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 a place rich in flora and fauna, having 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. This 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 villages in this valley.
As an urge to see less travelled paths I choose one such experience, to one of the villages 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 km towards the Niti-Malari. A drive through the hilly roads with the view of the Nanda Devi, Bethartoli and varies other peaks with the Dauliganga river flowing alongside as a companion is a heart-filling experience in itself. After a drive of an hour from Joshimath, it is a kilometre hike to the main village. We ascended a paved track going uphill with a couple of switchbacks. Walking past some well-maintained terrace fields hardly could I see a person except a few farm animals, there wasn’t any single person we saw. 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. Many of the houses have been left and people have migrated. I realized the effect of migration in our tiny villages. The need for better lives has made our people leave their ancestral houses to shift and adapt to the new fast pace lives.
Lost in my thoughts I entered the village and 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 older adult 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 a mother, sister-in-law and a daughter at many parts of Garwhal and Kumaon region. As I reached the temple there I was with the women in most traditional attire, men, children 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 a welcoming sight to see, but the ceremony was over, and the people were going for a common lunch which was to be served to all as a form of prasad to the devotees. I was asked to join for lunch. The men and women were made to sit separately on the ground, and the food was served in a traditional way. It was a simple yet tasty food.
The temple is an ancient stone carved and the ground around the temple stone pitched. It was located at the top of the village and far below one could see the only road to this place surrounded by mighty scenic mountains and a river. The people inhabiting this village are mostly ‘Bhotiya’ a popular tribe in this region.
The people here are very warm and friendly. This village surrounded by high mountains and forest is home to some to the rare species like Musk Deer, Himalayan Thar, Blue sheep and snow leopards and various species of birds. This village has also been the birthplace 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.