The people of Malana did not smile, at least the ones in the village. We are not welcome, we are not wanted, we are untouchables. Who welcome you are native Himachalis, having realized the potential of Malana as a draw to the off-tourist crowd, some of them moved here and set up base. But why would people flock to this far off land, a small village of two thousand people. What pull does it have? The answer would be Malana Cream. While, that is definitely one of the high points that some people take away from their visit. For some, it is the thrill of being in one of the oldest living democracies in the world.
Claiming to be pure Aryans, they are said to be descendants of Greeks via Alexander’s army. But the funny thing is, when you speak to them they just laugh it off. ‘Kyun aayega sikandar ya uski sena yahan’ is all they say. But what they can claim is that in their history of existence, they have never been under the power of any Government. Even Indian Government has given an autonomous region status to Malana. It is said that there were only two places that the British Government did not manage to control, one was Nepal and the other was Malana. This had isolated the little village further from our memories, but the precious secret they held could not be hidden for long. Malana cream, the world famous hash was discovered and Malana was introduced to the world.
There are two ways of reaching Malana, one that takes 4 hours (and at the gate of which we happily posed) and a shorter one and half hour trek, uphill, tough , the one we took and I nearly died. Not to say, reaching there is pretty. You might think that the road till Malana Hydro base (which is actually not close to the village at all) is rough, but nothing prepares you for what lies ahead. Long winding roads, hairpin bends and deep drops. Did I mention that most of the road was unpaved or pot holed. If you survive you do the smaller trek, from Narang. You start climbing down and its all sunny. Cross the bridge – easy. And then you see it. Rundown, almost vertical cement steps. The locals pass by, on their daily stroll it seems. Men with heavy logs, women with wood for fire and babies, skipping up like it is a bed of roses. And you? You huff and you puff and somehow manage to reach the village in under 2 hours. The old man you meet on the way, a Himachali, laughs and tells you ‘for me half an hour, you maybe one maybe some more’. It is hard to notice the distinct way the village functions – women and girls hard at work and the men (and young boys) gathered together in the village square. While you do see some men bring logs and working around, it is usually the women who do most of the work, while the men smoke hash (a harsh generalisation, but relatively true).
The village in itself isn’t remarkable; in fact, Tosh & Chalal (two other villages we visited besides Kasol) were far more tranquil and welcoming. You can clearly see that the modern world has started leaving a mark on the village and not in the best way possible. The plastic packets are everywhere, the squelch going beyond just the side of the roads. You do not have to worry about how you will reach or what you will find, there are tourists before you to guide you, just like how you will to the people behind. Yet, there is a distinct change that you observe. You can’t take pictures, it is forbidden. Guesthouses, tea stalls are mostly run by Himachalis. And the locals, well the children don’t smile at you, the women just stare and the men; the men are the friendliest, smiling their most benign smile and asking if you want one T. And that is what it boils down to – the village while unique was never aspirational to tourists because of its heritage or origins, it was the Charas or Hash that became famous. Malana Cream, as it is called worldwide, is considered one of the best and has gained a cult status. It is also one of the most important attraction at Malana and the T or Tola (10 grams) is much in demand.
But what if this was not the case, what if the world had not discovered Malana. Would the people have lived in silos or would you still get Maggie 9,000+ feet above sea level. It is a question to ponder, how and what drives one to discover new places. Should it be a distinct alternate society thriving under an existing establishment for almost 200+ years or should be 10 grams of Charas that should draw in the people.