Our story began in the first chapter of Malana diaries with a shady innkeeper. You would recall we had stealthily slipped away from Local Hero’s lodge after catching him in his underpants.
After that we trekked for an hour. Running. Looking back to see for pursuing SUVs. Nibbling on oranges. Fishing for sunscreen in bags.Trying to steal a quick snap of the brook below. The last 5 kilometers we covered on an overcrowded rickety mountain bus. I must admit I found my heart pounding a little faster every time the bus swirled over a sharp hairpin bend, and all I could see was the valley below.
Alighting from the bus at Zari village, we were famished and thirsty. But the mountains have a way of uplifting your spirits no matter how rough the journey has been. For us, it were the icy cold waters straight from a mountain spring and refreshing soupy thukpa from a quaint roadside stall whose walls were covered with old newspapers doubling up as wallpaper.
So, by the time we reached Kasol on that fateful May afternoon, we were covered with dust and dead tired. But we were to be charmed by this little world of cafes, restaurants, lounges, and colourful shops overlooking the gurgling River Parvathi. This is not a family vacation spot. We hardly spotted any family, not even couples. Only groups of friends or solo travellers. Or tall good-looking white men roaming around in half pants. Er…foreigners ka show?
And if you are going there, please choose a hotel facing the river—there are many. One day, climb down to the riverside and sit with your feet dipped in the water (not such a good idea in the evenings since the water is quite cold). Another day, sit in a bamboo-canopied candlelit outdoor café and sip on hot chocolate.
Evergreen Restaurant in Kasol
Riverview Hotel. We didn’t get any rooms here though.
“Excuse me madam, suna hai yahan foreigners ka show ho raha hai?” (We have heard there is a show by foreigners?) A muscular guy in a very tight T-shirt asked as he came and stood next to me at the railing overlooking the Malana dam.
I looked at him trying to fathom the depths of his stupidity or of my ignorance in case there was actually a show by some ‘phoreners’ in the vicinity.
“It’s a party. Rave party. Not a show.”
“Ya, ya. Are you going?”
“No, we are not.”
“Okay, but we are going. We have come from Ludhiana.”
I looked at him. Despite being painfully polite, I looked in the other direction. Foreigners ka show!
Malana means many things. For some, it is the best hash in the world. For some, it is the rave parties. For some, it is the beautiful trek. For some, it is a mysterious civilization. For some, it is ‘foreigners ka show’.
I will not define what it was for us and dilute the experience by a definition.
I will let you into Malana through the same route we followed. Step by step. Look there! In the distance, you see that wooden hut perched on a very green hill? That’s where Malana begins. That’s where we have to go.
Malana, located near the Kullu valley in Himachal Pradesh, is said to be one of the oldest democracies in the world. It is accessible only through a treacherous trek. Those who know about it don’t mind the trek. But the people of Malana would rather not have the world flock to them. They consider us inferior. Yes, you heard me right. The Malana natives believe themselves to be descendants of the Aryans. Their bloodline is also traced to soldiers of Alexander’s army who decided to settle here while their comrades returned to Greece (then Macedonia).
Before you start packing your bags thinking of Greek gods and goddesses, let me tell you that the Malana natives don’t let you touch them. Any outsider is impure and inferior. If you touch them, or even their houses and temples, you have to pay a fine of Rs 2500! That money is for the sheep they will have to sacrifice to appease their devta, so said the middle-aged in-no-way-a-Greek-god man when we asked him the reason behind the huge fine.
The Malana chaps did have distinctly Aryan features. Light-skinned, sharp noses, light-brown eyes. But many of them were as “Indian” in their appearance as any of us. What I don’t understand is that if they really are descendants of Alexander’s soldiers who were stranded here on an unfamiliar Indian land, how did they procreate without mixing with other races?! Surely, they didn’t call their Greek wives all the way from Greece.
A Malana native sunning himself in the little village square. In the background, a beautifully carved wooden door.
We will ponder over this question later when I tell you in my next post about what exactly happened up there, how we almost committed a sacrilege, how little Malana children ran after us, how we almost attended a rave party (eh…foreigners ka show?), and how our encounter with the famous Malana cream ended as. All in good time.