We left for Kasol in Himachal Pradesh from Amritsar (Punjab) by car. My batchmate Vikram and I wanted to visit Parvati valley. Vikram stays in Amritsar. Parvati Valley is well known among travellers for its psychedelic parties and free-flowing hashish that originates from the ancient village of Malana in North India’s Himachal Pradesh region. It was almost evening when we reached Kasol. Kasol is a lovely small town, also known as “Mini Israel” because of its hippie culture and large number of Israelis staying there.
Located at around 10,000 feet above sea level, near the town of Jari, Malana has been a veritable ‘Forbidden Kingdom’ for eons. What intrigued me was the fact this ancient village is still almost isolated from the rest of the world. I was excited … yes, very much excited to go there.
We had our breakfast in Kasol and headed to Jari, around 8 km from Kasol, from where we needed a permit to drive further towards Malana. There is a point from where there is climb by stairs to Malana. It’s almost 15 km from Kasol. But around 5 km of the road is a driver’s nightmare.
By far, Malana is the most intriguing village of Parvati valley and luring curious souls from all over the world. Road to Malana was quite different from the rest of Parvati valley.
The road is extremely bad with hairpin bends. From that point, the village is almost 2 km away. But in that mountain, it’s quite a hike. Normally local residents take about 30 to 45 minutes to reach, which was covered by me and my friend in almost 2 hours.
We were inspired on the way when we saw old ladies (locals) carrying loads of firewood and climbing the stairs. The hike is not easy and we made it. For people like us used to urban lifestyle, the hike is not an easy one, but yes, it’s definitely worth.
The trail to Malana is more or less shadowed with towering deodar and very well outlined. Malana was a delightful, stressful walk with fresh breeze gushing around our face, rejuvenating us, an endless track of deodar forest in the backdrop of snow-peaked mountains.
There are various legends about their origin.
According to the Puranas, Jamdagni Rishi (sage) is the father of Parashuram, one of the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu (Dashavatara). After his intense prayers, Lord Shiva appeared before him. Jamdagni Rishi asked for a secluded place, full of nature’s bounty. Lord Shiva told him to go to Malana. It is a magical green rimmed village that overlooks the Deotibba and Chandrakhani peaks. The tall deodar trees add to the serenity of the place. Wind always whistles here. The bright moonlight shining on the white snow peaks makes this place pearly white heaven. This beauty cannot be captured in a camera. One needs to be here to perceive this beauty. I am blessed to witness such beauty of nature, the divine glory. I can now understand why Lord Shiva directed sage Jamdagni to this awesome place. This place is mesmerising!
Malana was already in the control of a Rakshasa when the sage reached there the Rakshasa Banasura resisted him. The conflict between Jamdagni Rishi and Banasura ended with a peace treaty and according to which, administration and justice were to be handled separately. While the administration was with Banasura, justice was kept under the preview of Jamdagni Rishi. In case of a dispute in the administration, it was to be sorted out by the judiciary. The Kanashi language was made mandatory for those living in Malana, as also the customs and traditions prevalent there.
Kanashi, the language of Malana, does not resemble any of the dialects spoken in its neighbourhood but seems to be a mixture of Sanskrit and several Tibetan dialects. This sort of amalgamation makes it difficult for an alien to understand it. Language is also considered to be one of the secrets of the village and outsiders are not allowed to use it for communication. The Malanis (the inhabitants of Malana) still speak in that language. Thank God, many of them know Hindi also, so we could communicate with them.
During the festivals, the first sacrifice was to be made to Banasura. With the passage of time, Jamdagni Rishi gained superiority over Banasura, but the village retained its traditions, which are still followed there. The village of Malana has its own religious beliefs. Apart from their undying faith in Lord Shiva, they believe in their Devta, Jamdagni Rishi. They call him Jamlu Devta.
Legend has it that some of Alexander the Great’s army took shelter in this isolated village in 326 BCE after they were wounded in a battle against Porus, a ruler in India’s Punjab region. These soldiers are often said to be the ancestors of the Malani people. Artefacts from that period have been found in the village, such as a sword that reportedly rests inside the temple. However, genetic ties to the soldiers have not been established.
Malana’s unique democratic system is said to be among the oldest in the world, and, similar to the Ancient Greek system of democracy, it consists of a lower house and upper house. However, it has a uniquely spiritual twist to it: ultimate rulings rest on the upper court, which includes three important figures, of which one is the representative of the local deity, Jamlu Devta.
The village has a democratic set up and the village council is called Hakima and consists of Gur, Pujari and Kardar representing higher court and Jestha the lower court. Pujari and Kardar are hereditary posts and are representatives of the Jamlu devta. Kardar is second in hierarchy. There are four elected members from the village called Jestha. Each Jestha can select one more member called Pogudar and the total elected members come to eight. Out of these eight, one person is elected as Pradhan (Chief) and the other is upapradhan (Deputy Chief).
On the basis of this participatory court procedure, some scholars trace the origin of Malana Hakima to ancient Greece. Thus Malana is also known as the “Athens of Himalayas” or “Little Greece.”
CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE
Malanis admire their culture, customs and religious beliefs. They generally do not like to change though some traces of modernisation are visible. They consider themselves to be superior to the rest. That is why they refrain from physical contact.
When in Malana, be sure not to touch the walls or belongings of the natives unless you want a fine imposed. Crazy as that may sound, they don’t even eat food cooked by a non-native. Tourists are not allowed to enter the temples for they consider outsiders as untouchables.
VILLAGE FAIR — PHAGLI
As the name suggests, Phagli fair begins during the month of Phalgun (February and March). Phagli is celebrated in most of the villages of Kullu valley but it holds a very important place amongst the people of village Malana. It depicts the victory of good over evil and shows the struggle between God and the devil for supremacy. Ultimately, God emerges victorious.
A person is disguised as a demon by putting a mask on his face and tying some grass around his body. God is represented by a ‘Gur’ (God’s spokesman). They perform special dances called Deo Khel (acted upon by the Gur) and Raksh Khel (performed by the person who is personating the demon). The demon was known as “Tundi Raksh” who used to trouble the people living between Malana and Archhandi villages. He was finally killed by Manu Rishi and Shandalya Rishi. To commemorate this event, the fair is held in Malana, Jana, Soil, and Halan villages and in all the temples of Jamlu devta. The festivities were still continuing and we saw Malani men and women singing, dancing and enjoying the spring in the night.
Yes, the livelihood of the Malanis is hash. There’s one major cash crop in Malana and that’s cannabis. This cannabis resin or hashish is renowned both for the hand rubbing-technique used to produce it and for its reportedly remarkable intoxicating effects.
Much of the high-quality cannabis products available in India come from this small region. The most coveted product is ‘Malana Cream’. It has high oil content and an intensely fragrant aroma. In Amsterdam, the stuff sells for $250 per tola, which is 11.66g of hashish. In the village, the villagers sell it for Rs 3,000 ($46) per tola for the best quality, called Super. The Medium is sold at Rs 2,500 ($38) and the Red Ice is sold for Rs 1,000 ($16) per tola. The annual turnover is estimated to run into crores of rupees or millions of US dollars. Hashish production has a long history in the region. If anyone knows how to make some high-quality cannabis products, it’s the Malani people.
Super is produced by rubbing the bids by hand. One person can normally runaround 8g per day. It is manually filtered and hence Super is the purest form. Every villager can be seen rubbing the buds. The maximum production is Medium quality since they do less rubbing and it’s less filtered. Red ice is made from the leftover of the harvest by putting them through filters and then crush them into ice and it is red in colour thus it gets the name red ice. Each filter cost them around Rs 15,000 ($230). Then there is one more substance called hash oil, it’s the purest form of hash. 3g of Super produces just 1g of hash oil. It is said that the hash oil melts completely in the warmer temperature. Hash oil can simply be applied on joints or smoked in cigarettes to enjoy its euphoria by people looking for recreation. Hash oil has medicinal values and it is used in limited and measured quantities for medical treatment. It’s given to cancer patients in vaporisers in many countries as tumour suppressant and pain reliever.
Cannabis is grown in mountain fields above the village. As the primary money-maker for the village’s 1,500 residents, many begin their horticultural life quite young. The villagers don’t allow any outsider to make hash out of the weed. If any villager is found to have allowed an outsider to make hash, then he would be penalised Rs 50,000 ($770)!
Government is trying hard to control the production of hashish. But all villagers cannot be booked under Narcotics Act! Smuggling cannabis has many risks. There are many checkpoints where the police checks for smuggling of drugs. The police keeps very strict vigil from outside Kasol.
Malanis are not allowed to drink alcohol although tourists can drink there. If caught, then he has to pay a penalty of Rs 1,500 ($23). There are guesthouses in the village owned by the local villagers but since they are prohibited to deal with outsiders, these guesthouses are managed and run by outsiders from nearby villages.
Hashish business is giving them good cash. There is no bank nearby. They said to me that they keep the cash in pots dug into the earth, which they have been doing since time immemorial. OMG, I couldn’t believe it!
Although Malana is blessed with natural beauty, the lifestyle of the Malanis is very hard and difficult. There is no road coming to this village. It’s around 2-hour walk from the road. They have to fetch their every requirement from outside the village. Except for a post office, there is hardly any sign of development in the village. There is a hydroelectric power project nearby but they don’t have regular power connection. Perhaps, the seclusive lifestyle of the villagers could be a reason.
The village council may be persuaded for a symbiotic development of the village while maintaining the sanctity of their age-old tradition and beliefs. Maybe a new system can evolve out of our village panchayat system and their traditional system. Malanis also have to come forward for their development. They need to reform their outdated practices. Hope, Jamlu devta would allow some reform in the age-old practices and permit the villagers to access the benefits of modern technology, without compromising their core belief.
We began returning to Amritsar next day, visiting Manikaran on the way, thinking to come back again. I have fallen in love with this village. Malana has potential to develop into a big tourist attraction and we can showcase this ancient village to the world as the cradle of democracy.