Malana Village - Trek to the Oldest Democracy
On September 2019 10:30 AM, I was waiting to check-in at the Hostel in Kasol after a long journey from Delhi to Kasol via Bhuntar. Two guys from the same hostel approached me to ask if I would like to join them for t he much heard of - Malana Village Trek.
"Malana Trek", the name comes from a notorious village of Malana where India's ultimate produce of Cannab is comes from. So far, this was the only information about the village I had. However, after 2 hours of tedious trekking to this village and 30 mins of walking through the deserted lanes of the village, I felt a different vibe in this village.
"Malana" - the name itself was enough for me to say "Yes" with excitement even when I felt vulnerable and risk-taking on the inside. After a second thought, I reverted and thanked them for their offer as I wanted to stick to my original plan of covering the Malana Trek as the last leg of my itinerary.
As I took this decision, I was still watching these strangers stepping down from the staircase, passing through the inner lanes, and later disappearing at the end of the lane to the Main Road. At this point, I realized that I have missed a golden opportunity. I picked my raincoat and my selfie-stick and left my luggage at the reception without even informing anyone in the rush to tag along. On my way up, I was peeping through the window of each passing car. As I covered a few meters, I saw them crossing in a cab. I shouted at top of my voice but they had crossed me completely by this time and they were now heading down the road, away from me. Standing disappointed, I kept staring at the cab as it was speeding away from me. I was literally counting the speed of the car in meters-per-seconds. And in the next moment, the cab eventually came to a halt. My microseconds' prayers were heard. I could have asked for a billion-dollar lottery but I chose this trek - STILL A BETTER DEAL!
From 10:30 AM, waiting in the hostel to check-in at the hostel, to 11:00 AM sitting in a cab with these strangers heading towards a distant place whose stories & tales have always amused me like a kid listening to a fairy tale. TIME & PLAN CHANGE REALLY FAST. In the cab, we did a formal round of introduction. Two of the folks who approached me in the hostel were from the land of Punjab. There was a third guy who was the community manager of the hostel.
The cab journey from Kasol to Malana was 1.5 hours drive on the Malana Road. On the right-hand side was the daunting mountain terrain which sometimes was covered by green forest, resting as a layer of coniferous trees densely occupying every tiny bit of land of that mountain. And sometimes, the same mountain terrain appeared as a naked rock structure of Quartz - of beige and black patches running down from the top. This mountain terrain on the right-hand side was trying to cover the road as a shelter. On t he left-hand side was a view to die for. The Chanderkhani Ranges were covering the entire panorama on this site. And below, we could see & hear the hustling sound of the Malana River flowing at full-force. The height of the Chanderkhani Mountains was close to 3000m according to our driver ("above the sea level", something that he missed during the conversation.) There was not a single sign of civilization on either side of the Malana Road. These mountains were so remote, so isolated, so huge, so close and so intimidating that I felt them talking in my ears. It was as if the 3000 meters tall structure of huge mountains were staring at me and telling me:
"Who are you in front of us?"
"What are you doing here?"
"This is NATURE - whether you believe it or not, this one cannot be conquered"
On the way, we learned about a few of the other facts about Malana, its people, & their culture from the community manager. He told us about a handful of information but I could only retain the following:-
A. Touching any of the natives, their homes & their temples could result in a fine of Rs. 3500. The villagers in this place do not entertain contacts with outsiders. These villagers consider themselves as the true descendants of Alexander's Race. They want to preserve their lineage from getting contaminated.
B. The village produces "Malana Cream" from the locally grown Cannabis. Given the supreme quality and the higher THC content, this Malana Cream gets exported to places like Amsterdam.
C. October is the best time to visit Malana because along with the good weather factor, this season is also the time when the harvesting is at its peak. The fresh harvests are loaded by women on their backs who do the entire process of the production of cream. The CREAM is nothing but the oil extracted out of the flowering buds of the plants. The oil is rubbed between the palms of the harvester's hand and then the leaves of the cannabis are rubbed on this oily hand till it turns into an oily clay-like Hashish (Charas). D. According to the facts, the village runs its own judiciary system when confronted with any native events of conflicts. Such matters are resolved in a very spooky manner. According to the rituals, the final verdict rests on an event where the two parties under conflict are asked to sacrifice a sheep by cutting its leg and poisoning it. This act is performed in parallel by both the party members like a race and the party whose sheep get killed fast is considered a winner and the verdict is spoken in his/her favor. Some of the facts that I researched later on the web after reaching back: i. The finest internationally known Indian Brands of Cannabis are the Malana Cream and Kerala Gold. ii. Malana Cream has won the best hashish title twice in 1994 & 1996 at High Times Magazine's Cannabis Cup. iii. THC (TetraHydroCannabinol) - decides the quality of the weed. The higher the THC content, the higher is the quality. Malana Cream contains 30% to 40% THC Content. iv. Malana Cream can be found around the globe. Even most of the coffee shops in Amsterdam sell you Malana Cream. v. Malana Village is an old democratic place in the world. They elect the Pujari of the Jamdani Temple (located at the center of the village) through a voting process.vi. Malana Cream is also considered as a gift of the Parvati Valley to integrate with Lord Shiva.
I CAN GO ON AND ON ABOUT THIS PLACE BUT REST SHOULD BE OFF THIS JOURNAL.
After one and a half hours of a rigorous drive along the Chanderkhani and Deo Tibba peaks - crossing a small tunnel and an over-road waterfall on the mid-way - we finally reached the famous landmark site - "Way to Malana Village"
On the way, we stopped at a couple of places to capture the view in our 6-inches devices in a continuously drizzling environment, and after reaching the starting point of the trek our hands and legs were frozen. It is for this reason that we decided to rest on a shack and helped ourselves with some tea and cigarettes to keep ourselves warm in contrast with the surroundings. When we finished I reached the counter to pay for the bill but was asked to keep the money on the table from where the village lad picked the money and handed me the change through the same route. I immediately recalled the tip #1 DO NOT TOUCH ANYONE, as these guys consider themselves superior to the outsiders.
Finally after one smoke and one tea down we left our seats, taking on our jackets and phones. I reach for my selfie stick in my raincoat and was trying to plug the cord of the selfie stick in my cellphone that I accidentally pressed some buttons which resulted in the reboot of my cellphone, and now I found my cellphone completely unusable. This haunted me to the core, particularly because I was at a place that is known for its notorious reputation and on top of it I have lost connectivity with every single person whom I could reach out to in times of exigency. And to add to this fluster, the Malana Trek did not turn out to be an easy one for me. The trail goes straight down to the bottom from this starting point into the bridge to cross the Malana River, and then it goes straight up to the Malana Village which is a steep climb for a novice like me. The trail was in the form of a staircase made of partly stones and partly mud. On the right side of the trail was the mountain slope and on the left, was a dreadful valley straight down into the deathbed of the mighty Malana River. If this was not enough, the continuous drizzling had made the part of the muddy steps slippery. It is at this time that I had my first encounter with the biggest fear of my life - FEAR OF DEATH.
We were not even mid-way and I started feeling the second side-effect of smoking. The fear was now turning my legs to shake and I started taking frequent breaks. On the inside, Ikept motivating myself, and my instincts were helping me to judge on how to keep up with the other members. I slowly and steadily started getting into an autopilot mode to climb the steps and eventually overcame my fear and trembling legs. I now had a sweet encounter with my biggest strength - PERSEVERANCE. After one hour, w e reached our first milestone - a Cafe at the mid-point. I stuffed my mouth with half a packet of Hide-and-Seek biscuits and one of the two bread omelets that we ordered. With this 30 minutes of a break, we again kicked-off the trek from this point.
After another 1.5 hours of trek, we finally touched the Malana Village. Malana is a place weirdly different and spooky. The cannabis plants that one could see in patches on the way, were now seen in abundance everywhere like a farm field. Most often we could see village women carrying the bundle of weed stock on their back, crossing us at twice our trekking speed. At first impression, I was assuming that Malana will be a village full of people involved in the cream making process. On the contrary, the village was quite deserted. On the first street that we entered bore signage:
DO NOT TOUCH ANYONE. DO NOT ENTER HOMES & TEMPLES WITHOUT PERMISSION. ELSE BEAR A FINE OF RS. 3500
The entire village was like a dead city. There were houses & shops in the village but all were shut and there was no one to be seen - almost as if the village has been evacuated. Suddenly, out of nowhere, an unshaven old man called us. The old man seemed as if he hasn't taken shower since ages. He muttered, 'Tum Kaun si country se ho" [Which country are you from?]. We could not understand the intent behind the question clearly and asked him to repeat himself. This time he said something strange:
Yahan do country hain: Ek India aur Dusri kaun si? [There are two countries here. One is India and the other?]
We felt a bit of discomfort due to his presence and his weird demeanor. We ignored him and walked past him which agitated him a lot. Enroute, we now had a company of a lunatic who was abusing us while following us in this desolated place. We started picking pace to leave this person behind and thankfully we succeeded. We saw some fellow trekkers - whom we had met on the way - had time to spare their attention to their ultimate objective of this trek, score one of the best "medicinal cannabis" of the world. They were lucky enough to find a villager in this shutdown place who turns out to be a pedaller. After all this awestruck experience in the village, we headed back to the next and tricky stretch of our trek - get down the hilltop in that rainy weather. By this time the muddy part had completely turned into a skiddy step. My entire attention was to keep my foot on the stone part for a better grip and avoid the muddy trail. It took us one hour to get back and it was a sigh of relief when I entered the cab. On the return journey, I could not draw my attention away from the massive mountains which were now staring at me and telling me "We Told You". This was my first trekking experience which taught me that we are NOTHING when we stand against nature. On introspection, I reckoned my FEAR OF DEATH. But, what was more assuring and comforting to me in these 6 hours that I had faith in my PERSEVERANCE, which helped me achieve this unexpectedly adventurous trek. I could feel the mountains of mental strength inside me yelling back "I DID IT".