Why you should or shouldn’t visit Malana
Sitting and watching the heavy flow of gushing Parvathi river from my camp in Kasol, I recalled my fast pace travel in the last 18 days in the lap of the Himalayas and how I had lived every breath, may be with a little huffing and puffing. Traveling from Mumbai to Delhi, Manali, Spiti, Lahaul; I reached Kasol to let my itchy shoes relax for a few days in this little backpacker’s town. While I was packing my backpack to leave this land of God, I still had a day remaining to experience something new and my adventure seeking soul took me to Malana! Yes, the same Malana which is famous for Malana cream, the supreme quality ‘charas’ (hashish form of cannabis).
I had always been fascinated by the stories of Malana and wanted to visit this small village which some consider one of the last isolated civilizations in the world and renowned for being the most ancient civilization anywhere on earth by some. It has its own set of rules and its own democracy, where everything is followed by God man’s instructions. While talking to my host in Kasol, I learnt the story from when Alexander the Great was making his way over the Himalayas looking for someone to defeat. The harsh terrain was too much for him and his army to bear and they decided to stop and live in peace in this small village. He eventually left, but the remnants of his army remained. Well, I was now even more curious to know the behaviour and everything else from the descendants of Alexander the great.
The village of Malana sits high on in the mountains and is flanked by the peaks of Chandrakhani (3650m) and Deotibba (6000m), hidden at least an hour’s drive through a difficult and dangerous mountain road and is completely on the way to nowhere. There are no direct roads to Malana and after a certain point; one has to hike to reach there. Earlier, reaching Malana used to take 4 hours but now there is a road which has cut short this hiking time to around an hour. People in Malana have supposedly turned down the Indian government’s offer to build the roads; they don’t need roads or any modernization. I couldn’t relate to this thought especially when I saw the pain locals were bearing loading themselves with goods while hiking to reach their home.
The first sight was not too flowery as I saw a huge pile of garbage, but that’s the same for most of the lower Himalayan villages: The houses would be clean but the village’s entrance would be dirty. I could hear a familiar loud music from the very first house in village. And guess what it could be? Well, the national sensation Honey Singh with his ‘Love Dose’. So talking about modernization, I could see it’s inevitable. And so I thought all the stories about Malana preserving its ancient culture are bogus and Honey Singh yo-yoed to confirm this.
The distinguishable feature of Malanis makes them look very different; they are fair, have sharp nose and mostly curly hair. They speak a language called Kanashi/Raksh which is understood only by the villagers. This language of Malana does not resemble any dialects spoken in its neighborhood but it seems to be a mixture of Sanskrit and several Tibetan dialects. Some of the men were able to communicate in Hindi as well but the women couldn’t since they didn’t have much exposure beyond their village life. I stepped into the narrow lanes of the village to see more of the Malani lifestyle. Everything was pretty slow in Malana, could be an effect of hash! I could see people lazing around and smoking pot in the temple arena. Soon, I joined a group of young boys gambling for fun. The game was simple, to choose one option among six and bet for the same to get the double amount of money. The boys were welcoming and laughing with a sweet surprise to see a city girl gambling with them. I ended up winning some tens and they were teasing me for carrying a good luck in gamble. With all the laughter around, I moved on and decided to buy some chocolates and stationary for kids with the money I won and I wish I had not.
The stories I heard about Malana now came in front of me and certainly not in the way I had wanted to experience it. I stepped into a local shop and the shopkeeper suddenly warned me! He said “Madam ji , aise hi dukan ke andar nahi aate hain (mam, you shouldn’t step inside the shop)”. I obeyed and asked if no one from outside Malana is allowed to enter the shops. He explained ‘Rajputs’ are, we are kings and so Rajputs are considered equivalent and can enter. It was harsh but I said nothing lest I disrespected their culture.
With the bag full of chocolates, I approached a little girl. She asked me, mostly using sign language, to put it on the floor. I understood immediately what she meant. She was not supposed to touch me directly, but she was too young, to know it all. Nevertheless I obeyed again. She picked up a couple of chocolates from the envelope, but then his brother entered the scene. He scolded his little sister for accepting the chocolates and she kept it back ruthlessly. I felt hurt, not sure why. Though some of the kids accepted it happily but they did it from ground, not from my hand. I didn’t want to go through this anymore and handed over the bag to the boys of gambling gang for distributing it to children. This time I kept it on the floor without any instructions, ensuring I am not making any mistakes.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, I was comparing this feeling, which is not even a tiny bit equivalent to the people who are victims of untouchability. I could almost visualize what they must be going through every day. This is something which I never felt before and the feeling was strange. I looked at the shiny temple in the center but I was not allowed to go inside. My initial enthusiasm had now hit rock bottom. I decided to go back. I walked fast seeing the imminent rain on my way while the locals I walked past shrieked at my proximity to them. I was not high after visiting Malana, in fact I was pretty low! What a strange place it was! What a strange people they were! It was not the same Himachal where I had been traveling for the last 18 days where I was welcomed, embraced and served with utmost hospitality.