I first went to the sleepy little hamlet of Malana at the age of thirteen. As part of Youth Hostels Association trekking programme we walked the 23km picturesque yet uneven and treacherous route from Jari to Malana (9,000ft). A landscape filled with intimidating gorges and steep rocky trails. From Malana we crossed over the 3600 meters beautiful Chanderkhani Pass to reach Nagar. It is the oldest village in Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh.
The virgin beauty of the place was mesmerizing and I felt like Alice in Wonderland. Malana’s beautiful inhabitants, it’s intricately carved and thatched colorful cluster of about 200 wooden houses, verdant fields dotted with bleating sheep and the legendary Malana Cream (the highest quality Hash in the world), all made it seem so romantic to my teenage mind.
The fabled Malana village is ethnically a tiny city-state in itself. Rocky glens, dense, rich and diverse Pine, Deodar and spruce, Golden Oak, and giant Kail forests, brooks and streams and vast acres of deep red Rhododendron and wild flowery bushes make this valley an enchanting place. The area is home to the brown bear and has many other species of wild animals.
The village gets its name from Malana River which originates from Malana Glacier in the Great Himalayan Range. Precipitous terrain and unique geographical location has helped the valley to keep its biodiversity. It is an isolated abode with no proper road system. The inhabitants of Malana do not interfere with the environment around them and make sure no one else does.
Its inhabitants claim to be the descendants of Alexander the Great and that’s why it is also known as “little Greece”. It is believed that Alexander’s army stopped here while retreating from North. The people here have distinct Roman features, fair skin, deep brown eyes, chiseled porcelain faces and normally wear rough cotton clothes.
“Telltale evidence of the people’s origins is found in the wooden carvings on the ancient temple walls. The carvings show soldiers wearing uniforms resembling those worn by Greek soldiers and people drinking wine from goblets. Ancient arms found in the village storehouse reveal straight-edged swords used by Greek soldiers. The traditional Indian swords are curved.”
(S.R. Saini, Treks and Passes of Himachal Himalaya; Progressive Publishers, 2005.)
Malana has unique worship rituals and autonomous self-sufficient administration of its own. The people of the vilage solve their disputes within their two houses, Lower House and Upper House. Visitors are not allowed to touch specific rocks and stones in the village as they are believed to be sacred and one has to pay a heavy penalty to the village head for breaking the rules. It is considered to be the oldest republic in the world. Their social structure is guided by a powerful deity “Jamblu Devta”. The Malana village council runs the entire administration through him.
They fiercely protect their unique cultural legacy and history and there is a strict code of conduct for the visitors. No one is allowed to venture anywhere apart from the demarcated pathways. Malanese shun any contact with the outsiders and if a local touches any tourist, he /she has to go through a purification system. They consider themselves superior to any other being and do not follow the Indian Constitution even though they are part of our country.
The Malanese people speak a very different dialect called “Kanashi” which seems to be a mixture of some Tibetan dialects and Sanskrit. It is a language only they understand. The place is completely lost in time and that’s one of the reasons it has been able to sustain their ancient lifestyle.
Hunting, burning or cutting of trees is prohibited and people earn their livelihood by cattle rearing and farming of rice and Hash. The village council holds a very important place in Malana’s social system. One can hardly find any traces of modernization here.
All the fables surrounding this mysterious village, its do’s and don’t and its controversial history, the drug mafia and the untouched pristine beauty makes Malana a place worth visiting.
The mossy forests of this area and the serene silent smoky existence of a unique tribe with strange customs and rituals, and a relaxed attitude towards life were so appealing that I wanted to renounce the world and settle there.
The only major activity is during the hash cultivation season. The beautiful alpine veil that covers the valley is a haven for trekkers and tourists seeking peace and tranquility or pure cosmic high of the soft smooth inhale of the Malana Cream which is known to be world’s second best Hash.
I have been twice to Malana and each time it has been an exhilarating experience. The lace has extreme climates due to its geographical locations so the best season to visit is summer (Early May – August). It is also the time for the summer festival and the best opportunity to savor the local culture.