Malana – The moment you hear this word, Malana Cream comes to your mind. But there’s more to this ancient village in Himachal Pradesh of India than just being world’s heaven of Marijuana.
Malana lies in a side valley of the Parvati Valley. The majestic peaks of Chandrakhani and Deotibba shadow the village. Unaffected by the modern civilization, Malana has an impeccable lifestyle and social structure guided by the spirit of village God Jamlu. Jamlu Devta’s word is the last word. They speak Kanashi language, which is unintelligible for anyone outside the village.
Standing isolated from the outside world for several thousands of years, the mystical Malana village is gradually but reluctantly opening its doors to the outside world. Malana’s two coveted commodities - Marijuana and the beauty of innocence, enamor the outside world.
I too was intrigued by it’s mysticism and had a question in my mind – is Marijuana leading to the loss of innocence and loss of unique culture in Malana?
On 8th November 2014 I decided to seek an answer to this question. An impromptu trip to Malana was made. After hitchhiking and boarding three local Himachal Pradesh buses, reached Jari at 4pm. A lousy meal at a Nepali Dhabha, disguised as a Punjabi dhaba, couldn't deter my enthusiasm to see the solitary village, which attracts more backpackers and travelers than tourists.
After whiling away time for a bit, finally boarded the only bus service available for Malana at 6pm. Jari to Malana was a 20 kms arduous journey. However, the route was scenic in the backdrop of snow-capped mountains, fall colours of the valley, waterfalls and rivulets flowing underneath. After reaching Malana hydro power plant, road turned really rough, treacherous, steep, rocky and dusty. The bus slowly but steadily moved on the serpentine winding road, which had more potholes than coal-tarred surface.
At 7:30 pm, the bus dropped us off at Naarang where the climb to the village starts. Besides both of us, two more people were going to Malana. One was a teenager and other a middle-aged man. However, soon the boy disappeared into thin air. It was pitch dark and the gurgling sound of Malana river and chilly wind made the setting look scary. The first 10 minutes of the trek involved going downhill and then crossing the torrential Malana river with the help of a narrow bridge. The middle-aged man tried to be over-friendly, asking all kind of weird questions. We had no option but to walk with him, considering there wasn’t a soul in the sight. His intentions, conveyed via his body language and words, didn’t give a favourable impression. Besides quizzing us like an attorney, he tried to scare us by saying things like
Kabhi bhi raat mein idhar nahi aana chahiye. Zamana bahut kharab hai. Kya pata kab kahan kya ho jaaye. Yahan kitne log gayab ho gaye. Kitne mar gaye (You should not visit this area at night. Who knows what can happen So many people disappeared so many died.
We tried to give him an impression of poor travellers who were prebooked in a guesthouse in Malana and our friends were to join us the next day. And thanks to Airtel, my mom called and I gave her all kind of relevant and irrelevant information about my current state of affairs, just to back off that man. When he was getting too much on my nerves, I politely asked him to shut up, which pissed him off. That scared the hell out of us. Thankfully two local boys came to our rescue. One of them helped us with the route and my bag. The cobbled climb was an uphill trek. I was running out of breath but the fear of something bad happening to us, kept us on our toes.
Maintaining a constant rhythm, we reached the outskirt of the village in an hour. The village was properly lit and local music was blasting at full decibel from the ‘Family Guesthouse’. We checked for the night stay charges. The guy had blood-red eyes and, like the old man, didn’t give good vibes. So we ditched our plan to stay at his guesthouse. We were so tired that were ready to spend the night anywhere but were told by the local boy that we can only stay in guesthouses meant for outsiders.
A single uphill path lead us towards the top of the village where most of the guesthouses were located, namely, Malana View, Dragon and Cosmo. We were asked not to stop anywhere or touch anything. Our young guide told us that any local who comes in contact with outsiders or goes to guesthouse has to wash his hands properly before entering his house. The seldom talking local boy was sweet enough to leave us to the guesthouse. When we tried to tip him and ask for his number, he simply whizzed away, without saying a word. Bewildered, we were left.
We got dingy rooms on the third floor of Dragon Guesthouse for Rupees 300 each. However, before check-in, the guesthouse manager asked us if we wanted some maal. When we replied in non-assertion, pat came his reply
Kutch lena nahi hai to phir yahan aaye kyun (If you don't have to buy, why did you come here?
After freshening up, we came down for our dinner. In a dimly lit room trans music was playing, huge posters of Shiva and Dragon Guest house adorned the Deodar walls of the room. There was more malana cream in the air than oxygen. Tourists from Canada, France and India were busy smoking chillum. After spending half an hour, we retired to our rooms. I was sleeping in the most basic and most unhygienic bed but it didn’t matter to my tired limbs. I slept like a baby in the abode of Shiva.
Next morning the beautiful views of snow-capped mountains greeted me but I was in for a harsh reality check. A tiny, mysterious village, supposedly inhabited by descendants of Alexander's army, looked in ruins. Thriving Malana Cream trade and rampant construction with no focus on cleanliness now plagued the land, once popular for its secretive, unique culture, and a society that shunned physical contact with outsiders to remain pure.
Malana, once known for its wooden houses built in the beautiful kathi-kuni architectural style, was destroyed in a massive blaze in January 2008. From the ashes, a new Malana - solid concrete and asbestos - emerged. The encroachment of modernity was evident through mobile towers, electricity, satellite dishes, and televisions.
From ancient times there is no caste responsible for cleaning of the village therefore there is no sanitation system in place. Packets of Lay's chips, chocolates, biscuit wrappers and snack items were littered around.
Women did most of the work. Men were either chatting or smoking up. In fact everybody smokes in Malana – right from women to kids. Education is non-priority. There is one school, recently upgraded to tenth grade from fifth grade, but not many children were seen going to school. They were all playing in the centre court of Jamlu devta ground. When requested for shutterbug, some obliged and some plainly refused. Elders were more cordial than teenagers and kids. Perhaps too much of easy money is corrupting innocent minds. Similar to their urban counterparts, they too are dreaming to own luxury items - swanky cars, expensive clothes and accessories. Fashion has made inroads in the forbidden land. The crime rate has shot up. Politics, drug mafia and police are corrupting the innocent minds and culture of Malana.
The descending walk from the outskirts of Malana to Naarang roughly took us 45 minutes. Once at Naarang, we looked for a shared taxi. But were lucky to be given a hitch by two young Malanese teenagers who in return just asked us to pray for the success of the work they were going to. Their eyes were bloodshot red and were carrying malana cream with them. When we tried to enquire about their work, education and job they dodged the question hinting towards the open secret – they were the new age drug dealers and were perhaps on their way to crack a deal.
On our way back to Jari, the car stopped to catch up with the young village shepherd whose job was to take the entire village sheep and goats down to Jari, Kulu, Bilaspur etc. for grazing. This boy was drop dead gorgeous with Aryan features and looked different from the rest of the Malanese boys. He still had that innocence in his eyes.
Wonder how long can the unique identity of Malana be maintained by such few innocent eyes when the Malanese themselves are succumbing to the evil of modernization and unsolicited means of progress. Malana is consuming a slow poison of sociocultural degradation and if this continues the day may not be far off when it will lose its unique identity.
Hope that day doesn't arrive!