Malana, Himachal Pradesh – the Loss of Innocence and Culture

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Top view of malana villageMalana – 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.

malanese shepherd

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!

Our Journey through pictures

First leg of our Journey – Manali to Kullu Bus Ride

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Second leg of our journey – Kullu to Bhuntar bus ride

Third leg of our Journey – The super crowded, super slow Bhuntar to Jari Bus

Fourth leg of our Journey – The only bus service from Jari to Naarang that leaves at 5:30 pm everyday and the same bus returns from Naarang at 7:30 am

The evening lunch at a Punjabi Dhaba run by Nepalese in Jari

The picturesque Homestay at Jari

One of many waterfalls on our Jari to malana journey.

Beautiful colours of Fall on Jari to malana drive

malana river

The roaring Malana River that has to be crossed before starting the uphill Malana Village trek.

First glimpse of the Solitary Malana Village from the 90 minutes uphill trek

village

The concrete houses of Malana that got constructed after January 2008 Fire

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Malana Village Activity Hall

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The Jamlu Mandir

The Warning sign at Jamlu Mandir for “untouchables” like us

The most important reason to visit Malana village – smoke Malana cream

malana men n woman

Malanese people who are not so camera shy any more

The Hardworking Malanese Woman

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Malanese young girls showing off their tradtional headgear and hand art (not mehandi)

A lazy day in malana

Malanese Kids who prefer playing over attending school

The fashionable Malanese Girl. Check out matching the turquoise nailpaint.

Teenagers smoking Malana Cream, Himachal Pradesh

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31 Comments

  • Such a nice place in Himachal 🙂 Thanks for sharing!!

  • renucas says:

    Beautiful! Thanks for sharing!

  • gaurav says:

    complaining about modernization comes from those who can not live without urban amenities….
    those who can not live without wifii or electricity complaint about urbanization….
    and about the sanitation problem outsiders also have some responsibility….if dustbins are not provided they can at least keep the empty packets with them and dispose them when they find one..

    • Vishal, I agree complaining alone will never do any good. At least, I make it a point to not litter anything anywhere. In fact, while trekking or travelling I do pick up waste and dump it where it should be dumped not where it is convenient to dump.

      If we will not take responsibility then who will?

      Have a great week!

      Cheers!

  • Vishal says:

    Nice write-up! Seemed short, but quite detailed. I hope the kids realize that they have a beautiful place and that it could be preserved.

  • Krish Menon says:

    Amazing article! Thank you for the thorough walk through. The photographs are amazing too. The features of some these people, are very strikingly greek! This definitely is on my list next!

    • Thanks a lot Krish for such kind words. Malana is no doubt beautiful but I recommend you visit Tosh and Jalori Pass. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

      Have a great week ahaed.

      Cheers!
      Archana

  • Ishani says:

    Great article. Enjoyed reading it a lot 🙂

  • arun says:

    great work..

  • Shubhojoy Mitra says:

    Interesting article on the “slow poison of sociocultural degradation ” of the Malanese as you have observed succinctly. But I am disturbed by your description of the young shepherd:

    “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.”

    This is followed by: “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.”

    In my opinion, the young non-Aryan looking girls _also_ look drop dead gorgeous besides having innocent eyes, wearing turquoise nail paint or not.

    Whether the Malanese were descendants of Alexander’s army or not, surely racial purity surrounded by other cultures Indo-Aryan and Sino-Tibetan cultures can hardly be expected after more than two millennia. I have no knowledge about Malana’s history but you have acknowledged the theory of the Malanese being descendants of the Greeks is just a legend. From what little I am reading about Malanese culture, the legend of Alexander has been discredited by various factors: genetic, historical, linguistic and confusion about customs. The latter is about the unique democratic system of village administration which is comparable to Athens but not necessarily imported from there.

    This also reminds me of the Newari people of Katmandu valley who have their unique Sino-Tibetan language unintelligible to the average Nepalese now just as the Malanese have their own Sino-Tibetan dialect. There seems to be also an abundance of Sino-Tibetan languuages in the Himalayas not always mutually intelligible and most have Indo-Aryan influences. The Malanese seems to have been fortunately spared too much Sanskritization but maintained aspects of older Indo-Aryan culture with intermingling of prehistoric and perhaps even Newari traditions as the rest of the Nepali nation.

    As far as “looks” go, just as the Malanese, it is impossible to tell from the features whether an individual is a “true blue” Newari or not: they may “look” more Aryan, or not.

    The gorgeous Sahana Bajracharya, Miss Nepal Earth 2010: true blue Sino-Tibetan Newar? Compare with other Newari people in the pictures.
    (http://www.sydneynepal.com/…/chinari-nepal-organises…/)

    My point here is that looks can be very deceiving and trying to associate this with cultural or racial purity is simply not acceptable and smacks of notions of Aryan supremacy. The issue of Aryan as opposed to non-Aryan looks indicative of cultural authenticity is totally spurious. It has got nothing to do with their unique culture which is endangered by the advance of modern lifestyle.

    I am also greatly disturbed by the following observation:

    “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.”

    Are you implying by any chance that without lower castes it is not possible to maintain a sanitation system? Which country outside India has a specific caste to clean up their environment and take care of all the “dirty” work. Was Malana a dirty place for millennia after millennia because they did not have a caste system?

    • Hi Shubhojoy,

      First of all many thanks for reading the article and sharing your point of view. Really appreciate the effort. Now coming to your points:

      1) “This boy was drop dead gorgeous with Aryan features and looked different from the rest of the Malanese boys…unsolicited means of progress.” Through this para I am nowhere trying to say that it was only that Shepherd boy who had true Indo-Aryan blood or he was superior to that girl or other boys. I was referring to the ill-effects of narco-tourism on the majority of young boys in Malana who would start smoking up from the morning, wouldn’t go to school but would own all luxury gadgets and other paraphernalia, thanks to the quick bucks they make out of cannabis. I was so scared to even carry a single ounce of the dreaded plant and they carry and sell it without any fear. It is this feeling of being above the law and easy money that is ruining their innocence and culture. I spoke to many people there and it was a genuine concern.

      2) Being the descendants of Alexander: this is a common thinking harboured by the locals. I did not come up with this theory. They truly believe in it and consider themselves to be superior than the rest of the people. They really want to preserve the purity of their race and therefore they don’t allow marriages outside their own race. And the ones who break the law are ousted from their society. However, the claim of being the descendants of Alexander, like the Dhahanu community in Ladakh, is definitely debatable. I just wrote what I observed and got to hear from the locals. I am no expert on this topic.

      3) I never said that without low castes sanitation is not possible. It was during my conversation with the locals when I asked them who is responsible for the cleaning of the village. Apparently, their idea of caste is not a means of socialization but of isolation from the outside world. In the village, caste doesn’t discriminate but bring order to the society. They marry within castes and help each together in pre designated tasks. For e.g. there is one person given the responsibility to take sheep grazing for the entire village. But cleaning is one thing that nobody claims responsibility for. Everyone thinks it’s not their job.

      Through this article all I was sharing was my point of view. I could be totally wrong in my hypothesis. But whatever I am saying is not borne out of thin air or secondary research. I wrote whatever I observed and got to know from the locals in the Malana village.

      Once again thanks a lot for sharing your views 🙂

      Looking forward to hearing from you soon.

      Have a great day!

      Cheers 🙂

  • Ajay raheja says:

    Find interesting while reading, feeling bit sad how things are, hope awareness will make a difference.

  • Natasha says:

    It is absolutely beautiful here. The transport does look a little crowded though! I do not smoke but I would visit anyway

  • Suzanne says:

    I am really sad to hear about Malana. The fact that everyone, even women and kids, smokes marijuana there makes it sound like a hell hole where no one progresses. Also, if the village hates outsiders so much, why do they want their money? Does the Indian government or any NGOs do anything to help the people of Malana?

  • Indrani says:

    Interesting all this discussion on being Alexander’s descendants. Knowing it for the first time. The guy is indeed good looking. I too would have taken a pic for my FOI series. btw what is malana cream? never heard about it. How does it taste?

  • Melissa says:

    This article makes me so sad. My heart breaks for the children in this village who are growing up smoking marijuana and selling drugs at an early age, and not valuing education and the opportunities that education brings. Thanks for the eye-opening perspective

  • Genie Patra says:

    Wow this is such an interesting issue that I never thought of before. I didn’t think that something like this could affect people in such a rural area. I have similar feelings towards tourism bombarding rural areas but sometimes that’s their only source of income so it’s a really hard subject to figure out

  • Raghav says:

    A really beautifully written and detailed post. A region I have no clue about and it will be interesting to see what the future holds as more and more tourists will visit Malana and most importantly for whether for the right or wrong reasons. Nevertheless, the beauty of the people and their innocence as you pointed out is something to cherish and I envy that you got to experience it when it was still fresh and true.

  • I actually never even knew that this place existed, let alone had some social issues. So do you see any way out for the people of Malana? It sounds like a fairly desperate situation there and its unsettling to think that you didn’t feel comfortable there.

  • Melissa says:

    This breaks my heart seeing these beautiful, young kids growing up smoking, selling drugs, and not attending school. I shutter to think about what their future holds. This is definitely a thought-provoking and eye-opening look at what life is like in Malana.

  • jitaditya says:

    Wow, I can see more than one familiar face in the pics. 😛
    I wonder where you found that picturesque place in Jari though.

    As far as Malana is concerned, all I can say that it has lost it even more in the following years and the exotic myth is now more of a marketing gimmick. When I visited one March, it was under a thick layer of snow and no homestay was functioning.

  • It was an interesting read about your adventures in Malana. The middle man and his words did sound scary but I am glad you got help with two boys and you made your way to the guesthouse. The picture journey shows another familiar face too.

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