This is a fabled Himalayan village living in denial of it’s current sad state.
March of 2016, I happened to trek up to the much- hyped and much- hushed ancient village of Malana. Nestled among big daunting hills deep inside Parvati Valley in the Kullu region, this village at one time was completely cut away from civilization. Now, thanks to the dam project Malana Hydro Power station, the village has some access and more regular ins and outs. Shrouded in many fascinating stories the village has gained notoriety among the weed lovers for it’s superior quality and superbly expensive Malana cream, and among the curious trekkers for it’s snobbish arrogance, aloof behavior and fabled progeny. And while I will touch upon all the fables and the snob that one would find in the air, this blog post is mostly about something else. It is about the disappointment I carried back with me. Of what I felt and saw while walking through the village. That this once beautiful village is now living in the past and its perceived glory, with little or no motivation to make any progress. And carrying on living amidst a demonic and growing plastic filth everywhere the eye can see.
But let’s start with what is beautiful. From a distance, it is a beautiful little village with a beautiful little climb. On a semi- cloudy day, it is a pleasant sight during the short but steep trek. It will take about an hour or a bit more, from the last gate [ which is quite a drive in, from the Malana Hydro project gate]. Once you get down to the river and cross it, be prepared to take the big, small, steep steps in, one at a time. And be sure to keep looking up and around, for some lovely views.
The other beautiful thing about Malana is the view from the top, once you reach cross the village and make it to the top. It is totally worth the climb.
The next beautiful or rather fascinating thing about this village, is the story that goes around. One story goes thus- that the village was founded by remnants of Alexander the great’s army. Hence all the descendants are Greek. Another fable suggests that the village was established by Jamlu Rishi, and they are all decedents of the Aryans. Jamblu devta is still the residing god of the village and outsiders are not allowed to even touch the temple walls. The deity still controls the village administration through a village council, who are believed to be the delegates of Jamblu.
The temple stands as the prime attraction in the village center where most of the village functions- like marriage, or festivals take place. It looks like the ancient structures one would find in Bhaktapur Nepal. On an uneventful day, one can see the men of the village, old and young, lazing around in what seems like a sweet hash haze, soaking up the sun. While the women go about chopping woods, washing clothes, carrying water or chasing after children.
The village does have a very different and distinct dialect. It is called Kanashi [ or the dialect of the devils, who resided there long ago]. The language is understood only by the villagers and is not similar to the languages spoken by the neighbors. The village also happens to be an independent democratic republic and they do not abide by the Indian constitution. It is believed to have received the independent status by emperor Akbar, who found a cure for a certain disease he was suffering from, and since then, has been a separate democracy.
While that was the fancy past let’s look at the present day Malana. And it gives me no pleasure in featuring this side of this otherwise pretty little place perched on top of a handsome hill. There is plastic filth everywhere. As you approach the village, and cross the gorgeous waterfall into the start of the village, the first dump hits your senses. And then it is an assault. It hits your eyes, your nose, the beautiful picture that you had built in your head about the greek/aryan/snooty village carrying on from time immemorial. All of this comes to a screeching halt. As a familiar Lays wrapper, or a Coca Cola bottle bounces into your footstep. The interesting thing is, the village is perfectly carrying on with their daily chores with all the filth lying around. No adult tries to pick up anything. No child is chided for throwing things right where they are eating or standing, and no dustbins are found.
Add to this the smugness of the villagers. They believe that people who do not belong to Malana are inferior to the people of the village. Which is why, they do not like being touched by outsiders, nor do they let them touch the village walls, huts, or serve people any food in non-disposable utensils. It is almost like the people here do not know the concept of progress, evolution or better living. While I did spot quite a few satellite television antennas, and healthy mobile phone penetration, the village has a ramshackle school, where apparently children go and come as they please. A teacher comes from an outside village, and barely manages to do the basics. There are a few shops selling sweets and other packaged goods like the popular brands that the outside world munches on – from chocolates to chips to carbonated drinks-but they seem to be run mostly by people from other villages. Who make the journey in and out of the village everyday.
I happened to chat up with the guy who owns and runs the only cafe- located right at the top of the village- just outside the village boundary. This man hails from Haryana, and has been doing business there during the season. According to him, the people are happy the way things are, living with the feeling of superiority, learning things like ‘ don’t touch our walls’ and protecting the hash heritage. It is like they are in denial of the fact that there can be anything better than hanging onto their own fables.
After spending a few blissful hours at the cafe, watching the spectacular views from the top, I made my way back down, through the village and the filth. And again felt the familiar pang. Of seeing a beautiful jewel rot away due to the neglect of humans. Of letting nature bear the burden of our ignorance and greed. This could have been a beautiful protected site of mystery and history, but is now a den of disappointments.
I hope people keep trekking up to this village. And people keep creating content and awareness about this place, till legitimate and genuine bodies can talk and negotiate their way in, to be able to strike a balance between protecting what the villagers want to protect, and the natural habitat. As for me, while I was carrying my heavy heart down, I happened to walk past a few village girls on their way up. And as I flashed a tentative smile, I did notice a pair of blue eyes [Aryan/Greek?] crinkle up and flash a smile back.
That was all I needed, to feel a little bit of hope.