The story of this fairy tale village in Himachal Pradesh is both enriching and enchanting
For a city-slicker like me, living in Delhi-NCR, a dream vacation in the summer has been a trip to Shimla, Nainital, Mussoorie or, later in life, to some lesser-known places near these. But with most of these stations having hit their saturation point with heavy tourist inflow, giving rise to bad traffic jams, many of us are on a look out for some hidden heaven. I came across one such — Malana.
In the 21st century, it is difficult to believe that there are places that remain disconnected from the mainland, untouched by modernisation. About 45 km from the muchpopular and exploited Kullu, Malana remained isolated from the rest of the world for thousands of years. After having made trips to popular hill stations, albeit half-heartedly due to lack of options, the thought of Malana was enough to stir the sleeping soul of the explorer in me. In no time I was on my way to Parvati Valley, situated to the north east of Kullu valley.
Drive to Malana is extremely picturesque with beautiful valleys accompanying you throughout. The excitement to reach this place coupled with a captivating drive that kept me glued to the window seat, hypnotised me so that I forgot to click the pictures of this mesmerising the journey. After manoeuvering some of the curviest roads, I reached the spot from where cars cannot go any further. The last 4 km to Malana have to be covered on foot. I was all charged up as it was for the first time I was trekking down, to reach the bottom of the Malana valley. Those 45-60 minutes of trekking were not only enough to give the muchneeded exercise to my city-bred muscles but also memories for a lifetime. At many spots the trek was too narrow and steep. My trekking capabilities and fitness were tested to the hilt. I would advise you travellers not to compete with the mountains, rather make your way down with calmness.
Bliss knew no bounds when I reached Malana. One look at the calm and composed way the life progressed there and I knew had found my own Utopia. A stone-lined path goes through the centre of the village where people can be seen lazing around, or playing dice, locally called panji. I also found some very exquisitely-carved temples. Not only temples, the houses in Malana also have a very distinct construction. The ground floor, khudang, is the cattle shed which stores firewood and cattle fodder. Gaying is the first floor and works as a space to store eatables and wool for weaving woolen fabric. The top floor houses the living quarters with a balcony and is called pati.
For the outsiders, there is a long list of do’s and don’ts to be followed in the village. In Malana, be careful not to touch the temples and structures as it is prohibited. If any outsider touches these structures then purification has to be carried out from the fine paid by the defaulter. It is believed that father of Lord Parshuram, Jamdagni Rishi performed meditation here to please the gods. The people are friendly but outsiders are told to keep their distance. Photography is allowed but not videography. The dharamshalas (rest houses) in the centre of the village are richly decorated with wooden carvings depicting flora and fauna, which include peacocks, horses, elephants, birds, dancers and various flowers. The dharamshalas are meant for pilgrims visiting the shrine of Jamdagni Rishi.
Malana is considered to be the oldest democracy and locals consider themselves to be descendants of some deported soldiers of Alexander. Their participative type of justice system reflects traces of ancient Greek system. Malana still follows the form of democracy where village council is unanimously chosen by trust of villagers without any election. Justice is without any favouritism as opinion of everyone in the village is taken into account and thus is accepted by everyone. Help of external police is not required and if any accused wants police intervention, a fine has to be paid to the village council. It is only in the rare case of disagreement that their age-old Justice of Lamb is performed. A cut is made on the fore leg of each of the two lambs assigned to the two parties; poisoned and sewn back. The owner of the lamb who dies first is deemed the culprit.
Though some traces of modernisation can be found here and there, Malanis still admire their culture, customs and beliefs. They find solace in farming and cattle rearing. They also collect herbs, which find good market, from the upper areas of the mountains. The whole of Malana comes together to celebrate two festivals — Badoh mela in August and Fagdi mela in February. On these occasions people from nearby villages also come to Malana. Holy relics of Jamdagni Rishi in the form of instruments, jewellery, garments are kept on display. Men and women dance in their traditional attire consisting of chola, kalgi (round cap) and tight pajamas, to the beats of the nagara, shanani, karnali and narsingha.
Just like their everyday life, a marriage is also a simple affair in Malana, performed without any priest or rituals. The bride goes with the groom to his house. In case of divorce, the man has to provide the woman with a separate house, food etc. and divorced women and widows can easily remarry, something the ‘modern’ society can learn from Malana. There is nothing elaborate about last rites too. The dead are cremated and the rituals last three days.
Humbled and wiser, as I made my way back I wondered how easy it was to live a simple life. See it for yourself with a trip to this beautiful place. Just make sure your exploration doesn’t invade the privacy of the locals. The people of Malana are very conscious about preserving their ecological heritage and I find no reason why we should interrupt them in any way. A silent observation is the best way.
Text and Photos: Manish Ray