driving for almost 30 kms towards the Niti-Malari. A drive through these hilly roads with the view of the Nanda devi, Trishul and varies other peaks with the Dauliganga river flowing on my left as my companion is a heart filling experience in itself. I reached the lata village with two small shops and few houses but there was a silence in that place. I started my walk towards the main village which is a kilometer up from road head. I ascended a paved track going uphill with couple of switch back. I passed some well maintained fields but hardly could I see a person except few cows, there wasn’t any other single person I have met. As I was approaching the village I was welcomed by some abandoned houses and I was in my utmost shock and a feeling of disappointment encircled me. I realized the effect of migration in our villages. The need of better lives has made our people to leave their ancestral houses to shift and adapt the new fast pace lives. Lost in my thoughts I entered the village I found almost all the houses were locked. I walked further into the village but couldn’t find a single soul. But to my relief I came across an old man who informed me about the ceremony going in the village temple. I went further up to the temple. The temple here is believed to be a thousand year old Goddess Nanda temple. She is the most prominent goddess and often considered as mother, sister-in law and a daughter at many parts of Garwhal and Kumao region. So there I was with the women in most traditional attire, and some popular ancient hilly musical instruments. There were kids, men, women old and young from the whole village gathered at the temple ground. This was finally warming sight to see but my to my bad the ceremony was over and the people was going for a common lunch which was to be served to all as a form of parsad to the devotees. I was the odd one out there but was happily asked to join for the lunch. The men and women were made to sit separately on the ground and the food was served. It was a simple yet tasty food. After lunch the people sat in different groups as per age and started chatting and I was still a stranger to them. I started moving around the temple clicking pictures and looking around the temple. It is a small ancient temple stone carved and the ground around the temple stone pitched. It was located at the top of the village and far below I could see the only road to this place surrounded by big mountains and a river, the road disappears further after a turn. There were children who were curious about me being there and even though they were talking in their native language I could still figure out that few of them was about me being there. The people all got up and started walking back to their respective houses below the temple and in no time there were two or three of us left one of them being the priest of the temple itself. The temple was being closed for now and I was asked to make the final prayers before it’s for the day. The people there are mostly ‘Bhotiya’ a popular tribe in this region. The priest asked me about the purpose of visit and this was how our conversation started. He was a middle age lean person and very kind hearted. We talked while he completed all the work and closed the doors of the temple for the day. He asked me to join.
I was warmly welcomed in his house. The people here are very welcoming and friendly. A small village surrounded by high mountains and forest home to some to the rare species like Musk Deer, Himalayan Thar, Blue sheeps and snow leopards and various species of birds. This village is has also being the birth place of the most inspiring movement of India “The Chipko Movement”. When in the 20th century large scale deforestation and lack of environment and ecological awareness under the leader of Chandi Prasad Bhatt started this movement.
In 1974 the women of nearby Reni village stopped contractor’s men felling Deodar (Cedar) trees above the village. Mostly women and children joined the struggle while men folk were away. This was a small yet effective action and under the leadership of Dhan singh & Bali Devi of Lata became power enough to move government policy.
Apart from it religious and activist history this place at present also has an initiative started by local to promote eco-tourism at this place acting as the base camp of the famous Nanda Devi Circuit trek. Mountain shepherds an interpretive guiding Lata unique model of community tourism. Well trained qualified mountaineers, naturalist, folklore story tellers, first aid experts and above all fine hospitable mountain men.
This is some of the rare lifetime of experience one should have. The warmth love and care of these people, their respect for nature living. I experienced some of the beautiful things in life here. I felt dwarfed and humbled by the enormity and seeming invincibility of the mountains.