BHANARA, JAGATSUK, MANALI, HIMACHAL PRADESH, INDIA.
A Himalayan village walk.
Growing on the rocky surface of a sloping mountain and hidden from sight around turns and corners by dense foliage of wild vegetation and trees heavy with summer leaves, Bharana is thought to be an ancient Himalayan village located close to the hamlet of Jagatsuk in Manali, Himachal Pradesh, India with practically zero evidence to suggest when it turned into a sizable cluster of homes to be called a village or who its founding fathers were.
The settlement is mentioned in several versions of Himalayan folklore associated with the rise of serpent worship in western Himalayas particularly that of the serpent deity Shrigan Naaga. Whose newly renovated temple built in the traditional Kath Kuni style of architecture stands a few meters above the current day village today. Inspite alterations and additions to the original fabric of legends by generations of narrators and storytellers Bharana has unfailingly found repeated mention in each version and stated to have existed before the arrival of the serpent deity.
As snake worship in India is known to have found roots even before the primary source of information on India’s obscure past, the Vedic scriptures were compiled, and epics such as the Mahabharata recounts battles and wars with indigenous clans known as the Naagas (see Farbound.Net story: Behind the myth of the serpent people).
It is possible the area either was once inhabited by one such tribe that worshiped the snake and whose emblem was the serpent (hooded cobra) – an iconography that still can be seen engraved in wood on temples, and as attested by historians who for some time now have claimed the hills of the region to have been home to ancient non-vedic tribes. Or visited by the founders of Hinduism, early Vedic settlers including sages and hermits, who brought the legends into the hills after the serpent’s assimilation into a budding form of the religion and actual events transformed into legends – which then over the centuries acquired a slight local touch. Although, it is also possible both the village and the temple are of a much later date.
Where as the ancient Bharana would have comprised of a few shoddily made homes of stone and wood with its inhabitants even living in caves, in present times the settlement is considered to be a mid size village with a 2011 census indicating a total of 72 families living in the area, which may have grown by a negligible margin in 2016. Their occupation mostly farming and cultivation. Their homes a mixture of old Himachali style village huts made out of slate, stone and wood as well as more elegant architectural constructions that have come into fashion of late – equipped with modern amenities such as electricity and cable televisions. Their local affairs and issues addressed by a village committee.
Owing to its location up in the mountain, the village as it was in the olden days, still has no connecting motorable road leaving its residents to transport everything from construction material to everyday provisions and the ailing and sick by foot on a narrow mountain path much like their forefathers – albeit now, the path is reinforced with concrete and crudely made stone steps at intervals, and supplies can be availed close by in the hamlet of Jagatsuk that lies on both sides of the main road and is populated with a fair number of shops.
Yet, like several other small settlements located high up in the mountains, Bharana too, throughout its history has remained a village. Its slow growth in size and population over the years suggesting even in ancient times, it may not have been of much strategic importance.
While Bharana has undergone a complete transformation from its historic years with the passage of time and is slowly embracing more of modernity with each coming day, it remains a wonderful place to experience the undiluted charm of exploring a historic Himalayan village still breathing, living and thriving amidst a bountiful of Himalayan greenery, since its ancient start of which little remains.
A walk up its narrow pathway as it meanders along the contours of the mountain interrupted by farms and orchards ripe with apples during the onset of harvest allows visitors to get acquainted with something more than just the deeply satisfying exhilaration of a somewhat steep but pleasant hike in the hills and some mesmerizing sights of the countryside from an elevated height.
To the contemplative explorer, Bharana can be a gift wrapped immersive glimpse into the Himalayan village life itself that well in modern times has somehow remained unchanged right from its beginning at the crack of dawn to its ending at sunset.
New structures barely a century old may have replaced some of the ancient homes and modern architectural designs may have cropped up, yet the change isn’t all that uniform. Some huts older than the others can still be found as can old customs and traditions. Women can still be seen working on family looms, stone courtyards filled with fire wood as it was in the days of yore, workers tend to apples and farms, cows graze near fields and religious ceremonies when the time is right unfold in much the same manner as they found roots.
Above the the village, as the path trails towards the temple, the forest becomes thicker and shadier under the canopy of giant deodars that possibly share the same age with the village they live alongside. In the surrealist green aura, a byproduct of the sunlight filtering through the leaves, butterflies of all shades flutter in silence. During the rains, a light smoky mist makes the surrounding even more enchanting. Which nature photographers and earth wanderer may find also enticing.
WHAT TO TAKE ALONG.
Bharana is not very far from the town of Manali and much nearer to the hamlet of Jagastsuk. Visiting the area does not require a thorough preparation or the same type of provisions as on a trek. Depending on the season, a light backpack with a water bottle and a couple of chocolate bars for a boost in energy stashed inside is all one needs. Along with a camera and a walking stick.