Shiv Sethi experiences Malana in Himachal Pradesh, known for its many taboos It’s not a country Seleucus, it’s a place that reminds me of Athens. Let me leave footprints of my country here and carry this place’s imprints back to Greece……” Alexander to his trusted General Seleucus Nikator (quoted by Sir Arnold Toynbee in his tome: Convergence of Indus and Greek Civilizations, 1946) India is a land of mysterious places. Each place soaked in such mysteries has its own intriguing charms and customs that stun us. I happened to pay a visit to one such place of mysterious charms and weird customs – the village Malana in the Kullu valley. During my three day exploration of the village, I came across its many astonishing aspects. Nestled in the Parvati valley, the village is known for its own rules and regulations. It is considered to be the oldest democracy with its own well formed parliament.
Before visiting this “village of taboos” I had paid several visits to the village of Kasol, close to Malana, which has emerged as a popular tourist destination now. During these frequent visits, I had befriended some of the locals there. In fact it was during my recent visit to Kasol that a local friend stoked my curiosity to trek to Malana. Yes, you have to trek to the place as the virgin territory is still not connected by a motorable road. The company of my local friend was certainly an added advantage, enabling a better understanding of the rites and rituals of the natives of this village of wonders. I had heard many fear-instilling tales about Malana and its people but meeting the locals reformatted my old belief system about them.
Crossing through the zig zag tracks from the village Jari we reached Malan before sunset. They say that the taste of the pudding lies in the tasting which proved right in this case too. Of course, the beguiling beauty of nature is at its best here. I call the beauty beguiling because the way to Malana is through an arduous track and dense forest which can make one’s blood creep. Many mythical tales of ghosts and ghouls are associated with the place but it is believed that the people of Malana keep these spirits under their sway with a set of ceremonial animal sacrifices to their presiding deity Jamadagni Rishi. The villagers also worship Akbar, the Mughal emperor here. According to the local versions, the deity is very mighty but he can be easily pleased with the ritual of animal sacrifice.
The people of Malana are believed to be the direct descendants of Alexander the Great. Thus taking due or undue pride over their glorious lineage, they put themselves on a very high pedestal in the social hierarchy and don’t mingle with outsiders. My brief stay in the village made me realise that the locals were otherwise very amiable and friendly. Of course, you have to follow a strict set of rules as no outsiders are ever allowed to touch the walls and houses of the village. Thanks to my local friend cum guide, I was made aware of this “custom of piety” beforehand. However, a foreigner tourist who was perhaps ignorant of this clause had to shell out some money as penalty for unknowingly touching a local monument there. The villagers are rather hospitable and they love to serve you their own cuisine but here again some strict rules have to be observed.
Each time they serve you their delicacies, they wash the utensils before and after with sanctified waters. Ostensibly the lives of the locals appear sober and simple but Malana has acquired something of an unsavoury reputation as well. Many junkies find their paradise here not because of its salubrious surroundings but because of the Malana cream (charas) which is an intoxicating substance cultivated here. Thus you will not be surprised if you find small boys selling the stuff in and around the village. Malana, known as the oldest democracy of the world, has indeed an enigmatically exciting cultural history that entices travellers. Certainly the village is nature’s retreat from the modern day hurly burly but it also has considerable ignominy due to its hashish trade. Staying in Malana with my friend offered me a wider glimpse into their largely mysterious culture. I revelled in their delectable delicacies but without puffing on a pipe stuffed with Malana cream.