Of the much famous Mana village, for the last Indian settlement before the Indo-China border lies another major pass and village which stands hidden, less talked and a road less travelled ‘Niti’.
Niti village is the last Indian settlement situated to the east of the Mana Valley in the hinterland of Joshimath, located at an elevation of 3,600m. To the north of this village is the Niti Pass (5,800 m) leading to southern Tibet.
There are 24 villages in the Niti Valley namely Ghamsali, Bampa, Farkya, Kailashpur, Maher Gaon and Malari. These villages are inhabited by members of the Bhotiya scheduled tribe. In spite of its lost glory as a major trading centre, Malari village is still the largest summer settlement because of niche contractual and business opportunities available with security and development agencies. Most of the villages still carry out transhumance. While some of the winter villages are not far from the main villages and are located within the boundaries of the biosphere reserve, the villagers here migrate out of the reserve in the winters.
This valley was once a flourished trade route until 1962 between the Tibetan plateau and Indian sub-continent. Cereals and grains of coarse varieties were the main exports to Tibet while salt, borax, wool, valuable stones and herbs were the main imports.
The geographical formations, contradictions, culture and tradition are unparalleled here and also it falls under the buffer zone of Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve.
The journey starts leaving behind the plains of Rishikesh to Joshimath via NH 58 (Badrinath Highway). After Joshimath, the one route diverges to Badrinath and Mana and leaving behind this hustle another route goes to Malari. The route passes through the settlement of Tapovan, Suraitota, Jehlam, Tamak, Juma. The route is scenic as well as dangerous at times. The really big huge mountains are a constant companion throughout the journey. The valleys turn deep at times. Watch and feel the change in vegetation with every mile. The tropical forest at times changes to Trans-Himalayas with small scrubs and bushes. The wind speeds are really harsh at these places. The solitude here at times is only disturbed by the sound of the wind itself. No major traffic apart from the army, BRO and few locals are present.
The major settlement after Tapovan is Malari. This small settlement has a small shop, a small primary school, an ITBP and an army post. A tiny settlement has small houses build over loose soils and standstill since ages. Driving past the Malari the road drives into two. Take the left and drive over a small bridge to leave behind the dry mountains and enter the greener patches and forest. The road leads to a beautiful place of Girghtiya. This is a place with beauty beyond words. The river flows here in between the forest which goes up covering up the tall mountains with patches of greens providing excellent camping spot.
The drive further takes up to the next village Bampa and then to Ghamsali. These villages are rich in natural beauty. People here are superheroes because nothing much could grow at these heights with such extreme conditions but it the sheer hard work of these people they cultivate and grow vegetables and crops for themselves during the small summer season here. There are no shops around here the only major market is 90 km back at Joshimath. These people have mastered the art of taming wild and living minimalism. The basic facilities like hospitals, schools or even network connections haven’t reached these mountains yet.
The Niti village is another 2.5 km from Ghamsali and the last Indian settlement and an army outpost. This final stretch could be the most difficult and dangerous part of the journey. The gravel unpaved road isn’t much wider; imagine a face-off with an army truck.
These places are surrounded by incomparable beauties, the life here is hard-hitting yet these people are living a life with content.
The season to visit the valley is during the summer months from May to October.
There are no hotels or shops available. However, new government guest house is built in the valley at Gamshali. No permission is required to visit till Ghamsali except the last village “Niti” which can be obtained from SDM office Joshimath.
Various jeeps and sumo do ply to Malari and Niti from Joshimath daily during the season. Distance between Joshimath and Last village “Niti” is around 87 Km by motor road. One can reach and take accommodation at Joshimath and can take a day excursion to the valley.
Nearest Airport is Jolly Grant Airport on Rishikesh-Dehardun Road at 352 KM. Nearest railway stations are Dehradun (378KM) and Haridwar (361KM).