Located just three km from the Hindu shrine of Badrinath, Mana is the last village near the India-China border. At a height of over 3,000 metres, Mana is a special attraction for pilgrims and tourists alike. Known for its condiments, handicraft and herbal tea, the village also has something special to offer. It is the gateway to an arduous walk to two important Himalayan glaciers — Satopanth and Bhagirath-Kharak. With enthusiastic trekkers trickling in, Mana remains abuzz for at least six months from May to October. However, these two glaciers are retreating, slowly and continuously.
The river Alaknanda holds a special, sacred place for Indians. One of the two headstreams of the holiest river Ganga, Alaknanda originates from glaciers at the head of the Alaknanda valley in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district. It runs a 190-km-course in the state’s hilly districts of Pauri Garhwal, Rudraprayag and Tehri before merging with Bhagirathi that originates from the Gangotri glacier in the Himalayan state’s Uttarkashi district. The Bhagirathi flows for 205 kilometres before meeting Alaknanda at Uttarakhand’s Devprayag town to become the Ganga. The Alaknanda, however, has been reduced to a shallow stream in many places now. Many villages located along the course of the Ganga in Uttarakhand are suffering from severe water shortage as the construction of dams for hydropower projects have sucked the river dry.
Last Friday, before the closing of the gates of the Kedarnath temple, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave an elaborate speech about the ‘grand reconstruction’ of Kedarnath town. While inaugurating the project he also said the number of people visiting Kedarnath will increase manifold in coming years. “You can take this in writing, next year no less than ten lakh (one million) people will come to visit the shrine,” he said. However this ‘development’ is not good news for everyone. Downstream at Agastyamuni, Uma Prasad Bhatt, a local resident is worried. His house is marked for demolition to build an all-weather highway to Kedarnath. This proposed highway is part of Char-Dham project inaugurated by the prime minister last year. Bhatt says authorities want to acquire his property for widening of the road but the compensation they are offering is meagre.