With its outlandish customs and peculiar residents, the ancient village of Malana in Himachal Pradesh tickles the fancy of every inquisitive traveller. Text & photographs by Ron Bezbaruah
With a childish giggle, I extended my arm to aid my six-foot-tall friend, who struggled to stand straight. With feet slipping in the snow and legs involuntarily split, his skating stance wasn’t exactly graceful. Out of nowhere, a little boy appeared. With a wide grin, he offered his tiny hand to my friend, and with a slight tug, got him out of his predicament before disappearing in the snow. Such are the children of Malana, strong yet kind souls with far too much wisdom in their eyes.
In this ancient village of Himachal Pradesh, time seems to have stood still. Nestled in the Parvati Valley, Malana lies isolated from the rest of the country, in the shadow of Chanderkhani and Deo Tibba. And though the ‘Forbidden Land’ title lifted when the village opened its doors to tourists, the history of the Malani people remains shrouded in mystery and is often the subject of urban gossip. It is said that Malana is one of the oldest democratic systems of the world. Malanis have distinct physical features and a unique dialect. The brown-eyed, long-nosed inhabitants claim that they are descendants
of the soldiers of Alexander the Great. They marry within the community to maintain their ‘pure’ bloodline, and due to strict upper-caste beliefs, tend to be a bit hostile towards outsiders—no tourist is allowed to touch them or their belongings.
While the men spend their days lazing around and smoking a chillum, save for the occasional trek to the peaks to hunt, the women rough it out, chopping and collecting firewood, tending to the children, and keeping the house running. They also look after the enigmatic marijuana fields of the region, which produce some of the finest hashish in the world called Malana Cream. The school is open all year round, through the calm summers and harsh winters. After classes, the kids roam about on their own, clambering up and down the valley, engaging in mud fights, sledging, or just bumming around. They are usually friendly and may even try to sell you some Malana Cream!
Malana is centred around Temple Jamlu, where prophecies are told and weddings and other
festivities are held. Jamlu is the primary deity of Malana, and every decision regarding the village is communicated by the deity oracle. The temple is also rumoured to house swords of Alexander’s army. A hefty fine of `3,500 is levied on any outsider who touches the temple walls.
Despite its quirks, the village remains one of my most unique escapades. From getting lost in a blizzard to nodding off under a 200-year-old pine tree, to being invited by locals for a drag from their chillums, it gave me timeless experiences.