Oct 31, 2011

Malana Diaries. Part III : The Conundrum called Malana.

It was getting dark when we neared Malana village. Mami, Ricky and I, the last three of the group were dead tired as we somehow forced ourselves to walk. When Mohan Bhaiyya, a volunteer from Manali who also doubled as our guide, told me that our campsite is still half  kilometer away from the village, I wanted to sit and howl. 

As we entered the village, there was no proper footpath. The waste water overflowing from the nearby drain ran all over the tiny steps that lead to their town square. I felt as if I was walking through a drain to get to the village. As we fumbled in the dark and through the waste water, suddenly my nose picked up a peculiar scent. I sniffed and turned to Ricky 

"Is that...??"  

"Yeah, I think it is! "

The smell of pot/ weed/ ganja/ marijuana (whatever you may call it) lingered all over the village.

"It looks like the little Gaulish village from the Asterix comics. Look at those stones and the houses"  I echoed.

Mami, who has already been to this village, was quick to warn me "Don't touch that, that, that and that!" pointing to different objects in the square "or else you'll be fined and penalized". I was too tired to even notice what object she pointed to, but as we walked, I made sure the only part of my body which touched anything was my feet with the ground.
A building in the square. I don't know if this is another scared building but I sure didn't try to touch it.

The Malani community is quite a community in itself. After I came back and told my roommate about it, she quickly remarked "It's amazing such a community still exist in the world. They should be preserved!". If you googled 'Malana', you will get different feeds from different sources. Some described the Malana as 'the Lost Civilization', 'the Lost Culture', 'Himlayan Shangrila' and one particularly interesting one described it as an 'Utopian Society'. But to me, Malana and its culture and society is but a Conundrum. I may not be politically correct by saying so, but I hardly have been anyway.

Malana is situated high in the slopes of the Himalayas, in an average elevation of 9940 feet. The village has a democratic administration and is said to be the oldest republic in the world. The Malanis have an autonomous administration and do not abide by the Indian Constitution. They speak a language which is not intelligible in the whole valley and up until recently, outsiders are not even allowed to enter their village.

The Malanis have many stories about their origin. One particularly interesting one said that they are descendents of a group of Alexander's (The Great) Greek soldiers who never went back after their campaign. Remnants of their origin is reflected in the architecture of their temple which stood in the town square. The temple, which was rebuilt after it was burned down when the village caught fire in 2008,  is a piece of architecture in itself. I am no historian or architect, but I thoroughly enjoyed the stories that are carved on the walls. But we, as outsiders, are not allowed to enter it, let alone touch it, or even take pictures. But the carvings on the walls shows carvings of the Buddha, a Sun-worshipping symbol, peacocks and some remnants of Assyrian symbols and designs. Carvings of elephants baffle me particularly. There are no elephants in this part of the country. 

'Alexander used war elephants when he came to this part of the world' Abiaka chipped in.

If architectural carvings tell stories and origin, the carvings on the temple gave me one heck of a confusing story.

To the Malani, all outsiders are considered filthy and untouchable. If we touch them even by accident, we have to be fined and penalized. If a Malani passed you in a road, he/she will stand on the side until you pass him/her making sure that there is enough space so that both of you won't touch. This holds true even for children!! A friend of mine tried to give a candy to a child in the village when the child told her to put the candy on a rock because he didn't want to touch her while taking the candy!

But during the medical camp, it was a relief that our doctors and nurses could touch all of the patients except for one. The exception was the village priest who takes care of the village shrine. So, the doctors have to diagnose and give him medicine without touching him!!!

Another thing which puzzled me was the lack of sanitation in the village. I have lived in a third world country my whole life, been to many slums here in Delhi, yet I have never come across such an unkempt and filthy place. The village itself was a huge garbage dump. Human feces lay scattered everywhere even inside the village. The path behind the temple especially was littered with poop. Human poop! And it was just next to the holy place!!

If you have to blame the sanitation on the backwardness and isolation of the place. You'd be taken aback with the houses in Malana which are good enough to be sitting in the streets of Aizawl or Shillong. With no proper road reaching the village we were particularly taken aback with all the cemented houses. Then, again, the variety shops in Malana sell almost everything that we get in the dukaan here in Delhi and everthing is sold at MRP. We were surprised until we came across a ropeway which was used to transport goods to and from the valley.

Reminds you of some 'veng' in Aizawl or 'Khua' in Mizoram yet?
The Ropeway.
TataSky in Malana!!
And if you'd ask me, I'd say that the Malanis are not as poor as they look because they have a thriving occupation.The main occupation of the Malanis is the cultivation of marijuana. The marijuana grown in Malana sometimes refereed to as Malana Cream is considered to be the best in the world. During our camp, we came across  many tourists who climbed the torturous climb just to get the Malana weed. The women work all day and even during our medical camp, only a handful of women were in the village because all the others are out working in the field. The men, we noticed, dope and sit in the sun by noon itself.

World's best Marijuana dried and prepared.

I believe that the isolation of the village is just one of the reasons why development can come only slowly to a place like Malana. The Malanis are self-contented in their own little bubble and proud enough to hold their fort. But one could not help but wish there was some change in the beliefs, backwardness and (Yes, I will repeat again) the sanitation of the village. But what can you do to bring change to someone who doesn't want change?

I hope to have a chance to visit Malana again some day. Right now, I am at that curious stage to know more about it. So until I have the chance, the only thing I can do is pray and read up and sponge in everything there is to know about the place that we often talk about. 

There must be a reason why we, The Delhi Mizo Christian Youth, of the people in the world, somehow developed contact with such a place on earth. We may not know the reason yet, but until we do, I am more than prepared to almost die on the hike uphill to Malana village. All over again!

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